I used to have the sort of body that kept up with me.
If I wanted to climb a mountain, I’d climb the mountain.
If I wanted to drink all night and be dancing when the sun came up, I’d just find a venue and get on with it.
I also had a demanding job, an interesting house-husband (he’s training to be a mountain guide on the side – enough said?) and found my life rewarding but moderately difficult.
Silly me. Then out of no-where at twenty-six years old I became a type one diabetic. It didn’t stop me from doing much (I was travelling in India a few weeks after diagnosis) but suddenly I had to control my own blood sugars… and I wasn’t very good at it. Injections and random hypoglycaemic episodes became part of my life (that is, where your blood sugar goes too low. Your brain needs a certain amount of sugar to fuction: I can best describe hypoglycemia as a switch going in your head and suddenly you’re acting drunk).
Embarrassments happened. Food stopped being whatever it used to be and became a guessing game – How many carbohydrates in this bit of food I am about to eat? How much energy am I going to use up in the next few hours? How much insulin should I give myself? Will I be above the legal sugar limit to drive a car in three hours time? On the other hand, are my levels so high that I’m running long-term risks to my kidneys?
Get these judgements wrong and you become ‘drunk’ or risk suffering serious long-term illness. I still looked exactly the same but suddenly my blood sugar control had to come before everything else. I didn’t feel the same and I suppose I didn’t act it either.
Anyway then (unrelated and slightly more planned) I had a baby. Then I had another.
Don’t get be wrong, I now have the most beautiful, wanted babies in the world and in some respects pregnancy is glorious. Inspecting your bump in the mirror; stroking it fondly; ‘Wow, look at it growing’; heartbeats on scans; feeling it kick; thinking about names; imagining the child it will become…… these are memories that ex-pregnant women look back on with nostalgia.
Other memories, not so much (weak stomachs, skip a few paragraphs). Memories of bile sliding down in the toilet bowl, slightly less viscous than bleach but just as luminous. Bile occasionally landing in other places when I couldn’t reach the toilet in time. Or of my boobs itching outrageously until I was clawing at myself. Memories of tiredness engulfing me like a cloying fog.
Of randomly waking up to find my husband on the phone to the ambulance service, after treating me for a particularly nasty, preganancy-related diabetic hypo. Of finding myself absolutely freezing cold one night, sitting in my jamas on the floor covered in spilt orange squash, stuffing jelly-babies down my throat with no recollection of the hypo that had obviously woken me up and got me there. Memories of testing my blood sugars twenty times a day because they were suddenly so unpredictable.
Of small irritations such as repeatedly breaking off whatever important thing I was doing to have an urgent pee. Of my belly-button sticking outward like a stubborn, uncoverable nipple. Of stomach stretching to three times its normal size. Of a stone-like object in the bottom of my pelvis that made me swing my legs out and waddle when i walked. I used to be the sort of person to go on walks of two to three hundred miles across mountain ranges. Suddenly old ladies with shih-tzus were overtaking me on the river-path round the corner from our house.
It’s all livable with of course. First pregnancy I worked full-time, nine while seven, until 36 weeks. I’m only bragging about that so that you’ll judge me less when I say that during the second pregnancy I took short-term temping jobs but mostly I slept a lot. I let my husband do everything at home and savings subsidised our living. God knows how I’d have coped if he’d had a ‘real job’ to maintain: I was in no state to look after the toddler.
I still maintain that c-sections are the easiest way to have a baby (and unfortunately the most sensible for me) but recovery is grim. After the initial elation of having a baby and it all being over, the pain relief wears off – even picking the baby up is painful – and there is mess oozing out and a cannula: ugh!
A few days into breast-feeding, you wake up with breasts the size of melons with a turgid feel about them and painful. And yes, they drip whenever the baby cries. It’s a natural thing, yes. A beautiful thing even, but not….
….well, to use a cliche, my body ‘just doesn’t feel like my own any more.’
So here we are then, the woman in the looking-glass: pasty with a double chin, swollen abodmen, a swollen infected wound beneath it. Spots. Fat. Troublesome boobs (bra stuffed with two incontinence pads) and unable to pick up her own toddler for a cuddle. Diabetes pump stuffed in back pocket.
I have a distant memory of her being a relatively fit, active, useful, possibly even attractive person once (although of course I didn’t think so at the time). I haven’t felt like that person for nearly four years, although some weeks of those four years have been better than others.
The last forty weeks have been the grimmest of all.