No 3 arrives….and life is anything but easy

11 days ago we welcomed child number 3. Our beautiful daughter. After a difficult pregnancy, including 3 times a week hospital visits, nausea that got worse rather than better, weekly scans, gestational diabetes and insulin injections, we hoped that post birth we would be back in the normal swing of parenting.

Instead we have had 11 days that have been quite stressful, very emotional, and very exhausting. In fact without the support of some amazing friends I think we would have completely fallen apart. We have a little girl, who struggled to gain weight. At 5 days old she had lost 15% of her birth weight, which meant an automatic same day referral back to the hospital, and another 3 days staying on the maternity ward, having all aspects of feeding scrutinized. When we arrived, we were stressed as parents as we could see that our daughter was unwell. In fact she was at the start of a diabetic hypo. Her blood sugars had dropped very low and she was unable to respond properly to feed. We hadn’t even seen her eyes open properly.

I can honestly say I felt like a human cow! I was instructed to express milk between feeds for “top up” bottles, and to then also feed my daughter 3 hourly – I would even be woken overnight to make sure there was not  longer than a 3 hour gap between the start of each feed! Funnily enough by 2am, when I hadn’t actually slept because there was no time between feeding and expressing, I was emotional, exhausted and very frustrated.

I felt I was being treated like a first time mum that had no idea what they were doing. It also felt like my history, and the medical history of  my other children (both small and both late to gain weight in the first couple of weeks of their lives) was being ignored. I was physically pushed and pulled around to make sure my daughter had a perfect latch. I was emotionally expected to be a robot and just do as I was told. I was expected to only focus on the 1 child. Yes, my baby was my focus, but I was also very aware of my nearly 2 year old who had by then been away from me for the best part of 7 days out of 9 (including the days I was being induced.) It was hard work. I also had to watch my daughter have blood taken from her every 3 hours, plus more for other tests. All were necessary to make sure that there was nothing more serious wrong, but all were hard.

When we were allowed home, it was with a lot of negotiating about the community care we would receive, and me having to prove I could feed my daughter. I was left feeling like I was wrong for wanting to be with all of my children. I wasn’t asking to take our daughter away from medical care she needed. In fact, all they were going to do if we had stayed in was leave us in a private room, with me feeding and expressing, to reweigh our daughter another 48 hours later! I just wanted to be home.

Little did we know, that 48 hours later we would be back again. This time, I stopped hiding my emotions from the medical staff! It meant some of the conversations required tissues and physical support from my husband, but actually it meant the medical staff stopped and listened. I shared about why I wanted to be at home, and also about my medical history and how we had been working to help me avoid post natal depression this time around. Instead of readmission, to leave us in a room with me just feeding and topping up feeds with formula (not our first choice at all, but the compromise we’d had to come to for our daughter’s health), and with a toddler who would be even more upset that mummy had “disappeared” again, the staff agreed to let us do the same at home. Even the midwife agreed that there was no benefit to us staying in as all other test results came back clear. But ironically, we first had to prove we could give our daughter a bottle feed before  we could leave!

Our amazing friends had come over to help our teenager with the toddler, and had cooked us dinner. Coming home to freshly prepared food was amazing. When you are emotionally exhausted, you need to be looked after. When you know you have a history of depression and post natal

So  it has been tough. Our daughter is a total joy, and watching both boys bond with their sister is wonderful. But I can’t sit and say that the first few days have been a wonderfully new baby bubble. I have been up and down on an emotional journey, that was, at times, made harder by the hoops that the medical staff made us jump through to prove we were capable. Being a parent of a new baby isn’t easy at the best of times, but things can make it harder. Now at 11 days old it looks like we have turned a corner, celebrating a 110g weight gain today as a huge achievement.

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Allergy fun…..when all the best plans…

This weekend we had the total privilege of witnessing the marriage of one of my longest standing friends. It was an amazing weekend, but that kind of event for us always comes with a few stresses.

Our friends were amazing in their catering planning for the weekend, providing lots of food for me to eat with my allergies, and lots for my eldest son too. We had agreed in advance we would provide the food for the toddler, as we know it is hard to cater for all his allergies.

So with all the best laid plans, there also comes for me a level of anxiety as to the what-ifs that can happen. And we survived the first 24 hours without a hiccup. But with 21 other people around, who are aware to a point, there is always going to be a degree of risk. With a mobile toddler though, you at times need eyes in the back of your head!

We don’t know what, or when, our little guy picked up something he shouldn’t  have, but somehow he ate something he was severely allergic to. An unhappy, itchy baby was bad enough, but the sickness that followed was on another level. I was so grateful for the help of new, but wonderful friends, who jumped up to help so we could sort out a very unhappy little boy.  As ever what amazed me was once his system had rid itself of the allergen, and he was cleaned up, out little boy was back to his happy, chatty self! He tucked in to more, safe, food, and merrily chatted away to people.

We will never know what he ate, if it was a known allergen, or a new one, and that makes it tricky, but what I am learning is that we can only do so much. There will always be a time when there can be errors and slip ups. We try to minimise the risk as much as we can, but we also want our little boy to enjoy life and have as many similar experiences as other children as he can. But we will also spend time raising awareness with others about the dangers of allergies.

No, he currently doesn’t have an epi pen – as currently all his known allergies are non-IGE. But that doesn’t mean one day his allergies won’t become IGE and result in anaphylaxis. It also doesn’t mean that even a small bit is ok. Too many times we have heard people say, “well a small bit can’t hurt can it?” The answer is yes, a small bit can do a huge amount of damage to his gut. As an example, testing mackerel – just a teaspoon of it – resulted in 4 weeks of his tummy being unable to hold any food!

Things are not going to be easy for a potentially long while. I will permanently be grateful to our child minder, who provides him with a safe environment which he adores. To friends who help us have safe play experiences. People who will have him to stay and even provide him with food, which is not always the cheapest or most straight forward option.

Living with allergies and living with a child with allergies isn’t easy, but it is what it is. What I am learning on this journey, is that I need to stop letting people make me feel like it is an inconvenience,but it is ok to be honest and say it is a problem.

Finding time for me

I’ve just spent a wonderful week with my husband and toddler in Dorset, but I’ve come home exhausted! I have felt like I need a other break to recover from this holiday, which seems so ungrateful. I realised 15 minutes after walking back through our front door what had gone wrong…. in 7 days away I hadn’t had 15 minutes totally to myself.

I have spent the week making sure my husband and son were happy. I planned in spending time with dear friends, who we don’t get to see very often, and I wouldn’t take back a second of that time. The week was a good break, and I don’t want to come across as ungrateful. But it has made me reflect on where I find time for me and how I find time to recharge my batteries. It has also made me realise I need to find a way to tell those closest to me that I need time and space to myself without them feeling rejected or unloved. If I don’t then I become grumpy, short tempered, agitated, and then I want to retreat further and further in to myself.

At home, I work for a fabulous organisation, I spend 16+ hours a week working at home in my own space. Yes I have video calls etc with colleagues, but I also get head space while I am working. (I know that might sound like a contradiction, having my own head space while working, but I get time where I am not having to engage directly with others and although I am generating outputs (often lots of outputs!!) I am also no having to energise others. I can only liken this to a rechargable battery. When in a torch, for example, when it is turned on it is being drained of power. When it is off, it is static-not draining but not recharging. When the battery is placed back on the charger it is gaining power again so that it can make the torch shine brighter and for longer.

A few years ago realising I was an outgoing introvert was a big turning point, and since then I have kept trying to carve out space for me. Be it half an hour in bed on my own each evening with a book, or making the most of the nap times in the day since having a baby. Taking that time for me has become crucial. I had forgotten how when on holiday routine changes, and there are others with expectations. I also had expectations, and we’d never discussed them.

I know before we go away for much longer in the summer we need to have the conversations about how each of our needs are met. I know I am more complicated at times to read, but since having a baby and now a toddler, I know I need to carve out that space for me even more than ever. Parenting is still very much a journey, possibly even more so the second time round! But this time I think I am learning more and more about myself!

Goodbye to Facebook

So this might seem like an extreme post, and it might seem odd that I am sharing this on Facebook, but I wanted to share my thoughts and how I have got to this place, and not just disappear.

Over the Christmas period I chose to remove myself from Facebook. It was starting to take up too much of my life, and I was getting to tied up in a virtual world and was starting to feel judged and assessed by that world. In this period I can honestly say I haven’t really missed it. What I have felt is a freedom from the perception of what the world thinks of who I should or shouldn’t be. Of what I should or shouldn’t share, and of what kind of person I want to be.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some groups I am part of that have been a great support to me, and I may choose to continue to interact with them at different points. But what  I have realised is that I don’t need to share parts of my life on Facebook for value and worth. I, like many, will only post the parts of life which I want the world to see. But that isn’t healthy or constructive. It has meant that I am not being true to myself.

The other thing I have noticed, is that many people think that what you post on social media is you life, and that by reading your posts, they don’t need to interact with you on a personal level. Friendships are becoming warped. People think they are your friend because of what they see online. I’ve learnt that my true friends are those who are around me at the times when life gets tough. That doesn’t mean they all live 5 minutes away….in fact some of our closest friends live many many miles away. But they are the ones who take time to get in touch, and check that all is ok.

Also when I was pregnant, we made a decision that  we did not want our baby growing up thinking that a presence all over social media was the norm, or what was expected of him. We wanted him to decide his own privacy boundaries and to choose what of his life he wants to share. We also have made a decision for him not to expect to watch TV or spend his life in front of screens. In fact, the only programmes he watches regularly (by this I mean a couple of times a week) are Fireman Sam and Thomas the Tank Engine. Watching him grow through his creative play and his imagination is so rewarding…..live TV at home!

Note: This isn’t us judging anyone else, it is just how we have chosen to raise our son.

So I have decided in light of all of this to take a permanent step away from Facebook. Yes I  will still use other social media channels at times. I will still have an account as I need it for work. I will still visit the site (yes the site, not the app) occasionally. But I won’t be on here day in day out. I won’t be aware of notifications, as my phone won’t beep or stick an icon in the corner.I will still blog from time to time, which will be shared. I can still be contacted on Messenger, and all manner of old fashioned means of communications! Just don’t expect me to hear your latest news on FB or expect to hear what I am up to, as it won’t be happening. Do keep in touch……I love receiving letters in the post!! (An emails work well too!)

Birthday first, then Christmas

Having a birthday 6 weeks before Christmas was always interesting growing up. You need to think of ideas for presents for both, and then you have to think of things you might want in the summer. And then you have to wait 44 weeks till one or the other comes round again.

So having a child with a birthday 1 week before Christmas brings even more challenges. One thing we were clear on from the moment that we knew it would be a “Christmas Baby” was that the birthday was always going to be celebrated in it’s own right. No it wasn’t going to be ok for joint presents, and actually just because 1 is close to the other doesn’t mean that it gets treated any differently. Everyone who needs to think about it has 365 days to prepare for the fact that there will be a birthday close to Christmas.

Yes we will still decorate the house for the 1st December. That is a family tradition that we will keep, but this year the presents won’t be under the tree until after the birthday (if not after the baby has gone to bed on 24th!!!) Additionally we will keep a separate space for birthday cards, where we normally display them, and Christmas Cards won’t be put up on display till after the birthday. Our son didn’t ask to have his birthday a week before Christmas, and he has the right to be valued as much as every other individual in the family. There will be (foil) balloons and birthday banners up as we do for any other birthday.

For us it is a simple act of respect. I know we are not the only parent’s of a child with a December or January birthday that feel this about making sure they are both marked separately. In fact I also know adults for whom it is also as important for their birthday. They are right to expect to have their birthday recognised in the same way as others get their birthday marked. Celebrating the birth of the child is as important as celebrating the birth of Jesus, and neither is there to outshadow the other.

September starts

I’m not a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not sure that I even believe in the idea of ‘parenting experts.’ I’m an engaged, imperfect parent and a passionate researcher. I’m an experienced mapmaker and a stumbling traveler. Like many of you, parenting is by far my boldest and most daring adventure.
Brene Brown

Like many families September signaled the end of a very busy summer holidays, and back for the final year of school for my eldest son. That for me was a big moment emotionally. Being aware that we are entering a new final phase of this stage of his education and having to make decisions together about the next steps.

But this September also signaled a new routine for me and our younger son on several levels. We have started a couple of new activities in our weekly diary. We have moved to a new swimming class and we both love going for both the social time and the skills it is giving him. Just spending time with him enjoying the water and knowing that he is unlikely to have any reactions while we are there is a huge relief and so I relax. We have also started a Sing and Sign class, which looks at baby signing while doing lots of singing – which he loves. I am really wary about joining classes as it is so hard to find an environment where he is safe and away from his many allergens. But I was so encouraged to go to a space that was clear of allergens and in a place where they understand the potential implications of him coming in to contact with an allergen.

Finally I am now back working part-time. This was a big step for me to take, as I knew it would mean leaving the baby with someone else for part of the week. I know for most parents this is a big thing, and for us it was coupled with finding child care that could cope with our son’s health needs. He has multiple allergies. Currently he only has 17 foods he can eat safely after 4.5 months of introducing foods! I was lucky enough to know a lovely friend who also child minds, and she had space for 1 day a week. With support from my in-laws for another afternoon, most of my hours are covered, and the rest work round my life. The job is the perfect option for me, my husband and our sons. It gives me the flexibility needed for the many hospital appointments I have to go to with the baby, and it gives me the input and stimulation I need for me as a woman who has always loved her career in fundraising.

But leaving my baby for 18 hours in a week is a big thing for me, after 3 weeks it still is. I constantly wonder if what I am doing is the right thing. Is being at work the best thing for me? for my sons? for my relationship? I know it is the right thing. It has given me back a different perspective on life I was missing. It has given me space to breathe and be me. Just me. Not wife or mum. Just me. It has also helped me value my time at home even more. Some days are hard. I am terrified that my baby will reach a milestone while not at home with me. I am worried that my teenager will need my support with school difficulties while I am at the office. I worry, cos part of that is who I am. I know socially it is doing amazing things for my son, and both my in laws and friend who is a childminder totally have his best interests at heart and give him the best care possible, but I am still am mum and will worry. It’s ok to worry. It’s normal.

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Allergies can be isolating & apparently inconvenient!

allergy

This image says a lot. It says how it feels to be the mum of a 5 month old baby with 6 known allergens, without even starting on food. The outline at the end highlights how I feel about introducing food to my baby. It honestly terrifies me!

But what this image doesn’t show is some of the isolation that comes as part of the allergies. Picnics in the park are only going to be possible on days when the pollen count is low, and even then I will be armed with antihistamine plus other bits we use to help keep the pollen at bay. If I don’t, then I will have a very uncomfortable little boy, with scratch marks all over his face as he scratches in response to the pollen irritating his skin, his eyes and his head. Even sitting in our own garden, which soon will have no plants or real grass in it, can cause reactions and we don’t know what to. It’s isolating as it is hard for us to leave him to go out. At the moment the allergens are so unknown leaving him with someone else is hard.

The isolation from conversations I can’t join in because “weaning” is going to be a very different process for us. All foods have to be introduced for a skin reaction and then an internal reaction before a spoonful can be tried.

Having to avoid key ingredients in food for the foreseeable future adds the problem of where we can go and eat. Using jars and pouches of preprepared baby food are not an option. Everything will have to be homemade until we have established what foods are also allergens.

Some people have made comments where you can see they don’t understand the implications. Yes a small amount of dairy can make my baby really ill. His contact reactions to some products like fabric conditioner are so severe the GP did an urgent allergy clinic referral. If he doesn’t have regular antihistamine when the pollen count is high then he struggles to breathe at night.

I’ve been told that his allergies are “inconvenient”. Yes they are….for him! They will be as he grows older too if he doesn’t outgrow them. Being allergic to sorbitol is probably one of the most “inconvenient”. Having to read the back of everything you buy to check the ingredients. It’s not a key allergen so it isn’t in bold like dairy or gluten products. It also occurs in things you wouldn’t realise, including toothpaste and shower gel!

It’s inconvenient that I can’t just pick things up from the shelves like every other parent. It’s inconvenient that I have to pay 2 to 3 times as much for products I have to buy – £5 for a tube of toothpaste! It’s inconvenient that I will spend an extra half hour or so on each shopping trip reading ingredients. It’s inconvenient that I have no quick wins on the first stages of eating. It’s inconvenient to have to go to various clinic appointments at the hospital as we try to understand all of the allergies and how best to treat them. So yes it is inconvenient for my baby and for me. Am I going to apologise if he is going to react to what someone else has on their clothes, or if I “over react” to him coming in to contact with a new substance or a known allergen…? No, I’m not. I will keep protecting him because I also see the consequences.

So yes it can be isolating. It is incredibly hard work to juggle at times. But it is who my baby is and I just have to deal with it daily.