Maternal Mental Health

Four years ago I took a pretty rapid descent into motherhood and during my 3 month pregnancy (long story, he was a late discovery, oops) I was put on a crash course by all the mums I knew…

“Sleep when the baby sleeps. Fed is best. Nappy bins are pointless. The first postpartum poo is the hardest. Get yourself some big knickers. If it’s a girl wipe from front to back. If it’s a boy make sure it’s pointing down when you put the nappy on. You can’t spoil a newborn. Make sure you take time for yourself. You won’t shower for the first few days. Pack a long charger for the hospital. You’ll still look pregnant for a while after birth. Your boobs will double when your milk comes in. That first cry is the best sound. When you hold baby you’ll feel love like no other. You’ll gain a whole new perspective. You’re about to realise the true meaning of joy. There’s no love like a mother for her child. When you look at them your heart will sing…”

But I wasn’t told or warned about postpartum depression and anxiety. Both of which creeped up behind me and grabbed me round the throat, restricting me so much that most days I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

The thoughts that entered my mind weren’t just words strung together in text – they’d flash through in a reel of terrifying imagery. I didn’t think my thoughts, I saw them – often unable to distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t.

“My baby is sick. My baby is choking. My baby has turned blue. My babies chest isn’t moving. My baby is sleeping too much, sleeping too little. He’s got a rash. He’s not breathing properly. What if I drop the baby? What if I drop the baby on purpose? What if the tv falls on him? What if he falls into the sink of boiling water, or I pour kettle water on him? What if we fall down the stairs and I crush him? What if I bend his limbs too much and they break? What if I drop him in the bath and he drowns? Or I throw him out of the window, or over the balcony? What if I deliberately let him drink piping hot milk? What if that pillow falls on his face and I don’t move it? What if I let the pram go and it wheels into the road? What if someone tries to steal him? What if a stranger breaks in and tries to kill us? What if I hurt him with this kitchen knife? Or drop him on the open oven door? What if I fall asleep and suffocate him?”

“Wait, am I capable of hurting my child? Am I thinking all this because I WANT to carry these actions out? Should I call social services on myself? Am I in fact the most dangerous thing to this innocent boy? Do I love my baby? Should I actually just put him up for adoption?”

I would worry about external influences and my own capabilities to the extent that I would be frightened to look in his Moses basket at night incase he had died. I wouldn’t carry him past windows or sit with him on the balcony. I’d keep kettles and knives a whole room away from him. I’d plan escape routes for us at 3am in case someone broke in. The bathroom has a lock but no window, would we survive a jump off the balcony? I’d ring my other half whilst he was on the night shift and insist he just kept me in his pocket as he worked so I didn’t feel so alone. I’d want to spend as much time as possible with other people so I didn’t have to be subject to my own thoughts. I’d sit on the bed at night for hours cradling my son whilst he slept convinced someone had broken in. I had to make sure at all times that I was between him and the door. I’d wake in the night having half dreamt something awful and fully believe it was real.

My anxiety became so bad that one night I perched trembling at the top of the stairs with a knife, holding my snoozing baby, for hours waiting for someone to break in. I reached a level of delirium that I rang my now husband and told him that in fact someone was in our flat and he had to drive home immediately.

It took me nearly three years to recover from my firstborn and dare I say I’m not sure I ever will. Obviously none of what I thought or imagined was real, but I was too scared to get help as I was worried there would be some form of intervention. I used to joke that the health visitor was social services but there really was part of me that’s saw her as someone who was coming to vet me rather than support me – when asked how I was feeling I was fabulous! Any challenging thoughts? Don’t know what you’re on about lady.

When I finally went to my GP and told her what was going on, I was shocked by her response.

“It’s entirely normal, it’s bloody horrible, but it happens to 1 in 5 of us. You are not alone.”

She was right, technically I wasn’t alone but as a new mother with no mum friends to reach out to I felt the loneliest I ever have. How do you tell your friends who don’t have kids that you thought people were in your flat when they weren’t… or that you fully imagined yourself stabbing your newborn child. You don’t.

Over time I learnt that yes it’s completely normal to be experiencing what I was experiencing but that didn’t make it ok – suffering in silence doesn’t help anyone. Everyone will have different coping mechanisms, things that helped me were indeed talking to people… some won’t want to talk and that’s ok, often when it comes to mental illness we don’t know what to say. I remember being with a couple of friends last year and PPD/PPA topic bizarrely came up (they don’t gave kids). One of my friends quite readily said “my mum had postpartum depression with my brother actually”. My ears kind of pricked up as at this point my son was nearly three and I’d never really shared my situation. I responded with “oh she did? So did I with Fred”. Neither of my friends responded. As soon as the conversation started it ended… it was ok to bring up PPD/PPA that was nearly 30 years old and no ones responsibility to support – the comment was more anecdotal and gossipy than an invitation to let her know I might need her. After all her mum was now fine and all fixed, it was clear that mine was still very raw.

Initially I took it personally and was pretty upset. I felt like my friends didn’t want to know but the truth was they didn’t know how to know. They knew as much as I did about PPD/PPA as I did before having experienced it first hand and would just not have known what to say! Taking peoples reactions or non reactions personally when you share your mental health problems will only send you into a thought spiral that makes your anxiety worse. “Everyone hates me, no one wants to help me”.

It’s not the case, a lot of people just don’t know what to do or say when you bring up poor mental health. Maternal mental ill health is still such a taboo and secretive subject – after all who would know that women could be unhappy after having had a ‘bundle of joy’! It doesn’t make sense!

Thankfully one friend of mine helped explain to me why I might be experiencing these terrible and intrusive visions and thoughts, and it really helped me to rationalise and find answers. She told me that her perception of it was that anxiety grips onto what might happen, what could happen and therefore the mind behaves preemptively. When these images were flashing into my mind they were solely serving the purpose of protection. They were enabling me to stay on top of my game, detect every danger and put measures in place to protect both me and my baby. It wasn’t that I wanted to hurt him or myself – I was simply preparing for every eventuality. Including those that frightened me most. When you’re in charge of something so precious, fragile and dependent on you – you are likely to worry about what could happen to them and therefore put measures in place to keep them safe. This helped.

I also relied on writing, which I was why I started this blog and have started it back up again: I am six weeks postpartum with my second baby and have been experiencing anxiety and intrusive thoughts like I did before. I had to stop in a lay-by in the way home because she was starving hungry and screaming. My anxiety took hold of me and I had to wait until no cars were passing by just incase we were hit as I was bringing her into the front seat or even worse, I threw her into the road.

To be able to pen out my thoughts and feelings expels them from my heart and allows me to feel a little lighter. That and a load of medication…

Failure. 

As a new mother the first word that springs to mind when I think of myself and my new baby is the word ‘failure’. I know that I am not alone in thinking this and feeling like this and therefore I ask for no pity. No reassurance and no analysis of my mothering techniques. 

I’m not sure if it is something that us parents and more specifically mothers are just programmed to feel. A looming sense of doom at all times and constant criticism from within that only prompts us to work harder, parent better and ultimately do all we can to make our child happy. 

When my baby was born I was immediately required to wait until they’d sewn me up until I could have him by my side. I wanted everyone to leave that room, stop touching my baby before me and let me sink into the new life that I had just brought into the world. It was a horrible 45 minute wait for the procedure to be done and I was so exhausted. Following a 48 hour labour attempt that ultimately ended in a Caesarean section I was done with it all and just wanted to scuttle off with my baby and hold him close and tell him that I was going to be the best mother to him and that if it were in my power he would never feel sorrow or pain. 

Before long they had placed him next to me, I was entirely numb from the waist down and I held him in an awkward embrace as my paralysed body wouldn’t allow me to shift any closer to him. He was wrapped up in a towel making funny snuffling noises and I planted my lips firmly on his forehead so he could feel my touch. They wheeled me out with Matt trotting behind and I came round a corner, at the bottom of a corridor stood my parents. To this day I have no idea what they were doing or going through whilst my son was being extracated from me. They were too far away for me to do anything but smile weakly as their daughter and grandson were wheeled even further into a kind of temporary parking bay for mothers and their newborns. 

They skidded round the corner looking like they had both recently wet themselves with excitement. Looks of fear and elation flickering over their faces. I can barely remember what I said but I think it was something along the lines of “it’s a boy, and he’s absolutely fine”. The happiness that we four felt in that moment and few minutes was incredible. Phone calls were made to all the important members of the family and I knew that soon enough people would be getting in their cars and coming to see us. I remember feeling that this was unfair, I understood that new Grandparents and Great Grandparents were desperate to see the baby but I didn’t want anyone taking him from my fumbling arms. I attempted a strange latch onto my breast that he seemed happy with and hoped he had something to draw from it.

And then the time came. I had to hand him over to a midwife, to Matthew and to my parents. I’m not sure I realised how angry this would make me, I was exhausted and happy and I needed them there. But I needed to hold my son. Matt’s Dad and my Nana arrived and cuddles were had all round. I could see my son sucking away on his little fingers, opening his mouth and twisting his head side to side searching for food but I didn’t have the courage to demand he came back to me. It’s hard to recall exactly when or how this happened but suddenly there was a midwife at my bed, telling me that the baby needed more food and was starting to get a little shaky. 

That was when my first feeling of absolute failure spread over me. He was born at 3.26pm and no less than three hours later I had already done him wrong. The midwife asked me if I wanted him on donated breast milk or formula, I chose the former. Already, another mother who had her own children she was taking care of was doing a better job than me, my baby was poorly and would require milk from another source. My stupid frozen legs were kicking against their paralysis as I was desperate to get up and take him wherever he needed to go but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even give birth properly and was paying for my inability. I watched as the lovely midwife held him in a strange position, conscious that if she held him like he was hers it might confuse the bonding. She shoved a tiny bottle into his mouth and he began to drink. Soon enough she was happy that he’d eaten and he came back to me. The feeling of holding him properly the second time wasn’t like the first, tears were pouring down my face onto his little funny shaped head and I was apologising profusely. Swearing I’d never fail again. 

Parenting certainly is a swift learning curve, and as you go through the weeks and the months and the years, It’s your job to fail, so as you can learn from it. In times where I feel like he’s got all the food and the love and the warmth he needs I know this. However it really doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the midst of what really is only a minor screw up. 

Family members went home and Matt and I were left with our funny coloured, oddly shaped bundle. He had these beetle black eyes that would only ever open for a few seconds or minutes at a time and the rest of the time he slept. He had no idea what was happening, who we were, who he was and it was clear that he was full of innocence and vulnerability. Helpless and beautiful I could not have loved him more. 

A few hours after he was born I decided I had to get out of the stupid bed I had been prisoner to. I told the midwife I had full sensation in my legs (I didn’t) and dragged myself two foot across the room to a chair. Shortly after I pulled myself into a wheelchair, held my baby in my arms and let them wheel me up to our next location, we would be staying the night. This felt good, I would get to hang out with my boys for a bit until Matthew would have to go home and then me and bubs would chill until the morning when Matt could return. I wish. Not long after we’d settled down in our new ‘home’ and Matt and I had squabbled over how to dress, feed and change him (we had no idea). A midwife came into check on us, again she noticed something I had failed to see! His blood sugar was very low and he was quite unwell. Horrible needles were pressed into his pristine new feet and blood was squeezed out of them as he cried. Too unwell to move properly she told me that our baby needed to go down to a special unit and be seen by a more senior doctor. I was horrified, six hours into his life and I’d already failed him twice. Matt went down with them as I wasn’t fooling anyone this time and would have probably ripped myself open attempting the journey. The senior doctor deemed him well enough to return back upstairs to us and we carried on looking at him for a few hours until the midwife returned again.

Matt had to go home. I cried and found it desperately unfair but at least I could stay with our baby, I had no idea how he would cope going back to an empty house and an empty bed after the ordeal of the past few days. Recently the bugger told me he’d got himself a nice McDonald’s on the way home, played a little Fifa and had a blissful sleep. I wish I had his calm.

I stayed up through the night with our son and watched him as he slept, I was so scared that I would break him that often I would gently press the teat of his bottles against his lips or just pull his head in the general direction of my nipple. This was hard for me as it meant he wasn’t eating enough, he had been born a hungry bubba and was still shaking. After several trips up and down from the specialist area we were still unsure whether he was well or not. A midwife with the stubbornness of a mule and determination of a bull dog had a full blown row with the senior doctors and demanded that the baby be admitted to a High Dependancy Unit. I was on three full days of no sleep and starting to shut down. She insisted that she would take him down and stay with him so I could sleep. I allowed her to take him but refused to close my eyes. A few hours later when the sun started to rise I opened my eyes and looked for my son. He wasn’t there. I had no idea how much time had passed and guessed it hadn’t been too long. A new midwife glided into the ward and I started to panic. I explained the situation to her and she said she’d call down and find out what was happening. The NHS these days is so disgustingly stretched, over worked and understaffed that it soon came to light that in effect they had lost my son. Matt had returned when we had this news and AGAIN I had shut my eyes and failed my baby. Strike three, you’re out. 

Hours and hours passed and we were told that he was in the unit but would be coming back up to us very soon. This weird game of poor communication went on for ages. We tried to demand but no no they were sure he’d be back soon, we didn’t need to go down. Finally, I’d had enough. Another shift change had happened (eight hours had passed) and I decided to tackle the new midwife. Luckily she found out a little more and allowed us to go and see him. He was a day old and I’d already spent as much time with him as without. I definitely wasn’t going to be handed a parenting certificate. 

I raced down to the unit as fast as my broken body would allow and leaned against the buzzer without relenting until about five minutes passed and someone let us in. We stripped ourselves of any extras and covered our skin in soaps and antibacterial washes. We were pointed towards a room and I stepped in. The ward was filled with incubators, tubes, flashing lights and alarms. The tiniest babies I had ever seen, the sickest babies I had ever seen. Unable to open their eyes, move their bodies I stared around at them all shocked by their see-through skin. But where was mine? At a very decent 8lb 5oz he was double the weight of some of these babies. Matt and I carefully trod through the room looking for him. Behind a pillar was a stand alone cot free of wires and lights and alarms. There he was, sleeping soundly was our little chub. Relief spread over me. A nurse came and asked who we were. 

“I’m his mother.” I replied shortly. 

“Where have you been?” She said. 

“We were told we weren’t allowed to come and see him because he was going to be coming back to us.” I tried to explain. 

As deadpan as she could but with eyes full of judgement of me she retorted, “I did wonder, he’s been alone for hours. He’s doing much better though.” 

She left and I turned to Matt, he was crying. My face crumbled as I stared at him. Had I allowed this to happen? Had the hospital? Should I have fought against what I had been told, demanded to see my son even though I was under the impression that he was soon to be returned or unable to be seen? I’d put all my faith in a system and in the hands of incredible professionals but it had left our baby parentless for near on ten hours. Failure. Complete and utter failure. 

The full story of the days in hospital with our baby will be written later, but for now I’ll continue down my path of ‘failures’. The time came for us to leave the hospital and take our black eyed boy home, I was petrified. I hadn’t passed any tests or analysis that deemed me a fit mother. I’d had three months to prepare and that had only allowed me to think of logistics, emotionally I was incredibly unprepared. As we left the hospital, my legs swollen to a quite frightening size and pain coursing through me a midwife stopped us on the way out. She informed us that babies were now only allowed to travel in car seats for up to 1/2 an hour at a time and if our journey was longer we would have to make a stop. The journey home was realistically around 32 minutes and I feared for his life the whole way. Were we supposed to stop just around the corner, give him a shuffle and then continue home? These kind of insane thoughts really do cross your mind when you’ve just acquired something so precious. 

We returned home and everything was fine. Of course it was. The weeks and months afterwards undoubtedly followed with many ‘failings’ on my part, but that day was the worst. I’d often heard about the three day depression that some mothers feel but by god was I unaware of how it would feel. I screamed and cried for most of the day absolutely terrified about what I had done. I was in no position to look after this baby but what could I do? Matt and I argued horrifically and as I was having a rather disabled and wild tantrum in our bedroom my Mother brought us together. This was not her fault, but she hadn’t been aware of or seen me and Matt washing our hands much and was worried that we weren’t being hygenic enough. 

“There’s something I need to talk to you two about” she said. Tears were filling her eyes. 

Was she unwell? Did she know something about our son that we didn’t? What was happening? 

“I’m worried about your hygiene, I’m unsure if you’re aware but it’s incredibly important to wash wash wash and wash your hands again with a new baby. It could be very dangerous if you don’t.” Something along those lines she blurted. Now Matt and I had been taking great care, I’d been dragging myself to and from this dinky little sink in the hospital and had generally been terrified about touching him for fear of infecting him with I don’t know what. But these words. Just a gentle nudge from her from a place of love stabbed me in the heart like no words had before. That was it. I was an awful mother. My mother thought so! Questions flooded through my mind, should she take him? Should I admit defeat now and put him up for adoption? Will social services want to speak to me. 

The answer looking back now was a resounding NO. However in that moment it was all I could think of. We hadn’t bought bloody hand sanitiser and my son would probably die because of it. 

There are lots of smaller moments and incidents that happen when you’re learning the ropes of parenthood. Times when their head lolls, you fall asleep with them on the sofa, you don’t wake up the second they cry and you occasionally have five seconds where you forget they even exist! For me, the biggest ‘failure’ and challenge that was about to hit me was breastfeeding. The word to this day still gives me the shivers. 

Breastfeeding is natural. Breastfeeding is best. Breastfeeding will help you lose weight. Breastfeeding ensures you bond with your baby. Breastfeeding is the best thing ever! For me, it really wasn’t. 

A couple of days after he was born my milk flooded in in a matter of minutes. My former size D breasts jumped up to a G and were a strange hectagonal shape (they were engorged). They were blistering hot and my nipples were flat, milk would literally drip from them onto the carpet and they were excruciatingly painful. Needless to say, I couldn’t feed properly. I could get him to latch on and when he did Matt would have to pin me down to a chair as I shrieked, a spiking pain would course from my nipple through my body down to my toes. I would tip back in my chair hot tears falling from my face as I gasped for air desperate to throw my baby from me. Days and nights and nights and days of this continued. I started to cry whenever he woke up and my nipples started to crack and bleed. At one point an actual piece of it ripped off and I was devastated. Thankfully it has now re-grown/healed. We took trips to the midwives and spent hours and money trying to make this thing work. There was no way in hell I was going to be incapable of breastfeeding so something had to happen. We found out the baby and I both had thrush, I had mastitis and yet I persevered. Feeling the social pressure of ‘breast is best’. 

My midwife came to see us after 10 days of this ludicrous life and asked me how it was going. 

“Yeah it’s absolutely fine!” I lied. 

“Isn’t it just the best feeling in the world, don’t you love him so much?” She said. 

“I know, it’s the best… indescribable.” I lied again. I looked at my baby (thankfully asleep) and realised no, I didn’t love him. Something had changed. He caused me pain, he caused me tears and he caused me anger and frustration. I knew I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt him, but love? It had dimmed. 

My parents came to visit nearer the two week mark and as my mum was busy making coffee for us my dad looked at me. I burst into tears, I stared at him for a good few seconds and whispered. 

“Daddy, help me. I can’t do it. Something is wrong with me.” Everyone had known that I was so set on breastfeeding that they hadn’t openly questioned whether it was the right thing to do. I told him how I was starting to feel towards my baby and he made an executive decision. 

He zoomed over to the supermarket and bought some baby formula. I hadn’t been out of the house in two weeks for fear of having to feed in public and strangers seeing me scream and cry. My Dad packed us all up with the formula despite my protests and took us on a walk. My son woke up as we reached a playground and the feeling of dread and nausea spilled over me. My Dad handed me a bottle of formula and I realised what I had to do. What had previously been my biggest failing was soon going to turn full circle into my biggest uprising. I held my son against the May breeze and fed him. He drank and drank and I held him closer, I looked into his eyes but this time without tears blurring my vision, without screaming filling the silence. I was in fact doing the best thing I could have done, I was loving him, he was happy. I was happy. We were okay. What I had thought would be my biggest failing in giving up breastfeeding was actually going to turn into my greatest triumph. I had the freedom to mother, and mother I would! 

Since then, many more failures have happened. He’s fallen off the sofa, I’ve clocked his head against a cupboard door, he’s tipped himself out of a chair. I’ve run out of milk and had to dash to the shop with a hungry baby, I’ve smeared food all over his face and forgotten to pack wipes or nappies. But I’m learning that these things happen. You’ll have moments where people seem to criticise you or question your judgment but when you look deep down within yourself you know that 100% of the time you are doing your all for your baby. You would never do what you didn’t think was best and if you have a slight mishap it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mother. You might be part of the breast feeding gang or the formula gang. The sofa gang or the buggycise gang. You might let them cry or pick them up as soon as they squeak. You might bath them every night or every other. You may sing to them or spare them your out of tune warbling. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are bringing them up exactly how you think is right and doing what works for you and the baby. Take good advice and guidance where needed, ask questions and seek opinion. But never forget that no one knows them like you do and if they want to judge you flip ’em a finger and tell them to jog on. 

Cravings.

One of the questions that everyone loves to ask you when you’re pregnant is “So what kind of things have you been craving?!”. I think most people expect you to turn around and respond with something utterly strange like gherkins dipped in nutella or pulled pork atop a mound of ice cream. Unfortunately for those that asked expecting to hear something fantastic this wasn’t really the case for me.

As a woman who has been on a diet since 1999 I was used to not being allowed things that I wanted and was a pro at restricting myself from giving into certain urges when it came to food. I also had no shame with my eating and when things got really bad would often break a diet in a spectacular way by eating everything in sight with such rapidity that I almost ingested my own face. Many a time had I dug half eaten sandwiches and chocolate bars out of the bin and decided to give them another go, telling myself that the weird smell of mince and baked beans wasn’t so bad and that stale bread was entirely edible and actually quite tasty. I have fond memories of pouring copious amounts of salt and pepper onto my leftover food at restaurants just to ensure that I would exercise some self restraint and occasionally waking up incredibly hungover at uni to find last nights fried chicken amongst my duvet and deeming it worthy of a second shot. One time I even had to fill a whole jug with tap water and pour it into the kitchen bin so that I would soak everything in there because I was so damn hungry and pining for a titbit. What I am trying to say – is that I had indeed been in some pretty dire situations with food, so that when my pregnancy cravings reared their ugly head I put it down to a food deprived lunatic just wanting to get her chubby paws on anything. Bear in mind that I also didn’t even know that I was pregnant when they started and therefore stamped them down as best I could.

This isn’t to say that they didn’t win on occasion however. Sugar. For some reason sugar seemed to be something that I found myself drooling over at around October/November time. I would catch myself halfway through a raging snack session, standing in the middle of Matt’s kitchen at 1am in my dressing gown with a 1kg box of Crunchy Nut clutched against my body mumbling the words ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’ to him. I spent one hungover morning crying my eyes out for a Mcdonald’s Strawberry Milkshake, something I had never even tasted. I had to be dragged past the Pick ‘N’ Mix section in the supermarket and found myself in team meetings at work surrounded by a hell of a lot of chocolate and sweet wrappers thinking to myself, did I just make all that mess? Not once did I think that this rogue behaviour was pointing towards pregnancy however and with the Christmas period coming up it only felt right to give into my cravings and pause the diet for a couple of weeks.

Christmas came and went and shortly afterwards I embarked on the whole ‘New Year New Me’ thing that everyone decides to do in January, that barely ever works. Come June we are all shocked to see the sun, facing an excruciating time in a itty bitty polkadot bikini and quite frankly hating ourselves, a few pounds heavier than we were when we first started. As I have said countless times before I am no stranger to a diet so chopping my calorie intake down to a measly 1,200kcal a day was going to be painful but entirely doable. Or so I thought. Day TWO into this diet, after having been on one run and feeling like I had an anchor in my ovaries (oh god) I was ready to faint. I remember calling Matthew when I got home from work and screaming ‘I can’t do this’ down the phone, hysterical that I was already failing at my new venture. Now that I am aware that at this time I was around six months pregnant – it doesn’t come as so much of a shock that I struggled the way I did. But I wasn’t aware, and I was miserable.

Luckily it wasn’t long before the 17th January came along and all was revealed to me. The moment the sonographer told me that I was pregnant nothing much went through my head as it was entirely consumed by thoughts of the impending responsibility. Not too long afterwards however when craving sugar like I had been for the past couple of months I had a very euphoric moment. “Matthew. Get in the car we are going to Mcdonalds, and I am going to have myself a bloody strawberry milkshake!”. I genuinely don’t think I have ever been so excited about anything in my life, technically I had made it to my third trimester and had only put on five pounds. The next three months were my once in a lifetime opportunity to eat entirely guilt free, within reason of course. The pregnant body apparently needs no more calories per day in the first two trimesters than at any other time. In the third trimester, women need approximately 500 kcals a day more. Now in my opinion, teamed up with cravings for sugar, a guaranteed calorie packed ingredient, 500kcals is not a lot. I was sure to put on a few pounds (stones).

That first ‘guilt free’ meal was one of the best moments of my life, we went to Mcdonalds and I scanned over the menu with absolutely no regard for calorie content or the obligatory diet coke that I would usually order. I ordered a large meal with a STRAWBERRY MILKSHAKE to drink and quite possibly a ‘side’ and an apple pie for pudding. It wasn’t pretty and I didn’t manage to eat it all and I felt incredibly sick but the feeling of freedom was incredible. I remember sitting on Matt’s floor (my stomach made it hard to bend over to reach the low table) doing a food dance whilst sucking on my straw. It was bliss.

And that was when my love for sugar and strawberries started. Strawberry milkshake was the one but I had a go on real strawberries, strawberry sweets and bought myself a jar of strawberry jam. I couldn’t keep myself away – it was like a full on addiction. I seemed to have swapped my need for cigarettes with one for strawberry flavoured objects. I would sneak off to the shop during work to find myself a Yazoo or similar and trot back to my desk with a tangle of strawberry laces shoved in my gob. Matthew bought me a load of Nesquik powder and I kept it in my drawer under my desk. I would sit and lick the top of my finger, dip it into the powder and shove that in my mouth at different intervals throughout the day. It became a bit of a problem, the guy in the newsagents near Matts flat had to order in some more milkshakes because I would buy two (they were two for £1! bargain) before work every day. And drink them both during the 1/2 hour drive to work. It was a love affair and I was in deep.

Prior to being pregnant I had discovered the word ‘Hangry’ on many occasions and had experienced first hand what it does to people. I hadn’t however, felt it myself. Living with my best friend for a few years taught me the outward signs and symptoms of hanger, often she would become extremely quiet and morose and would stop talking to me for a period of time. She would come across as quite angry and impatient and when it came to food the situation would be close to dangerous. It was often best to leave her to her own devices until she found herself a petty morsel and all would be restored. She would often describe the awful feeling that comes with hanger but quite frankly I never really believed that it was a true ailment. Part of me thought that it was just an inability to be patient and a demanding nature. How wrong I was. Hanger, is quite possibly the worst feeling in the world. The pain experienced in your stomach is stabbing, you have tunnel vision through which you can only see food at the end and people talking about anything other than going to get food are so irritating that you would happily throw them on the BBQ and have a good go. That one person who slows down all your attempts to get to food because they quite simply don’t understand how desperate the situation is is Satan and if anyone crosses your path or attempts to take any of your food they will have a fork in the back of their hand. It’s simple. It’s not pretty but the struggle real.

So as much as my cravings weren’t particularly exciting I did experience them in all their glory, and they are real. They existed before I knew I was pregnant and I was forced to shut them out and put it all down to being a bit of a pig. When I did find out about our baby they certainly became stronger as I was now consciously allowing the temptations to creep through. So to those of you who come across the path of a pregnant lady on a rampage to find that one thing she needs, help her with all your might. Luckily, Mcdonalds is a 24 hour establishment, and Matt never had to know about my 4am expeditions to the golden arches for one of my beloved strawberry milkshakes.

The Guilt.

Once the shock of finding out we were going to have a baby had worn off a little. We took ourselves back home and spent a little time together, just the ‘three’ of us. Matt and I soon found ourselves laughing and joking, we really had got ourselves into a bit of a pickle but it was clear that we were going to have huge amounts of support and that kept us sane. It wasn’t long before we were guessing what gender the baby might be, (Matt was team boy and I was steering slightly more towards team girl) and hoping to God it had Matt’s metabolism and my nose.

We were having such incredible amounts of fun dreaming about our future family that of course this happiness could only last so long. Mid giggling sentence where I was picturing a chubby brunette baby called Gary… I stopped. I felt like I had been punched in the heart with an iron fist, I could not breathe. Images from the past six months starting flickering in front of my eyes like a dodgy vintage film. I saw myself pouring out gin and tonics, sipping on gin and tonics, downing gin and tonics. Rolling cigarettes, lighting cigarettes, smoking cigarettes. Night after night and day after day shoved themselves in front of my retinas and irides. The corners of my eyes started to burn white hot as I was battling with these images, I was trying desperately to look in different directions in an attempt to throw the visions away from myself but nothing worked. They piled themselves on top of the other as though they were forming a montage of ‘The Great Piss Up of 2016’.

The physical feeling that came with the video reel of my hostile activities over the past six months was near indescribable. Don’t get me wrong I have been a silly billy before and done my fair share of misbehaving. I wasn’t a stranger to feelings of guilt but this was something else. Sharp stinging water droplets appeared at the bottom of my eyelids, my skin burned bright red, my bones froze and all the joints locked in place. Stomach acid started making its way back up my gullet and all sensation in my extremities disappeared. I moved outside of my body and looked down on the girl below, I was disgusted by her. I could feel myself starting to scream and crumble down to the floor, I was on my hands and knees and dribble, snot and tears were falling onto the ground. I was doing all I could to stop myself from being sick. After falling in love so damn fast I had become heartbroken just as quickly.

What had I done? How dare I be happy about the prospect of having a baby when I had no idea how much damage I could have caused. The scan hadn’t thrown anything up but it also hadn’t shown us everything. There were parts of the baby we couldn’t see and besides, problems don’t often show up until after a child is born. Selfishly I felt that I had allowed the prospect of bringing up a healthy baby into my mind but not one of a disabled child. I felt that I had already had to deal with too much and that by no means was I prepared to nurture that was anything other than ‘normal’. Especially if I was the cause of any abnormalities. If my baby were to be born disabled it would have been my fault and that wasn’t something I could live with, I would never be able to forgive myself.

I turned my head to the side and looked at Matt who clearly thought he was privilege to some kind of exorcism and said, “But what about all the drinking and smoking. Our baby is going to be disabled.”

He stared at me clearly not quite comprehending what I had just said and then it dawned on him, he seemed to have just witnessed the same film that had flashed before my eyes. “But the scan lady said everything was okay.”

“Not everything Matthew.” I grabbed the pages of the scan documents, “see she couldn’t count for everything and it was too late to see a lot of things, plus I don’t think these show cognitive development or ability.” I stared at him so hard I think for a second I may have even looked through him, I don’t know why I was challenging him with these questions, he knew no more than I did. He quite possibly knew even less, at least my addiction to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘House’ put me at a slight advantage. Unfortunately at this point it was quite late at night and there was absolutely nothing we could do to ease our minds. Except we could turn to Dr. Google. I’m sure that everyone who has ever had a nasty symptom show up has turned to Dr. Google knowing that it is exactly what you shouldn’t do. It always tells you that you are iller than you are and diagnoses you with either cancer or pregnancy, irrespective of your gender.  It was my only option though so I turned to it, I started tapping away trying to find out exactly what the effects were from smoking and drinking during pregnancy. As Dr. G does it never throws up anything reassuring, in a nutshell it told me my baby would be born with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), which presents itself in many different ways and that I was at a severe risk of miscarriage and still birth. I don’t know how long I sat there for trawling through the internet trying to get an answer, specific to my case that would tell me what damage I had or hadn’t caused. Hours and hours went by and I read on and on, I think we ate some dinner and watched some TV, we certainly went to bed and I was still on my phone desperately searching for some reassurance. But none came. That night culminated in several more break downs, a serious lack of sleep and eventually with my phone being confiscated as Matt had found me at 5am hanging off the bed holding my phone underneath it trying to read some more.

As the days and weeks went on it was all I could think of, I had met with my community midwife the very next day who had sniffed at my concern. Told me I was incredible for giving up as soon as I had found out and that she knew of many women who were addicted to substances such as heroin and crack cocaine who knew they were pregnant and still didn’t bother stopping. All of them had given birth to perfectly healthy babies. I didn’t find myself caring much for what she said, those babies were their babies. This one was mine, and I had to find out what was what. Eventually she conceded and referred me to an obstetric consultant at the hospital who would hopefully be able to tell me more and put my mind at ease.

My obsession grew and grew and I don’t think I can fully explain how testing it was for me, I couldn’t make myself be happy about the baby. I wasn’t happy and it was having a negative effect on everything. Every conversation I had was brought back to it, whenever anyone became too excited about the baby I would immediately throw in a comment that would shut them up. I had huge rows with both my parents, Matthew and I were as far apart as we had ever been and I spent a lot of my time on various floors sobbing, picking up my phone to frantically google, sobbing at something I’d seen and repeating this ritual. If I hadn’t already done damage to our unborn child he or she would certainly miscarry or be still born. Most people who I had explained my situation to had told me that this baby was clearly a miracle baby and was meant to be. No, it was too good. Karma is a bitch and it was going to come and get me. img_3381

Every move I made in those three months of pregnancy were to benefit the baby, I started shoving my mouth full of every vitamin and supplement I could find. I drove like an 89-year-old grandma and shouted ‘there’s three of us now!’ to Matthew every time he went over the speed limit. I kept a photo of Wriggler on my desk as work and took it everywhere I went not through pride but so I could examine it for abnormalities whenever I wanted.  My shoes became very flat and going down flights of stairs took considerable time, I even started abiding by those ridiculous rules of what one can and cannot eat when pregnant. I needed to be in control to such an extent that I immediately bought a diary and started jotting down my every move and appointment. I had turned into the kind of pregnant lady I dislike, a maniac.

I struggled immensely for a good many weeks after this, I couldn’t sleep in my old flat anymore and had to be as close to Matt as possible and sometimes even stayed with my parents to ensure that I wasn’t to be left alone. I struggled seeing other people’s happiness and slept fitfully with many a nightmare. I collated as much evidence as I could and dealt with streams of abuse from those on ‘Netmums’ and ‘Mumsnet’ because I hadn’t given up booze one whole year before getting pregnant, overdosed on folic acid and had definitely eaten brie. I knew I would be entering the world as an incredibly imperfect Mum and there didn’t seem to be a place for me. Where were they all? Hiding in the shadows too ashamed to admit to what they had done, berated by those perfect women who find their man, get married, plan for years and are aware of the moment of conception just as the sperm and egg meet. I felt angry and humiliated, there was support for those women who had had one cocktail *gasp* the night they’d got pregnant and the troops rallied round for them, but nothing for women and girls like me who had simply made a mistake or who’s bodies had betrayed them and thrown them off course. I thought I had left cliques behind the day I walked out of secondary school but I had not, I was forced to suffer in silence and do time for my crimes with little to no support. I attended an antenatal class and when asked to reveal one interesting fact about myself I boldly declared that I had found out about bubs at six months only to be met with shrieks and giggles from women who were at least ten years older than me. It was a pretty rough time.

I also vowed to speak out and let you ladies in similar situations know that you are not alone, you have a friend and here I am. I will not judge.

I continued to lose my mind pretty much right up until the end, when maybe a month before Matthew calmly informed me that all my ranting and raving was only going to ‘stress the baby’ and from then on I calmed down slightly. Prepared for whatever battle I may face. And whilst this was all going on I thought back to when the words ‘3 weeks’ had popped up on the pregnancy test and I had thought to myself that at least an abortion would be easy. Reliving that moment has always made me feel queasy even to this day. Realising that I wouldn’t have been able to turn to my little Wriggler as he naps on the sofa grinning like a lunatic in he sleep. He wouldn’t exist. I had been in a peculiar position where if we had discovered the baby at an early stage we wouldn’t be having one at all. What I had to deal with was that the only way I could have this baby was to have been unaware of its existence and lived life as I had and find out when it was too late and the decision had been made. I felt so blessed to be having my Wriggler yet so cursed by the circumstance. The truth still stood however, if I had known about my baby beforehand. There wouldn’t be a baby at all.

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P.S If you happen to read this and have had similar or relatable experiences to mine and need someone to talk to or share things with please do not hesitate to contact me. Alternatively if you would like to use my platform to post anonymously I would gladly make way for any writing you have. 

Email: betsybabydiaries@gmail.com 

“You’re six months pregnant love” Pt. 3.

Tuesday 17th January 2017. The day that would change my life forever. The day that snuck up so unsuspectingly and without any warning yet swiftly became the biggest day. The day that signalled the rest of my life, our lives. Betsy, Matthew and The Wriggler. Oh, and my Mum, she’s always in attendance.

The appointment for the dating scan was scheduled to be at 1.20pm at the local hospital. Me, Matthew and my Mum were all due to go. I had booked the day off work and spent the morning watching each minute go by until it was time to leave. The word anxiety doesn’t even start to cover how I was feeling that morning, but it’s all I got so I shall use it. If I’m honest, there’s a lot about that morning that I don’t remember. It all turned out to be so insignificant compared to what happened in the afternoon that I don’t believe I hold the capacity for memories spanning the whole day. One thing I do remember however is that I needed to be organised, and on time. By on time I mean a minimum one hour early for the appointment or bad bad things would happen. My wrath and Matthew would become acquainted.

Our alarm had gone off at around 9am and I had shot out of bed and got myself washed and dressed incredibly quickly. Needless to say, Matthew was feeling rather horizontal that morning and wasn’t in such a rush. He took much longer to emerge and once he did he locked himself in the bathroom without saying a word to me. Most likely wanting to put off the inevitable, he then decided to attempt to drown himself in the shower for around 40 minutes. I sat on his horrifically uncomfortable sofa and listened to the water. I could see him clearly in my mind and I felt so awful. I imagined him surrounded by steam, head down and one hand against the wall, shower droplets masking any signs of his tears. Matthew and I were in love sure, but we had never discussed where the relationship was going, we were serious but not even 18 months in and we hadn’t even spoken about living together. What if I brought a baby into our lives, would we survive it? Would we be able to do this? Images of me living alone in a studio flat hoiking a fat and ugly baby up flights and flights of stairs entered my mind and I stood up quickly. I marched down the corridor in his flat and rapped on the door.

“Matt, we have to leave in 15 minutes minimum. Please get out of the shower now.”

He didn’t respond verbally, but around two minutes later I heard the lock on the door turn and listened to his soggy feet make their way to his bedroom. We danced very slowly around each other until it was time to leave. I don’t think we knew how to communicate and I was so scared I would be losing him very soon that I stayed very quiet. Something that is near impossible for me to do.

When I say that I like to be places on time, what I actually mean is that I wish to be there an hour early or I really start to lose my shit. Matt has never quite learned this or understood my need to be so early and therefore it’s always been a bone of contention in our relationship – add the prospect of a new baby into the picture and you can only imagine how I was behaving. Each red light or minor bump in the road that pushed us further and further away from being early had me gouging bits out of his leather seats with my nails. This psychotic need to be early was inherited from my Mother and needless to say she was even earlier than us and her barrage of tetchy text messages was nearly sending me over the edge. But we made it, 59 minutes early.

The walk up to the hospital isn’t a long one, but with every step forward I felt like I was taking three back. I couldn’t be going any faster but at the same time felt we were going nowhere, no one really spoke as we made our way up to the Women’s Centre, gradually finding ourselves in the company of more and more pregnant women and women with freshly birthed babies on their way home.

A woman who has just given birth tends to have a particular look on her face, or so I’ve always thought. These women, unfortunately as ugly as they’ll ever be due to the fact that they have just done something incredible. All look beautiful. There’s a serene exhaustion about them, their grey skin and dark circles are excused and their shuffling walk is oddly powerful. When you look into their eyes they go on forever, as if they have just been expanded by all they have experienced. They have quite possibly been through the biggest moment of their lives, a moment that no matter how hard one tries. You cannot prepare for. You cannot prepare for nature as nature always takes its own course. These eyes though, right at the bottom have the brightest spark that you will ever see. These women have had a fire lit inside of them, and it’s a feeling that no one else could dream of experiencing. This fire is not necessarily one of love, as for many women love doesn’t occur immediately or even soon after, but a flame of protection. Like a lioness with her cubs these women will do anything and everything to defend their innocent, and this fire gives these exhausted and spent souls the energy to go on. The energy to be what us mere mortals call ‘Mother’.

I saw this look in so many eyes that day and etched over the bemused faces of new mothers and fathers alike it was something other worldly, would this be me one day? I couldn’t fathom it. I felt like an impostor, I had no right to place myself amongst such heroes.

We eventually found ourselves at the top of the women’s centre of the hospital after a daunting lift ride where we had been forced to acquaint ourselves with each and every floor on the way up. There were maternity wards, the SCBU, post natal wards and finally where we were off to, the diagnostic suite. Little did I know that from that day on and over the next few months I would become rather accustomed to each of these areas.

On turning right out of the lift and dragging my heels down the corridor towards the diagnostic suite I quickly realised that this place was a cut above the other areas. The decor was nicer, it was light and airy, there were beautiful photos of happy families with babies all over the walls. They even had a water machine. This area was decorated like a happy area, it was clearly designed for the lovely mothers and fathers who were going to glimpse their little beans for the first time. It wasn’t decorated for women like me. I was an incredibly sore thumb here.

A nudge in the back made me realise that I had opened the door and frozen, my Mum was pushing me towards the desk. I quickly informed the lady that I was here for a dating scan.

“How many weeks are you sweetie?” Wow.

“I’m afraid that’s why I am here, I’m here for my dating scan. I have no idea.” She gave me a funny look.

Clearly the fact that I couldn’t give her even a rough idea was puzzling, instead she asked for my name and the time my appointment was booked for and went from there. Turning around and rifling through some papers there it was, the fax that my GP had sent with the word ‘URGENT’ scrawled over the top. She turned back around, eyebrows slightly higher, eyes wider and lips pursed and spread into an awful forced smile. I had no idea what my Mum and Matthew were doing behind me but I felt so alone, a tear jumped out of my right eye and onto my cheek. I was so embarrassed, I could see women and men in the waiting area looking like school children awaiting a certificate or medal. I felt a slightly more familiar feeling, that of a girl who’s sitting outside the headmistresses’ office awaiting a severe punishment for a very silly crime.

The lady’s tone had changed so much after reading what was on my medical notes that it further confirmed how serious our situation was, she told me that the sonographer would be fully aware of my circumstance and would accommodate accordingly. I was glad, I wanted to spare myself the shame of explaining that this wasn’t necessarily a happy occasion. I chose some seats set slightly apart from the main waiting room. I knew that the other couples in there were awaiting a different kind of news from me and I didn’t want to put a downer on their experience. We took our seats one next to the other, Matt first, then me and then my Mum. Matt immediately took out his phone and started playing Candy Crush, as much as I needed him at that moment he needed to be elsewhere more. Besides, my Mum was here too and willing to talk. I watched a little blonde girl potter through the waiting room. She was wearing some kind of denim suit and her hair was tied up in a top knot. I followed her dodgy and clumsy footsteps until she found her Mother. Her head was in line with her Mother’s tummy and as soon as she reached it she gave it an odd and jabbing head butt, lips pouting. She was attempting to kiss her unborn sibling. I looked up and my eyes met with those of the Father; like me he had been watching his daughter. Embarrassed I looked away and focused on the door in front of me. But that act of love and togetherness had got to me, It had tapped through the thin shell I had manged to don that morning. The tears flowed down my cheeks again, my mum squeezed my hand tightly and I’m sure uttered words of reassurance and kindness. Matt didn’t notice.

We all sat there for a while, the appointment time came and went as they often do and we had entered that phase of ‘late’ where you start to bed yourself in for the day and get a little more comfortable. Not knowing when I would be called forward made it all a little easier and I started to relax. My mum and I focussed our attention on the other people in the waiting room and keeping my eyes off their tummies we started guessing their stories. Trying to work out what had brought them there, what jobs they did etc. etc. One woman appeared to be wearing a pair of what can only be described as an Ugg boot with a Croc sole attached. Shoving my Mum in the ribs and giggling. I whipped my phone out, opening the camera zooming in and taking a photo and sending it to my best friend and captioning it ‘Cruggs’ had me and my mum in stitches. Silently shaking and shoving my sleeve in my mouth so as not to draw attention to ourselves for one moment I completely forgot where I was. It was one of those situations that are so incredibly serious that the slightest funny will send you over the edge. I was so glad for a little respite from how stern the atmosphere had been all morning that I was completely engrossed in riding the wave of hilarity. Unfortunately we both looked around to find the kind face of a dark-haired lady looking at us and mouthing my name.

“Catherine Lewis-Tafft.” I watched her lips form the words in slow motion and my moment of hilarity suddenly became very unfunny. We all stood up and followed her into the ultrasound room.

I took off my coat and my bag, shoved them in a corner and let my mum direct Matthew into the chair beside the bed as I stared ahead waiting for the instruction to lie down on it. The instruction came and I strode past my mum and Matthew sitting like sentinels and clambered rather unceremoniously onto it, exposing my tummy ready for the scan. The sonographer told me that she knew what my situation was, that we could stop at any time and that the screen usually used to show expectant mothers their unborn babies was turned off. I didn’t have to see anything and she would keep her screen to herself until otherwise instructed to do so. I shifted my head up and to the left, feeling that horrible paper rustling against my hair I found Matt’s eyes. He was poker faced, I couldn’t read anything.

The scan commenced and the lady put the cold gel that’s never actually that cold over my tummy below my belly button. I tried to remain comfortable and stared straight up at the ceiling but something made me look to the left again. My Mother had somehow managed to scoot her chair to within range of the lady’s screen and had a look I had never seen on her face before. Knowing my Mum is a medical professional all I could see was that she fully understood what she was looking at. Going against my better judgement I shifted my head to the right and craned for the monitor. I saw an arm, a very small but perfectly formed little arm. It turns out you didn’t need a medical degree to understand this ultrasound. It was there, plain as day. Waving at me. I looked straight back up at the ceiling knowing that Matthew hadn’t looked with me and quickly tried to work out how soon in a pregnancy an arm is fully formed and functional. I had no idea but pretty late was my guess. There was no way this was happening, I had seen something else and was losing my mind. Maybe it was an image left over from an earlier scan on a different lady, and then she spoke.

“So you have no idea how far along you are?”

“Erm, no I’m not sure. I couldn’t even guess.” Just give it to me.

“You’re six months pregnant love. You’re having a baby.”

I screamed. I screamed the word no. I immediately decided that this was not true and that I wasn’t going to do it. I could not be having a baby. It was for one thing medically impossible and for another, how had I not noticed that I’d been carrying for six whole months. Only stupid women in cheap magazines do that. It wasn’t real and I could not process what she had just told me. My body was shaking and my arms had flown upwards so my hands could cover my face, I had no control over my reaction. Somewhere through my turmoil I managed to work out what Matt was doing, he had slumped forwards in his chair and had his head in his hands. I was too scared to touch him, his non-reaction was even more frightening than my shrieking. The stark contrast between us both must have been incredible. Not to add, what I could see going on behind my boyfriend. There she was, my bloody Mother. Unable to hide her glee for one respectable second, jumping up and down, fist pumping and celebrating. What a trio we were.

I seem to remember the sonographer stopping what she was doing and letting us react in our own ways for a few minutes. I don’t think Matt moved or said much and as I exclaimed that I could not do this my Mum came straight over and said. “Yes we can.” We. That was the word that instantly made it all better, she wasn’t going to leave me with this, not for one second. We were going to have a baby and we were all going to be a part of the pregnancy and what was to follow. The sonographer informed me that she required me to allow her to carry on so that she could see the baby was alright and do an anomaly scan. I still didn’t want to see the screen at this point so I let my mum stand over me and watch everything the lady was doing as I took Matt’s hand and we just let the tears pour from our eyes. One of the most incredible things about Matthew is that he will always step up and take responsibility for his actions, and in that moment, when he picked up my hand and squeezed it has hard as he could. I knew that he wasn’t going to leave me. I don’t think he much wanted to be in this situation either but he definitely wasn’t going anywhere, he wiped his eyes and refocused back on what was happening. He brought himself back to where I needed him to be.

The scan continued. Due to the baby’s size she couldn’t see an awful lot, most issues were ruled out but she couldn’t quite count each finger and toe. She deduced from the baby’s size (weighing in at 2.9lbs) that I was 27 weeks + 6 days and due on the 12th April. The baby was too big to see the gender but she did say she couldn’t see any boy bits. She handed me a ‘free’ photo of the baby as though it was some consolation prize and sent us on our way. We had to make an appointment for 36 weeks to ensure that the growth was as wanted and make contact with a community midwife who would do everything else in the mean time.

Walking back out of that room and down the corridor and taking the lift past all the floors where countless babies and Mothers were was surreal. I realised that I was in fact now part of that special club, but it was like I had somehow sneaked in through the backdoor and had a fast track pass to the end. We burst into the winter sunlight and I let Matthew go off to phone his boss and tell him he wouldn’t be in work for the rest of the day. I watched him go and in that moment I fell in love with him a little bit more. His shape seemed to have changed, he was standing taller and broader than I had ever seen. He had just become a Daddy and it was so beautiful to witness.

My Mum and I didn’t say much to each other, she offered one more “we will do this” and told me that I was always destined to be a fabulous Mum and hugging tightly and sobbing I continued to watch Matt’s silhouette over her shoulder. A minute or so later I saw him spark a cigarette. As most smokers will know, whenever something big or stressful goes down a fag is the first thing one will reach for. For the first time in years I had not done that, I had somehow realised that I had something precious to protect and from that moment on I quit.

We took seats in the cafe at the hospital and ordered some food and coffee, I was suddenly starving and feeling a little better started to digest what had just happened. I took out the photo of the scan and immediately deduced what everything was. It was a side on photo and I could make out a leg and an arm, a pretty rotund belly. A beautiful button nose, cute but defined jaw line and a pair of little lips that seemed to be blowing bubbles. This baby was the cutest thing I had ever seen and I was already starting to form a mental image of what he or she may look like when they were born. I was in love. I talked Matt slowly through what everything was and in under an hour all three of us had become very excited for the existence of our new family member. We still had so much to work out but we had time. Once it became clear that our sense of humours had fully returned my mum turned to me.

“Bitch.” she said “You only have to endure a three month pregnancy, that’s so unfair.” Laughing and realising I needed to pee I took myself off to the loo, as I sat down I dared to look at my tummy. I was surprised to find out that it was protruding, more so than it had that morning I swear. It seemed more ‘toned’ and round. It had clearly already commenced its accommodation for my baby, I touched it ever so gently in the mirror and realised that it was rock hard. Feeling incredibly stupid and also finding amusement in this I pulled my tights up and as I always had done yanked them as high as possible. Taking one step towards the door I realised how extremely uncomfortable I was, who was I kidding! These tights didn’t fit one bit; and for the first time ever I let my stomach hang out and proud and I didn’t care. It felt so nice to be free.

I strode back to where my Mum and Matt were feeling a new confidence in my body. The five pounds I had put on over Christmas had not just been down to too much Turkey and the weight and pain I had felt during my ‘new year new me’ run had been explained. After all this time I had finally been given a diagnosis. It wasn’t the diagnosis I had expected but by God it was a pretty good one. I was pregnant and I was going to have a baby in three months time, it was extraordinary. Reaching the table I saw that my Dad had been calling, feeling very scared I picked up the phone and rang him. Not thinking that at this point we had all got over the news and had started chatting about pairs of baby Dr. Martens I very quickly and gleefully told him that I was six months pregnant and he was about to be a Grandfather. “You’re joking” he said and I was immediately reminded of his reaction when I told him I’d passed my driving test on the first go. I kindly explained that I was not by any stretch of the imagination joking and that this was very real. Being quite a practical bloke he didn’t have the same reaction that my Mum had had. I realised he needed time to process and catch up with how we were all feeling. I arranged for him to meet us back at my flat and then put the phone down.

The journey back home was peaceful. I asked Matt if he was alright and he seemed to still be breathing so all was well. We both got into the car and spent the journey holding hands and humming along to the radio. We felt more together than we had been ever before, we were embarking on an adventure together. And that was the crucial point, we were together. Me, Matthew and our baby. Oh, and my mum. There she was pictured in the rear view mirror, driving along behind us and grinning away like a Cheshire cat.

Sitting by myself for a few blissful minutes that night I had a flash back. To around a week or two before where I had been desperately tired and sitting cross-legged on Matthew’s sitting room floor had burst into tears and declared a sudden need for a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake. I had never even had one of these and yet I was weeping and pining for one. Thinking further, I had wondered. Who does that?

A pregnant lady does, that’s who.

P.S. My brother needed proof that the ‘cruggs’ were real so here you are: