Just four months after giving birth one mum took a drastic move to find body confidence.
Overweight Rachael Wickes underwent a stomach bypass to help her shed the pounds after years of failed diets left her a size 26 and 146kg.
The mum-of-two, a flight attendant, feared she wouldn’t pass safety protocols on her return to work after maternity leave and felt ashamed walking alongside the glamorous cabin crew.
But the turning point came when Rachael caught sight of her reflection while lying on the hospital bed awaiting the birth of her son.
‘I tried to get comfortable as I was being wheeled to theatre for a c-section, but I was wedged against the rails on either side,’ Rachael says.
‘Then we passed a set of glass doors and I saw my reflection. I was reminded of someone famous, but not a celebrity or film star. I looked like the killer whale from Free Willy.
‘It should have been one of the happiest moments of my life - I was about to meet my baby - but all I could think of was how huge I had let myself become.
‘If the ground could, I would gladly have let it swallow me whole.
‘And so instead of waiting excitedly for my baby, I could only think of the size of my body on the operating table.’
Despite suffering gestational diabetes in both this, her second pregnancy, and her first with daughter Amelia, the caesarean went to plan and healthy baby Alfie was born in October 2016.
Rachael, 40, from Watford, UK, says: ‘Alfie was beautiful and it helped me to forget my worries about my weight, but not for long.
‘Two weeks later, my husband Paul was back at work and I met a friend in the park for a playdate.
‘Amelia, four, got stuck at the top of a climbing frame. She was shouting and crying for me to get her down but as I stared at the small gap in the frame around the ladder I thought: I weigh 146kg. I’m never fitting up there.
‘My friend came to the rescue but I choked back tears. What kind of mum can’t help her own child?’
Rachael, who regularly hid evidence of her junk food binges by dumping pizza or McDonald’s boxes in the bin knew it was time to take action.
She’d tried every diet under the sun and failed each time, including the run up to her wedding when she’d put on weight despite having a personal trainer and both pregnancies, where her sugar binges brought on gestational diabetes.
Even with that health warning, Rachael admits she couldn’t stop herself eating.
She says: ‘During my first pregnancy, my blood sugar was out of control and Amelia’s tummy was bigger than it should have been.
‘The doctor gave me a booklet on keeping a strict sugar free diet and told me in no uncertain terms the baby was at increased risk of problem and even stillbirth
‘But still I gorged on family bars of Cadbury’s milk chocolate and six Wagon Wheels at a time. It left me absolutely racked with guilt.
‘I was so addicted to food that not even the little baby growing inside me was enough to stop me.’
Luckily Amelia arrived safely, but the same thing happened again when Rachael was pregnant with Alfie, leading to an early c-section.
Afterwards, Rachael began researching online and settled on having her stomach stapled to drastically restrict her ability to eat and hopefully lose weight.
She says: ‘I discussed it with Paul and we both knew there was a risk of things going wrong, but he said he’d support me no matter what.
‘I took out a loan for £10,000 and when Alfie was just four months old, I went to Spire Thames Valley Hospital for a gastric bypass with consultant Samer Humadi.
Now, 18 months later, Rachael has lost 58kg and is a svelte size 12.
But Rachael stresses that while many will see gastric surgery as an ‘easy’ route to weight-loss, it’s not all plain-sailing.
In fact, after Rachael had the op she felt so awful that she reckoned she’d made a horrible mistake.
‘I felt like I had been hit by a train,’ she explains. ‘I couldn’t eat or even have sips of water. I felt sick and my stomach hurt terribly.’
‘It took weeks before I was able to keep down pureed food and when I returned home, I had to learn what and how to eat all over again.’
Despite the physical difficulties, Rachael feels it was all worth it.
‘Months went by and the weight flew off. My friends and colleagues didn’t recognise me and neither did Paul’s friends. They joked that he was punching above his weight with his new girlfriend – except his new missus was me!
Determined to embrace her new body, Rachael has hired a personal trainer to help get fit.
‘I’ve stuck with it this time and with a combination of the surgery and my fitness training, I no longer crave chocolate or takeaways.’
‘I’m full of energy, am never out of breath and in the best shape of my life. Having a gastric bypass was a gruelling and painful way to lose weight but I don’t regret it. I can finally be the mum my kids deserve.’