It arrived without an invitation. One day I was reasonably trim and proud in a crop top. Then the next there was this bit of spare flesh in front of me, protruding more than it ought. I would look down at it and think - who does that belong to? It wobbled with a life of its own, fell in neat little rolls and was wrinkled with wear, as if it were second-hand. Even svelte Zoe Ball talked about the post-Woody battle to "get my body back", as if she'd been mugged and had to go to the police to reclaim her old physical self.
Now it's a year since I gave birth to twins, but my small bulging belly is still here, always a couple of centimetres before me wherever I go. At night, it's like sleeping with a stranger, a bit of a body I don't recognise as my own. By day, I attempt to hide this parasite under long jackets or tight leather skirts which act as corsets. But, like Zoe, I want my body back. Belly must go.
Whether a woman has been pregnant or not, her stomach is her sorest point. There are many ways to banish it, from surgical tummy tucks to Liz Hurley's Pilates and Madonna's Ashtanga yoga. But with such a detachable body bit, it seems someone else's responsibility to see it off. That is the great attraction of the expensive but effective personal trainer option; your body's wellbeing is taken entirely out of your hands. It's up to someone else to sort it out.
Kathryn Freeland from Absolute Fitness turns up on my doorstep just after breakfast to take my belly away from me. "It's disgusting, isn't it?" she says, daring to say out loud what every magazine fashion shoot, every portrait of a high-profile female, every pair of trousers from Mango or Zara, quietly suggests.
According to Kathryn, it's all down to awareness. It's fine just doing a few roll-downs or sit-ups each morning; but what you really need is day-long dedication. As concave as Kate Moss, she confesses to spending every waking moment consciously holding in her trans versus abdominus . I just have to get used to doing the same - every time
I sit behind a driving wheel, go to the supermarket, push the double buggy. I musn't only be performing these mundane tasks, but also working on my obliques. Your belly must always be on your mind. It is exhausting. You're working out even in Starbucks, and having a cappuccino becomes an exercise in self-control.
Increasingly, I begin to wonder why I need to banish my belly. There's no evidence that a six-pack aids in giving birth. In fact, it may be the opposite. The more elastic the abdominals, the greater ease with which the newborn emerges. During pregnancy, the volume of the uterus expands an alarming 1,000-fold. Yet, on the very day we leave the maternity ward, we are handed post-natal exercises whose main purpose is to rid us of our new-found tummies. Having struggled to conceive, we make an equally enormous effort to obliterate any sign that we've ever done so.
Why can't I be proud of my protuberance? It's always good to call upon other cultures at this challenging point. With enough research, you can always find a distant tribe where a woman with a sticky-out belly is considered far more attractive than one with a washer-board where her stomach ought to be. We can also skip a few centuries in search of comfort. The painter Cranach's Venus was a slender as a willow with no breasts at all, but her stomach was wonderfully round as if that were the one place on a woman that should be antelope-like. At least in the 16th century, having a stomach and being sexy were not mutually exclusive.
Not everyone wants my belly to go. I find some solace in the fact that my nine-year-old daughter, despite being an Atomic Kitten devotee, loves the little bump. "It reminds me of when the babies were inside you," she says, affectionately running her hand over the bulge. If she finds it attractive, why can't I? Why can't we all?
Slowly, I'm learning to love my belly. I want it to be slightly re-formed, a little perkier perhaps. I still rub mango butter into it every night, just in case the promise on the label works. But, as we get used to each other, I don't mind it hanging around.