For many of us, life was put on hold back in March.
But for these three women, the past 12 months have transformed them forever.
‘I gave birth to my rainbow baby’
Lisa Williams, 34, is an entrepreneur and vision board coach. She lives in Rhyl, North Wales, with husband Philip, 39, and their daughters Alysa, seven, and Talia-Beau, five months.
“Holding Talia-Beau in my arms after her birth in June this year, I felt overwhelmed with joy. After three miscarriages, there had been moments when I’d feared I would never have a second child. Now, she was finally here – a ray of light in the darkness of 2020.
"My eldest daughter Alysa was born in 2013, and in 2016 Philip and I started to try for another baby. That year, I miscarried at four weeks, and although I felt very sad, I also knew it happened to many women.
"But when I lost a second baby at five weeks in early 2017, it hit me hard. I felt my body had let me down, and I’d failed, too. It took over a year and a half before I felt emotionally strong enough to try again.
"In November 2018, I miscarried again at eight weeks and I was devastated. I’d been so sure it would be third-time lucky. I was referred for tests to try to establish why I kept miscarrying.
"Although nobody said so to my face, I’m sure there were people close to me who couldn’t understand why I wanted to keep putting myself through such pain. After all, I had one healthy child who I adored. I just couldn’t give up on my dream of another baby, and Philip fully supported me.
In October 2019 I was told I had a blood clotting disorder and that if I conceived again, I could have treatment to stop me miscarrying, which gave me hope.
"A few days later, I stood in my bathroom clutching a positive pregnancy test. I felt such a mix of emotions – happiness, but also fear, in case I lost this baby too.
"As every week passed and I started treatment for my blood disorder, I felt more optimistic that this baby – who we knew was a girl after my 16-week scan – would survive.
"Then, when I was 26 weeks pregnant, the pandemic struck. Watching Boris Johnson announce in March that pregnant women should be especially careful, I cradled my bump and cried, terrified of the virus and being cut off from the world.
"During lockdown, I felt so vulnerable and protective of the baby. Because I also developed gestational diabetes, I had to attend regular hospital check-ups and scans alone with staff in PPE, which I found terrifying.
"Working from home and schooling Alysa was stressful and tiring, but when I did venture to a shop or hospital, seeing rainbows in people’s windows reminded me I had something to look forward to – my own little rainbow baby.
"On June 24, Talia-Beau was born two weeks early, weighing 6lb 6oz. Of course, it’s been hard with the lack of postnatal support and not being able to see friends and family.
"However, I’ve surprised myself with my resilience, and every time I look at Talia-Beau I know it’s all been worth it.”
‘I got the all-clear from cancer’
Kristie Wood, 30, is a scientist and lives in Essex with her fiancé Micah, 40, and their daughter Louisa, 11 months.
“Sitting alone in a hospital room, I tried to take in what I’d just been told. I was 29, with a six-month-old baby at home, and I’d just been diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer.
"I felt like I was suffocating, terrified I was going to die and leave my daughter without a mother. That dark day in July this year was like a bad dream. Because of Covid, nobody could be with me and having to phone Micah and my family with the news was awful.
"Just days before, I’d gone to A&E with a tummy so bloated I looked like I was five months pregnant. I’d given birth to Louisa on Christmas Eve 2019, and I thought perhaps there was something wrong with my stomach muscles.
"But a CT scan showed a large mass in my right ovary, which was a huge shock. I was told it was a dermoid cyst, 98% of which are benign.
"Relieved, I was sent home to wait for an appointment to have it removed, but that night I woke up in agony and was rushed to hospital by ambulance.
"Not only had the cyst burst, but more scans and tests revealed it was cancerous.
‘I’m too young to die,’ I cried to the doctor, thinking of Micah and Louisa at home. This year was meant to be all about being a new mum, maternity leave and watching Louisa grow. I was not meant to be fighting for my life amid a global pandemic.
"Within hours of being diagnosed, I was in theatre having my damaged ovary and the burst cyst removed, and a month later in early August, I started nine weeks of chemotherapy.
"It was so gruelling. I was sick and lost my hair, but the worst part was spending at least five nights a month in hospital away from my family, who weren’t allowed to visit.
"I’d Facetime Louisa, but knew I was missing out on so much of her first year, it was heart-breaking. She’d babble at the camera, or I’d watch Micah feeding her and I ached to hold her in my arms.
"Cut off from the world in my hospital bed, I felt so alone. I even spent my 30th birthday in hospital hooked up to an IV, and at home I was so weak and tired that it was hard to care for my own baby.
"Micah was still working as we needed his income, so he and my mum juggled childcare and I did what I could. It was nothing like the maternity leave I’d planned.
"I finished chemo in October and later that month received the best possible news – the all-clear from cancer, meaning there is no evidence of the disease in my body at this point in time.
"I’ll be monitored for the next five years, having blood tests once a month and six-monthly MRI scans. Micah and I would like a second child, but have been advised to wait two years before trying, as even though there is only a low risk of the cancer returning, that’s when it would be most likely to happen.
"It’s still sinking in that in just 12 months I’ve become a mum, been diagnosed with cancer and beaten it, all against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic.
"This Christmas will be so special for me. Not only will Louisa turn one, but there was a time when I feared I wouldn’t be here to see her reach that milestone, or celebrate the festive season with her and Micah. To be here and healthy feels wonderful.”
‘Losing 6st saved my relationship’
Leigh Divey, 34, is a home-care agency manager and lives in Watford with her partner Billy, 36, and daughter Emily, five.
“I wish I could go back to January this year and tell the old me how much she’d change, both physically and emotionally, in 2020. At the start of the year, I weighed 17st 6lb and was a size 20, obese for my 5ft 3in frame.
"I’d steadily gained around 4 1/2st since meeting Billy in 2013 and having our daughter Emily, which was a combination of not losing my pregnancy weight and comfort eating when I had postnatal depression.
"At work, I’d skip meals and instead constantly graze on crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks, then in the evening I’d tuck into a huge portion of spaghetti Bolognese or a takeaway, before biscuits and sugary tea. I did no exercise at all.
"The bigger I got, the more my weight affected every aspect of my life. I couldn’t run around after Emily because my hips and knees ached and I’d get breathless.
"My snoring was so bad, Billy and I slept in separate bedrooms, which affected our relationship. Emotionally I felt very low. When I met up with friends, I knew I was ‘the big one’ and I hid my body in long tops and leggings, feeling old and frumpy despite being in my early 30s.
"Then in January this year, Billy and I had a conversation that triggered my weight-loss journey. I knew our relationship wasn’t in a good place, but he had the courage to tell me how worried he was, both about my health and our future.
"He hated the fact we had to sleep separately, and was worried my weight would stop us conceiving a second child. He also said it was hard for him seeing how lacking in confidence I was – he wanted me to be happy again.
"It was difficult to hear, but I didn’t disagree. At the root of all our problems was my weight and I knew I had to change. So I began The One to One Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan to limit my calorie intake.
"I stuck to porridge, soup and low-calorie veggie curry, and by the time lockdown began on March 23, I’d lost 1 1/2st. I was determined that whatever lay ahead, I wouldn’t let it derail me.
"My goal was to wow friends and colleagues when we could all meet up again, and that motivated me when everyone else was baking banana bread and overindulging.
"Working from home, I also found time to start running, building up to two miles several times a week. Over the summer, I saw some of my family for my grandma’s 90th birthday and they barely recognised me.
"It felt great to be complimented, and it spurred me on. Now I weigh 11st 6lb and am a size 12-14. My goal weight is 10st 7lb and a size 10-12 and I’m confident I’ll reach that in 2021.
"I’ve binned my leggings, replacing them with skinny jeans and dresses. Physically, I have much more energy, and Billy and I now share a bedroom again as my snoring has stopped.
"We are closer than ever now my weight is no longer a physical and emotional barrier between us. I’ve transformed my body – and my relationship.”
- Visit Mummysstar.org for support and advice on dealing with cancer
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