It’s funny how a chance conversation with a stranger can flip your perspective. Last June I’d just landed in St Lucia with my partner, Ryan Libbey, and our one-year-old son Leo.

I was telling our taxi driver how much we needed this holiday, explaining I’d nearly died first giving birth to Leo, then again a week later after I haemorrhaged, losing litres of blood and requiring several transfusions.

Since then, I’d haemorrhaged a second time. Quite separately to those events, I’d been hospitalised for terrible pain, malnutrition and dehydration with the bowel disease ulcerative colitis. All this has rocked my relationships, my physical and mental health, and my sense of self.

The driver’s response? ‘Wow, you made it through. You’re so lucky.’

It was a penny-drop moment. ‘Lucky’ is not how I would have described myself. I’ve felt cursed. For the first time, I thought about the fact that no matter how appalling the situation, I’d been in the right place at the right time to get the help I needed. I’m still here.

I guess that makes me very lucky indeed.

Louise and Ryan after giving birth to Leo - but her health ordeal had only just begun

Louise and Ryan after giving birth to Leo – but her health ordeal had only just begun 

Louise was also hospitalised for complications relating to the bowel disease ulcerative colitis

Louise was also hospitalised for complications relating to the bowel disease ulcerative colitis 

Most people would recognise me from Made In Chelsea [MIC, the E4 reality show about rich young people living in London’s most expensive borough], in which I appeared from 2011 to 2020. I seemed an ideal candidate for the show, having grown up in Chelsea’s neighbour South Kensington.

Both of my parents are quite stoic. I respect them for not pushing their problems and emotions on us as children. It was a happy childhood on the whole, materialistically at least. My father, who works in property, is entirely self-made. He was brilliant at providing for his family, but he wasn’t necessarily designed to be a good parent.

My mother is a property developer and has always been a fiercely independent perfectionist. I believe she developed a self-sufficient attitude owing to her own upbringing, and that way of thinking seemed to trickle down into our childhood too. She wasn’t the most sensitive parent.

When I was 11 my parents divorced. My brother Sam [who also appeared on MIC and won I’m A Celebrity last year] was distraught; I barely reacted at all, perhaps because we didn’t have strong family bonds. Shortly afterwards, I started boarding at Downe House School in Berkshire.

I was studying geography at Edinburgh University when a group of TV producers started sniffing around for people to take part in a new reality show — MIC. I thought the show sounded like a total waste of both time and a good education.

They ended up practically begging me to appear. Then, after my relationship with another student ended miserably, I decided I had nothing to lose.

I was plunged straight into a love triangle situation with Spencer [Matthews, my on-off boyfriend] and Caggie Dunlop. One week strangers online would be lauding me, the next they’d be calling me a ‘poison dwarf’ (I’m 5 ft) and sending me death threats.

Two years in, the Spencer drama crescendoed with our infamous break-up scene on the bridge where he mocked me, saying I had ‘allowed’ him to cheat on me. The hurt was impacted by the fact that everyone saw it on television, and continue to talk about it to this day.

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There’s a general assu-mption that if you’re on TV you must be getting handsomely rewarded.

The family after Louise's recovery

The family after Louise’s recovery 

Louise rose to fame on Made in Chelsea, the E4 reality show about rich young people living in London's most expensive borough, and appeared on the show for nine years

Louise rose to fame on Made in Chelsea, the E4 reality show about rich young people living in London’s most expensive borough, and appeared on the show for nine years

Ummm . . . not quite. In the beginning I think we were paid £25 a day with no wardrobe allowance, so by the time I’d been into Topshop and spent £100 on an outfit to wear for the next day’s filming, I was running at a significant loss.

Everything changed when Instagram took off. What began as a fun hobby sharing pictures morphed into a lucrative career.

Yet my drinking was spiralling. On occasion, I was in trouble with MIC’s producers because it was affecting my ability to work. If I’d had a regular job, I’d have lost it.

Things turned around in 2015 when I met Ryan, a personal trainer. He felt like the best thing that ever happened to me. He’d never watched MIC and was completely different to anyone I’d dated before.

This wasn’t a guy who was going to screw me over, I could just be myself with him.

I quit booze, started training five times a week and my body transformed.

After we got engaged in 2018, we set up our fitness brand Turtle together and I began winding down my MIC appearances, finally quitting in 2020. By early 2021 I was pregnant with Leo.

As I described in You magazine yesterday, his birth was catastrophic. I’m narrow, with a tiny pelvis, and had a baby with a larger-sized head. He was never getting out naturally.

After 24 hours of agonising pain and an epidural — which as far as I was concerned had no effect, as my pain was still out of this world — Leo was finally pulled out. But his birth culminated in a three-hour operation, throughout which I was awake all the time, to staunch my haemorrhaging after an artery was nicked as he was born.

Seven days later, home from hospital, I haemorrhaged again and needed a four-hour operation, having lost litres of blood. This time I spent three weeks in hospital. I became a blood-testing pin cushion. My C-section staples were infected and had to be removed with a scissor- type implement.

I was so immobile I got bedsores and felt not like a human being but a rag doll with no stuffing.

Back home, my mental torment was only just beginning. My old life had been completely erased: it was as if I’d died and been reborn in hospital. I was convinced I would haemorrhage at any moment. It had happened before, why not again?

Louise and Leo on a sunshine break in Antigua

Louise and Leo on a sunshine break in Antigua

Louise cuddles Leo in a sweet snap from her Instagram page

Louise cuddles Leo in a sweet snap from her Instagram page

I was hyper-paranoid, and detached from reality: I couldn’t see, hear or smell anything. I couldn’t tell if something I had cooked would scald my mouth or if the handle of a pan would burn me when I picked it up. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. At times I’d have struggled to tell you what my name was. I simply couldn’t cope.

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I thought about taking my own life. If I heard a Tube train going past, I’d imagine myself walking in front of it. If things stayed as they were, I had no future — but there was no manual for how to live again. Being back at home was unspeakably awful. I was scared of my own baby — this tiny, helpless little thing — and I would distance myself from him as much as possible.

T here was nothing there. I had no emotion towards him. There was zero love. It’s so very hard to say that out loud, but he was such an obvious trigger. At the time I didn’t even know what a trigger was. I didn’t know what PTSD was. I’d read about it, but I didn’t believe or accept that it was happening to me.

I couldn’t understand the patterns, so there was no obvious connection at that point, but Leo’s crying especially would bring on a bout of debilitating anxiety or instigate a serious trauma reaction in my body and my brain like a flashback. I associated the sound of my baby’s cries with bleeding to death.

At night, Ryan saw to him while I lay in bed like a bag of flesh. I didn’t talk or sing to him, didn’t hold him, could barely bring myself to look at him. Leo seemed to cry all the time. He must have picked up on the tension. Perhaps he didn’t get the cuddles and skin-to-skin that he needed. That makes my heart hurt.

I used to cry hysterically to Ryan that I wanted to get better for Leo. What’s crazy is I didn’t actually feel it, but I wanted Ryan to think I was a decent human and mother.

But at the same time, I was worried about the impact my mental health condition was having on Leo, that if I died that would hurt him for the rest of his life. As the months passed, I tried to engineer feelings for him. I’d go robotically through the motions, doing things normal parents did such as taking him swimming, hoping I would start to feel normal, too.

The best decision we ever made, and what helped me turn a corner, was when we weaned Leo on to solids at around four months. He’d sit in his little chair and I could look at him and connect with him, while still maintaining distance. He loved his food so much — it felt as if I could finally do something right. The more he smiled and expressed himself, the more I was drawn to him.

NOW READ THE FIRST EXTRACT: ‘There’s blood splattering all over the curtain’: Read Louise Thompson describe her childbirth ordeal in an exclusive extract from her book, and how labour ‘destroyed everything good in my life’

He was 14 months when I felt confident enough to climb into his cot and lie snuggled up next to him, as I stroked his face and he twiddled my hair. It felt hugely significant. When I was so poorly, Ryan assumed the brunt of responsibilities with parenting and running the house — cooking, cleaning, washing — while also trying to earn some money.

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I had been the breadwinner but now was unable to work and there were huge worries around our finances. Ryan has admitted the experience turned him into an angry person. Angry at the world, angry at the hospital. He even said it made him angry at Leo. Not that any of it was Leo’s fault, but as a newborn, he was so demanding at a time when Ryan couldn’t think straight. Understandably, Ryan’s mental health suffered as a result.

I’ve asked him if he thought about leaving me and he said yes. Ouch. That stung. But he also knew he never would go through with it. He said: ‘I was struggling and thought a lot about a different life. But in the same way I never really believed you would take your own life, I never believed I would walk away.’

H e added the ordeal had changed the way he saw me, but positively. He wouldn’t have been able to stomach even 10 per cent of the physical, emotional and mental torture I endured. It showed him how tough I was and warranted a lot of respect. We’ve come through a huge test and emerged stronger for it. I don’t think anything could tear us apart now.

One lesson I’ve taken from all this is that relationships are everything. Last Mother’s Day, I wrote my mother an emotional card, thanking her for everything she’d done to help me get well again — expressions of love which do not come naturally between us after a lifetime of suppression. A few months later, she held my hands and told me I was the strongest person she knew. I can’t tell you how important that was. It felt like a real breakthrough in our relationship.

When I look at my funny, happy, handsome, bright, sociable and adventurous dream of a little boy today, I wonder how on earth I made something so pure when there were times when I thought we wouldn’t make it at all.

Despite everything, the love seeped in, until all of a sudden it came in a flood. Having lost so much time together, I’m now in a position to give Leo my everything. That’s what I plan to do.

Leo deserves the best life and the most love I can give him. And, despite our rocky start (or possibly because of it), the bond between us now couldn’t be tighter. Ultimately, I gave birth to a beautiful son. I am still here and I am still fighting.

  • ‘There’s blood splattering all over the curtain’: Read Louise Thompson describe her childbirth ordeal in the first exclusive extract from her book, and how labour ‘destroyed everything good in my life’

Adapted from Lucky by Louise Thompson (Ebury, £22), to be published on May 23. To order a copy for £19.80 (offer valid until May 25, 2024; UK P&P free on orders over £25), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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