I was, I suppose, a 'later starter' when it came to smoking. Sure, I'd done the sneaky puffs...aged 10 or so when we'd pool our money, go and buy a packet of 10 and share them out between us - we'd sneak off to the park and smoke them, thinking how cool it was, and how cool we looked. We'd be coughing our guts up, eyes watering from the smoke, but still we thought we looked 'cool'.
I didn't start smoking properly until I went away to college, aged 17. It was the first time I'd been away from home - a residential college in Exeter that specialised in training young disabled people for a trade that would enable them to find employment when they left. I was born in 1964 with a disability - my mum had contracted German measles in her first trimester, the result being that I was born with no left hand. It was decided that although I had attended 'normal' schools, going to a college that was aimed specifically at disabled people would help me more in the long run. I'd have more one-to-one tutorship and also have training specific to my needs. I learnt to type at this college and even now have typing speeds of over 60wpm(I'm very proud of that *g*).
I met a guy, and we dated on and off for 5 years. He smoked, and had several times tried to give up. In an attempt to quit, he'd given me a nearly full packet of cigarettes and asked me to hide them so that he wouldn't be tempted to smoke. I don't know what made me do it, but I thought I'd 'have a go', and one by one, smoked the cigarettes left in the packet. I'd stand there and practice in front of the mirror - practicing different ways of holding them. Slowly I learnt to inhale without choking and coughing and having streaming eyes. Of course, by that time, I was hooked. I NEEDED those cigarettes; the old Nicodemon had his claws firmly imbedded and he wasn't letting go. I felt confident when I had a cigarette in my hand, like one of the gang. I may have looked a bit different, but by smoking, I felt more 'normal', so to speak. I suppose when we're young, the need to 'fit in' is very strong. Now, as I am nearing my 40th birthday, I no longer feel like that and haven't for years. I'm now a 'this is me, like it or lump it' kind of person.
Once I left college, I continued to smoke in secret - even though both of my parents were smokers, I felt somehow embarassed to admit to them that I had started. The secrecy of course didn't last, and I smoked openly from then on. I got a job as a typist for British Rail in 1984, and in those days, there wasn't much of a stigma attached to smoking. I was able to smoke freely while in the office and did so.
I met my hubby Darren at work and we married in 1988. He has never been a smoker, but never once nagged me about my disgusting habit. In November of 1989 I became pregnant with our first child, and although I stopped smoking, I chewed nicotine gum for the whole of my pregnancy. After Louise was born in 1990, the moment I was out of the maternity unit, I was in the shop buying my first packet of cigarettes in 9 months. I continued to smoke a pack a day until I became pregnant again in 1994 with my second child, but to my eternal shame, I couldn't do it...I couldn't stop.
I smoked during my pregnancy, and I kidded myself that I was smoking low tar and much less than I smoked before and that it was okay. Hannah was born 2 weeks early. She was only 6lbs 4oz, and I was kept in the maternity unit for a week because she had trouble maintaining her body temperature and couldn't keep her food down. Whether this was due to the fact that I smoked during my pregnancy I will never know, but the guilt I feel is something that will never go away. When Hannah was 8 months old, she contracted bronchilitis, and I have never been so scared. Her breathing was noisy and erratic. She had to be hospitalised and put on a nebuliser several times a day in a bid to help her breathe easier. I remember sobbing in my husband's arms, saying over and over again that it was my fault she had it, that if she died, it would be my fault. I managed to stop for a few months, but Hannah got better and I started smoking again.
The years went by with me half-heartedly attempting to give up and failing miserably. Then, in 2001, a friend I used to work with contracted lung cancer. That was scary - cancer was something that happened to other people, but for the first time in my life, it had happened to someone I knew; someone I cared about. On May 27, 2002, I quit smoking for what I thought was for good. I found a wonderful website run by Christine Rowley - Christine's Story
of how she was attached to oxygen 24/7 was posted on the website.