- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 21 June 2017, 7:43AM
When Sarah Fletcher went to her doctor with a swelling in her tummy, the medic thought she had an obstruction in her bowel.
The former air hostess needed emergency surgery in the past after suffering complications through years of battling eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, damage to her body which doctors said would leave her unable to conceive.
The 33-year-old told Daily Mail of her shock - and delight - at discovering that far from being seriously ill, she was actually six-and-a-half months pregnant.
She showed off healthy 6lb 13oz baby Beatrice - and said the pregnancy had virtually "cured" her of the debilitating eating disorders she had suffered since childhood and which have left her with osteoporosis.
Miss Fletcher said the nine-week-old miracle baby had "saved my life".
Sarah and Ashley with their newborn daughter Beatrice who arrived in April. Photo / Facebook
She added: "Having a baby was all I ever wanted but I'd been told that it would never happen because of the damage I'd done to my body through starving myself.
"I thought the swelling was a side effect of my eating disorders - at one point I'd been going through up to 100 laxatives a day and I'd had to have surgery once before for damage to my bowel, because it had effectively stopped working.
"I couldn't believe it when the consultant told me an X-ray had revealed I was carrying a baby. I was ecstatic and it instantly changed my mind-set.
"Before then, I was almost past the point of caring about getting better. I was barely eating, and when I did it was only things like Cup-a-Soups. I would then make myself sick.
"I couldn't see myself ever recovering from the disorders, but knowing I was carrying a baby instantly gave me somebody else to focus on. I had to start eating to make sure Beatrice would be OK."
Cradling her thriving daughter - who she affectionately calls BeBe - Miss Fletcher yesterday said she was now the "happiest I have ever been".
Miss Fletcher who lives in Mickleover, near Derby, with partner Ashley Townsend, a 42-year-old factory shift manager, was referred straight to Derby Royal Hospital by her GP in January, after he thought he had detected a "mass" in her bowel.
At the hospital, three other medics also examined her and, in the knowledge of her medical history, concurred that it was likely to be related to her eating disorders and use of laxatives.
Miss Fletcher was sent for an X-ray, which then revealed baby bones in her womb. But doctors were unsure at that stage whether the foetus was dead or alive.
She added: "Before she told me what the X-ray and found, a doctor told me to sit down because she had something to tell me and there was 'no easy way' to do it.
"I thought she was going to say I was terminally ill - that all the abuse I had put my body through had caught up with me. When she told me about the baby, I started sobbing and then I told her about my history and how I didn't think that was possible. She started crying too.''
A scan then confirmed the baby had a heartbeat. Mercifully, the X-ray caused Beatrice no harm.
Baby Beatrice Townsend born to Sarah Fletcher and Ashley Townsend of Derby in the UK. Photo / Facebook
Miss Fletcher, who was about to start a new job at an estate agents when she found out she was pregnant, said she began showing signs of anorexia at 14 at a time of upheaval in her family and school life and two years after she was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
Miss Fletcher believes her issues with food stem in part from a consultation with a food allergy specialist she saw as part of her attempts to overcome ME, a debilitating neurological condition in which sufferers experience persistent fatigue.
She was diagnosed with bulimia - where sufferers force themselves to vomit after eating - aged 17, after getting together with a boyfriend and worrying about how she would manage to eat in front of him.
Around that time, her weight plunged below 32kg and the disorders eventually caused her to be sectioned. During her teenage years, she also spent two spells living at eating disorder clinics.
Miss Fletcher said that during her pregnancy, she had developed cravings for McDonalds milkshakes - but didn't allow herself to indulge because she had always deprived herself of milk while battling anorexia.
She added: "People asked me how I hadn't picked up on the baby moving, but I just thought I had indigestion. I was going through Gaviscon like nobody's business!"
She said she was staggered when Beatrice was born at such a healthy weight, despite the lack of food she had consumed throughout her pregnancy.
Miss Fletcher added: "The doctors said babies are like parasites and will take any reserve of food I might have. That is why I was feeling so rotten throughout the pregnancy - Beatrice was taking all of the few nutrients I was allowing myself."
Miss Fletcher is continuing to go to fortnightly counselling sessions and also enjoys writing poems as an emotional release. She now resembles any other healthy thirty-something, but refuses to weigh herself, saying she is determined to leave her food issues behind her.
She added: "My granddad, who is my hero, said he can die happy now after seeing how much I have changed and knowing that I'm going to be OK."
Miss Fletcher now hopes her story will inspire others suffering from eating disorders not to give up hope that they can find a way out of their malaise.
Her mother, Sue Duffin, 55, who runs a hair and beauty salon, said the baby effectively saved Miss Fletcher's life.
She added: "Sarah already had a slightly swollen stomach because that is what anorexia does to people when they don't eat. But the rest of her was skin and bone. The moment she found out she was pregnant we went straight to the shop at the hospital and she picked a milkshake up along with the biggest sandwich on the shelf.
"I had never seen her eat a sandwich in 20 years but by the time we got back to the car she had demolished the lot. Over the next week, her baby bump suddenly came out.
"The change has been remarkable. Sarah put on almost two stone during the final two months of her pregnancy and looked fantastic. Beatrice was born almost at full term.
"We are all so happy. Sarah has proved to be the most amazing mother - she can't take her eyes off Beatrice."
This article was first published on Daily Mail and is republished here with permission.