Staring in the mirror, I barely recognised the fat woman looking back at me.
Growing up, I’d been an athletic kid who’d loved swimming. Even after I had my first four children, Dannielle, Brian, Here and Nathan, my body bounced right back.
But after my husband Joseph and I welcomed Jojo and Emily-Jane, I struggled to keep the weight off.
‘You’re still beautiful to me,’ my hubby would tell me.
But now a busy mum to six kids aged 17, 15, 13, 10, eight and one, I put my family’s needs before mine. And when I opened my own bakery in 2015, I worked from 5am to 5pm every day.
A self-confessed workaholic, I never made time to stop for breakfast or lunch. Instead, my first meal would be dinner with the family each night.
What I didn’t realise was my body was going into starvation mode, storing the fat.
We always ate a balanced meal. Once the table was cleared though, I would gorge on a king-sized block of chocolate or bag of chips in front of the TV.
Though I’d tried countless diets, my polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects the hormones, also made it hard to keep the weight off.
Over time, I became more upset with my appearance.
Weighing 146 kilos and trying to squeeze into size-28 clothes, I burst into tears, defeated. So I went to see my GP who recommended a gastric sleeve.
Surgery’s not for me, I thought.
But the weight just wouldn’t shift.
Two years later, I planned to take the kids out on a day trip. ‘You can’t come, Mummy,’ Emily-Jane, then three, said. ‘You’re too fat.’
Shattered, I realised I needed to change.
Desperate, I decided to go ahead with the gastric sleeve, where a large portion of my stomach would be cut away, leaving a tube-shaped one about the size of a pen. It meant I’d be fuller quicker and foods high in fat, carbohydrates and sugar were completely off the table.
My GP explained all the risks associated with the surgery. ‘It can never be reversed,’ he warned. After lots of research and seeing success stories, I thought it would be worth it.
While Joseph was concerned, he supported my decision. ‘I just want to see you happy,’ he said.
Ten months later, in March 2017, I was wheeled into theatre for the op. And the day after, I was discharged.
I was told to stick to a liquid diet for two weeks before reintroducing small portions of puréed foods. But no matter what I consumed, I couldn’t keep anything down.
With every mouthful, it regurgitated straight back up. Maybe my body is just adjusting to the change, I thought.
Then 10 days after the surgery it got worse. Stuck on the toilet in agony, I was experiencing explosive diarrhoea and vomiting at the same time.
Rushed to hospital by ambulance, I was diagnosed with dehydration and connected to a drip.
Doctors discovered my new stomach was so narrow, it was completely obstructed, so in another op they put in a stent to help widen it.
Waking from surgery once more, I instantly reached for the sick bag. For the next three days, I was constantly throwing up and couldn’t even sip on water without vomiting.
What have I done to myself? I cried, begging the doctors to remove the stent. Thankfully when they did, the sickness subsided.
But despite numerous tests including a gastroscopy and colonoscopy, they couldn’t seem to find the cause and insisted my body had just rejected the procedure. So they sent me home to rest.
‘Just eat anything you can keep down,’ they told me.
If I ate anything that my body disagreed with, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. So I stuck to simple foods like cheese and crackers.
My stomach couldn’t even handle cold or tepid water, so I was forced to drink hot tea to hydrate.
As my weight came off, I hoped to feel like a new woman. But the lack of nutrition from the small amount of food I could tolerate had also caused hair loss, dry skin and brittle teeth.
In just under two years, I’d shed 87 kilos and gone from a size 28 to an 8. But I was so lethargic I could no longer run around with my kids or keep the doors to my business open.
Although I felt confident on the outside for the first time in years, I felt like I’d lost more than just numbers on the scale.
I was so much happier fat, I thought sadly.
Before the op, the kids loved to cuddle up to my squidgy frame. But now, all boney, they no longer came to me for hugs.
Then, in September last year, I underwent a procedure where my sleeve was connected straight to my intestine to help with my digestive issues. Sadly, the op didn’t work, so doctors put me on a waiting list for a complete bypass later this year. Doctors will extend my intestine to make more room and reconnect it back to my new stomach.
With only one wage since closing my business, I’m grateful it will be covered by public funding, like the original op.
‘I wish I’d never had the gastric sleeve,’ I say to Joseph, in despair.
Now I’m sharing my story to warn others to think twice before getting the invasive op. I’m proof that this operation isn’t just the easy way out.