A few weeks ago my best friend and I were talking about loneliness and all of its forms. The thing we agreed on most was that loneliness has bugger all to do with being alone. One very literal idea of loneliness definitely does entail social isolation, I’m not denying that, but there’s just as much chance you’ll feel totally lonely when you are surrounded by wonderful people. Pregnancy, for me, has been one of those times. Unless you’re lucky enough to live the sorority sister lifestyle where you all whip the rubbers off at the same time and breed like bunnies in spring (I say lucky… that actually sounds well gross), you’ve not always got many people around you experiencing the same thing. I currently have one pregnant friend who I don’t know very well and who lives in a different city. She’s ace and we have weekly message catch ups on the lows (I’d say highs & lows but who the hell is messaging people to tell them how good they feel?) but in reality my day to day has been pretty difficult. I’ve been questioning everything so regularly I’ve felt like we can’t possibly be doing the right thing because if that’s the case why would I have so much doubt? Well to be fair to the whole situation it’s not been an easy ride, and I think I need to give myself credit for how positive I have been a lot of the time. I’m predisposed to the blues, I get very introverted and sad beyond redemption a few times a year. It used to be much more often but I sorted my life out quite considerably and the feeling doesn’t occur nearly as much. Pregnant me, with PUPPP, on steroids isn’t as balanced, however.
I know what I need to do to help get myself back on track but when you’re in the pits of a major low if often feels like the light will never seep through and you mentally give up for a day or so. Sometimes it’s even briefer than that, but it can feel like a lifetime. Firstly, I need to bite the bullet and get involved with some pregnancy classes. NCT or hypnobirth or some such – one of these things that seem like a middleclass obligation (and a flippin rip off) if you ask me, but I’ve heard they’re really good for meeting other women/couples and sharing experiences, thusly fighting off this isolated feeling. So we’ll probably do it. There’s a ton of them out there and I’m nervous about picking the right one. I want to meet women who inspire me and make pregnancy and children seem cool and fun but at the same time don’t want the experience to be free from humility and like those god awful Instagram accounts with #amazingmama under countless pictures of women who have managed to keep breastfeeding their kids until they’re 12 whilst sporting a trendy hair do. Those women won’t like me.
Secondly I need to Stop Eating So Much. I’ve never comfort eaten like this in my life. I’m not saying I haven’t shotgunned a tub of Hagen Daaz in a teary haze before, lord knows I have. But I’m on a new level of snack attack at the moment and it’s not good. I’m not the most aesthetically minded person but I do like to be fit and not feel totally jelloid. It’s just not good for your mental health, either, shovelling down the salt and sugar like it’s going out of fashion. So I’m going to rein that in and find myself somewhere between my current, over-indulgent gluttonous state and the green juice drinking, holier-than-thou, Instagram health freak I could never be. I think it’s called ‘normal’.
Finally I need to make plans and stop having silly episodes of seeing this as a prison sentence. It’s not. I mean it will be if I continue to eat at this rate, you’ll need a crane to get me to the birth centre. But actually, I have a wonderful partner who tells me to go ahead, have a glass of wine/go to the gig/dance the night away/book a sexy holiday, and when I simply feel like I can’t move for fatigue and hormones he strokes my back, does silly voices and makes Masterchef and a Hello Fresh seem more fun than a sky dive with dolphins. There really isn’t anything you can now never ever do when you start a family. If you want to move to Borneo and take care of orangutans you’ll just have to do it with a baby in tow. I can’t think of a cooler bunch to start them off on the socialisation process, actually.
Another set back to my emotions this week was the death of Prince, one of my favourite artists ever in the world, proved by the number of times my friends/partners have uttered the words ‘you’d be a terrible DJ, you’d just play Prince’ or ‘no the headliner isn’t going to be Prince, Charlie’ or ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about you literally only listen to Prince’. Sometimes Prince can be subbed out for Blur in those conversations and now you’re getting an idea of my listening habits. A lot of the time it’s actually just Radio 4 but the less said about that the better.
I’ve mourned two of my favourite artists of all time since being pregnant, and this means I’ve not been able to get shitfaced and scream Bowie/Prince songs at the top of my lungs to commemorate. That’s been hard. It’s funny the things that crop up when you’re pregnant that make you doubt the whole experience. The death of my musical heroes, years before their time, making me ponder the futility of life wasn’t one I’d prepped for. I am just so glad I got to see Prince live, at one of the most fun and silly gigs of my entire life, in a field in Kent, cocktailed off my rocker and dancing non-stop through-out, on the coach home, until I reached my bed. He was incredible. When he was told he needed to stop playing because he’d run over-time his response was ‘A party don’t stop when there’s a curfew, a party stop when e’ryone fall asleep!’ and on he kept rocking. Replace the word ‘curfew’ with the word ‘baby’ and you have my new mantra for motherhood. To be honest I’m not that good at partying anyway. My biggest bawl yet was when I was thinking about being too big and off balance to rock climb on the beach in Sussex this summer.
My first trimester was over and I was feeling bloody good about it. Powerful. Like I’d been reborn a sexy, preggo supreme mama. I was seeing people, outside of the confines of my flat or my brothers flat. I was feeling rational again. I saw attractive women and thought about their boobs and not about killing them. When I was cycling I didn’t fly into a rage every time some prick in a 4×4 overtook me at speed. It didn’t send me into floods of tears when someone was drinking a nice big G&T in the pub on a Tuesday night. I had these cracking great big boobs and my usual body, plus a few lbs from first trimester overeating, but on the whole I was rockin it. Second trimester was going to be wicked. Starting with my first proper night out since the blue lines appeared. I met friends in a pub, had a small glass of white wine and danced until 2am! Powered by lime & sodas and sheer excitement I conquered that first night out like a pregnancy wizard and was even complimented on my impeccable form. That’s right, I thought, this shit is easy.
Sunday 27th March 2016. Easter Sunday with the in-laws. I was excited because I’d set up an Easter egg hunt for Dan around the flat, I’d been out and danced my tits off the night before and yet didn’t have a hangover and there were parentals on route with baked goods. It’d been a good weekend, actually. Except I’d developed this little itch. I mean the surface area was little, the itch was actually quite intense. It was on my very upper inner thighs, bikini line if you will, and it was doing my fucking head in. It wasn’t there yesterday. Maybe it’s from my tights and dancing and being warm. Probably just that. It’s pretty unbearable for a heat rash but my you know, preggo women and their wacky body temp. As the day went on the itch got more and more intense and I had to retire to bed and leave Dan to entertain the fam because I needed to go and rub E45 on my groin and try and sleep it off. Dan’s mum suggested putting natural yoghurt on it. I’m not going to do that. I love yoghurt. I’m not going to get it all mixed up in the world of crotch itch. Nah. It’ll die down soon.
I don’t sleep a wink that night, the itch has become so intense. And it’s moving. It’s attacking my bottom. My lovely smooth bum is getting rashy too. And resisting itching is like trying to keep your hand in a flame. It was agony. Bank holiday Monday was a less fun day as I tried to find solutions to what I now assumed was pregnancy eczema. I’ve never had eczema before in my life. A bit of mild acne over the years, that I can handle, that I’m prepared for. This fresh new hell wasn’t welcome at all! I had no idea how bad it was going to get at that point. I spent another two nights not sleeping. I missed work. It was on my arms and the back of my knees now too. I made an appointment to see the doctor who essentially told me it’s tough titties, pregnant women get itchy, and prescribed me a bottle of Aveeno. I’m starting to feel a bit downtrodden. The Pregnancy Wizard wasn’t itchy, she was awesome. But I am definitely itchy now. And I was itching just as much where the rash isn’t – i.e. where it will be next.
Days go by and the itch intensifies, the rash spreads, I’m sore now too. I haven’t slept literally more than an hour a night for over a week. I’m feeling nutty. The docs have given me hydrocortisone cream and it’s doing exactly fuck all and I’m getting so desperate for some relief. I’m sleeping in the living room on the sofa bed and when I say sleeping I mean I’m crying, bawling the night away, wishing there was something that would just make it stop. I tried ice packs to alleviate it but they’re a momentary fix for what feels like chickenpox with added sunburn and mosquito bites. I went back to the doctor, Dan came with me this time, tired of watching me mentally deteriorate whilst I turned into a giant, red, lumpy toddler: too exhausted, physically and mentally to express myself in anything but shrugs, head-shakes and tears. Dan’d had enough too.
Now we’ve googled the heck out of this. And I’m not one for googling symptoms/illnesses because I either don’t believe what I read or get panicked, either way it’s pointless. But this itch has made me desperate and we’ve done our research and we’re 99% sure it’s PUPPP (or PEP). This is a heinous rash that usually presents itself in late pregnancy and basically ruins the woman’s life until she gives birth at which time it should clear up. Well I’m 15 weeks at this point. That means I’ve got at the very least about 22 weeks to go. Waiting to give birth is simply not an option, I need them to do something now. The doctor was stumped. The other doctor she brought in was also stumped. Neither of them have ever seen anything like it. They’re sympathetic but ultimately clueless and I get put on an urgent referral for a dermatologist. A two week wait. It’s going to be a long two weeks.
The next five days are the worst. Between us, Dan and I spend a small fortune on treatments. We buy pine tar soap and menthol aqueous cream that feel good for the first use and then subsequently burns to high heck every time I apply, so much so that my body starts to convulse from the physical pressure of dealing with that kind of pain on every inch of me. I feel like I now know what electroshock therapy patients must feel like. I lay on the bed after each application shaking, spaced out from the pain. Is it better than the itching? It’s different. These are my two choices. My dear friend Sophie comes over at the weekend with a selection pack of treatments for me to try. I’m so grateful and yet at the same time I’m utterly miserable because I know she’s wasting her time and money too. I know what I need, I need drugs. I need a course of oral steroids and if the doctors even try and offer me another topical treatment I’m going to seriously lose it.
I’m so depressed now. I fear the evenings and going to bed because it gets so much worse at night. My heart feels broken because the only solution I can think that would definitely stop the whole thing would be to terminate the pregnancy. I cry and cry every time this thought comes into my head but I’ve never been so desperate and I’ve never felt so helpless. Dan and my Mum are dealing with my breakdowns 4/5 times a day. Dan does his best to help, he does everything he can, taking time off work to help keep me sane and making sure we’ve got entertainment all day long. We watch Rosemary’s Baby (SUCH A BAD IDEA!) and I convince myself for a brief moment that Dan is part of this, the doctors are all part of this. Well at this point I’d have handed the baby right over. Satan can have him half cooked. I also wasn’t losing weight, like Rosemary does, I was gaining fast. Unable to sleep or barely dress to leave the house, what I was capable of was eating. I haven’t weighed myself and I won’t, there’s no point. But I’d hazard I gained a good ten pounds in a very short space of time, just from trying to keep my mind off the agony.
Nearly a week after my referral was made and I hadn’t been called with a date for my appointment. I was seriously cracking up now. I text my mum and tell her that she needs to come to London because Dan’s back at work and I’m not coping with the situation. I’ve never had to do that before, but the rash and the itching is everything when there’s nobody else around and not even the cats can comfort me. I’m lost. I did’t hear back from her straight away. My Mum’s a busy woman in an important job, but in that moment that wasn’t good enough. I needed someone to help me. I was going properly mad. So I emailed my midwife and I told her with no hesitation that I couldn’t cope and that I wanted to terminate my pregnancy because I was in so much pain, discomfort and misery. She called me almost straight away and told me that I need to go to the Maternal and Foetal Assessment Unit (MFAU) at UCLH where I’m registered for maternity care. Now I’d thought about this, I’m not dumb, I’d definitely thought about rocking up at the hospital and throwing myself on the floor, refusing to move until someone injects steroids into my bottom, but I’d called and they did not want me. The woman I spoke to made it explicitly clear I was not to come to the hospital and that the GP will help me. Well by this time I knew that was bollocks and the midwife had given me the green light so I was fucking going there. They could see me or carry me out kicking and screaming, if I could muster that much energy.
Sophie drove me to hospital and I feebly walked to up to MFAU, Dan not yet having arrived, I’d get this party started myself. I explained to the nurse at reception why I was there and she immediately panicked. She told me I needed to leave and that they couldn’t have a woman with a [possibly contagious] rash around all these pregnant women. I fell apart right there in the waiting room, I started sobbing and telling her my midwife had sent me and that I couldn’t cope and that I desperately needed to be seen. I did all of this in front of a packed waiting room full of expectant mothers, none of whom seemed to be completely losing their shit. Lucky bitches, I think. I think this but a few nights before I had a conversation with my friend who sympathetically lists every horrid symptom of her pregnancies and even tells me of a friend of hers who was producing so much saliva when she was pregnant she had to start carrying around a cup to spit in. Pregnancy is fucking wack.
They finally agreed I could stay and quickly ushered me into a room where I was instructed I had to stay, in isolation, for the safety of the other patients. That was fine. That was perfect, in fact. My own little itching sanctuary. My burden was already feeling lifted, now I was in hospital they couldn’t send me away without a diagnosis. GPs might have never heard of PUPPP but I was going to make sure I didn’t leave this world class maternity hospital until someone had confirmed I have this hell condition. Several nurses and a doctor came in and looked at me and umed and ahed, marvelling at my ridiculous body like something out of a horror movie and guessed I might have an allergy and some overzealous eczema. Dan asked them if they thought it could be PUPPP and the nurse says it could be but it wasn’t presenting typically for PUPPP, which usually starts on your nice big bump way into your third trimester. Well fuck off, mate, I’m not typical and this is PUPPP. We were waiting on the opinion of one doctor in particular, Dr Tetteh, and as sweet and supportive as all the other staff were being I was desperate for this person to arrive because if they’re the expert, they’ll bloody know. I knew and I’m just some woman with internet access. He finally came in and the conversation between him and the other medical practitioners went roughly like this:
So here we’ve got Charlotte who’s developed an allergy type rash on her limbs an…
Ah yes it’s PUPPP.
Really because we weren’t sure as the rash didn’t start o…
No it’s PUPPP.
We were thinking of taking a TORCH screening just in ca…
Sure you can but it’s PUPPP.
And out he walked again instructing a prescription of oral steroids and some more antihistamines. I could have fucking kissed him. It was the biggest relief of my life to date that I’d been listened to, examined and finally diagnosed after two of the longest and most torturous weeks of life. The nurse did do a TORCH screen, whilst I merrily sat there in my grundies, me and Dan just relentlessly grinning at each other because something had finally be done. My arms were so ridden with this PUPPP lurgy that they couldn’t take blood from my arm and had to do it from the back of my hand which caused me to near pass out with pain as she wiggled the cannula around trying to get blood to flow. I had to lie down whilst she fanned me with one of those cardboard bowls and the other nurse rushed to get me sugary tea. I mumbled something about not drinking sugar because I’d gained so much weight but I didn’t care. Whilst Dan was off picking up my prescription and the glorious light of proper drugs was on the horizon, my heart was light and happy with relief and excitement that this was all coming to an end. I could have easily nodded off for the first time in two weeks whilst that nurse fanned me with a cardboard bowl.
I was made two follow up appointments for the following week. One to see a dermatologist and another to see a specialist consultant, purely because we don’t see this condition very often so when we do we really like to study it. Oh good. Glad to be of help. And I really do mean that. When I was reading accounts of other women’s experiences with PUPPP online, one phrase came up more than any other ‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’, and that’s exactly how bad it is.
6 days into a course of steroids and itching has decreased significantly with night itching becoming more bearable each day and skin sensitivity getting back to normal. I can even bear to be touched again! Wahoo! I’m also taking daily supplements of dandelion root as a lot of women said this cured them, and although I’m sure it’s the steroids that are clearing my PUPPP I thought the dandelion might help to prevent future flare ups. Worth a shot. I ain’t going back there!
What did I try? (None of these worked)
Aqueous Cream with menthol
Aveeno oatmeal moisturiser
Dr Salt bath salts
Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap
I’d like to thank Dan, Sophie and my mother who all supported me so much and did everything they could to try and make it better for me. You three are just utterly wonderful.
I’d like to also thank UCLH who turned it around wicked quick when I finally turned up looking like a disease ridden zombie at the MFAU.
And thank you for reading. I hope it helps in some way.
I’m now at week 16 of my first pregnancy and feeling ready to reflect on just exactly what happened there. I am pregnant with what I’m pretty certain is a human baby and I’m going to blog about it because I surfed the web for literally hours and couldn’t find anyone blogging their pregnancy or motherhood and that to me said that we really are living in an oppressive patriarchy. So I’m standing up for all of those women who haven’t shat on and on for pages and pages about every tedious details of their experience of pregnancy like they’re the first woman to ever go through it and I’m going to be the World Wide Web’s first pregnant blogger. Plogger.
I found out that I am pregnant by piddling into a little plastic cup in the bog at work, that I think was leftover from when we drank prosecco in the office at Christmas like we were in flippin Mad Men and then I put a pregnancy dipper into this piddle and then put it under my tongue for 10 seconds and, sure enough, my eyes went crossed. PREGNANT!
It’s odd but because I’ve never been pregnant before I sort of didn’t believe that the test could be correct. But after even more time on the web I realised that false positives are almost unheard of and it’s most likely you have hCG (the pregnancy hormone) in your body and that, mon amigo, means babino. Plus my tits were big and sore, my period was absent and I vomited on the way to work. So I did have my suspicions.
I did one of those ludicrously expensive tests that has a tiny telly on to find out how many weeks prego I was. The internet then told me that that many weeks is the about the size of a peppercorn and that is literally how I thought about it for the first fortnight, as a sweet little floating peppercorn in my stomach. Bless. To think that me and Dan made a little peppercorn just by bumping uglies and forgetting to go for a wee afterwards*. Magical really.
Fear and sadness
In pregnancy, much like in a Daniel Day Lewis film, There Will Probably Be Blood, but it doesn’t always spell disaster. When I wasn’t wigging out about raising a child who isn’t a weirdo, piling on weight, being able to breastfeed etc… my own body was delivering me little shocks to panic over on the reg. I’d never had piles before and the appearance of blood on the loo roll of a woman who is both newly pregnant and new to haemorrhoids is both confusing and upsetting. I worked it out eventually. There’re lots of things you just sort of work out.
The thing that put the willies up me the most though was the emotional impact. I couldn’t work this out, I wasn’t in control. I was sad. Like super sad. And not because I wasn’t happy and excited about being pregnant, I knew I was, but the hormones and the exhaustion and the having to fib to everyone – it all did a massive number on my ability to keep my chin up. Dan was very amazing through those weeks, forgiving every irrational outburst and moody response and just being so supportive it made me feel guilty too. I felt like I was ruining our good news by moping around like a gloomy goth. The nausea and extreme exhaustion didn’t help much to be fair. It’s a crumby old time. And you feel like you can’t tell anyone heaven forbid you do something awkward like miscarriage, which is a helluva lot of pressure on you and your partner. I ended up telling my mum the news fairly early, I needed her support too much, and I feel super lucky that I have a mum who can be equally as excited about becoming a grandparent and sympathetic to how low I was feeling.
But it did lift! That 12 week milestone passed and by about week 13 I was actually feeling pretty bloody good. And then…
*I know this isn’t how I got pregnant, silly. I got pregnant because the pill packet I was taking was 5 years out of date. Keep those medicine drawers tidy, ladies!