An emotional Chrissie Swan has broken down and tearfully confessed on Melbourne radio this morning to her ‘‘shameful secret’’ of being caught smoking by paparazzi during her third pregnancy, forcing her to come clean to her family and husband that she failed to give up the habit, despite knowing the harms of smoking with a baby in utero.
Since the controversial revelation, Swan, who is in the third trimester of pregnancy, has released a statement saying that she was in denial for months, wrestling with internal justification and guilt and that being snapped puffing on a cigarette - and the subsequent fear of it becoming public - forced her to admit to her addiction and, according to her manager, ‘‘galvanised’’ her to ‘‘take the steps needed’’.
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After being snapped by a photographer lighting up, Chrissie Swan on Wednesday confessed to smoking while pregnant.
‘‘I have struggled terribly with totally giving up cigarettes since I found out I was pregnant,’’ the Can of Worms host and Sunday Life columnist said to her Mix 101.1 Melbourne radio audience in her segment, Is It Just Me.
‘‘Up until about six years ago I was what you call a full-time smoker. I really gave it a nudge in my 20s, as a lot of us did. Then I met 'the Chippie' (husband Chris) who has never smoked and I cut back a lot. Jamie (co-host), you knew me then...then I got pregnant with Leo and I quit completely for a couple of years, which was fantastic.
‘‘Now sadly, I picked it up about a year ago and I was what I would call a ‘not really smoker’. I never smoked at home and I never smoked around my family. I’d just sneak a few here and there and I know I’m not alone in this. Mainly I would do it in the car, in fact, I would only do it in the car when I was certain that I was alone.’’
Swan, who is one of the nation’s most popular personalities after her stint on The Circle, says discovering she was pregnant six months ago was ‘‘a massive surprise’’ and that she ‘‘tried to go cold turkey’’ like she had done with her son Leo.
‘‘And I was confident that I could do, but I couldn't do it. I just failed and failed, time after time. I'd win for a few days then I would have a cigarette and feel terrible and racked with guilt and I would get stressed out and hid have one again. Giving up is so hard and I’ve really learned that in the last six months.’’
Swan was adamant she is not using excuses: ‘‘These are not excuses, there are no excuses for smoking, absolutely none. I don’t have one.’’ She said she looked online for ways to quit and learned the first step was to find the right time - but her hectic schedule was her downfall.
‘‘Ordinarily that would be the easiest step of all but at the time I was so busy and had so much on. I had two radio shows, Can Of Worms had just started, a new TV show, interstate travel every week, a weekly column, a relationship, a house to run - I was selling my house, I was trying to find somewhere else to live - I have a four-year-old and Kit wasn’t even one-year-old yet and there didn’t seem to be any time at all, let alone the right time, so I kept trying and falling down.’’
Swan says she would beat herself up over her constant failure to not light up and would make deals with herself to justify the habit.
‘‘The constant disappointment and feeling of failure made me come up with a compromise with myself - so stupid - but I made a deal I would go easy on myself and smoke a few a week, only when absolutely necessary. After work. Alone in the car. And I figured it couldn’t do any damage and let me deal with properly quitting when I wasn’t so busy later on.’’
It was only after she was snapped by paparazzi mid-puff that she was confronted with being exposed.
I was confident that I could do, but I couldn't do it. I just failed and failed, time after time
‘‘Well, two days ago a photographer followed me in my car after work and took a photo of me having that sneaky cigarette - it was my first for the week. I begged for the photographers not to run the story because I know how bad it looks - it is bad - and I told them it was a deeply shameful secret, that no one knew I was having these five cigarettes a week. Not my mum, not my best friend, not my partner...because it’s so the secret that is the most shameful - is the hardest to ask for help about.
Holding back the tears, Swan did not hold back on her shame, saying: ‘‘Here’s the truth. Obviously I know it's wrong I’m not an idiot, no smoker wants to smoke - especially when they are pregnant - but it is clearly an addiction and a very serious one - because it can cloud your judgment and make the unthinkable somehow okay.
‘‘As a listener to this show, you know I’m devoted to my children. I would never do anything to harm them and yet, here I am having five cigarettes and justifying it. It’s madness, I cannot explain it.
‘‘I knew it was wrong that there is so much terrible judgment that only awful people and bad parents and idiots and bogans smoke during pregnancy - and I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of those categories - so I kept it all under wraps and dealt with it how I could.
‘‘I felt there was no-one I could confess this to - no-one I could say ‘what can I do? This is hard for me’. I was able to give up so easily with the others so I self-analysed and decided that this way was the way I could get through it and keep the show on the road, in terms of work and family commitments, until the forced cold turkey of hospital.
Swan signed off with: ‘‘So here I am. I’m so embarrassed. I’ve never said that I was perfect but I'm also kind of relieved that I’ve been forced to come clean - but is it just me or is it easier to give up cigarettes?’’
Since the broadcast, Swan has released a statement and taken her profile off Twitter. She says she was forced to acknowledge her addiction when her secret was about to become public.
‘‘This week has been difficult and confronting on so many levels, but in many ways I am grateful I was caught in the act, it has forced me to come clean to those I love and to seek real solutions for me to kick it for good,’’ she said in the statement.
‘‘I’m horrified that even though I know that smoking whilst pregnant is bad for my child, I couldn’t stop, I’d try but I couldn’t, telling myself just one can’t be too bad, knowing that it was. When you’re in denial you can justify anything.
“It’s made me realise that addiction is very real and not just something that happens to other people. I don’t have to go through this alone and am thankful for my wonderful family and friends who are supporting me through this.”
According to the NSW Government website, last updated in October 2007, the umbilical cord is a baby’s lifeline.
‘‘The blood that flows through this cord gives your baby all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. When you smoke a cigarette you inhale the gas carbon monoxide. This means that the amount of oxygen available to your baby through the umbilical cord is reduced. This makes the baby’s heart beat more rapidly, and increases overall stress on its developing body. Smoking can also reduce the flow of blood through the placenta, which limits the amount of nutrients that feed the baby.’’
According to the NSW Government fact sheet, some of the risks smokers face during pregnancy include ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, higher risk of a premature baby, complications affecting the placenta, and more chance of a low birth weight baby.
Curtin University’s Professor Mike Daube, the President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, told Fairfax Media that Swan’s profile could help in bringing addiction to the fore.
‘‘One of first things I want to say is it’s really important that we recognise for many people smoking is addictive for some people it is very had to quit, and so I think great credit to Chrissie Swan for speaking publicly about her concern,’’ Professor Daube said.
‘‘I do think it’s important she does look forward now and not back - and doesn’t blame herself for things going wrong, it would awful if she felt angst every moment of the day.
‘‘Quitting smoking is very important. It is the best thing you can do for the health of your unborn child - smoking contributes to and is a substantial factor in miscarriage, low birth weight in SIDs [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome], it’s also associated with a range of other complications. So in summary, if you quit you increase the chances of your baby getting through pregnancy safely, you increase its chances of health in its early years and you increase significantly its prospects of health in later life as well.
‘‘A baby of low birth weight is likely to have more health problems later on, it increases the likelihood of asthma and other respiratory problems - so I think we need to recognise it’s really important for pregnant mums that the best thing they can do is to quit. Pregnancy is a terrific incentive to quit.
Professor Daube was also keen to emphasise that quitting smoking once the child was born was equally important: ‘‘Passive smoking is particularly harmful to babies and small children, and so that’s a really important reason for quitting and staying quit.’’
He said that for most people, ‘‘cold turkey is the best way’’ and that pregnant women should talk to their doctors about pills, potions and patches.
‘‘Pregnant women should never, ever be hesitant about asking their doctors as we know doctors will give them the support they need."
The Quitline 131 848 is a free confidential telephone based service primarily designed to help smokers quit smoking.