Please don’t think you know the answers….or have a strop cos you don’t get a cuddle!

Parenting for anyone is a journey.  It has highs and lows. Every day is another point of learning, of frustration, of joy, of laughter, of tears. For me, the last few weeks have been more of the lows and the tears than many would expect. My parenting journey has been an emotional challenge, that I was hoping it wouldn’t be. In the last 8 weeks I have struggled as having my daughter has not been the perfect time that I had dreamed it would be.

I know that at times of upheaval and change I have an even greater desire to be in control and for things to happen in the way I had expected. I also know that when it doesn’t I struggle with myself, my feelings of disappointment, and my urge to have everything in control. I also get more anxious as i feel life spiraling out of my control. I end up hitting rock bottom. I can get very depressed, and I find each day a challenge.

At the moment, most days are a challenge. Getting myself and my children dressed in the mornings often feels like a great achievement. To get out of the house, is an even greater task, both in terms of emotional preparation and in terms of physically getting there.

But in all these challenges I can keep hold of my children – with my baby this is often currently a very physical thing. I need to hold her for reassurance, but also so I know that I am not missing her cues for need of provision fro me – be it food, communication, space to sleep. I know people think they are helping me by offering to hold her, to take away the “burden” of having to do it all, but at the moment, I need to. When I feel safe and secure I will ask for help. I will ask for someone I trust to hold her, but I won’t just pass her around for cuddles.

With my toddler, it’s being able to give the cuddles, make the dinner, provide the stimulation required, sit on the floor and do the jigsaws. I need to know I am still meeting his needs. I also need days where all we do is chill together watching movies. I need to know I’m getting things right.

With my teenager, I need to know that I can still be there for him. I need to know I can drive him to college occasionally.  I need to be able to check in and chat over the day. I also need to be able to sit back and let him be the near adult that he is. I need to enable him.

And in amongst it all I need to be a wife that can support her husband. I need to be able to do bits around the house so that we can still function.

I know people will say to stop, let go of the feeling of have to, share some of it. But the reality at the moment is that at the moment I can’t. I haven’t got there yet. So sometimes I need space and that is where I am at. I am getting support from the right people, and I know I’ll get there in the end. I’m not always getting it right for the world, but right now it’s right for me.

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Would like it to be straight forward, and would like some positive affirmation

Some days I feel like I just want to go back to bed and start the day or the week over again. I really dread taking Niamh to any of her routine check appointments at the moment. I dread  lifting her on to the scales to see if she has gained weight, if she’s gained enough weight, if she’s still sitting on the same growth curve.

For those not in the know, babies weight is marked on a centile range chart, with tracking lines starting from 0.4th and going up to the 99th centile. Niamh sits under the bottom line for her weight. Every time we see a new professional – be it the “duty” health visitor  at the weekly weigh-in clinic, or the GP for her routine 6 week check, a doctor in hospital – they all comment on the fact she isn’t on the chart. They don’t comment on the fact she’s actually gaining weight steadily, and at the rate they would expect for all other babies, they just comment on the fact she is small. As a parent, I’ve found this exhausting and draining. I feel like i’m being judged as a parent – both in what my body can do naturally, and my choices to breastfeed over formula feed.

I also feel more anxious about each appointment. I know, due to having issues with self confidence and anxiety, that I take things more personally than others. I know that I need more affirmation at times that I’m doing it ok. I will hold my hands up and say I know this isn’t easy on those around me, and I also don’t say that  I need it or when I need it. It’s not straight forward, and it’s affected by my emotions, my tiredness levels, my stress levels, etc etc etc. But I also think that the professionals need to sometimes look at how they talk to parents and pass comments on things and realise that hearing something like – your daughter is tiny, and we need to monitor her weight – repetitively isn’t great  at building them up as a parent. For them to give positive affirmation to a parent seems to be too costly.

In amongst it all I am very grateful for a supportive community midwife and a supportive health visitor, who have championed me and fought my corner against others. My health visitor has even held me when I cried tears of relief because Niamh gained a reasonable amount of weight for the first time ever.

I am ever grateful for the patience of my husband and eldest son, who cope with this so well at times. I know i’m unpredictable and things like being anxious over appointments make some days trickier than others. I also know I am great at not telling people around me what’s going on inside. Sometimes I don’t even know what is making me feel worse. But I am learning too.

 

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.

The look of peace

Today I had one of those treasured special moments, that after 14 months is already becoming less of an occurrence. In fact this was the first time it had happened in a few weeks. My little boy curled up in my lap and fell asleep. I loved just watching the look of peace wash over his face as he dropped into a deeper sleep. It seemed a long way from the little boy who 30 minutes earlier had been emptying the bookcase at a rate of knots to find his favourite lift-the-flap book!

It was so calming to watch too. For a few moments i just treasured the peace. The calm. The quiet. Not times that regularly occur with our delightful, lively little boy. It surprised me at how much I had missed those snuggly moments of a newborn sleeping on me.

The flip side to this is actually I cherish the moments that he is asleep in his cot. It took several weeks of perseverance and feeling like it was never going to happen before we got him sleeping in the cot, and then longer till he would fall asleep in the cot. I knew we needed that to happen, for my sanity and for our life as a couple and our time with our older son. Looking back, now, I know some of it we bred ourselves. It came from a place of love, of exhaustion, and of wanting to protect our fragile tiny baby, who had had so many challenges put in his way, that we didn’t want to add another. A sleeping baby means I can have an hour (or 2 if i’m lucky) where I can have some me time, catch up on work, do some housework. It means I can recharge my batteries for the next stage of the day.

I find the constant need to be entertained draining. I adore my sons, but I am so very aware about how much space and time I need for me. These days it often means going to be before 9.30pm, just so I can curl up with my book for more than a page before I fall asleep. I know my time for knitting will return in time, and that I also wouldn’t change where I am in life for a moment. My writing is my space to express, and to be me. So here you go. Peace!

Allergies can be isolating & apparently inconvenient!

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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.

 

How many allergies?? Not sure but I hate them all!

So in my family there is a bit of an allergy history….quite a big bit. But I’ve been lucky. My allergies are pretty minimal, I only have 1 severe allergy, and a couple of bad intolerances. My eldest son has a dairy allergy/ intolerance (they keep changing the boundaries and terminology) which means even at 15 he still has to restrict the amount of dairy he consumes. But that is manageable. 

So I wasn’t too surprised when at 3 weeks old our baby started reacting to cows milk. I then cut all dairy from my diet and the baby was much happier. Unfortunately due to the baby being ill, we had to start introducing bottles. We started with lactose free milk, and within seconds of finishing a bottle, he would bring back milk like when a drill hits oil! He wasn’t gaining weight as they expected him to. The gp prescribed him Nutramigen, a formula that it’s a very broken down version of cows milk. We saw an improvement to the amount of milk he managed to retain, and his weight gain increased a bit. After 3 weeks his formula had to be changed due to a production issue. He was put on Neocate. A formula that has no cows milk in at all. Just amino and fatty acids. Wow! What a difference! All his milk stayed in after a feed! And his weight soared! 

I can deal with a Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA). Everything we eat at home is dairy free anyway. But the allergies haven’t stopped there.

So far we’ve identified at least another 3! We thought the baby had his first cold. But it never seemed to stop. His nose was permanently full of gunk. We then noticed whenever we went out his eyes would get all red and puffy and he would be scratching at them. Overnight his struggle to breathe got so bad he would stop for a couple of seconds before starting again. Scary as a parent.

The gp diagnosed hay fever, and he now has to take piriton daily, and his breathing can still be a struggle. At night we now have to keep our Windows closed, we have a fan with a hepa filter to clean the air, we have a vapouriser on, the crib mattress is propped up and we have to use nasal drops on him during the night. The doctors are reluctant to prescribe more till we see the allergy clinic. My nights are constantly disturbed due to listening to him breathing and hearing when he needs more nasal drops or other help. 

Ok so CMPA plus hay fever, I could deal with that. He had slightly dry skin so started using bath and body wash products that were meant to be good for eczema and sensitive skin. He reacted to it on contact! A red rash appeared all over his skin. Hmmm back to the very expensive stuff then. And another allergen to add to the list. 

3 allergens, I could cope with that. Then, last week, sitting holding our baby asleep on me I noticed wherever his skin was touching my top he was coming up in an angry red rash. By the time we got home his back was so sore and angry. I put him straight in the bath, and we think he was reacting to the fabric conditioner we were using. We’ve stopped using it instantly, but as I realised yesterday when he flared up again, all of our clothes need to be rewashed. 

It’s a challenge daily. The portion reduces the hay fever reaction but hasn’t eliminated it. Daily he can come home from just walking to the shops with red, puffy and itchy eyes. We’re having to reintroduce scratch mittens to stop him scratching himself at night.

As his mum it is exhausting. Although he is “asleep” for between 10 and 11 hours each night, it’s not deep unbroken sleep for him or me. At times I find it frustrating as I don’t know what he’s reacting to, especially when he has a contract reaction. I’m grateful for the nhs, but get frustrated by it too. Waiting for referrals and appointments, and feeling like we’re constantly at the gp. 

I know I’m not the only allergy parent. And I know that some parents have it far worse. I’m grateful for the online support I get from some forums, and from a couple of friends who lives miles away but understand my struggles. But it isn’t easy. 

The beautiful parenting bubble goes pop!

When you are planning a family you have your dreams, your ideals, your perfect scenario.

  • The perfect gap between children – I’d wanted 2 years between mine
  • The perfect family set up – 2.4 kids, nice home, be around to support your children as they grow
  • The perfect pregnancy – blooming for 9 months
  • The perfect labour –
  • When your child is born the perfect baby – follows routine, eats well, sleeps well, meets development stages full on
  • You go out each day doing all the perfect mummy things with a perfect outfit, make up and hair

Hmmmm…..the reality is miles away from this.

I will hold my hands up and say that my dreams, even the second time around, were up there. Maybe I should have known better. Maybe some of my memories from 15 years ago had faded and gathered a rose shaded tint over time. But also I know I was lucky the first time around, I had a baby that slept well, was healthy and incredibly placid as long as the milk came on time!

This time, I am holding my hands up and saying yes I have been struggling. My perfect bubble has definitely gone pop…in fact it was a very loud BANG!

3 hours of uninterrupted sleep is now a luxury. The few nights that have been longer than this we can now see have been more linked to when he’s been on antibiotics. An achievement at the moment is being out of bed in the morning and showered before my husband leaves for work….if I don’t do it then, then it won’t happen till he is home in the evening. Getting dressed in something that is clean and reasonably appropriate for the weather is about all I manage. If I’ve had a reasonable amount of sleep, then the hair dryer might get out, and I might find my way to putting make up on. But that is certainly not the normal routine. High days and holidays maybe!

I have struggled with almost weekly appointments at either the doctors or the hospital. Having a little boy who isn’t 100% most of the time is tiring. The money spent on hospital parking is just frustrating! Having to constantly explain again and again symptoms to doctors is exhausting, especially when they say that “babies this young don’t get recurrent infections like this”. Each week I have to also remember to order the next weeks supply of formula. I have a baby who is even more allergic to dairy than his older brother and his formula has to be prescribed. Its not like I can  just go and buy some formula when we get low, and more often than not the pharmacy have to order it in. I even had to justify why I needed twice as much, to cover us going away and the bank holidays!

I look at the house sometimes and just want to cry at all the jobs that need to be done. I hate that in the evenings I am snappy at my husband and teenager because I am so tired and just need some head space. Going to be at 9pm is not my ideal, honestly!

Yes this is the reality. I wouldn’t be without my baby for anything. I’ll even consider having another in the not too distant future (not the next 18 months, but not another 15 years!) The reality is I find day to day tough. Some days are better than others. Some days I actually don’t feel tired at all. Other days I feel like going back to bed at 9am.

This blog isn’t for sympathy. I guess it’s for a normal perspective for people who want to read it. It’s also my way of processing and dealing with the challenges, and maybe just showing the world that parenting isn’t this beautiful bubble the is painted in the media.

This morning on Good Morning Britain, there was a wonderful slot showing the reality of normal parenting (watch here) and my friend Laura reminded me that life as a parent can be a juggling act, and I only have to juggle 2 children!