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.

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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:

 

“You’re six months pregnant love” Pt. 2.

I went outside and tentatively lit up a cigarette. Should I be smoking? If I was pregnant would it at least be respectful to the foetus to not smoke whilst I still was, even if I was planning on termination?

Unfortunately the stress of that day and the addiction to nicotine meant I lit another one, I hadn’t processed a thing and I wasn’t yet ready to consider quitting.

Listening to the ringing sound a feeling of dread came over me and I found myself transported to my childhood body, having stolen some chocolate from the cupboard and watching my mum go through the bin about to find a wrapper that I’d buried it’s depths. I’m not sure if it was because I desperately needed her guidance or if I just felt so vulnerable but I was extremely frightened of what she would say. Me, a twenty-four year old adult, thinking her mother would ground her or take her pocket money away for doing something silly. My Dad picked up.

“Hi Mousie, How are you?”

“Fine, thanks Daddy. Would you mind if I spoke to Mum quickly?”

“Hello Darling, what’s up” Oh god, my heart was pounding. Quick puff of the fag.

“So you know when we went to the hospital and I did a blood test, a lady called me from there today whilst I was at work and she told me there was a hormone in my blood that meant I had to take a pregnancy test.”

“Right.”

“And well I just took one and it says I’m three weeks pregnant.”

“Okay, do you want me to come over?” Yes, yes, yes.

“No it’s okay.” Desperately wanting to seem mature I rejected her offer. “Matthew and I are going to get another test just to 100% make sure that the results are what they are and then I need to call this lady back tomorrow and tell her what it says and then go from there. I don’t think there’s anything you can do right now but thank you.”

The conversation moved a little further before we rang off, she wasn’t mad at me. Why would she be mad at me? I was her child certainly but now I was her adult child. My actions were my responsibility. Matt and I got in the car and made our way towards the supermarket when I got a text. ‘We are coming over, see you in 20 minutes’ – Thank god. I really needed to see my parents. I needed someone to talk this through with and someone to tell me what to do if possible, Matt had still only managed a few words at this point and I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut so as not to overwhelm him.

Trotting around the supermarket Matt and I held hands, we held hands as tightly as we could. He was letting me know he was here for me and I was asking him to help me keep moving as I was starting to lose any sensation in my legs. We picked up another test. Matt clearly being ashamed of our predicament insisted that we take it to the self checkout so as to avoid the cashier trying to work out if we were happily buying this pregnancy test or not. I scanned the test and was quickly screwed over by some age authorisation bullshit. The self checkout machine started yelling at us over and over again and finally a spotty youth strolled over. He was too young to authorise the test and leaning his head back he opened his rather large mouth and called “Sue! Sue! Can you come and authorise this pregnancy test for this lady please.” Needless to say, we had drawn an incredible amount of attention to ourselves and everyone queueing behind us was trying to ascertain if we were happy with our purchase. Heads down and poker faced we scuttled out.

My parents shot into the car park soon after we got home. A sharp intake of breath let me know that Matt was super nervous. Quickly reminding him that the likelihood of my father, a bloke who is often mistaken for a pretty camp gay man, deciding to beating him up was very slim. His method of torture would be piss-taking and mockery, which is possibly even more painful. My parents marched up to the back door, hugged us both tightly and we got talking. We spoke about all the different possibilities of how this could have happened, was it even true or was it cyst hormones showing up in my pee. The plan of action was to call the GP the next morning and get an emergency appointment and go from there. My Dad’s suggestion was to call The Sun and sell my story of an immaculate conception as I was clearly still a virgin. One of the less original Dad jokes.

The next morning came and I called the GP’s surgery, I explained my predicament to a rather snotty receptionist who openly let me know that she thought I was a complete moron and whom, after some serious haggling, reluctantly gave me an emergency appointment. She also revealed that rather fittingly my original GP had now retired and therefore I was assigned to a temporary one. Dodged a bullet that one.

I was petrified, Matt still in bed I took a very long time getting ready. I ensured my make-up looked good and that I was wearing a half decent outfit so the doctor didn’t think I was a complete eejit. Next thing I knew I had somehow driven myself there and I was sitting in the waiting room, willing the clock never to reach 11.20am. The doctor came out at 11.24am and called my name, I followed her into her office and took a seat. Wrapping my coat around my tummy I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out. Instead of words from my mouth tears from eyes started pouring down so silently and so quickly that I was soon tasting them. The GP handed me a tissue and told me in very certain terms that I needed to calm down and try again otherwise she would be unable to help me. As quickly and coherently as I could I explained what was going on and that essentially I had not has a period for six months (PCOS) and had just produced three positive pregnancy tests. Her eyes widened, she deduced in seconds that this wasn’t good news for me and that we were in a very serious situation. She turned to her computer and typed frantically for a minute or so, hitting the print button and ripping the paper out of the machine and on to her desk she picked up the phone.

“I’m calling the hospital” she quickly explained “we need to get you in for a scan as soon as possible.”

On the phone to the hospital she may as well have been shouting ‘mayday! mayday!’ she approached it with such emergency. Realising that she was picturing the worst case scenario and that in fact I could be as many months pregnant as the amount of periods I had missed my throat closed up and salty water drops appeared again, shoving themselves unceremoniously out of my tear ducts. Her phone call was over, grabbing a huge marker pen she wrote ‘URGENT’ on the top of the sheet of paper and faxed it over to the hospital. I was to await a call from them. Then her question came.

“So if you are pregnant, what is it you would like to do?” I stared at her, was the answer not obvious? Look at me, I’m far too young, far too poor and far too much of a fan of gin and tonics to be a mother. I told her that Matt and I had already discussed this and we wanted a termination, although this was untrue, Matt wanted a termination and I was entirely unsure. I knew that I would only know how I felt if and when we found out there was a baby growing inside of me. My heart was already breaking at the thought that I’d make a decision to dispose of a new and innocent life.  She wrote down a phone number on a slip of paper and told me that I were to ring it as soon as I got out of there. It was an abortion clinic and they would be able to give me both a diagnostic scan and a termination afterwards but that I should make an appointment asap as they were an extremely busy place. Sympathy then flickered over her face and she looked me right in the eye.

“I just want to let you know, that in my many years of experience as a doctor I have rarely seen ladies who have been fully happy with the decision to abort their babies, 80-90% of women regret it. Now good luck, I really do hope this all turns out well for you.”

Stunned by this comment I shuffled out of the surgery and into the winter sun. Looking at my phone I saw a text from my mum, she was going to meet me at the usual coffee place in 20 minutes, thank god. Rolling up a fag (still clearly in denial) I marched over and dialled the number of the abortion clinic. They were experiencing a high volume of calls and I would need to hold for an indefinite amount of time. I hung up and walked into the coffee shop, ordered a large Americano to go and went and sat outside, pretty much chain smoking at this point I called them back and sat on hold. Seven minutes passed and finally a lady picked up, I explained to her what I wanted and she told me that she would be asking me a series of questions and that I had to answer them honestly and to the best of my ability. The quiz began and a stream of personal and uncomfortable questions came my way. A few minutes passed and my Mum walked up, I finished the call soon after with a dating scan and abortion booked for next Thursday, a whole week away. I had booked an abortion as easily as one books a table at a restaurant, the autopilot mode I had found myself in was making some pretty huge decisions.

Realising swiftly that I could not wait a week to find out what was going on, I phoned the hospital. I spoke to a lady who had literally just pulled my fax out of the machine and after listening to me wail at her vowed she would do all she could do to help me. She booked me a dating scan for 1.20 pm the coming Tuesday, that was slightly better.

I looked up at my mum who had that look on her face that all mums do, so full of love and security that I instantly burst into tears. I wanted her to take control like she used to and grab my upper arm and steer me in the right direction, but she wasn’t going to. She was letting me fly on my own and make my own choices and decisions regarding the most serious issue that had ever come my way. She knew that for anyone else but myself and Matthew to hold responsibility for any actions taken from then on would be wrong, it had to be us.

I was still not entirely convinced that I was pregnant at this point and looking back I was clinging onto the words on the pregnancy test leaflet that said that there was every chance that conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome could result in false positives. I had spent so long dealing with the condition that like my GP I was refusing to look any further. I had been told that ‘when you know, you know’ and these words kept going round my head, I wasn’t a stupid girl, I was perfectly well educated. There was absolutely no way in hell that I could have missed this huge thing. I decided to go into work the next day and told my colleagues that the chances were that this was a false positive. I attended the New Year ‘do’ for work, ignoring the fact that I had had to buy a dress two sizes up because my stomach had been rather ‘bloated’ recently and got fairly hammered in a desperate attempt to forget all I was facing.  The next morning Matt went to football and I went downstairs and lay down on the sofa under my duvet, my flatmate had had her boyfriend over the night before and as we’d come home I’d heard them laughing with a couple of friends in the living room. I’d burst into tears instantly feeling so embarrassed and too fearful to look at or speak to anyone that I’d run upstairs to hide. Half praying that her boyfriend had gone home at this point so that I wouldn’t have to look at him and answer the silent questions that beamed from his eyes I waited for her to appear. Luckily she appeared before he did, and as soon as I saw her all of my hungover emotion poured out. We had lived together for so long, what if this was the end of it all. What if I was about to have a baby and change everything forever. What if I was about to lose her. Tears came again and she climbed onto the sofa with me and hugged me so very tightly I didn’t want her to ever let go – she couldn’t see that there was any possibility that I could be pregnant either. We would have noticed something! This was all some horrible nightmare and it would be over very soon.

And after a few days that felt like years, Tuesday 17th January arrived and it was time for me to go and be handed my sentence. I’d either get away scot-free, or be handed a minimum of 18 years to life.

 

 

 

 

“You’re six months pregnant love” Pt.1. 

The road to finding out I was pregnant was decidedly bumpy with several pit stops. Yet somehow it all blurs into one whenever I think about it. I’ve had many a moment when I felt like I was unable to comprehend it all and therefore felt like a failure. Luckily, during these moments my mother holds my hand and kindly explains that what I have been through is borderline traumatic and most women would be found rocking in a corner by now.

As I have previously mentioned, my treatment for PCOS continued, my weight stayed the same and things were looking bleak. I returned to the GP with one last attempt at begging him to do something to help me out, my periods had now stopped and I was experiencing abdominal and pelvic pain. Not to mention I was becoming increasingly anxious about every day things, driving to work was awful and whilst falling asleep I would picture myself toppling down the stairs to my death, usually naked. I was really struggling. I’m sure you spotted just then when I said my periods had stopped and thought AH HA, why didn’t the silly cow take a test? I did take a test, as soon as I skipped the first period I whipped out the ol’ Clearblue and the words not pregnant looked back at me. I wasn’t with child.

Besides, at each appointment with the GP, he happily put everything I was experiencing down to PCOS. No period? PCOS. Abdominal pain? PCOS. Weight issues? PCOS. Mental instability? PCOS. The list goes on.

One thing was happening however, the GP was starting to listen to me, or so I thought. The harsh reality is that he never listened to me. Otherwise he may have suggested I do a blood test and none of this would have happened. I’d also have bugger all to write about -so swings and roundabouts. Anyway, it seemed like he was listening to me. He prescribed me Metformin to try and bring my periods back, gave me some sleepy loony pills and referred me to a consultant at the hospital who would tell me why my ovaries were rebelling.

I booked my appointment at the hospital and the nearest one wasn’t until January, I had three months to wait. And three months I did wait. I waited so very patiently for all that time, that any further symptoms were put down to polycystic ovaries and mostly ignored. There was one particular symptom though that desperately unnerved me, not too long before I was due at the hospital I started to feel a funny pulsating feeling on the left side of my lower abdomen, right at the bottom. It didn’t happen all the time but it certainly was peculiar, this fluttering bothered me so much that at my next appointment with Dr. Denial I brought it up. His explaination? PCOS. Apparently, one can grow a cyst so large that it creates its own vascular system and what I was feeling was the blood pumping round it. Such a large cyst that it’s now taking up a baby sized amount of space as it snores in its pram next to me…

So I think you hopefully have the gist. How did I not notice? PCOS, and a slightly crap GP.

The day of my hospital appointment arrived and I was incredibly nervous yet excited. I was finally going to find out what on earth was going on and get fixed! Hurrah. The appointment occurred two hours after it’s scheduled time in true NHS fashion and was actually rather disappointing. Turns out, my GP hadn’t ever really written notes about my experiences and therefore the consultant was forced to get me to start from the beginning and waste a serious amount of time. One thing she did want from me was a blood test, to check many things but mostly my hormone levels. See if this cyst issue was presenting itself clearly in my blood. So my mum and I scooted over to the blood lady, she took three vials of the stuff and we went home, feeling slightly deflated but at least we were on the right track.

A day passed and I found myself sitting at work, typing away and my phone rang. Odd number, I didn’t answer it. If it was important they’d leave me a voicemail. They left me a voicemail – multitasking my way through I checked this message. Phone half to my ear a lady explained that she was calling from the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford on the behalf of my consultant and she needed to discuss my blood test. It wasn’t urgent, but could I give her a call back.

CANCER. That was it, I definitely had cancer, and I was going to die so fat that no one would be able to lift the coffin and I’d have to be brought in on one of those things they use for lifting boxes in a warehouse. But it wasn’t urgent? Cancer is pretty urgent right?

I called the number and the lovely lady answered the phone.

“Ah hello Catherine, thank you for calling me back. I needed to speak to you because the pregnancy hormone hCG has presented in your blood and we require a test from you.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand?”

“There’s a hormone that has shown up in your blood. We need you to buy a test and call us back with the results. Don’t worry too much, if it’s negative it means one thing and well if it’s positive that means another.”

I put the phone down and turned to my colleague next to me, she’d clearly heard the tone of the call and looked at me in rather a concerned way. I burst into tears. There was no way I could be pregnant! My GP had told me I was near enough infertile, I’d joked about adopting 400 dogs and living a life parent evening free. My fresh and carefully put together personal development plan for that year was sitting next to me on the desk waiting for my manager’s sign off. I WAS going to lose the weight and I DID have a huge cyst and no, this wasn’t real. Still in incredible denial at this point, I did a quick google, realised that cysts can show up as false positives on pregnancy tests and told myself to wait until the end of the day. Grab a test and go home. Luckily, my even more concerned at this point colleague shoved me in her car, took me to boots and forced me to buy a test and go home early. Dawdling as much as I could, I texted my boyfriend telling him I had finished early and was coming to see him.

Horizontal. Horizontal is the word I choose to use to describe my boyfriend. If he had sent me a text saying he was leaving work early and coming straight to mine because we needed a chat I would probably have wet myself and attempted to meet him midway on the central reservation of the dual carriageway to ensure we could discuss whatever it was as soon as possible. Luckily, this guy was half asleep after a night shift and just replied with an ‘okay, see you soon’.

Opening the back door to his flat, there he was, rubbing his eyes in his dressing gown looking super sleepy and rather bemused. I burst in. Immediately explaining everything that had happened and that I needed to take a test and that I could be pregnant but I also might not be and do we even have enough sex really and I’m on the pill so it’s all okay and obviously we have options so don’t freak out I will sort this. I don’t think I got so much as a blink in response, he hadn’t even listened. My only option was to bellow at him in a rather uncouth way “I MIGHT BE PREGNANT”, and then he sat up.

Another thing my boyfriend is really good at is not reacting precisely when one needs a response. So I scuttled into the bathroom, I peed on the first stick of this super high tech pregnancy kit and waited three minutes. It was inconclusive. Fab. I don’t think it quite needed the pressure jet I had supplied it with. Re-reading the instructions I saw that you can actually dip the test in the wee to produce a result. Innovative as I am, I slurped a few gallons of water and found myself one of those little GU pudding ramekins and had another go in that. Matt had woken up a little more by then and this time came with me into the loo and waited for three minutes next to the test whilst I drip dried with anticipation. Something flashed up, his face didn’t change. “Matt, what does it say”. Nothing. “Matthew what the hell does that thing in front of you say!”… he just kept staring. Panicking I launched myself off the loo and whilst in midair his little voice found its way out with “Pregnant, it says pregnant”. A further minute or so and it clarified that I was only 3 weeks gone. Fine.

We looked at each other, I had never seen his eyes look so big and his skin so pale. He was petrified, I grabbed him and pulled him as close as I could. It would be fine, we weren’t ready for a baby. We were allergic! And anyway the test said three weeks, three weeks is rectifiable. An abortion was entirely an option and most likely the route we would choose. We sat down together on the sofa and let it soak in. That’s when the funny fluttering started again… thinking back to a slightly happier time when I had joked “the baby’s kicking” referring to my pesky cysts my mind started reeling. Feeling my face go red I quickly and slyly googled ‘When do you start to feel a baby kick?’. And there it was.

‘Monitoring your baby’s movements. You’ll usually start feeling some movement between weeks 16 and 20 of your pregnancy, although it can sometimes be later than this. These movements may be felt as a kick, flutter, swish or roll’ said the NHS website. No, nonononono. I could not possibly be THAT pregnant, but those movements. They were so aptly described. I picked up the phone and called my Mummy.