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 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.

 

The Year Before. Pt.1. 

Context is always a useful tool when trying to fathom and grasp onto a story whilst it’s being told. Without context one can often misconstrue or misinterpret and I would hate for anyone to do that with me and my tale. This is why I have chosen to supply you all with a little prelude, as it is crucial considering what follows.

The year or two running up to my pregnancy were tough – I had never had any health issues before, bar recurring cystitis. And therefore the only medical disturbance I had encountered was that feeling of pissing razor blades whenever I had forgotten to pee after sex. Encore cranberry juice.

However this luxury wasn’t to last long. Despite some of my time at university being a very proud skinny streak. I have always struggled enormously with my weight and physical appearance. Whether I have overeaten, under eaten, or been victim to cruel episodes of body dysmorphia my body has constantly changed. My weight yo-yo-ing up and down has been something I was very used to. It was also always something that deep down I knew I was in control of and could do something about. As successful as I was at putting it on, I was just as successful at losing it. And as all good things must do, this skinny streak ended, but for once I could not fathom why. Had my lifestyle changed? Was I waking up in the middle of the night and going down to Perfect Fried Chicken and ordering a Number 5? What was going on? All I knew was that I was stuck working behind bar after bar pulling pints and 16 hour shifts all the while expanding at a rate of knots. I had found myself in a relatively long term rather abusive and manipulative relationship and I was becoming precisely what he had always told me I would be, fat and unlovable. Needless to say I was desperately unhappy.

This extra weight was carried around for a few months and my mental and physical well being only got worse, I was in my darkest place yet. I made the decision to move from my beloved London back to Oxford where I had predominantly been brought up and ‘turn over a new leaf’. I did so by leaving the horrible boy behind and moving in with my absolute best friend and soul mate in the town where we had gone to school. I secured myself a bang average but promising job and threw myself into healthy eating and exercise. I decided to become Betsy again.

We had a fantastic time to say the least, both single and good looking girls (my body was starting to improve – ish) we made the most of each and every hour spent away from our desks and living together. The only cloud still left looming over my head was that of the number of the scales and the size of my waistline. I really was doing my best, I was eating between 800-1200 calories a day, attending the gym and several boot camps for weeks and yet the pounds just weren’t going.

My frustration at this was getting worse and worse, I upped my exercise and cut down calories. To the point where I was so light headed and grumpy, chuffing away on cigarettes and drinking so much coffee my bowels rejected even themselves and yet nothing was working. I was in dire straits with no where to look and no answer.

Then one night my best friend and I were watching our usual shit on TV, I was sitting there in my gym clothes having devoured a delicious dinner of fuck all and my stomach started to really hurt. I complained as one does and we both put it down to trapped wind, it would pass. However it did not, she went to bed and I attempted to do so too until I found myself green/grey in colour, cold sweating profusely and throwing up in the loo. I was scared. 3 am came and I couldn’t take it anymore. Remembering my mums words to the nurse at school, ‘don’t call me unless she’s in the morgue’. I reluctantly picked up the phone and called my parents.

To my surprise the days of them not believing when I was ill had passed, whether age had gained their trust or the fact that I had called at 3 am clearly in a tizz had done it I don’t know but soon they were knocking on my door ready to take me to hospital. The next few hours were confusing to say the least, the doctors could see I had an infection but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, a laparoscopy was needed.

They carried out the surgery and deduced that I had had several cysts on my ovaries that had all burst, infecting my appendix and all the while causing me excruciating pain.

PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Those four letters that answered so much, yet would throw such a thick blanket over everything none of us would think to look past it. Not one.