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 Wriggler.

Finding out I was pregnant was shocking to say the very least. I was given a three month (max) preparation period and was demanded to shake off my allergy to babies and fall in love with a stubborn little bean that despite any amount of gin, white water rafting, heavy lifting or violent dancing had clung on inside me and chosen me to be his keeper.

Was I to feel an instant connection to this little human? At the time of discovery he was way too big to even see the gender, everything was to be a surprise for us. Who was this person? Were they safe? Did I love them? Did I want them? Who knew. The only thing I did know was that beneath all the shock came shining through with a fire of passion a need to do everything within my power to ensure that from that day on they were not to be harmed, not to be alone, not to feel sadness if it were in my power or ability for them not to. From that day, that hour, that moment, I became a mother. 

And so I continued – and tried to do my best to get to know my unborn child. I started to speak to the baby, started to sing to it. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had gone from rejecting my physical appearance to embracing it, to touching and caressing my belly. To letting my other half see it, stroke it and kiss it for the first time since we had been together. It had gone from the worst part of my body to the best, in the space of a few hours. I went from ignoring every pain and discomfort that I had previously diagnosed as cysts, to enjoying the ebbs and flows that came with the baby’s movements. We created a character – and soon enough – the baby became ‘The Wriggler’.

The Wriggler fast became a pretty good friend of mine, it’s hard not to get to know someone well especially when you spend all your time with them. Wriggler slept mostly when I was awake, always in the car and often when out and about. Wriggler had its fun when I was trying to sleep – always. Partying until the AM. Wriggler was cheeky, and a fighter. Wriggler would push its feet and hands against my desk at work if I leaned too closely and would hiccup it’s way through important meetings and push on my bladder whilst on sales calls. Wriggler did whatever was inconvenient and I loved that – I loved that already my baby felt independent, my baby felt wilful. I was proud and I hadn’t even met them. 

My boyfriend and I would meet at the end of a working day and he wouldn’t just ask how my day had gone he’d also ask how Wriggler was – did Wriggler have a good day? I wasn’t sure if the guilt born from not being aware of our baby’s existence was the reason why, but we fast became obsessed. Every movement, every time my belly grew, each new sensation was spoken about at great length. At times I became too frightened to sleep, so wanting to make up for lost time that I felt I should always be ensuring that the baby was happy and okay. Monitoring our new prized possession. 

The personality we created was everything to us,  The Wriggler was not a morning person, was definitely cheeky, stubborn and had an insanely sweet tooth. The Wriggler also loved Ed Sheeran, I would sing ‘I’m in love with the shape of you’ at the top of my voice and my darling would jig along inside me in response. 

The creation of The Wriggler felt crucial to our success – The Wriggler had not chosen to exist and it was our job to ensure that we were the best parents we could possibly be, that our baby was loved and knew it. The fact that I felt that I had been neglectful meant I had so much making up to do and each day I promised this to Wriggler. I woke up each morning and would declare – ‘I love you my angel, Mummy will always take care of you’. My eyes would fill with tears and I would go about my day ensuring every move I made would prolong my fulfilling that promise. 

The Year Before. Pt.2.

And so the run up continued. I continued – just this time I had been branded with PCOS. For those of you who don’t know too much about polycystic ovarian syndrome, welcome, because it really doesn’t seem like anyone does. So here is the definition taken from the NHS website:

“Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.

The three main features of PCOS are:

  • irregular periods – which means your ovaries don’t regularly release eggs (ovulation)
  • excess androgen – high levels of “male hormones” in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair (see signs and symptoms below)
  • polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs”

And the symptoms:

“If you do have signs and symptoms of PCOS, they’ll usually become apparent during your late teens or early twenties. They can include:

For me, PCOS meant rather a lot. Initially, it explained why I had been struggling so much losing weight, why I seemed to have more facial hair than bigfoot and why suddenly my skin had gone from perfection to a complete war zone. My body was continuously rebelling against me and I had no control. 

Being the fat girl is never fun. Sitting with your slender friends with a side salad whilst they chomp away on burgers and chips and undoing the buttons on their size 8/10 jeans after they finish, claiming resemblance to a beached whale is less than pleasant. Especially when you go out afterwards and you’re the one who looks like she ate all their burgers combined and the chef. But enough about how crappy a few extra stone can feel and back on to how I ended up in such a pickle.

So after months and months of dieting and by dieting I mean, smoothie diet, juice diet, gluten-free diet, protein shakes, weight loss shakes, 800 kcal a day diet, no food past 6 diet, coffee diet coke and cigarettes diet. All topped off with a shed load of exercise. I started to lose a little weight. Nothing as satisfying as I had experienced before but certainly something noticeable. I had a big family holiday planned for mid June and I desperately wanted to look good for it and by god I worked so hard. By the time the holiday came round I had lost around 12 pounds in total and was feeling slightly better about myself, it was nowhere near my goal but as my hormones were constantly fighting against me it really was the best I could hope for.

So we trotted off on holiday, me, my mum and dad, my boyfriend and my brother and his insufferable girlfriend (happy to say they are no longer together) to Puglia, Italy. We were exposed to the sea, the sun, beautifully healthy Italian food and a heap load of fun and exercise. It was perfect! And it was on that holiday that I had my last period.

Now for someone who doesn’t have existing issues with their ovaries, period problems may prove to be quite worrisome or troubling. The truth was that for me, a missed or late period was a common occurrance and more of a nuisance than anything to be concerned with. So this particular period started as mine usually do. At an inconvenient time, just after our plane landed, finding myself armed only with skimpy white clothing and not a tampon in sight. Something I have always been aware of but admittedly never adhered to when travelling abroad is what I had considered an absurd ruling around placing tampons down the loo, I just didn’t understand why. This villa had such the same ruling, and in true Betsy fashion I decided to ignore the polite notice and throw a tampon down the downstairs toilet and flush away. Away it did not go. The next morning being awoken by a slightly concerning smell of poo riding on a sea breeze and up my nostrils I quickly realised something was wrong. Peeling my burnt and lobster like skin off the sheets I popped my head over the balcony to see a few men and an open man hole cover. Ah, my tampon. Shit.

I then saw my Father having a rather heated discussion with these men in i’m not sure what language. No way could his daughter have blocked the whole plumbing system, she was nearing her mid twenties and would know better than to be so lazy as to not throw the tampon in the bin. Oh no she wouldn’t. Feeling four again and desperately trying to think of an excuse I army crawled back in to my bedroom to await my fate. Ohhh he was pissed. Luckily, my brothers girlfriend arrived shortly after and my dads attention was shifted onto her annoying voice and incapability to share, anything.

Looking back now, I most probably would have forgotten this particular period and the drama surrounding it had it not been my last.

That, and the fact that I saw evidence of it again the other day on a pair of bikini bottoms I had neglected to unpack when we returned. Classy.