When she was born via caesarean in August 2015, Sophie looked just like an angel with her bright blue eyes and chubby cheeks.
I’d been suffering with a cold, but as I recovered from surgery in hospital, I loved the time I had bonding with my precious girl.
Then, four days after Sophie’s arrival, my brother Chris, 37, came to visit us. ‘What’s wrong with your face?’ he asked me. My right eye was blinking uncontrollably, but I figured it was just a spasm.
When I ate that evening though, I had trouble rolling the food around in my mouth. I must be tired if I can’t even eat properly, I thought.
Later, when Sophie woke at 3am for a feed, I reached for a glass of water. But as I took a sip, the water spilled out of my mouth. What on earth…? I thought.
Grabbing my phone to look in the camera, I was horrified to see the person staring back at me. Half of my face had collapsed and my eye was wide open. I thought I’d had a stroke, so I paged my midwife.
When she arrived, the look on her face was unnerving. ‘I think you have Bell’s palsy,’ she admitted. Instructing me not to google the symptoms, she went to find a doctor.
But desperate for more information, I looked up the condition straight away. I read that the paralysis was caused by trauma to a cranial nerve, and could be triggered when the body was under extreme stress – like a C-section and my cold.
While some people healed in a matter of weeks, others never recovered at all.
Determined to stay positive, I told myself I’d be better in a few weeks.
But when Olivia came to see me the next day, she was too scared to look at me. Who could blame her? I thought. I look like a monster.
What was meant to be one of the happiest times of my life nurturing my baby had turned into a nightmare.
And then it got worse.
‘You’ll need to get an MRI to rule out the possibility of brain tumours,’ I was told. Shattered, my mind raced.
Just five days ago, I was blissfully cradling my newborn daughter. Now, I was being told there was a chance that I wouldn’t see her grow up.
Thankfully, just three days later, the results came back negative and I was prescribed steroids for the next 10 days.
In that moment, I decided to be more grateful for every day I got to spend with my children.
‘Come back in three months if nothing has changed,’ the doctor said when he discharged me. That’s when I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and find treatment elsewhere.
Contacting natural therapists all over the state, I was desperate. But I kept being told they weren’t able to deal with Bell’s palsy.
By now, Olivia had started to mimic my facial expressions, smiling with only one side of her mouth. ‘Oh Mummy,’ she’d say, stroking my drooped cheek.
I have to beat this, I told myself. If not for me, then for her.
Though I tried everything from kinesiology to homeopathy and even physiotherapy, nothing seemed to heal me fully.
So I created a Facebook page, Bell’s Palsy and Facial Paralysis Support Group Australia, to support others living with the condition and to swap information.
That’s where I heard about a US product containing supplemented water and a gel to apply to my face.
Incredibly, within three weeks my mouth had gone from drooped to straight.
And with the help of my chiropractor, the nerves in my face started to fire and blood began to flow again.
I finally feel like me again, I thought, ecstatic.
Now, more than three years on from my diagnosis, I have healed 90 per cent. Though I still have days when I’m tired and my face looks very different, I feel like a whole new person.
‘You’re beautiful, Mummy,’ Olivia will often remind me.
Grateful for the compassion shown to me by other health care professionals, I’ve since become a health coach.
I’m determined to help others work through their internal suffering so they can feel content too. Though it hasn’t been an easy journey, I’ve learned to love the skin I’m in.