The Butterfly Effect

There are a lot of questions about my recovery. It is something that I tend to skirt around or forget in the greater scheme of life. Currently, understandably, my world revolves around Charlotte, her development and how astonishing and resilient such a tiny little person can be.

So, I thought I’d take a minute and chat about cottage cheese, butterflies and, of course, me. Now doesn’t that sound selfish?!

When the dust surrounding my illness, the subsequent caesarean and my stint in recovery started settling, I was informed that I would be transferred back to my original doctor, who had played absolutely no positive role in our treatment, delivery or recovery. Not wanting to step on toes I agreed to the handover and regretted my decision not too long thereafter. I am happy to report though that I have officially made the transfer back to the most amazing doctor. Someone I have no way of ever being able to thank for all that she did for our family. Honestly, how do you thank someone for saving your child’s life or your own?

Anyway, back to cottage cheese and recovery. Strange combination you may think, but it’ll all make sense in due course.

I spent the better part of a month on bed rest, a few days at home and the rest of my incarceration spent in the maternity ward. The only form of permitted exercise was to get up and pee, once a week, that got eventful when I would be handed a 5litre container, a styrafoam cup and was told to collect every single drop of urine and store it in the bottle. ‘Do not waste a single drop’ you are commanded. The ‘peepee challenge’ as I fondly called it, is a 24 urine test to check protein levels, these levels will indicate how well/not well your kidneys and liver are functioning. The peepee challenge becomes an oddly exhilarating challenge in a world where you lie in bed all day watching crap on TV, stare at ceiling tiles and attempt to calculate how many bed sheets you would need to tie together to escape over the balcony and you’ll be very surprised at how much peepee you are able to generate, oh and a styrafoam cup is not nearly big enough for a pregnant woman.

Spend a month ‘resting’ and strange things start to happen to your body, you don’t notice them at first, I only noticed them after my operation and on the first evening I was allowed to shower myself, (sorry chaps, but a bed bath by nurses, not nearly as sexy as you think it is).

When I looked down in the shower I was horrified at what I felt and saw. One of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia is swelling in your face and lower legs, after the op I was given water tablets to get some of the water out of my body, thing is though, all of me had swollen up during my illness, so subtly that one almost didn’t realise it, until I woke up one morning and everything was hanging. I have Oprah arms, if I jiggled my arm fast enough now I could knock you out. My legs are unrecognizable, I used to have calf muscles and, while they made buying knee high boots a mission, I was quite proud of them, well, they no longer exist, in their place are standard calf muscles, skinny out of place little things that I’m not familiar with. My stomach is still recovering from the op so there is still a fair amount swelling there, and I was pregnant, that takes a while to settle I’m told, but my thighs… My thighs and hips are not mine, I’m almost sure someone placed them on me at some point while I was sleeping. While I was on the squishy side of life in terms of weight, I never had cottage cheesy thighs, now there seems to be an entire cows worth of cottage cheese down there, what’s even worse is how Oprah arm syndrome has spread to my thighs as well, and there is a bit of extra squishy just above them, at butt level, on either side of my hips that wasn’t there before, it too jiggles, if I had to sway sideways fast enough that I’m almost sure I’d create that ‘butterfly effect’ you always hear about, create an earthquake in China or something equally horrific.

Since delivery I have lost a total of 11kg, I now weigh less than when I first fell pregnant, with the added ‘bonus’ of the preggy belly still being present. I’ve lost one and a half of the 3 chins I had when Charlotte was delivered. My kidneys shut down immediately after the operation and thankfully they kick started themselves shortly after, otherwise we would have had to have placed me on a dialysis machine. My liver function showed contradictory recovery results, but it was established that the paracetamol I had been prescribed for pain management, was counter productive to liver recovery, go figure. My blood pressure took a while to start stabilising and dropping, so I’m on a month long course of medication to assist in reducing it. The odd rash I developed from the mystery allergy I got during my incarceration is also healing. Yesterday I was given permission to give up my sexy compression socks!!!!!!! The ten thousand needle marks are also beginning to heal, those are located predominantly on my ass and thighs, where the numerous Steroid, Buscopan, Anti-Nausea, Anti-Clotting and whatever else was placed in my system.

Overall recovery is slow, I’ve got to recover from HELLP syndrome, which is something that can develop in severe cases of Pre-Eclampsia, my caesarean was also not a standard because we had to deliver so early in pregnancy, the combination of medication that I was on (or a newly acquired allergy to seafood) or a combination of both, caused a lovely angry rash all over my body that has now dried up, leaving me to look like an elderly European tourist that has turned to biltong while tanning on our beaches (you know the look). I still have acne all over my chin and an intolerance to my former cosmetics, so there’s no hiding it. But I’m alive, Charlotte is alive, I got to go home to my husband and family and in the near future, we’ll bring Charlotte home. Coming home was overwhelming, at one point I felt as though that would never happen, I don’t think I made it 2 steps away from the car before I dropped onto the driveway and wept, and then got showered with love from our 4 beautiful woofs. I’m not the same person I was when I was admitted, but I’m alive and I’m recovering slowly. And now you’ll have to excuse me as its 5pm and it’s time to transform back into Daisy the Dairy Queen and get milking for my child who is developing a serious appetite and is out drinking my supply!

Shit Happens

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We are frequently about how we are enjoying parenthood. For the most part I suspect that not everyone fully comprehends the situation in which we find ourselves. There is nothing normal about where we are. In some warped sense however, this is our normal.

Tomorrow our magic bean is 28 weeks old and instead of being nestled safely in her mothers’ womb, she is nestled inside a state of the art incubator named ‘Giraffe’. I miss the feel of her moving and kicking inside me, I’d only just started to feel her before she was so suddenly taken out. It’s an immense loss I cannot explain. We’d spent weeks trying to get dad to feel her wriggling around inside, that connection between them was so important to me. The day before our caesarean was the first and only time that dad got to feel our magic bean wriggling around in my belly.

In the four weeks leading up to her birth I spent most of my time as a permanent resident of the maternity ward. Daily I lay and meditated, hoping to buy us more time. From a medical point of view, before 26 weeks gestation, our baby didn’t count as a life, I had to get to 26 weeks and beyond if she had any hope of surviving. Daily we had blood drawn to check for the signs that would indicate that we had reached the end of the road. Daily I meditated, prayed and hoped that by some miracle we’d make it past at least 30 weeks. Daily I got to see the joy of birth and the connection between new moms, dads and their beautiful babies. Daily I got to see a happy families head home for the first time, huge proud smiles on their faces, eyes filled with wonder at the sight of their little bundle of joy. The stress of trying to fake a smile for visitors and trying to explain our situation became too much and I blocked visitors, I basically shunned my family and friends.

When admitted I was told that our chances were slim and that my childs’ life came second to mine as she wasn’t 26 weeks in gestation yet. That, if shit hit the fan, that I would be the priority, not her. You can imagine the terror at hearing this. I’ll be honest, I gave up and broke down after being told that. I was informed that my doctor was going on leave for a few weeks and it was doubtful that we would meet again when they returned as my situation ‘really doesn’t look great’. Trust me on this, when you see not a single ounce of hope in your doctors eyes, it becomes near impossible to even fake positivity yourself. I was wished the best of luck in a not-so-optimistic voice and was handed over to a replacement doctor. I wept that night, I felt powerless, like a complete and utter failure. By some miracle, the replacement doctor happened to be an expert of our condition and was someone who believed in us and that we had a fighting chance, someone who gave us hope, someone who undoubtedly saved our lives and got us further down the path than we ever could have done without her. We owe her so very much and I cannot fathom how to thank her for all she has done.

The night before the caesarean I was placed on a special drip that was prescribed to protect both my and the magic beans brains for the trauma that lay ahead. I was placed in a cardiac ward for constant observation as there was a 1/1000 chance that I’d develop a reaction to the treatment. I was placed next to an old senile woman who had it in her head that I was having an abortion and who spent all evening telling me how disgusted she was with my life choices. I don’t think I slept a wink that night between the fear of what lay ahead, the sensory overload of noises inside that room (spend a month in a quiet ward meditating and someone scrunching a piece of paper becomes deafening) and Granny Craycray beside me.

Thankfully the caesarean itself went relatively smoothly, better than anyone anticipated, well, except for the fact that the first epidural didn’t work and I had to endure a second one, one of my biggest fears of the procedure that came true. We were warned that bean would be too small to cry and that we should not panic about that, but by God did she do her best to let us know she was there with the tiniest of cries that you’ve ever heard. With my arms tied down she was brought over for a brief second for me to kiss her before she was wheeled off by a specialist team. With my husband supporting me on one side and a mystery assistant on my other side keeping me calm, I made it through with relative calm, I apparently joked and told my doctor and her assistant that if any jewellery was discovered at a later stage, that I laid claim to it.

After the op my kidneys shutdown and I was placed under 24 hour observation to keep an eye on them and make sure that they rebooted, thankfully they did so on their own. I was not allowed to do more than stare at the ceiling and wait for someone to tell me what was happening with our baby. I got to spend another 24 hours with Granny Craycray, berating me for murdering our baby. No amount of explanation would sway her assessment of me. I begged and pleaded to be moved, but due to my condition I was too high of a risk to be moved to a different ward. Nothing to do but wait until I was safe to be moved back to maternity.

The moment that I was wheeled into my own private, quiet room in the maternity ward was overwhelming, I recall having a bit of a meltdown in front of everyone who had come to welcome me back, friends, family and staff. I think I even chased everyone out to give me a moment to have a good old fashioned weep fest. Getting back into that ward was a massive victory for me.

I can carry on with stories of this experience, and in later posts I will likely share other snippets and moments but through all of this so far I am painfully aware that we were robbed of the idyllic pregnancy that was promised to us. My councillor has told me that I have a right to grieve and be angry about what’s happened, that I’m allowed to grieve for the experiences that we’ve been robbed of, and I do, daily. It’s part of the healing process. But as much as I grieve for lost experiences, I have so much to be thankful for.

My husband, I would not have made it through this without him, coming home finally and being able to sleep beside him, to hear and feel him breathing and being able to touch him, there are no words to put into perspective how I feel about him. Our tiny, beautiful, wilful magic bean who has shown us levels of strength and determination that nobody expected to see in her. Every single day is a miracle and a blessing and every time I look at her I cannot believe that such a thing of beauty is our creation. We’ve a long road ahead to heal, both physically and psychologically and we take it one day at a time. Every two steps forward for our bean has one step back and we’re in this fight for a while still, but we tackle things one day at a time.

Our story is one of many, but it’s the story that is seldom told and I can completely understand why, there are still emotions that I am unable to comprehend, understand or control, some I doubt I’ll ever fully get a grasp of. It’s okay to feel cheated and robbed of an experience that we’d come to expect and look forward to. While we’ve lost out on many ‘standard’ experiences and moments of pregnancy, we’ve also experienced an influx of love, support and strength that we never knew was possible.

Milking the Cow

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My breasts come with a bit of a reputation. They have always had a mind and presence of their own. I’ve never thought them to be outrageously large or particularly special, but somehow they’ve always had their own presence. In my squandered youth I can honestly say that I had no issue ‘flashing’ anyone who asked nicely, provided that I’d had a few shooters down, honestly, 50% of the population has them so what was the big deal?! My flashing made me very popular amongst the guys, and very unpopular with their partners. I’m well aware of the names and accusations placed against me from ‘friends’ about my behaviour, being more comfortable around the guys than the gals and not having an issue with going topless probably did not endear me to many women. Hubby often jokes that he knew my boobs before he knew me. Thankfully we all grow up at some point and my flashing days are but a distant laughable memory.

Well, that’s what I thought at any rate. Up until the day we had our child. At a little over 26 weeks of pregnancy, when most women are shopping for goodies and starting to think of themes for the nursery and baby name options, we were faced with the hard reality that our little girl would be making a severely early arrival. The very last thing on my mind at this point was breastfeeding.

From the second I was wheeled out of the recovery room and placed in a special ward for 24 hour post op monitoring I was told that it was of absolute critical importance to start with breast stimulation as soon as possible. Not having the faintest idea of what lay ahead and on the opposite end of the hospital to the maternity ward, I lay flat on my back with the daunting task of providing my baby with breastmilk.

At some point in the middle of the night, the curtains around my cubicle were drawn and I was connected ‘Matrix’ style to a very strange machine. I had suction cups attached to my breasts and was told that I should start expressing like the dairy queen soon. Imagine my horror when nothing more than 3 drops made an eerie appearance and I was informed that this process had to continue every 3 hours in order to start producing sufficient quantities to nourish my child. The mysterious and terrifying milking machine was then wheeled off into the night and I got to lie flat on my back for a further 12 hours without access to said milking machine, ever aware of how many sessions I had missed and how utterly unprepared I was for all of this. Cue husband…

My rock and sanity arrived at my bedside with promises to deliver something that would assist me in becoming the ultimate milking machine. My sanity depended on his success. So, he called on backup in the form of Bob, the Thelma to his Louise, his partner in crime. Cue the theme music to The A-Team and these two blokes saw the despair and panic on my face and ventured off into the world of breastfeeding. The details are somewhat foggy, but somehow they got in contact with a rep for Medela and ended up hiring the Rolls Royce of pumps for my personal use.

So, armed with a special machine I had to set a schedule to hook myself up every 3 hours to stimulate. Sounds lovely doesn’t it. The best part? Anything I produced was totally and utterly useless because of all the medication in my system. So, I was still of absolutely no use to my own child.

I’ve become accustomed and comfortable with my breasts being exclusively available for my husbands viewing pleasure. That luxury does not exist in a hospital and no sooner have you hooked yourself up and are rendered totally exposed, vulnerable and incapable of covering up when a Nurse, Sister, tea lady, cleaner or lost visitor comes barreling into your room . Nobody is bothered by what they see, even though you are mortified. That’s on day one. On day two you’ve given up trying to cover yourself and to hell with the shame, at this point you may as well be walking around topless in the ward, everyone has seen them at any rate. And suddenly I’m having flashbacks to my squandered youth and realising that you really don’t need Tequila to flash your breasts.

The skill required to connect the suction cups at the perfect angle and position to ensure that there are no gaps for air to interrupt the flow is astonishing and requires utmost attention. In order to give me a bit of a break we purchased a special ‘bra’ that holds the caps in place, so I am able to sleep upright while a bizarre machine milks me. I can totally understand and appreciate why women breastfeed in public without covering up. Ensuring that the connection between suction cup and boob is tricky, imagine replacing that stagnant item with one that wriggles and moves and I can imagine how impossible a task this must be.

Feeling uncomfortable with all the titty talk? Imagine how I feel…

More weirdness – The Rash

I woke up with a rash.  I didn’t know about it because I couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t see it because my eyes were swollen shut. My eyes were swollen shut because I just don’t seem to be able to catch a break at the moment.

Yesterday I opted for jail break food, from a reputable national chain of restaurants. I wanted a good quality pasta. I got a good quality pasta, quality crap that is. I’d already started feeling somewhat suspect after a special pizza that the kitchen had made for me out of pity. The pasta was the cherry on top of a sour ice cream sundae of meals it seems.

The stomach cramps had me doubled over and crawling to the toilet. I held onto Ralph for dear life and hit the dreaded red panic button on the wall beside me, knowing full well that my last ounce of dignity was about to be put on display for all the night staff, all of whom came running to see if I was okay and all stood huddled in the doorway with a look of pity and horror. Horror because I suspect that they felt the same as I did, that our time was up and that madame was on her way. Pity because, well, who doesn’t automatically dish out pity when someone is doubled over the porcelain throne serenading it with chunder lyrics. Heave ho.

My poor doctor was called, the blood labs were called, my husband was summoned and I lay, sat, hunched, rocked and writhed doubled over while we waited to find out what was going on. The long and short was, a severely upset stomach.  However, while we waited for these results I was instructed to hang around in bed, so was given a lovely little bowl to donate my stomach contents into, in front of my husband, oh yippeeee.

When the results came back I was told I’d be receiving two injections to alleviate nausea and the stomach cramps, I did not want to take pain killers as my poor kid is already going to be drugged to the gills. So, a fiery jab to each butt cheek, just to spread the fun, and an hour or two of waiting for the jabs to take effect. While my poor husband looked on helpless, rubbing my back to try alleviate some of my massive discomfort.

By 5am most of the pain had subsided and had been replaced by some delightful new pregnancy, pre-eclampsia and food poisoning side effects.  I could barely open my eyes as they had swollen almost completely shut, most of this has been contributed to a night of bawling my eyes out as my kankles and hands aren’t more swollen than usual. Another lovely reaction that I woke to was a rash, all over my upper body, from just below them boobies to my jaw line and cheeks.  I’m pretty sure I resemble Freddy Kruger currently.

The rash has been attributed to either heat rash from the sweats last night, or another delightful pregnancy side effect (I should put together a list of possibilities for you, it’s quite extensive).  My eyes swell shut every time I lay flat on my side or back so every naptime I wake up looking like the Pillsbury Dough girl.

On the positive side though, we’ve reached 26 weeks and 2 days of pregnancy, the paediatric specialists that have been assigned to me are very positive about madams odds if she arrives now, but we’re hoping for at least another 1-2 weeks, but my blood pressure is increasing and my protein levels in my urine are starting to increase as well.

‘Pregnancy is such a beautiful time, one that you’ll be looking back fondly at’.  Many, many people will tell you this and if you are like most women, this may well be true, but realise that for every 9 of your friends who had that sickeningly perfect pregnancy, there was at least one who experienced some level of massive discomfort or even horror experiences like me, and they don’t talk about it, because somehow we feel like failures and inadequate.

I’ve dealt with some pretty shitty situations in my life so far, but not one of them prepared me for this feeling of being totally and utterly out of control.

Hospital Food

Most patients are fortunate enough to spend but a few evenings in a hospital and the menu appears to be broad spectrum enough to keep every taste bud marginally happy.  When one is however confined to these four fine walls for an indefinite amount of time, that menu becomes something of a game of Russian Roulette, you need to make decisions every day on what you are going to offend the least the following day, your taste buds or your constitution.

A week ago I took the opportunity to explore and ordered a ‘gourmet’ chicken salad, which consisted of iceberg lettuce, chunky tomato wedges and chicken covered in something resembling a marinade.  It was a meal that left me in a literal panic attack and agonising stomach cramps. It required the services of my specialist doctor, two nurses, a handful of calming medication, a traumatised husband and a weeks worth of careful monitoring to rectify.  You see, in my current condition, severe stomach pains can indicate that I’m entering full Clampsia, which would require an emergency c-section.  After one of the most terrifying moments of my life, it was established that I was suffering from nothing more than a bad meal, but one that had certainly provided me with some grey hair.

Navigating hospital food is a daily challenge, one that can only be mastered after having experienced it in all of it’s glory.  For example I have learnt that boiled potatoes is a perfectly acceptable lunch time meal, do not ever order it for dinner however.  I’m pretty convinced that lunch’s leftovers are placed on the hot paving in the parking lot and left out in the sun all day to stay warm for dinner time.  Mashed and boiled potatoes are also considered to be the same thing. I play out the insanity game daily by ticking the ‘mashed’ box and expecting to actually receive mash and not the floury dry coaled lumps of potatoes which I receive in place of mash.

Deciding on an evening pudding after dinner is also quite the challenge. How does one select between the wall plaster and custard (baked malva and custard), unrecognizable cheesecake, jelly and custard, cheese and cracker board or fresh fruit (the only fruit in season is Winter Melon and 3 Naartjie wedges).  My husband didn’t believe the Malva was good enough to repair our boundary wall, so he gave it a try last night, he licked up every ounce of custard, but could barely get through half the portion of wall plaster.

The only fruit provided for snacks is an apple, which looks much like any other apple, except that it smells and tastes like Pear, and it matters not how many times I eat it, I’m pretty sure the exact same apple is placed on my bedside every evening for a midnight snack, it seems to have the same blemish in the same spot every single time it makes an appearance.

Crackers and cheese. We are given a plate of nibbles for an afternoon snack, a handful of bland crackers, a little sachet of margarine and a small tub of something resembling grated cheese.  It has the texture and consistency of playdough, is totally odourless and tastes as amazing as the air in my room. This is considered a treat.

PS:  This morning I changed things up and opted for the fish cake instead of bacon or mystery sausage for breakfast. I can attest that you should avoid the fish cake at all costs.

Happy munching!