Potty Training

Two months ago we had an evaluation on Charlottes development. While she is no longer technically referred to as a micro preemie, and her age is no longer adjusted to accommodate her early birth, we do still need regular appointments to assess her overall development. With her last assessment over 9 months ago and her third birthday fast approaching we decided it was time to see how she was faring.

We had a checkup with her paediatrician the same time. He checked her out from head to toe, measured her, weighed her, checked her spine, ribs, posture and muscle tone. He asked about her home life, how she was talking, sleeping, eating. And I quietly held my breathe and waited for his verdict. Nerves fraught with tension, waiting for the inevitable concerns that would be listed. Instead he started beaming, told me to breathe and declared that he was so very proud of our little mouse and her progress! He was thrilled actually! Yes, her weight was still nowhere near where it should be, but she was healthy, strong, meeting every milestone ahead of schedule and she was still growing, even hitting the 25th percentile for height!

We got equally brilliant feedback from her OT! She is ahead in development, formulating sentences of a 3 year old (given that technically she was still only 2.5 years in age at the time of the assessment, this was amazing). She is counting to 20 which is double the number that is expected of her. She can recite the ABC song and is recognizing letters of the alphabet in the world around her. She’s phenomenal at memory games and building puzzles with far more pieces than is expected of a child her age. Overall the news was nothing but positive. Yes, she has some muscle tone issues we need to work on, particularly her upper body and arms, but we’re hitting those head on with specific fun activities to tone and enhance her skills and strengths!

There seems to be one benchmark that she’s not hit and nailed head on. The much desired and dreamed of phase of parenting a young and impressionable toddler. Potty training.

It seems that it’s the ultimate noddy badge for parents, a sign that you are well and truly the best and most successful parent in the world. If your tot turns three and still wakes up in a nappy, you as a parent are a terrible failure. Comparisons in parenting are part of the process though aren’t they?! I find myself being asked daily if she is weaned from her nappies. I see the wide eyed stare when I reply with ‘no’. The smug smirk that slowly spreads across a parents face when they proudly declare that their offspring is. The momentary judgement cast upon you as they assess your parenting skills on how quickly you were able to get rid of nappies in your life.

I would like to believe I’ve navigated these interactions relatively smoothly so far. But this topic is going to land me in hot water, soon. I’m going to put my foot in it without effective self restraint at some point.

Charlotte isn’t potty trained, and it’s not for a lack of effort on our part. We’ve tried so many tricks and methods and have come up nappy full. She has taken on a mentor, someone she loves dearly, follows like a hawk, loves to feed and cuddle with. Someone with ultimate patience, adoration and gentle love. Unfortunately her mentor also happens to enjoy pooping on the lawn.

Yep, her mentor is our Labrador, Paris. Not the greatest of mentors I’ll admit. There are many other traits of Paris that I’d love for her to sample, like a voracious appetite and the ability to sleep through any and all noises. But, as we all learn with parenting, our kids do as and when they will, with complete disregard to our own desires for them.

So yes. Our beautiful child is three and still in nappies. But does this affect your life? Does this make us lazy parents? Have we failed in raising her suitably? Are her chances of being a successful adult ruined because she’s still pooping in her nappy? The answer to all is ‘NO’. We’ve learnt from before she was even born that she marches to her own beat. She has never conformed to any yard stick of convention and norms. She does things as and when she feels she is ready. No amount of forcing the issue will change her mind, if anything, it only further discourages her to do something that she will do when she is good and ready.

So if your darling is potty trained and eating with silverware by the age of three, give yourself a pat on the back. But for the love of all the bacon in this world, don’t be a smug ass about this achievement. It doesn’t mean that you are a better parent than others. It simply means that developmentally your precious creation was ready sooner than ours.

So spare a thought for those of us still transitioning, instead of judging us. We literally dream of the morning that we’ll wake up and we don’t have to begrudgingly sort out dirty nappies. We dream of walking down the aisle and not needing to grab a bag of nappies for the trolley. We’ll get there I promise!

Mammas who are still dealing with nappies daily. I see you!!!!

THE NICU EXPERIENCE

The TV series ‘this is us’ recently aired an episode in its latest season where one of the main characters experiences a premature birth at 28 weeks. I’ve not yet been able to watch the episode myself, but I have seen many comments eluding to the fact that it is sadly, wildly inaccurate and does not portray the NICU experience as well as it could have. I can understand though how much of a daunting task this could have been for producers though, so I’ll reserve judgement for when I’ve seen the episode myself.

Thing is though. The NICU is near impossible to describe. Nothing can prepare you for what you experience when you walk in there for the first time. It is terrifying. It’s like bulldozing through a brick wall, in a hazy slow motion, while someone is throwing bricks at you. Blow by blow you keep moving forward one step at a time, you can’t stop, you can’t run for cover, you have no choice but to keep moving forward one step at a time.

Before you even get to see your child for the first time there are ground rules, things to learn, things to do. Learning how to wash your hands, where to leave your phone, what you may and may not wear, what you may not bring in, where you leave your handbag, bottled water, much needed coffee, etc. These are only the beginning and once you’ve navigated your way through washing your hands and ensuring that your clothes are cupboard fresh and not covered in hospital germs, you enter your babies room. Any number of life saving equipment surrounds their incubator, attached to them, keeping them alive. You search in the dark of the incubator for the tiny body that is apparently your baby. When your eyes finally settle on her you are shocked at just how small and fragile she is.

A rare moment when the Giraffe Incubator is open. Charlotte is in there, somewhere.

You are only beginning to comprehend what lies ahead for you and your family. While you are still trying to comprehend what’s happened, your babies nurse gently explains her vitals to you and tries to navigate you through it all. She’s honestly giving you as little information as possible during your first visit. But it feels as though she’s throwing a medical journals worth of information at you in one go. You can hear her, but you can’t really make sense of it all. All you can do is to look at your child. Breaking eye contact is next to impossible, you fear that if you stop looking at them that something will happen to them, that they’ll feel you leaving their side and not want to fight any more. You are trying to hear the nurse, but there are a thousand pieces of equipment humming, pinging and beeping in the background. Just outside the door are more nurses discussing their patients, alarms beep in the background, a radio plays a familiar inappropriately cheerful song in the background. In the corner a mom is reading softly to her baby. You want to ask questions, but your tongue has gone dry. And with every unfamiliar new alarm sounding off suddenly in the background or in your babies room, your heart stops beating, fearing that the alarm is announcing death.

Welcome to the NICU. Your journey is only just beginning. For most babies, their stays will be nothing more than a formality or precaution and a night or two, albeit, these few nights will be understandably terrifying for their parents. For others the stay will be for a few days, perhaps even a week. And for a small percentage, the stay will be months.

It’s a unique world. One that can only be comprehended and understood once you have been unwillingly cast into it. If you were fortunate enough like we were to be part of a small and intimate NICU, you find yourself becoming part of the furniture almost. You sit at your daughters door, confined to her room, her sleeping on your chest finally, or still confined to her incubator, reading out requested nursey rhymes to staff and parents. You share jokes, knit patterns, favourite recipes.

You learn to read the nurses faces in the morning when you arrive, you know when there’s been a new arrival and it’s been touch and go. You learn which paediatrician is on duty, purely from a nurses demeanor when you greet them. You grab coffee for everyone from the staff canteen, you’ve been there so long that people start assuming you are part of the staff content of the hospital. You assist new parents when they are standing by the basin, unable to remember exactly how to wash their hands, terrified that if they do it wrong that they will kill their baby, so they stand there and stare blankly at the basin.

You stare in awe at your baby and wonder when you’ll be able to do more than just hover your hand above her body, her skin so fragile that a simple touch can tear it open. You wonder if she can hear your voice. You are overwhelmed with emotion on the day you walk in and are told you can hold her for the first time. You’ve been yearning to hold her for weeks and the time is finally there. You can’t believe she is yours, how perfectly natural it is to hold her, in spite of the equipment attached to her. And then the shear horror when she is so comfortable that she altogether stops breathing or her heart stops beating while she lies sleeping on your chest. When nurses calmly massage her to get her heart pumping again and when essentially you learn to revive your own child every time it happens again after in the seconds it takes the nurse to get there. You begin to fear that holding her will kill her. You spent weeks aching to hold her but now you are too afraid to do so.

You learn the palour of her skin and the change of her vitals and know that the paediatrican will be asking for you to sign the umpteenth consent form for a blood transfusion. You stare at her first outfit, neatly folded and waiting beside her nappies, where it’s been for weeks, waiting for her to be strong enough, old enough, big enough to wear her first clothes.

You spend your days at your child’s bedside watching new babies arrive and go home before yours. For every two steps closer to taking your baby home, there is a guaranteed step backward as well. You swell with love and pride when you say goodbye to parents taking their babies home, but your heart aches for yourself, you wonder how it feels, and if you will ever feel it for yourself.

You overhear things naturally through your time there. You find out which babies are terminal, inoperable, made miraculous recoveries, gained weight, successfully transitioned onto breast milk, pulled through NEC, came off ventilation, were going to be discharged and so much more.

You go home every single day wondering if that night is going to be the night that you get a call to go back because something bad happened. You lay awake at night, waiting for the phone to ring. You stare at the ceiling and wonder how you will make it through the next day, but somehow you do. You look over at the calendar on the wall and realize you haven’t marked off yet another day in the NICU, 75 and counting you realize. When will it be our turn to bring our baby home???

Going home is the ultimate goal though isn’t it?! And when you are given the date you are thrilled, overjoyed, overwhelmed, and strangely terrified. You realize that you won’t be able to rely on all the equipment to tell you if your baby has stopped breathing or if her heart forgot to carry on beating. That looking after your baby will be on your shoulders only. After months of relying on the help and guidance of an entire medical team of professionals, you’re now responsible to care for a medically fragile infant. Suddenly you’re not so sure you want to go home after all.

Almost wire free and ready to go home.

Life within those walls is something that can rarely, if ever, be adequately put to words. Daily, you or those around you, are faced with scenarios you never imagined possible. There is no time to process what has happened, you live moment to moment, crisis to crisis, victory to victory. You watch the clock and count the days until you can take your baby home. Because when you walk out those doors, your life will pick up where you left it. The truth is though, that for most, life will never be the same again.

The NICU is an experience that changed me for life. I walked out those doors with my daughter as a different person. I’ve only skimmed the waters edge with some of what I personally experienced and what many other parents experience in their time there. Every babies journey is different, but the fear their parents feel when they know their child will be spending an indefinite amount of time there is universally understood by anyone who has worked or spent time there.

On our way home for the first time, after 91 days in the NICU.

I love food!!!

I love food.

I love everything about it.  I love how it brings people together.  I love how it can soothe a broken heart. How it encourages a couple to snuggle up in bed while sharing a beautiful bowl of buttery popcorn and enjoying a good movie.  I love how the perfect fruity ice lolly can cool body, mind and soul on a scorching summer day.  I love exploring new ideas and recipes. Blending spices to create unique dishes to share with loved ones.  I find solace in creating and eating a good meal.

Food is my go-to when I’m excited, nervous, devastated, in love or even just when I’m bored and have nothing better to do with my free time.  It has been my crutch during trying times, my best friend who never judged me for the poor decisions which I’d made that day, or the pity party I may have been in the midst of, it has celebrated milestones and achievements with me.  It completed me.

But as with all things in life, with the good comes the bad.  It’s given me a great big fat ass and an ever expanding, embarrassingly large waist circumference.  My relationship with food has become an unhealthy one, the friend that you know is bad for you, the one who you should break things off with, but you keep them around, for reasons you wouldn’t really be able to justify if you had to sound them out loud.

There comes a time in life where we need to face reality, and so, with the arrival of our daughter and innocent comments by my husband about my weight and physique, came the realisation that I needed to change things up drastically.  It was time for an intervention for myself.

I thought I was ready for this a year ago.  I set myself up some new year resolutions (you know they NEVER work), bought a pair of running shoes and thought it would be enough to motivate myself.  But it wasn’t.  I’d set myself up for failure before I even had one foot out of the door.

This is the thing with weight gain and being overweight that those who haven’t travelled this jiggly road struggle to understand.  We haven’t chosen to be fat, this is not the life we envisioned for ourselves.  There is so much more to gaining weight, and losing it, that can be misunderstood.  The psychological contributing factors involved need to be addressed and processed if you truly want to conquer the demon that is muffin top and firelighter thighs.

My pregnancy with Charlotte was not an easy one.  Her arrival a full 14 weeks early added insurmountable emotions layered thick with guilt over circumstances which were beyond my control, but as a woman who had failed to perform the very basic function that her body was designed to do, I felt a complete failure.  Her first few days were lived hour by hour, not knowing if she would survive, if she would be OK, not knowing what her future held, for both her and for us.  We spent the first two months of her life watching her grow inside of an incubator, living off meals supplied by loved ones and the hospital coffee shop. Her first few months home were not the blissful exhaustion described by new mothers.  They were laden with days, nights, weeks and months of a traumatised child who was suffering, both from the stresses of her new environment, undetected medical issues, numerous hospital admissions and invasive medical procedures done in an attempt to diagnose her.

Through all of this I turned to food for comfort. We’d lie in bed for hours, her on my chest (the only place she wouldn’t scream), me with comfort food beside me.  Through it all the weight piled on, my insecurities grew and the hopelessness of my situation had me seeking more comfort food.  I stopped looking at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t bare to look down at my own body.  I gave up on even attempting to brush my hair, putting on makeup, wearing clean clothes, let alone the effort to shower or shave my legs.

While I’d decided a year ago to lose weight, I hadn’t really addressed any of my underlying insecurities, guilt or emotional issues.  I also had the threat of possible long term medical conditions which could affect my health, from the illness which caused Charlottes early birth.  So, a few weeks into my new fitness regime, when I felt a twinge of pain in a kidney, I marched off to the GP for tests.

The first remark made when I walked into the rooms after a two second visual analysis of a woman with knotted hair, wrinkly clothes and serious bags under her eyes, was that I was morbidly obese and I needed to make a plan.  The words deflated me, the little hope and motivation that I was clinging to was ripped from me and thrown into the rubbish bin.  I tried to talk about how I’d come to this point, but again I was simply told that I needed to stop eating junk food and lose weight. I could sense the feeling of disgust related to my appearance. There were no questions asked about the rest of my state, how I was coping, or even what had caused my weight gain, all that was supplied was remarks on my massive weight gain.  I went home devastated, feeling hopeless and gave up right then and there, but not before picking up some of my best non-judgemental friends along the way to soothe my broken heart.

And for the next few months the vicious cycle continued.  Until my daughter started walking.  I struggled to keep up with her, I was out of breath from 2 minutes of playing.  I was too embarrassed to put on a swimming costume to swim with her, too embarrassed to join friends on the beach for fear of having to wear something revealing.

Around the same time we also made some break throughs with her health and development, I saw a psychologist and I made a commitment to myself to get fit.  I wanted to enjoy my daughter, I wanted to feel confident when my husband showed me affection. I wanted to wear something other than my maternity pants.  It was time for change.

My mom was overweight when I was a child.  I didn’t understand it then, I couldn’t care less how big or small she was, I just wanted my mom to do stuff with me.  I understand know why she hid away. I realised that I was going down the same road with my daughter.  I knew it was now or never.  I understand her fears, her anxieties and I wish she was still here, that I could tell her it didn’t matter to me, that I loved her regardless of what she looked like.  But I also knew I didn’t want my daughter to experience the same emotions.

I evaluated what my strengths and weaknesses were.  And I looked for a program that I could relate to. One which would keep me motivated and on the path towards a healthier way of life.  I knew that while I was motivated and in the right head space this time, that I would need a support system of like minded women.  For me, joining a gym, hiring some freakishly super fit trainer who has no idea what is it to be overweight was not going to work.  I needed a massive support structure, from people who had walked this road before and were going through it now.

I had heard about Amanda and ‘Choose Your Hard’ at the beginning of 2017.  Her journey, her struggles, her story, was inspirational and exactly what I needed.  We made contact and I’ll be honest, I was gutted when I had to wait 6 weeks for the course to begin!  I just wanted to get cracking, immediately!!!

I’m in week three of ‘Choose your Hard’, part of an amazing team of women from all walks of life.  We all have the same goal in mind though, getting fit, confident and healthy,  the weight loss is just an added bonus from this journey.  My muscles ache, I’m awake at 4:30 every morning to get to class on time.  I do core exercises, walks and swims additionally to build up my fitness levels.  When I feel low I’m instantly picked up by one of these amazing ladies who keep me on my toes, laughing and feeling like nothing is impossible now!

Most importantly, I’ve re-evaluated the relationship with my BFF, food!  I acknowledged that we had a toxic relationship, and while we loved each other dearly, we needed to change how we worked with each other, rather than breaking things off completely, we all need to eat something after all.  So, my new challenge is to work with healthier choices, continue to enjoy cooking up delicious and creative meals, but with smarter choices and healthier alternatives.  Food and I will always be the best of friends, but how I choose to allow it to control my life and habits has changed, for the better.

I love food! Always have, always will.  But I’m no longer looking at it as a crutch to support my emotions exclusively. Along with the revelation that we can have a healthy, happy relationship, the support of my husband, the tiny motivator that is our daughter and a team leader like Amanda and the rest of the amazing ladies in our group, I know I can make it through this journey and be stronger when I walk out of the other side!!!

Our first illness

This sums up our past week.  C contracted Roseola, aka Baby Measles.  It has taken a lot out of her.  She’s conquered the high fevers, is covered in a light rash that has extended up into her face, is battling and is having to contend with a very tender throat, massively reduced apetite and tires very quickly.

That she caught this was inevitible actually.  Most babies contract this between the ages of 6 months to 2 years of age.  It is a relatively harmless virus in comparison to it’s name sakes of Measles and German Measles. Because it is a virus and not a bacteria it is not treatable, other than providing relief for their sore throats, managing the fever and keeping them adequately hydrated and nourished.  It subsides normally within a few days to a week from when the fever started.

For ‘normal’ children these illnesses are not serious, and as much as I love to try and think of C as a normal child, the reality is that she is, but on the same token she is not. She is after all a surviving micro prem, and as such has an immune system with a massive deficit in comparison to her full term friends.  Her body is building, growing and developing her immune system, but mild illnesses like Roseola, can take a lot more toll on her fragile system than it would under normal circumstances.  Which is why prevention has been critical to us for at least the first year of her life.  As a result of this recent episode we’ve had to postone her very important 9 month vaccinations.

While I cannot contain her in a protective bubble for her entire life, much as I would like to, we do go to incredible lengths to ensure that our daughter is safely guarded from potentially threatening illnesses that could compromise her health and impede her development.  We take great care in ensuring that anything we bring home from public spaces is wiped down and cleaned, we religiously ensure that we have access to hand sanitizer to keep our own hands clean before touching her after being in public spaces, we do not allow anyone who is ill to enter our home, environment or be in contact with her.  Our close friends and family know to inform us if mutual guests at a function are ill or if they are ill themselves.  I socialise with a group of moms who are aware of our circumstances and respect our relentless need to keep C from harmful illnesses.  I have gone as far as interrogating venues about their cleaning regimes for their soft play areas.  I. AM. THAT. MOTHER.

So, when my child contracted a virus that she should not have been exposed to yet, I got raging mad.  Roseola is highly contagious, particularly in children with poor immune systems and is predominantly spread through direct contact. When one considers that 90% of babies who contract Roseola show a visible rash, have high fevers and exhibit symptoms of being ill, then I would assume the parents are aware that their child is ill.  The virus is also only contagious once symptoms have exhibited themselves.  Yet somehow they saw fit to allow their child to socialise with other children, without divulging their childs health status.

All too often I’m reminded that children need to be exposed to germs, and I don’t disagree one bit.  But when you have been placed in the position of having an immune compromised child you quickly learn that an immune system is something which is built up slowly over time and age, not only exposure.  How and when they are exposed is something we don’t always have control over, but where we can we need to protect them, particularly in the first few months of their young lives.  Some children take longer for various reasons, this is why some react worse to certain illnesses than others. Their bodies need to time to strengthen and learn to cope over time with the introduction of bacteria, germs and various viruses.

So, when your darling seems to handle a cold, flu, virus or bacterial infection like a champion, don’t be so naive as to think that all other children will cope as well as yours did, or that you are doing them a favour by helping other children by exposing them to germs to build their immune system (as I’ve heard one mother justify herself).  Consider the remote possibility, that amongst the sea of fresh faced smiling tots in the play park or kiddies party, that there are a few who might not be equipped to handle that bug as well as your darling did.  That amongst those kids are a handful who have weakened, sensitive systems and who will not sail smoothly through the ‘little bug’ that you knowingly passed on.

I’m a mom, I know how difficult it is to keep a sick child indoors, away from public spaces and other children, it is hard, sometimes downright impossible. But you know what you do in the event of having to go into public?  You ensure that you carry sanitiser with you, you ensure that whatever you or your child has touched is wiped down for the sake of the next person who touches it, you disclose your childs health status in the event of anyone wanting physical contact with them.  We had to do just this right after our visit to the paed where we were told she had Roseola, we had to buy Charlottes special formula from the only store in PE that had stock left of it (thanks again for that Nestle rep), I made sure to strap that child to my chest so that she could touch nothing and nobody. Anyone who wanted to touch or interact was told she was ill and contagious by touch, I damn near felt like a leper towards the end of our shopping but you know what, I made sure to make the best out of a bad situation and ensured that we did not spread the virus.

Please moms, the next time your precious is ill, think a little further than your own nose and realise that there are so many children out there who do not have rockstar immune systems like your child does, do the right thing, stay home or disclose their health status immediately and give the rest of us a chance to decide if we want to expose our children or not.