LONDON -- Nineteen months after a modern fairy tale of a wedding turned the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge into the world's most famous newlyweds, the royal juggernaut known as Will and Kate is officially expecting what may very well turn out to be the world's most famous baby.
Britain's great and small toasted the eagerly anticipated arrival of a royal child and descendent of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who is set to be third in line to the throne. But the news of pregnancy was immediately tempered by the hospitalization of the mother-to-be due to an unusually acute case of morning sickness.
The duchess, known as Kate Middleton before her marriage, was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, prompting her admission to London's exclusive King Edward VII Hospital for "several days" of medical care to ensure proper nutrition. Royal officials warned that the duchess would "require a period of rest" after her discharge.
Across Britain, there were expressions of concern for the health of the duchess, laced with hopes that her illness -- which can cause severe vomiting, low blood pressure and other symptoms -- would not foreshadow months of difficult pregnancy. The Telegraph reported that her relatively rare condition had forced the royal family to accelerate the announcement, which was initially planned after she passed the 12-week mark. Royal officials would not disclose how far along the duchess is in her pregnancy.
"It's a serious condition in that it makes you feel awful -- the constant vomiting can leave you very dehydrated," said Tim Draycott, a consultant obstetrician for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a specialist on the illness. "But it's a condition that has few long-term consequences for the baby. About 30 percent of women get morning sickness; only about 1 percent of women get symptoms like Kate Middleton. Hyperemesis is slightly more common in twin pregnancies.
"Treatment for hyperemesis includes intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medication and extra vitamins. It's most common from six weeks onwards and starts to settle down around 12 to 13 weeks of pregnancy."
Dr. Draycott added: "Poor her."
The pregnancy announcement, which brought well wishes from the White House and the crowned heads of Europe, heralds what would be a landmark birth in Britain of a 21st-century monarch-to-be in every sense. The child would be the rare product of a union between a celebrated British royal and a so-called "commoner" who is the great, great granddaughter of a coal miner.
The royal couple's offspring would also be the first born after a historic change was set in motion last year to eliminate the tradition of male hereditary precedence to the throne in Britain and commonwealth nations, where Queen Elizabeth II is head of state. So, if the baby -- who would leapfrog William's brother, Prince Harry, upon birth -- were a girl, a younger brother would not be able to leapfrog her.
Nevertheless, a nation only just emerged from a double-dip recession -- and perhaps slouching toward a third -- cautiously celebrated the needed dose of good news before the holidays. Tabloids screamed the news in apocalyptic headline type. The BBC broke into regular programming with running coverage. A rash and swell of British and foreign media flocked to the King Edward VII Hospital entrance for what appeared likely to be a round-the clock-camp out.
Even Prime Minister David Cameron could not contain himself, saying he blurted out the news during an official meeting with aides after receiving a "little note." Mr. Cameron said: "It's absolutely wonderful news, and I'm delighted for them, and I'm sure they will make absolutely brilliant parents. I'm sure people 'round the country will be celebrating with them tonight."
Speculation had grown in recent weeks that the couple might be expecting a child, though the rumor mill appeared driven more by desire and expectation than insider knowledge. Tabloids had taken to scouring every photo of the duchess for evidence of a "royal bump." On Wednesday, the saucy Daily Mail reported that the duchess' new chic coiffure must surely be a harbinger of pregnancy: "If she is keeping a Very Important Secret, then that demure long fringe is perfect for hiding behind."
Yet, for the hawk-eyed, there were signs of royal fecundity. On a recent tour of Asia, the duchess eschewed wine for water during a state dinner, prompting torrid rounds of baby speculation. And as recently as last week, a young mother in Cambridge handed Prince William -- a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot -- a handmade onesie with a helicopter and the words "Daddy's little co-pilot" embroidered on it. According to Britain's ITV television network, the prince promptly placed the suit in the care of an aide, quipping, "I'll keep that."
As the couple steamrolled toward their second wedding anniversary, royal-watchers pointedly noted that Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Prince Charles almost a year to the day after her wedding. The late Diana, meanwhile, produced an heir -- the now-expectant father -- after 11 months of marriage.
Royal watchers say the birth could mark the evolution of the Duke's and Duchess' roles in the public eye, with Prince William in particular expected to take on an ever-expanding list of official duties next year.