The Princess of Wales voiced sympathy when a father told her that his wife had suffered extreme morning sickness, telling him: “I know what that feels like.”
The Princess, 41, was visiting the Orchards Centre in Sittingbourne, Kent, to highlight the importance of supporting children with special needs and their families.
It was the first in a series of engagements in the run-up to Christmas in support of her long term Shaping Us campaign about early childhood, and the Princess rubbed toddlers’ backs and ticked their tummies as she joined a sensory session.
Steve Ikebuwa, a father-of-four from Gravesend, whose 11-month-old son Nathan has profound learning difficulties, explained how the Kent Portage Service, which ran the session, had helped with his child’s development.
He further revealed that – like the Princess – his wife had suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a type of morning sickness that causes severe vomiting during pregnancy. “I went through that. I know what that feels like,” she told him.
The mother-of-three was taken to hospital in 2012, when she was pregnant with Prince George, and later revealed in a podcast that she was “not the happiest of pregnant people”.
Mr Ikebuwa, 44, said later that his reference to the condition had “ struck a chord” with the Princess, adding: “You can see her expression change – she went through the same thing.
“I remember one of her visits in a hospital she said something about how she had hyperemesis gravidarum. You can see her connection to the fact that my wife went through all that, and that really resonated with me.”
The visit was considered an opportunity to acknowledge the difficulties faced by many parents and carers who struggle for the time and resources needed to look after children with special needs.
The Princess has made the early years a cornerstone of her work, launching Shaping Us in January through the Royal Foundation for Early Childhood.
Wearing black trousers and a red jacket, she joined a sensory development class with a group of children with a range of needs and conditions, including social communication difficulties, autism and Down’s Syndrome. She helped the youngsters daub toys with foam and throw tinsel and shredded paper.
“She is very sweet,” the Princess said of a girl called Skylar, who is nearly two and was enjoying spreading foam over herself and others.
She laughed as Beatrice, aged three, screamed with delight at the sight of shredded paper going everywhere and also applauded Darcie, a three-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome, as she carefully poured brightly coloured squares of paper into a cup.
“Well done,” the Princess said. Referring to her youngest son, she added: “Louis has got a Darcie in his class.”
The class was run by the Kent Portage Team. The National Portage Association is a home-visiting educational service for children with special needs from birth until pre-school age.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it works with more than 100 portage services, providing a quality framework and training for practitioners and parents.