3 days…

A lot can happen in three days. Rome was burnt in less than three days.

Three days was all it took to go from being excited at the prospect of being parents, to grieving the loss of pregnancy.

Three days was all it took from having a stereotypically healthy pregnancy to one that was life threatening with zero possibility of a viable infant being born.

Three days was the difference between our daughter being seen as medical waste or a beautiful, worthy baby.

Three days granted her a right between life and death.

Had she been born three days (or more) earlier she would been classified and treated as medical waste, unworthy of a burial on her passing. Our hospital had assured us that if she were born three days (or more) earlier, they would do everything to try and save her. Our medical aid, on the other hand, ensured us that should she be born before 26 weeks she would not qualify for cover.

Three days. 72 hours. 4320 minutes. The difference between life and death.

Every day mothers, fathers and families are faced with similar unspeakable odds stacked against their unborn children. Different countries recognize life as viable as different gestations.  In South African this is somewhat of a grey area. There is no statutory definition of viability in South Africa.  Should one be faced with a situation where your child will be born before 26 weeks, a government hospital has no legal or ethical obligation to save your infant. Should you be fortunate enough to be in the care of a privately funded hospital, your medical aid is under no obligation to cover the cost of care for your newborn. You are left with a choice of paying yourself, or transferring to a government hospital, who will seldom care for an infant born under 26 weeks, weighing less than 1000g or measuring less than 35cm in length.

On a day such as today, 15th October, a day of remembrance for pregnancy and infant loss, I am acutely aware of how uniquely fortunate we are to be able to hold our daughter in our arms.  It’s a gift that isn’t lost on me, for one moment.

Pregnancy loss and infant is merciless, it doesn’t discriminate, you can do everything ‘right’ and still suffer unimaginable loss. 

I lost my first before I even knew that I was expecting. I had no idea how far along I was. I had no idea how to tell my boyfriend what had happened. I was terrified and sought professional, medical guidance.  The response was cold and lacking any form of sympathy.  I was told to come back if the bleeding didn’t subside after a few days. I was told that if I hadn’t planned the pregnancy then I should be relieved that it had ended early. I was told that I’d be ‘a smart girly’ if I went onto contraceptives immediately to prevent any additional unwanted pregnancies. I was lectured about safe sex, the use of contraceptives and birth control as though I were a young teenager, not a women in her twenties. My questions and concerns regarding contraceptives were scoffed and mocked. I had a patch placed on my shoulder without my consent, ‘for your own good’ and less than 30 minutes later I was left with a body full of angry welts and rashes which started at the patch itself. I left feeling shamed and belittled. The experience haunted me for many years.

When I experienced the second loss I couldn’t help recount the disdain and callous attitude I’d been given the first time. After the initial shock of confirming my pregnancy, we were excited at the prospect of becoming parents. When we were given the news that the pregnancy was not viable and required a D&C I was devastated. After our diagnosis, it became a simple business transaction of filling in forms, ensuring pre-admissions were arranged and I was admitted for the procedure. All that was offered in the form of support, guidance or counselling was the recommendation to wait three months before trying again.

Pregnancy and infant loss is something that needs to be openly discussed. It needs to be given the attention it deserves. Mothers, fathers, families need to be given the guidance, care, respect and support that they deserve.

The stigma regarding the topic of publicly speaking about loss is slowly being broken down. Mothers are sharing their stories publicly in the hopes that their journey will help someone else. 

A lot can happen in three days.

You can go from a perfectly healthy and viable pregnancy to an unimaginable loss just as quickly as you can go from hopelessness and despair to hope.

Support loved ones experiencing loss. Speak their childrens names. Recognise that even though they aren’t of this earth any longer, that they were loved, wanted and are mourned, every single day. Embrace them, allow them to grieve and process what has happened. Never put them in a position where they feel as though their loss will inconvenience you or make you feel uncomfortable. It’s not about your discomfort.

Onwards and upwards

fbt

Today was a big day for us! With our beautiful daughter about to turn four years old (how is this even possible!!!!) comes the necessity for a checkup with her paediatrician.

These visits always fill me with trepidation. Will she do well? Where have we fallen short on raising her? Have we done enough? Is she growing? If she isn’t, what are we going to do?

Add to this that we needed to do this in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and see her paediatrician in a hospital currently greating Covic-19 patients, and I was suitably on edge about the whole thing.

It’s been a rocky year so far, for most of us I suspect. None of us saw this pandemic coming, especially not on the scale that it has. We never envisioned the draconian and multitude of seemingly illogical regulations placed upon us by our government (a topic for another day perhaps). We never imagined our lives being uprooted to this extent. But here we are and we’ve all been navigating it as best we can.

The changes for our children are also incredibly stressful, their entire worlds are turned upside down and each child deals with it in their own way. For Charlotte, as always, her control point is food, so when she is stressed, she doesn’t eat, or rather thankfully now, doesn’t eat well. Her weight has fluctuated so much this year, every gram that she gained over the last year was lost, then gained, then lost again. I dreaded the moment we got to having to weigh her.

Let me just say, she was an absolute rock star. We’ve been working on getting her comfortable with the idea of wearing a mask for a few weeks now, for such a situation. And she aced it! With flying colours!

So we arrived for our appointment, hand sanitisers and masks donned and ready for action. After filling out questionnaires and having temperatures checked we were permitted to enter the hospital and make our appointment.

The results of which are thrilling to say the least. I could do a happy dance out in the road right now (if only it were allowed) and shout out some kind of primitive victory cry!

Our little miracle aced her checkup with flying colours! From head circumference, height, brain development, muscle toning and everything in between, she is perfectly healthy and excelling in her growth and development! Sure, her weight is not as expected for a child of her age and stature, but as we learned a long time ago, weight isn’t everything!!!

She is now in the 50th percentile for height! Unbelievable if one considers how slender her frame is and how tiny she was in comparison to her full term peers that she was expected to keep up with!

She is officially declassified as being orally aversive but likely has a form of Neo-phobia (a fear of trying anything new, food in particular for her, as food is her control source). This is a big one for us and her journey, to officially put that chapter of her life behind us is just mind-blowing!

So tonight while she sleeps in her chosen spot (amongst her teddies in their camp-cot) I’ll do my silent celebratory dance (so that I don’t wake up sleeping beauty)

The bigger picture

There is an abundance of information being shared across all forms of social media at the moment. It’s a blur of facts, figures, fact and fiction.

After nearly 5 weeks of lockdown, most South Africans are feeling various levels of emotions, ranging from frustration to fear.

The message from our government and the World Health Organization is that the steps taken have been necessary and are working. With this said though, there appears to be a shift in mindset as people begin to feel the fear of the financial implications of lockdown. Why are we staying in lockdown when the death rate is so low?

What is slowly being forgotten though is the main reason for lock-down. Reducing the amount of fatalities from Covid-19 is one reason yes. But the main reason is to reduce the spread of the virus, in order to allow our medical infrastructure to prepare, upgrade and handle the potential influx of patients arriving on its doorstep requiring medical attention.

Covid-19 is not going to magically be eradicated by the end of April. It’s here for the long haul and as we enter winter, we will be seeing a steep rise in the rate of infections throughout the country.

‘Flattening the curve’ is a term that’s been thrown around a lot. The meaning of this is purely to slow down the rate of infections, not to eradicate it. There is no cure, there is no vaccine. It’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

If we fixate on the death rate/percentage alone, our figures look reasonable enough one could even say. Reasonable enough to allow a complete ending to lockdown and allow people to go back to their previous life as though nothing were ever wrong.

The reality though is that an abrupt ending to lock-down would result in a drastic rise in the infection rate and as a country we could well find ourselves facing a medical care system that is completely overwhelmed and faced with the very real situation of having to prioritize which patient is more deserving of treatment than another. Is that a situation you would like to find yourself in? 

Gripes about what we may and may not do through lock-down are also becoming an increasing discussion. Comparisons between South Africa and first world countries such as Norway. These comparisons are nonsensical at best, our poverty line is far higher than that of a first world country. Access to basics such as clean water and basic sanitation in South Africa is vastly different to any third world country. A large percentage of our population live in densely populated areas, where staying indoors 247 is simply inhumane and impossible.

I see it in local forums and online. People complaining that being unable to take their dog for a walk or go for a run is ridiculous. Forgetting that allowing these activities in one suburban area, whilst restricting it in others, is not a line we as a nation want to cross. Here in leafy suburbia this could potentially work, in densely populated suburbs, this practice would prove catastrophic for the spread of the virus.

At the end of the day we are all South Africans and like it or not, we are all in this together. Our levels of comfort and security have been tested and pushed to the very edge, to ensure our safety, and that of every other South African living in this beautiful country.

I don’t envy the president for one second. The decisions he has had to make in order to ensure that each South African is best protected has no doubt been an incredibly stressful process. I admire his resolve and determination to put forward systems aimed at keeping us all safe, sure there are loopholes, but he has done a far better job than most leaders of the ‘free world’ and first world nations.

None of what we are experiencing can be considered normal. For families like mine, social distancing, self-isolation and severe hygiene practices is normal, given our unique circumstances. We entered our journey relatively blindly, it felt incredibly isolating, being criticized for being over bearing and paranoid, whilst navigating and figuring out a new way of life that would keep our daughter and family safe. It is heartwarming and heart breaking at the same time to now see the world around us navigating a journey which we took a few short years ago. Heart breaking because of the handful of people who are so incredibly narrow minded that they cannot see the bigger picture. Heartwarming because every single day I see people reaching out to each other, offering support, care, food, clothes, love, guidance, understanding and love.

Life as we knew it has changed. Whether you like it or not. Embrace it, learn from it. South Africans are incredibly resilient, uplifting, resourceful and positive. While things may look different moving forward, I have no doubt that we will make it out the other side, stronger.

Keep safe, keep healthy, rock those beautiful masks, keep your distance of 2 metres in public spaces, wash your hands and remember to let the gas out of your pineapple beer 😉

Understanding Influenza A and it’s vaccination.

For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is upon us. Riding in it’s coat tails and holding on steadfast is all forms of cold and flus waiting to attach themselves onto anyone in their path.

In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, we saw the closure of a prominent primary school yesterday as a result of an outbreak of Influenza A. A reported 20-25% of staff and pupils diagnosed and listing as absent from school attendance.

One of the biggest questions I’ve seen being asked is why do people get sick more frequently in winter than in summer?

Well, it’s not the weather which is directly responsible for people getting sick, but rather that viruses tend to spread easier in lower temperatures. In drier climates it’s even suggested that because of the dry air conditions it is easier for viruses to enter the body.

How do we protect ourselves from picking up unwanted viruses?

Two of the most effective methods of prevention is hygiene and vaccinations.

If you are exhibiting signs of illness it is advised to stay home for the duration of your illness, to prevent the spread of the virus.

If you have no choice but to go into public spaces and risk exposing others, wear a face mask, wash your hands, cough into a hankerchief or into the elbow of your arm, not your hand. Keep sanitizer on hand to wash your hands regularly. Sanitise your hands before touching items and objects in public spaces that others will be exposed to.

The same goes for prevention. If you are going into public spaces, grab some sanitizer and wipe down objects that you may need to touch, or use a sanitizer wipe as a surface barrier between your skin and the object.

The second most effective method of prevention is vaccinations. While this can be a hot topic of discussion in other forums, it isn’t one in our world, it’s a non negotiable for our family.

What are we vaccinating against?

Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) develops a flu vaccine for protection against specific strains of Influenza.  The annual vaccination normally provides protection against three strains of the flu which is predicted to be the greatest threat for that year.

This year the vaccination is designed to provide immunity against two different Influenza A strains and one Influenza B strain.

Influenza A can be found in humans, animals and birds while Influenza B is isolated to humans.

Who should be vaccinated?

In an ideal world we should all be receiving a vaccination to best protect us.

The most at risk of individuals, as well as their family members should vaccinate themselves. At risk individuals are best described as those who:

  • Babies and small children;
  • Immune compromised individuals (HIV-positive individuals and individuals receiving radiation or chemotherapy);
  • Individuals who are over the age of 65 years;
  • Asthmatics and emphysema sufferers;
  • Individuals who suffer chronic from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart issues, organ issues; and
  • Woman in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Can the vaccination make me sick?

There is a misconception that the Influenza vaccination can actually give you the very viruses which it is designed to combat. This is false. It does not contain the live virus, but it can exhibit mild ‘flu-like’ symptoms which are short term in duration. It can have some side effects (as is the risk with any medication) but the side effects should be no more than some pain, redness or swelling around the site of the vaccination, muscle aches and drowsiness. In rare cases allergic reactions have been reported, but the risk versus reward outweighs this concern.

Why should we vaccinate?

The flu causes an estimated 6 000-11 000 deaths every year in South Africa alone. The most affected are the elderly who account for nearly 50% of deaths, followed by 30% being related to HIV-positive patients. The highest rates of hospitalization occurs between children of 5 years age and under along with elderly and HIV-positive individuals. Last year in South Africa 8-10% of patients hospitalized for pneumonia and 25% of patients who showed flu-like symptoms tested positive for influenza.

When should I or a loved one have one?

Just ahead of the flu season is the best time. But if you missed that, then right now!!!  Vaccinations are available at most pharmacies. Most medical aids cover the injection and if medical aid doesn’t, it costs near R100.00 for a vaccination. 

How long will it protect me?

Remember that the vaccine itself needs around 10 days from administration to become fully effective. It should keep you protected for the duration of the winter/flu season. But understand that you are not protected against all strains of influenza, only those which the vaccine was designed to combat.

https://www.heraldlive.co.za/lifestyle/leisure/2019-05-28-flu-vaccine-may-protect-against-influenza-a-and-b/

Please note that I am not a medical practitioner and it is always advisable to consult with your family doctor, specialist and/or paediatrician about your overall health and well being.

Bullying

A few days ago I posted a seemingly harmless comment on an online news article relating to a convicted criminal who was facing new charges for a different transgression.  It was suggested that because this individual was already serving time for other convictions, that new charges were ‘kicking a person while they are down’.  Going against better judgment, I commented that if a person was guilty, and proven so, that they should rightly be charged and serve their additional sentence. Commenting and offering opinions on articles of this nature goes against my better judgment, but nobody is perfect, sometimes we do things that we know we probably should just turn and walk away from. Entertaining fools offers no rewards.

I’m intelligent enough to know that right and wrong aren’t viewed the same for everyone. If we all did, we’d have no need for prisons, law enforcement and justice systems. Be that as it may though, my small opinion on any particular topic really does mean nothing in the greater scheme of things, not everyone will agree with them and that is also OK. What a dull world this would be if we all agreed with each other 100% of the time.

So I have to admit to being slightly surprised at the retaliation with which I was greeted with. Comments were made attacking both my opinion and my physical appearance, as an attempt to goad me into defending myself and retaliating. They were aimed at hurting me, making me feel inferior and a less worthy human being. Had those comments been hurdled at me even a year ago, I may well have taken them to heart. But I’m not the same person that I was a year ago. I’m stronger now. More confident. More self-assured in who I am and who I want my daughter to have as a role model growing up.

I want her to learn from me that there is a difference between right and wrong. That a society can only function when we uphold and understand right from wrong. I want her to show compassion and respect to others. She needs to form her own opinions on people based on their actions and not on their appearance. She needs to know that bullying, threatening, undermining and belittling someone to boost her own ego will get her absolutely nowhere in life.  I want her to embrace the fact that we are by design, all different, that your physical appearance has absolutely no bearing as to who you are as a person.   She needs to know that people will have different opinions and views in life and that is perfectly OK. She also needs to know that using her words to undermine, hurt and humiliate others for personal gain and self-confidence does not make you worthy anyone’s respect. I want her to treat others how she would expect to be treated herself.

I’m proud of who I am as a person. I do not shy away from standing up for myself or for my loved ones. I had to advocate, fight and throw my opinions around to keep my daughter alive, from before she was even born. I had opinions on her eating problems from the very first few weeks of her being home. I voiced those to every medical professional we encountered. They weren’t always heard, they weren’t always taken seriously, but in the end, they went a great way towards finding professionals who were able to diagnose her and help us, to this day.

I’m proud of the fact that my stance on right and wrong makes me the type of person that some people do not want to be associated with, because the feeling is mutual. Life is short. I’d prefer to spend my time with likeminded people who have respect for the law and understand the difference between right and wrong. I want the people with which my daughter will grow up being surrounded by, to be good, honest, loving people and role models with integrity and a set of morals and ethics that will go towards building her up into a strong, confident and compassionate person.

I’m also proud of my breasts, which were referred to as ‘pap sakke’ (saggy bags). Another comment and dig aimed at degrading an undermining me. These saggy bags nourished my daughter for 4 months. Against all the odds stacked against me, after nearly dying while trying to give her a chance at life, they were able to produce milk for her first few months in life. They nestled her when she grew strong enough to be held. Their warmth and comfort stabilized her blood pressure, breathing and heart rate. When she was suffering with reflux and screaming from exhaustion, pain and hunger, they comforted her. When she was sick and needed comforting, they were there for her and still are. They may not be as perky and pretty as a young woman’s, but I’m not a young woman anymore, so I can’t expect them to be what they aren’t.

We aren’t designed to leave this world in mint condition. My body and my breasts may not be in their best shape. But they have made sacrifices for my child that few can understand. To my own detriment in many ways I neglected my own mental and physical health and appearance for the last few years while focusing on raising our medically fragile daughter. I fought through deadly levels of high blood pressure, fluid building up in my lungs, my liver and kidneys failing, the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, all for our daughter to have a chance at life. I placed so much focus and energy in her first few months that I failed to recognize a potentially devastating combination of PTSD and PPD which very nearly resulted in me taking my own life.

So, if the worst insults that somebody can come up with is that my opinions irritate the shit out of them, and that my breasts are saggy, then I consider my life so far to be a fairly good success.

Once we have left this world, our outward appearance is going to be one of the least remembered attributes. We won’t be remembered for how much money we made, what types of cars we drove, or how big our houses were. We will however, be remembered for how we treated others, the lessons we taught them, the time we spent with them, and how we spent that time. We will be remembered for our actions, and words.  Best we use those words wisely and spread positivity, integrity, understanding, love and respect.

Now if you’ll kindly excuse me, our sickly toddler want to nuzzle up to her moms saggy breasts for comfort as she fights her first cold of the winter.