This baby will be my last — I can't go through this again, says Helen Flanagan
WHENEVER we’ve met Helen Flanagan in the past, she’s always been open about her plans for a big family.
Broody from the age of 18, she loves being a mum so much that she’s never been able to imagine a time when she’d say a categorical no to any more babies. Until now.
This third pregnancy has been such an ordeal that the actress has decided it simply has to be her last.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) – the extreme sickness condition that affected Helen with both her previous pregnancies – has been even more acute this time round, meaning spells in hospital and long periods where she has been bed-bound and unable to care for Matilda, five, and two-year-old Delilah.
While the sickness has now settled, those first few months were so traumatic, she knows she couldn’t cope with it a fourth time.
“I always really wanted four children, but after the hyperemesis this time, I could never go through it again. So the decision about having more children after this one has been taken out of my hands, really,” she says.
“It’s funny, I always thought if I knew I was carrying my last baby I would feel really sad about it, but because of what happened, I don’t see it like that. I see it as a positive decision and one I’m completely happy with.”
HG affects up to 5% of pregnant women, including most famously Kate Middleton who was hospitalised during her first pregnancy.
For Helen, 30, who has eight weeks left until her due date, it always starts very early on and lasts throughout the first trimester.
This time she had to move back in with her parents in the north-west for three months, so they could care for the girls while she recovered and her Preston North End footballer partner Scott Sinclair went to work.
“It started as soon as I found out I was pregnant and I was in and out of hospital where they would give me anti-sickness jabs. I wasn’t able to look after the girls because I literally couldn’t get my head off the pillow. I was constantly being sick and couldn’t keep anything down.
"I couldn’t even have the lights on because they made me dizzy. I couldn’t watch films or TV to try to take my mind off it and none of the medication worked. With Delilah I was on medication for seven months, but this time it was like I was immune to it,” she says.
“It’s such a shame, because when you feel that bad you actually forget that you’re pregnant. I had to keep reminding myself that I was going to have a baby and it was going to be wonderful, but I found it so tough mentally being bed-bound for so long. And I felt so guilty on behalf of the children.”
Helen is happy to be sharing her story in the hope that it helps other women suffering with HG, although she is anxious that she doesn’t come across as “ungrateful” and points out several times that she feels “lucky to be able to carry” when so many women have difficulty conceiving.
The bag I was being sick in broke and so I had to get out and change my pyjama bottoms in the middle of the street. Can you imagine?
But, equally, this is a subject she feels isn’t fully understood and can often be dismissed as regular morning sickness.
“I actually get typical morning sickness now, where I wake up and throw up but I can get on with my day. But with hyperemesis you can’t get on with your day, you’re throwing up all the time.
“I remember my mum taking me to hospital last August and I couldn’t stop being sick in the car. The bag I was being sick in broke and so I had to get out and change my pyjama bottoms in the middle of the street. Can you imagine?
“I was very lucky that it settled down during my second trimester and that I was able to have a support bubble by moving into my mum and dad’s for three months. For some women it lasts throughout their entire pregnancy.”
Since the hyperemesis has calmed, Helen has been able to look forward to the birth at the end of March. She doesn’t know (and doesn’t care either) whether she’s having a girl or a boy, although she grins at the thought of Scott, 31, being completely outnumbered if it’s another daughter.
“I would love another girl,” she says. “I think I’m good with girls because I know what to do! But I would equally love a son because it would be a completely new experience. We’ve picked our names and gone for quite traditional ones because they’ll never go out of fashion.”
Being pregnant during the pandemic has added another layer of worry, but Helen says she’s thankful that she’s been through it twice before and knows the drill. Her younger sister Jessica, 28, is pregnant with her first baby and it’s not been easy.
“My sister is only three weeks behind me and I do really feel for people who are expecting their first during all this. Everything is so new and you can feel quite anxious and overwhelmed by the whole experience anyway, so to go through all that during Covid has been very difficult.
"It’s much better now that hospitals are allowing partners to attend scans, but I have a friend who had her baby in March during the first lockdown and that was so hard when the virus was new.”
The nation watched Helen grow up on screen – she joined Coronation Street as Rosie Webster in 2000 when she was just nine and stayed there until 2012. She returned in 2017 until going off on maternity leave with Delilah the following year.
After Delilah’s birth, Helen decided the commute between Manchester where Corrie is filmed and Glasgow, where the family was based while Scott played for Celtic, was too much.
In the past she’s been vague about whether she intends to go back for a third time, but today she’s pretty emphatic – there’s definitely a sense of unfinished business.
Plus Scott transferred to Preston North End last year, which means they’re conveniently living on the Corrie doorstep once more.
“I would love to go back to Coronation Street, that would be so nice,” she says. “I miss everyone there and I was so lucky to grow up on that show, because the opportunities it brought me have changed my life so much.
"So, yes, I would love to return and hopefully I will, but first I want to enjoy the newborn stage because it doesn’t last long and you never get it back.”
She’s still very much in touch with her old colleagues, and fans of the show were delighted to see pictures of Helen, Matilda and Delilah enjoying a day out in between lockdowns last autumn with Sally Dynevor, her on-screen mum and real-life mum of Bridgerton star Phoebe.
“I absolutely love Sally. Did you see she got her MBE? She is the nicest person, so lovely and professional. She would always help me with my scripts if I wasn’t sure how to play something.
"And Phoebe is in Bridgerton now, which I’m absolutely hooked on – it’s my treat when the kids go to bed. She’s absolutely gorgeous, just like her mum.”
She’s also in regular contact with her screen sister Brooke Vincent, who is due to give birth to her second baby around the same time as Helen.
“Me and Brooke haven’t been able to meet up recently for obvious reasons. But it’s so lovely to be expecting at the same time. And I do feel quite positive that things will be different by the spring, especially with the vaccine coming out.”
Scott proposed in 2018 and they had initially earmarked 2020 for the wedding, before putting it back to 2021. Now Helen reckons the safest bet will be to leave it until at least 2022.
“Everything has gone out the window,” she shrugs. “We had it planned that my little sister was going to get married in 2020 so we’d get married in 2021.
"Now I’m looking at maybe 2022, although I think so many people who have been in the same boat are going to get married that year. We’ll all be going to weddings every week!”
If she sounds quite relaxed about it all, it’s because getting married is not top of her list of priorities.
“I think of Scott as my husband anyway. We’ve been together since I was 19 and for so long that people just assume we’re married. And we act like we’re married already.”
Besides, she says, becoming parents is the biggest commitment they could have made. It’s only since becoming a mum that she’s found true contentment.
“Motherhood has made me a lot happier – everyone said that when I had Matilda I mellowed. I think that’s true. I’ve grown so much from 24 to 30 and Matilda is like my best friend now, which is lovely. I just feel that being a mum was the best thing that happened to me.”
Throughout this pregnancy, Helen has been filming for MummaFit ToBe, her pre-natal workout and wellbeing subscription programme, which complements her post-natal series.
New workouts, which can be done at home, drop every month and include cardio, pelvic floor exercises, core training and yoga.
She says: “I’m not super-fit and I’ve never claimed to be either, but I worked with a trainer who was really lovely and it’s a nice programme. It’s not intimidating and you can go at your own pace. It’s developed for all levels of fitness and there is some meditation in there as well.”
Although Scott’s salary means they are financially comfortable enough for Helen not to work, she says it’s important to her to have a career of her own, too.
In the make-up chair with Helen
What is your skincare regime?
Eve Lom Cleanser is really moisturising. I also use Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream.
Make-up bag essentials?
Nars All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation and Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in Custard. Hourglass Caution Extreme Lash Mascara and Arch Brow Volumizing Fiber Gel give me the fluffy brow look I like.
Best beauty bargain?
I like Kiehl’s Since1851 Lip Balm.
Your hair care must-haves?
I use Olaplex shampoo and conditioner.
Describe your make-up evolution…
I prefer a natural look now. I used to draw my eyebrows on so thick and wear a red lipgloss that looked awful!
“Being a mum gives me a lot of drive, I’m ambitious and there are so many things that I want to do with my career to make my girls proud. Having children inspires me to be the best version of myself I can.
“Since I was young I wanted to have children and be a mum more than being focused on my career. And now I want to show that you can still achieve the things you want to and be a good mum at the same time.”
Perhaps Helen’s most talked-about cover for Fabulous (out of the seven she has appeared on) was the one in 2018 where she proudly breastfed Delilah and said she no longer cared if narrow-minded people objected to her nursing in public.
She has always shared pictures on social media of her breastfeeding without fuss or fanfare and has been credited with helping to normalise it.
“I think that was my favourite cover,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to breastfeeding the new baby and I do like to breastfeed for quite a long time. I don’t judge anyone who chooses not to do it, but I just think it’s nice for women to share their breastfeeding journeys.
"I have friends who breastfeed and friends who bottlefeed and it doesn’t make you a better mum whichever one you choose. I like to share my journey, but I know it’s not for everyone. We’re all doing our best.”
Amen to that. For now, Helen plans on getting through the last few weeks of being pregnant while juggling homeschooling. And she fully intends to soak up every second of the newborn bubble once the new arrival is here.
“I am going to really enjoy this baby because it’s my last one,” she says. “I’ll enjoy the breastfeeding and the bonding. But after that, I am definitely finished having babies.”
- Helen’s MummaFit ToBe pre-natal workouts are available exclusively on the Truconnect by TV.Fit app.
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