I smoked 60 a day while pregnant…Now I’m dying and leaving my 4 kids motherless.
I looked at my watch. My pre-natal appointment for my 20-week-scan was running late. It had been almost 40 minutes since I’d had a cigarette.
I flicked through the magazines in the waiting room, played with my mobile phone, cleaned out my handbag. But it was no good.
I’ll just be a sec,’ I told the receptionist, nipping outside.
Leaning against the wall of the maternity department, I lit up a fag and took a deep drag. Lovely.
I could see the other mums-to-be eyeing me disgustedly. Not that I was surprised. Pregnant with my fourth I’d been here before. But the doctor’s comments hadn’t changed my mind then and they wouldn’t now. It was too late for that.
I’d started smoking at 15. Growing up in care, smoking was a way of fitting in. I might not have known anyone at a new school but kids were always happy to cadge a fag off the new girl behind the bike sheds.
It was the start of a familiar pattern. Whenever I was going through a bad patch – falling out with my best mate, getting dumped, in an abusive relationship, a cup of tea and a cigarette always made me feel better.
I was barely 18 when I had my first child, Gary. His dad left us six weeks after he was born. Bringing up a new baby was hard work. I was little more than a child myself. So once again, I reached for the fags to help me through it.
Not that I’d ever given them up, really. I’m ashamed to say it now but I’d puffed my way through the whole nine months…Just like I did while carrying his brother Stephen, two years later.
In my opinion, smoking wasn’t such a big deal back then. OK, so the midwife tutted when I admitted I was puffing away on 10 cigarettes a day, but after a rap on the knuckles I still went outside to light up. The way I saw it, I’d already made an effort by cutting down from my usual 60 a day anyway – even if that had more to do with my terrible morning sickness than a conscious effort to stop.
And when my third child Shelby was also born – again absolutely perfect – amid a cloud of smoke five years later, I began to think that the whole thing was a big con anyway. My sons certainly hadn’t borne any scars from my addiction.
But by the time I was carrying my daughter Ffion nine years ago, I was constantly nagged about my habit.
‘Give up for your baby’s sake if nothing else,’ the midwives urged.
But it wasn’t that easy. Anyway, my boys had all been fine…
And afterwards, despite Ffion growing into a lovely little girl, bringing up four kids on my own wasn’t easy. I don’t know why but I always seemed to meet the wrong men. And then the boys hit their teens and started getting into trouble at school.
‘Go and play in your room and give Mummy five minutes, there’s a good girl,’ I’d tell Ffion, flicking on the kettle and lighting up. That first drag coursing through my veins instantly calmed me down.
Only then, when Ffion turned two, I developed a nasty chest infection. Even the simplest things, like going down to the village shop to buy a packet of fags, left me breathless.
The doctor gave me an inhaler, told me to give up smoking. But the first thing I did after leaving the surgery? Yep, light up. Well, what difference was stopping smoking going to make? I thought naively. It was an infection. I’d feel better soon.
Only as the years passed, I didn’t get better. I’d cough constantly. My GP sent me for an x-ray but nothing showed up.
Oh well, I thought to myself. Must just be one of those things. Some people were prone to sore throats, I suffered coughs.
I tried not to smoke too much in front of the kids but when Ffion started school I got a job washing dishes in a local cafe. My habit crept back up to 60 a day. Every time I had a break instead of popping out a cigarette I’d gobble back three, then chain smoke the rest of the packet one after another as I walked to the school dates to pick her up.
‘You’re always coughing Mummy,’ she sighed as I hacked my way home.
It was true. Every few months I was back at the doctors. But there was no treatment. The only advice they could give me was to stop smoking.
‘Waste of time,’ I muttered, stomping out of the surgery.
By the time Ffion had turned eight, my coughing was unbearable. I had to give up work I felt so drained. Any with money tight, I did what I always did – turned to my favourite friends for support.
‘Get me my ashtray will you, love?’ I rasped to my boyfriend Joss, 41.
We’d met the year before. A friend of a friend, we’d got chatting on a night out – ironically as we both nipped outside for a fag.
The coughing continued. I started coughing up blood, too.
‘I think you’d better go back to the doctor,’ said Joss, worried.
‘I’m going to send you for lung tests,’ my GP said, frowning.
But the results came back inconclusive. He booked a bronchoscopy – where a camera was put down into my lungs.
I was petrified it was cancer. We both were. But the tests came back clear.
‘Thank God,’ I sighed, relieved. Joss squeezed my hand.
‘I wouldn’t be celebrating just yet,’ the consultant said grimly.
He explained that my 60 a day smoking habit had destroyed my lungs.
‘You must give up straight away,’ he said.
But, of course, his words fell on deaf ears. Determined to better myself though, I decided to enrol on an access course so that I could one day be a counsellor.
The coughing continued. I wouldn’t go anywhere without a drink. But soon, my coughing interrupted the other students.
In half-term I went back to the doctor. But although the antibiotics and steroids helped at first, after a few weeks I was having to nip out of class more and more often.
Then when winter came the cold weather made things even worse. I’d collapse, struggling for breath and have to go to casualty.
‘Something’s not right,’ Joss said as gradually he became more of a carer than a lover – cooking tea, picking Ffion up from school while I lay listless on the settee.
‘It’s probably just a cold. I’ve been feeling a bit run down,’ I said.
But deep down, I knew it was more than that. I felt like a pensioner. And every time I went back to the doctor they blamed everything on my smoking.
‘Give it a rest!’ I felt like yelling. They sounded like a broken record. Surely everything couldn’t be down to my smoking…
In March I was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. To be honest, it was a relief to finally know what was wrong. My GP wanted to carry out a lung function test.
It took until June to get the results back. I couldn’t believe it when he announced I had severe emphysema, a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs normally seen in much older people. And the culprit? Smoking, of course.
‘So what treatment will she need?’ Joss asked.
‘I’m afraid there’s no cure,’ he said gravely. ‘And a lung transplant isn’t an option while you continue to smoke. So your only hope is to slow the disease down by giving up.’
‘And if I don’t?’ I asked.
‘Four years tops,’ he said quietly.
‘Well of course, you have to give up now,’ Joss said as we drove home.
I knew I had to. If I didn’t, Ffion would become an orphan before she entered her teens.
‘Tomorrow,’ I said. ‘After the shock’s subsided.’ Right now, I needed a cigarette more than ever.
I did try. I read Alan Carr’s book,’ How To Stop Smoking,’ cover to cover in a weekend; slathered myself in Nicorette patches; even swapped to an artificial cigarette. But nothing lasted long.
At first Rob was supportive. ‘You can do it,’ he said. ‘Think of your kids.’
Eventually, I cut down from 60 to seven cigarettes a day.
‘I’m proud of you,’ Joss said. ‘Keep going.’
But I had pains in my chest from nicotine withdrawal, convinced myself I was having a heart attack. The only thing that helped? A cigarette, of course.
As summer turned to autumn my breathing got so bad I had to quit college. Working was out of the question. I could hardly make it from one side of the room to the other. And as for Joss and I making love – impossible.
But he wasn’t the one I was most worried about. Ffion seemed quiet, withdrawn.
‘Is Mummy going to die?’ I overheard her asking Joss one day. It broke my heart.
I knew I was getting sicker, closer to her death sentence with every puff, but still I couldn’t stop.
‘I don’t believe you,’ Joss would tut as I lit up.
It caused rows between us. I accused him of double standards. After all, he still smoked 20-a-day.
‘I’m not the one with a serious health condition that’s destroying our lives!’ he spat back.
As the months passed, we grew further apart. Slowly resentment replaced his sympathy.
‘You obviously don’t want to give up,’ he said one evening. ‘If you really wanted to, you could,’
He couldn’t understand I was trapped. That it was what I wanted more than anything in the world.
I felt disgusted with myself too. Every time I looked at my little girl and knew I wouldn’t be here to see her grow up.
And of course, the more depressed I go, the more I smoked. I was caught in a viscous circle.
We’d talked about Joss moving in, set a date even. And despite the fact we argued non-stop, I was looking forward to it. After all, I still loved him and Ffion adored him. I hoped the move would be a new start.
The night before the move I told Rob he couldn’t bring his sheepdog, Tilly. Her long hair would only make my breathing worse.
‘You joking, right?’ Joss said, his mouth agape.
I shook my head. I thought he’s have known I couldn’t look after a dog in my condition.
‘It’s me or the dog’, I told him.
‘In that case I’m choosing Tilly,’ he said. ‘It’s over.’
I couldn’t believe it. After 18 months and a lifetime of plans, Joss had picked a dog over me. Or maybe he used Tilly as an excuse. After all I couldn’t go out, have fun, make love…all the things normal couples do.
Either way, I was devastated. And of course, once again the fags became a crutch.
Now, six months on, I’m smoking more than ever. I’ve accepted my life is over.
People will accuse me of being selfish for not giving up but believe me, no one is suffering more than me in all this. I’ve lost everything because of my addiction. I can’t play with my daughter, won’t live to see her grow up and I’ve lost the love of my life to a bloody dog.
I know this shameful, disgusting illness is all my own fault but I can’t help thinking the government should do more to help people in my position. People who use food as a crutch are pitied, not ostracized the way smokers are. They even get free help on the NHS. Smoking should be made illegal. It kills more people than any illegal drug.
It’s too late for me. I’ll continue to smoke until it kills me. But if telling my story stops just one other person from ruining their life like me then it’ll have been worth it.