Pregnancy, a good reason to kick the habit? 

Giving up smoking can be hard, but there is a better life on the other side.
Giving up smoking can be hard, but there is a better life on the other side.

Pregnancy, a good reason to kick the habit? Connect Pink's Donna Kelly reveals her own struggle to give up the cigarettes.

I WATCHED Chrissie Swan break down during a television interview.

She had been caught out smoking - while pregnant - by the paparazzi. And she admits that without that happening she would have kept up her one ciggie a day habit.

I don't think she needs to worry too much. My mum smoked all through her pregnancy with me, and my younger brother, and we turned out fine.

Well, apart from the asthma. But that could have been the secondary smoking from her 30-cigarettes a day around the house and in the car on day trips and long hauls to Queensland.

Oddly, despite the asthma, I started smoking myself at 16. I used to get up early and sit in mum's chair, lighting one of her cigarettes and enjoying the solitude. Strangely no-one ever noticed but I guess that was thanks to 30 years of smoke clinging to walls and drapes.

My one-a-day habit soon increased and by university I was up to about 10. That was my first try at quitting. I remember scrunching up the box, with cigarettes inside, and throwing them into the rubbish bin in the toilets.

Done. Too easy. And then I bought another packet from the milk bar on the way home.

Moving to Japan to teach English helped a little. Women didn't smoke in public. Although men were allowed to smoke in schools - and the students had to clean out the ashtrays as part of their daily chores. True story.

So I would have a nice puff in the morning, nothing all day, and then collapse with a cigarette back home about five. I did end up smoking in public though - generally at bars or karaoke joints. After all, I was a woman of the world.

Back in Australia, despite the three-year reduction, I quickly returned to almost a packet a day. I was a journo again - and if there's one thing we do well, or did, it's smoke. I needed a cigarette to think about a story, another one to start writing it, one to mark the halfway point, and another to finish. Thankfully I was only doing about five stories a day.

We stubbed the cigarettes out in the polystyrene cups our coffee came in. The room was often so thick with smoke it was hard to know who you were working with. Luckily we could all touch type, even John, who managed with just two fingers. He had more, just didn't use them.

The smoking habit was not without its problems. Especially combined with being an asthmatic. Cigarette in one hand, puff, Ventolin in the other, puff. I wonder now if I looked a little stupid. Nah.

And then there were the trips to hospital emergency units. I spent quite a few nights on the oxygen machine, which also delivered huge hits of Ventolin which left you shaking, swearing to God that I would never smoke again if She let me live. (Don't worry about the She bit, I am an atheist anyway.) And off I would go, off the fags for at least a day, before I needed just one more cigarette to stay sane.

Finally, living in Cairns, after smoking through my wedding - doesn't a bride dragging on a cigarette look classy - I decided it was time.

I went and chatted to a pharmacist about ideas on help. He suggested the nicotine chewing gum. He also said he knew how I felt.

"I gave up too," he said. "You feel like you are losing a best friend, don't you." And I did.

Cigarettes had been there for me through relationship break-ups, the end of high school, the start of uni, my first job, my soujourn in Japan, meeting my soulmate, all the ups and downs.

They had never complained, always just been at my side, and offered comfort when I needed glass of wine.

It was like when Tom Hanks lost Wilson in Cast Away. Now I know why I cried as Wilson was washed away - even though I knew it was just a volleyball.

And here I was casting away my cigarettes. What had they ever done to me?

Well, apart from those hospital visits, and kept me poor, and made my breath and clothing stink, and forced me to stand outside in winter because I refused to make my husband, a definite non-smoker, breathe in my secondary smoke. Mmmm.

So away I went home, with my gum, and I chain chewed for a week. And that was it. I never smoked again. Not that I didn't want to sometimes. When I picked up a glass of wine, struggled with the intro of a story, sat on the verandah as the sun went down, I wanted a cigarette so badly I could taste them.

And then I realised I could taste other things better, and I could take a really deep breath, and I didn't need Ventolin anymore and I could walk up hills without puffing.

And it was over.

I don't have any advice for Chrissie Swan or other smokers. I know how hard it can be. But there is life on the other side. And it's a better life. At least for me.


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