I feel that to jump right in with all the spoilers of this rather farcical tale would be a mistake.
It’s also difficult to explain exactly how it began. For most of us it’s all starting right now and for one of us, well, they’ve been a secret and silent passenger for six whole months.
I want to start where I feel most comfortable, but also possibly with an area where I feel most vulnerable. This may sound like a slight contradiction and I can fully understand why some may be confused as to why I have chosen to be so candid so early on but the reason is; I want to ensure you all. That you are not alone. You won’t have had your script written exactly the same as mine, nor will it be in the same font, or the same size. It might be leather bound, gold trim or a handwritten scribble on a napkin. It doesn’t matter. Our scripts were written when we were looking the other way, and for this reason we are bonded.
So please do excuse me if you don’t find full satisfaction in what I have to say as I realise that whilst we may all be heading in the same direction I only know my path.
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.
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:
- irregular periods or no periods at all
- difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate
- excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
- weight gain
- thinning hair and hair loss from the head
- oily skin or acne “
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 occurrence 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.
“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 to 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 explanation? 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 its 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.
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 its 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.”
“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. 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: