The best friends we had never met… un­til now

Prima brings to­gether women who have bonded on­line

Prima (UK) - - Contents - • preg­nan­cysick­ness­sup­port.org.uk

‘We could be to­tally hon­est’ Amy Arm­strong, 33, from Spen­ny­moor, County Durham, and Yas­mine Dunn, 30, from New­cas­tle upon Tyne, con­nected as they strug­gled with their preg­nan­cies.

‘Ly­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed, at­tached to a drip, wracked with sick­ness and des­per­ately wor­ried about my un­born baby, I posted a mes­sage on an on­line fo­rum: “I don’t know how much more of this I can cope with.” Straight away, as I knew she would, a woman called Yas­mine mes­saged back. We’d never met but she’d be­come the friend I turned to when things got re­ally tough.

I was four weeks preg­nant with my first baby when I started be­ing sick, and by the time I was eight weeks in I was vom­it­ing up to 80 times a day. I could barely eat a thing, even watch­ing TV made me feel ill. I spent most of my time clutch­ing a bowl. Only on good days was I able to drag my­self to work, as a team leader at a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. I be­came so weak I ended up in A&E, and was fi­nally di­ag­nosed with hy­per­eme­sis gravi­darum (HG), ex­treme preg­nancy sick­ness.

FIND­ING SUP­PORT

I was un­lucky. Around 70% of women ex­pe­ri­ence nau­sea or sick­ness dur­ing their preg­nancy, but only 1% of them end up in hos­pi­tal with it. At least I’m in good com­pany – the Duchess of Cam­bridge also suf­fered with HG and had to be ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal.

My hus­band Alexan­der was in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive but it was trau­matic for him. He be­came more of a carer than a hus­band and I thought if I told him how wretched I re­ally felt, I’d just be adding to his bur­den.

When I dis­cov­ered the fo­rum on the Preg­nancy Sick­ness Sup­port (PSS) web­site, it was amaz­ing. Talk­ing to other women go­ing through the same thing meant I didn’t feel so alone, and Yas­mine and I could be hon­est with one an­other.

At my low­est I couldn’t see a way out and even con­sid­ered ter­mi­nat­ing my preg­nancy. Our baby was very much wanted but I was so ill I thought I was go­ing to die. I strug­gle to come to terms with that now. I still feel guilty. Once I got sup­port through

PSS and told Yas­mine how I was feel­ing, it gave me strength to go on.

When I wor­ried that I was go­ing to lose the baby or my­self, she kept me go­ing. “We’ll beat this,” she’d type.

Only af­ter I gave birth to Luna in May 2017, who was 6lb 6oz, and the sick­ness went, could I mes­sage Yas­mine and tell her that my baby was fine – and hers would be, too.

Al­though we’d kept in touch, un­til Prima ar­ranged for us to meet, we hadn’t even spo­ken on the phone. It was in­cred­i­ble to tell her face to face how her kind­ness and wis­dom got me through. It was like meet­ing a good friend who I hadn’t seen for a while. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. We are now plan­ning our next meet up, this time with our daugh­ters.’

‘She helped me see I didn’t have to strug­gle on alone’ Trainee psy­chol­o­gist Yas­mine says:

‘Meet­ing Amy was about more than just giv­ing her a huge hug to thank her for help­ing me through the tough­est nine months of my life. It was part of the heal­ing process, bring­ing to a close that dif­fi­cult time that marked both our lives.

We were both ner­vous, but it was like meet­ing an old friend. As we talked, I re­mem­bered what a life­line she had

been. It was the first time I’d spo­ken to some­one in per­son about what we went through, who lis­tened and un­der­stood.

Amy had been quick to re­spond when I joined the PSS fo­rum. That day I’d been so sick, I’d burst the blood ves­sels around my eyes. I felt ill rather than preg­nant, and said how low I felt. When Amy replied, it was the first time I felt un­der­stood.

A FRIEND TO LEAN ON

Amy urged me to go to my doc­tor. She told me about the med­i­ca­tion she’d been pre­scribed, and helped me see that I didn’t have to strug­gle on alone.

Vom­it­ing up to 20 times a day, I felt so wiped out that I could barely com­mu­ni­cate with my hus­band, Michael. I could mes­sage Amy from my phone in bed, al­though look­ing at the screen made me feel queasy some­times. She was a light in the dark­ness. We were hon­est with each other, talk­ing about the strain on our hus­bands and our fears for our un­born daugh­ters. We were ter­ri­fied that the ba­bies weren’t get­ting enough nu­tri­tion and gave each other ad­vice on which foods we might be able to keep down.

Amy’s HG was worse than mine, so I of­ten felt as if noth­ing I could say would help. I just tried to of­fer emo­tional sup­port on her bad days. The lone­li­ness can be crush­ing, so I wanted to be some­one for her to talk to so she wouldn’t feel alone.

Al­though my sick­ness sub­sided at 21 weeks, I felt nau­seous through­out; even the scent of shower gel or tooth­paste could set me off, along with any smell of food. With a third of my preg­nancy to go, it was amaz­ing to re­ceive the news that Luna was fine, and that Amy’s sick­ness had gone. My daugh­ter Si­enna was born three months later, and I cried with re­lief when I was of­fered a cup of tea af­ter the birth and didn’t want to be sick. I knew my night­mare was nearly over.

We’ve kept in touch on In­sta­gram, and I feel a real con­nec­tion with Amy and Luna. It’s a plea­sure to wit­ness their moth­er­daugh­ter jour­ney. Now we have met, we are plan­ning to bring our lit­tle girls to­gether to start an­other won­der­ful friend­ship.

‘We are plan­ning to bring our lit­tle girls to­gether to start an­other won­der­ful friend­ship’

‘Hav­ing the chance to say thank you was price­less’ Out of heart­break, Shel­ley Jess, 41, from Chelms­ford, and Sam Lowrie, 44, from Steve­nage, have forged a very spe­cial friend­ship.

‘The tears started flow­ing the mo­ment I saw Sam – I reached out and wrapped her in a hug. It felt nat­u­ral, and we in­stantly be­gan chat­ting as if we’d known each other for years rather than months.

Since my hus­band, Dy­lan, 48, took his own life in April this year, life has of­ten felt un­bear­able. The guilt, anger and lone­li­ness is some­times in­de­scrib­able, so find­ing Sam through the Face­book page of a lo­cal group of Wid­owed & Young (WAY), and know­ing that she had faced the same thing, lit­er­ally changed my life.

Ten months ear­lier, Sam’s hus­band had also taken his life. My sons, Har­vey, 12, and Rob­bie, eight, had been left with­out a fa­ther, and her young chil­dren had also ex­pe­ri­enced that loss. It was like we were meant to find each other. I knew she would un­der­stand – and she does. She knows what I am go­ing through be­cause she’s been through it, too.

A LIGHT IN THE DARK­NESS

Through my darkest times, Sam has been the per­son I’ve turned to. When the head­stone went up on my hus­band’s grave, it floored me. Of all my won­der­ful friends and fam­ily, I knew that Sam would un­der­stand in a way that no one else could. She’d un­der­stand why I wanted to cry with grief and scream with anger, and she’d help me re­mem­ber that it wouldn’t al­ways hurt as much as it did right then.

Al­though we’d mes­saged each other fre­quently, we’d never even spo­ken on the phone, and meet­ing up was very emo­tional. Hav­ing the chance to say “thank you” was price­less. We laughed and cried to­gether. If I hadn’t found Sam, I think things would be very dif­fer­ent.

Dy­lan and I had met in a night­club in Lon­don’s Le­ices­ter Square in 1996. We

‘Our friend­ship goes much deeper than tragedy. We just click’

got talk­ing and never re­ally stopped, get­ting mar­ried eight years later. To the out­side world, Dy­lan was very chatty and charis­matic and, al­though I knew there was a very anx­ious side to him, I’ll never re­ally know why he left us.

As well as the pain of los­ing him, I’ve had to sort out the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of life with­out him and that’s in­cluded mov­ing into a new house. It’s been a time of huge up­heaval and lone­li­ness and, with Sam’s sup­port, I have spent the past few months try­ing to make sense of it all, to un­der­stand why it hap­pened, and what the fu­ture can look like with­out Dy­lan here. Life can feel over­whelm­ing at times, juggling work and the kids alone, but if I am hav­ing a bad day I can mes­sage her and tell her how I am feel­ing, day or night, know­ing she will be there.

I can say any­thing to Sam and she un­der­stands my feel­ings – grief mixed with anger – be­cause she has been through what I’ve been through and I take heart from see­ing that she is do­ing okay. She is my light at the end of this dark tun­nel, and hope­fully she can see through my ex­pe­ri­ence just how far she has come.’

‘It feels like we’ve been friends for ever’ Sam, who has a daugh­ter, Daisy, 13, and a son, Archie, nine, says:

‘The mo­ment I found the body of my hus­band, Richard, will stay with me for ever. He’d been out all day with his old work­mates, then came home and had a drink in the gar­den. I thought he’d had enough to drink, and told him so, but he stormed off. I never saw him alive again.

The days af­ter his death in June 2017 were bleak. I thought my world had ended and in some ways, life as I knew it had. I was des­per­ate to find some­one who un­der­stood, and that’s when I found the WAY fo­rum. I got some won­der­ful sup­port from other peo­ple my age who had also lost their hus­bands, in­clud­ing one lady whose hus­band had also taken his own life.

It was more than six months be­fore I got talk­ing to Shel­ley that her own tragedy be­gan, and she mes­saged me via the fo­rum. I wanted to help from the start, know­ing the grief we were feel­ing was dif­fer­ent to some­one who had lost a hus­band to can­cer or heart dis­ease. I knew, like me, she’d be an­gry and lonely, and won­der­ing if she could have done any­thing dif­fer­ently and whether she should have spot­ted signs of what was go­ing on. It was those kind of thoughts that still haunted me.

Richard had been made re­dun­dant from a job he loved nearly a year be­fore and, at 51, he lost con­fi­dence that he’d find some­thing else. Af­ter some knock­backs, he be­came re­ally down and was on the wait­ing list for coun­selling. I could feel him drift­ing away from me and noth­ing I said or did would get through to him.

RE­BUILD­ING TO­GETHER

We’d been to­gether nearly 20 years when he died and I was left to cope alone, to tell our chil­dren, plan his fu­neral, deal with the in­quest, and try to re­build a life with­out him. It felt un­real and still does in many ways.

At the start I hated Richard for do­ing this, for not be­ing here to read the kids’ school re­ports or cel­e­brate their achieve­ments. How­ever many times I told my­self that his men­tal ill­ness was just as real as any other ill­ness, that anger is only start­ing to sub­side now.

I’ve been amazed by Shel­ley’s strength and de­ter­mi­na­tion to push through her agony and put her boys first. Help­ing Shel­ley is help­ing me and by talk­ing about the ag­o­nis­ing out­come of my hus­band’s men­tal ill­ness, I hope I can help oth­ers too.

Ev­ery day I wake next to an empty space and have to start again, but we have moved for­ward; we func­tion as a fam­ily, even with­out Richard.

Find­ing Shel­ley has been a won­der­ful thing to come out of all this pain. We may have first found each other through the tragedy we share, but our friend­ship goes much deeper than that. We just click. I may have only known her a few months, but when we met it felt like we had been friends for ever.’ • wid­owedandy­oung.org.uk

When Amy saw Yas­mine, the con­nec­tion was in­stant

Shel­ley and Sam share a heart-break­ing bond

Amy says meet­ing Yas­mine was ‘one of the best days I’ve had in a long time’

Amy and her daugh­ter, Luna

Yas­mine and her daugh­ter, Si­enna

Shel­ley (left) andSam have helped ease each other’s pain

Shel­ley with Dy­lan and their chil­dren

Sam, Richard and their chil­dren

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