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.

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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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Doing things for the last time for No 1

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Today I have loved seeing posts on social media from family and friends as the big September return to school starts. 4 years ago today I shared the post of my eldest as he started secondary school. But I’ve also found the start of this week emotional. Today I labelled up his school uniform for the last time. We went out and bought the stationery to cover a mass of subjects for the last time.

Tomorrow my son starts his last year of secondary school. He’s starting this year taller than me! He’s starting as a Senior Prefect. He’s only got just over 2 terms of school left. Next month we are going to look round his potential sixth form college. We’re talking about choices that will have an even bigger impact on his future.

I know he’s growing up, and enabling him to become the independent young man he has become I see as one of my greatest roles in life. He’s an amazing son, friend, big brother, leader, discipler. But he’s also in many ways still my baby. He’s the baby I held in my arms seconds after he was born. He’s the boy I’ve picked the pieces up of after accidents, the boy I’ve cuddled on the tough days and celebrated with on the good days.

I’m sending him out to school tomorrow confident that however hard the next few months are, he will certainly give it his all, and do it with us and God on his side. So yes I’m going through some “lasts” but we are also going towards the next season of “firsts” and I am excited for him and what his future holds.

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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!

Socks!

Yes socks! They have become a very crucial part of my attire on a daily basis. Yes I’ve always worn socks when needed, but I didn’t worry about who else was going to see them. Now I spend about half my week in situations where other people see what’s on my feet! 

I know this might sound like a small thing to get worked up about, but it really causes me to panic.

They have to now match when I go out. They have to go on the correct feet. (I’ve got pairs that make a picture when side by side!) And really importantly, they can’t have holes in! Yup I really do think this much about socks when getting dressed! The rest of my outfit might only get a 10 second thought process, but I’ve got a bit paranoid about my socks.

The reason for this, I don’t really know. But now I attend lots of baby groups where we’re sat on the floor without shoes on I really think about it. Even just going to Slimming World to be weighed I have to take my shoes off so the socks have to be ok.

I think this is probably just where my ocd tendencies are coming out and its a small thing I can control in a period of life where lots of things are out of my control, but it is slightly crazy to have become so obsessed by socks!