Tears with fears

Today, the Miracle is two weeks old and, I won’t lie, it’s been a challenging time. He was sleepy, and difficult to feed. I became engorged and, as the Miracle grew steadily more yellow, he made less effort to latch and refused to even try on my swollen, hot and excruciating mastitis-threatening side. When the midwife came, my temperature was starting to climb and, combined with my Day Three Blues which hit like a sledgehammer this time, I was feeling pretty ropey. A La Leche leader came to help me. These ladies are brilliant. The service is free, and she was here with her knitted boob within 15-minutes. The following day, things had improved. The Miracle was feeding better and the threatening mastitis was making a slow retreat.

But it didn’t last. By his seventh day, once again he was very lethargic and it was taking me over an hour to persuade him to latch. I’d bully him, stripping him off and tickling his toes all the time with tears running down my face. I called the midwife out again. By this time, not only could he have auditioned for a part in The Simpsons with his yellow tinge, but he did a weird wee that looked like a cross between lemon jelly and clarified butter. The midwife decided to call it in, and Neonatal asked us to go in with an overnight bag ‘Just in case’.

In actual fact, we needed a six night bag. Our little Miracle was poorly. He scored below the treatment line for jaundice, but two urine dips came back with a positive result for a UTI. We later learned that it was caused by E.Coli, but on that first night, we were warned of sepsis and an attempt at a lumbar puncture was made. The medics don’t like mums being in the room while they do the more invasive procedures, but my tears fell from a couple of doors away. The procedure failed, and the following day was unsuccessful again. By this point, the paediatricians were confident that his malady was down to the UTI and decided not to make a further attempt at a lumbar puncture.

With an NG tube in place, it was decided that I would try for half an hour every three hours to persuade him to feed normally. If he wouldn’t try, then he’d have my expressed milk through his tube. That first night was a cacophony of alarms going off to feed, to pump, for obs, for antibiotics… The soundtrack to the fear that our Miracle was properly poorly and the questions constantly running through my head: What if we hadn’t brought him in? Did this happen because of something I’d done or failed to do? I had a UTI in late pregnancy, did he somehow catch it? Eventually, a paediatrician told me to stop looking for reasons to feel guilty and that this was ‘one of those things’ and there was nothing I’d done or could’ve done to prevent it.

If he days spent in hospital were long, the lonely nights were even longer. It felt like years since I’d seen Big, Medium and Little when Lovely Husband brought them in two days after our admission. Little had grown exponentially. Medium was shy and Big was just pleased to go to the playroom on the children’s ward and see the nurse that looked after her when she was poorly. Escaping the stale air with a walk outside became a daily target, though finding time amongst the calls for obs, IV antibiotics and doctors’ reviews was a challenge. Meeting amazing but exhausted mums whose babies had been born too soon brought home how lucky I was. I guess the upside was that I could just sit and cuddle the Miracle and sniff his beautiful head. As he improved, I sat singing to him while he cooed in reply.

He has a journey ahead of him. Six to seven months of antibiotics, blood tests, consultant appointments, various scans… But the Miracle that we brought home two days ago is a different baby to the one that was admitted to special care last week. This baby is pink, alert, feeding well and determined to spend all of his time in my arms. Once again, I am truly thankful for the diligence of the medics, for the love and support from Lovely Husband and my mum and for the Miracle himself for fighting back.

We are home. We are six. There is so much love.

Tears with fears

On the eve of Mother’s Day

Today I went to do the pixie’s Big Shop for the next season. Big passes her clothes down to Medium in nearly new condition. Medium trashes them and Little gets new ones. I like to dress my children like children, so I am increasingly shocked by the ripped denim hot pants and sloganed t-shirts on offer to kids as little as four. Seriously, who dresses their children in this tat? Who wants their four-year-old to have their pants on display?

That frustration aside, it was a lovely day spent with my mum. The sun was shining as we went (waddled, for me) from shop to shop with frequent tea  breaks. I’m huge with the Miracle. I’m measuring a fortnight ahead and at 31+3w, I look ready to pop. I feel it too. The Miracle mainly likes sitting on my sciatic nerve (ouch!) and trampolining on my bladder. My blood sugars have just started to misbehave and I’ve started Metformin tablets and a diet of denial. Lovely Husband has a list of All The Nice Things he must buy/make me after the placenta has been delivered and I am back to normal. Salted caramel cheesecake, I’m coming for you.

I returned home to a newly poorly Medium. Just as we seemed to get rid of the bugs, it looks like a new one has moved in. I’m hoping Mother’s Day isn’t cancelled for us tomorrow.

Some, I know, will be wishing Mother’s Day could be cancelled. They’ve faced weeks of reminders about the impending day and each one will have been a twist of the knife embedded in their heart. Women who have lost their own mothers, lost their babies or simply can’t seem to have a child. Having Mother’s Day shoved down their throat is a bitter pill and one few will feel able to swallow.

While we hope to celebrate after our rocky but ultimately amazing journey to parenthood with our three ICSI pixies and now the Miracle, I will have a quiet moment to send vibes of solidarity to those that are deep in the wilderness. Those that are in the throes of the rollercoaster of IVF, of dusting themselves off after yet another disappointment, waiting for appointments or wincing as they jab themselves with powerful hormones that will make them feel like they’re going crazy. I will raise a glass to these strong women and hope that this time next year, they’re getting a slobbery kiss from the baby they’ve longed for.

As the Miracle kicks away inside me after a lovely day spent with my mum, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

On the eve of Mother’s Day

Family friendly breaks: Rockefeller, Dorset

So, the ordeal continued. Exactly a week after our discharge, Big woke with a high temperature and was – weirdly – completely unable to bear weight on her knees. In these circumstances, Dr Google is not my friend. After scaring myself, I took her to the out-of-hours doctor (why do these things always happen at the weekend?!) who scared me even more by talking about septic arthritis. After ten hours back on the children’s ward and a battery of tests, the orthopaedic doctor said she had a virus in her joints. It could be the same one that caused her previous hospital stay, or she could come out in chicken pox spots imminently, as Medium had brought it home to share. Apparently, in some children, as the pox develops it causes chronic joint pain. Who knew? “She can’t have chicken pox – she’s been exposed multiple times,” I said. “And we fly to Lanzarote a week on Monday!”

Two days later, Little burst out in violent pox. You could not see skin between the spots. I’ve never seen her so poorly – and nor do I want to. Her temperature hovered just above 40, despite regular paracetamol and she felt very sorry for herself. It was seven days before we were due to fly, and I spoke to our lovely GP who did the plumber-teeth-sucking-thing, and said it’d be tight, but he’d see her on Friday to assess whether she was fit to fly.

Friday came, and it was obvious she wasn’t fit to fly. And nor was Big, who came out in a splattering of pox spots, as predicted by the orthopaedic doctor, in sympathy. Instead, our GP certified them as not fit to fly. You have no idea how much we needed that holiday. A week of sun to see off the winter bugs – and we’ve had more than our share – was just what the doctor ordered. Except he ordered us not to go. Fortunately, Lovely Husband had the foresight to insure what was going to be a very expensive holiday, and, as we should get the money back, we decided to book somewhere exceptional in the UK for a week. We might be in quarantine, but at least we’d be in quarantine somewhere fabulous.

We booked Rockefeller via Unique Home Stays, in Studland, Dorset. Studland is an area I know well, having enjoyed many drunken riding weekends there. In fact, it felt decidedly strange to be in Studland without a beach gallop or a pint of the local brew! Studland is a beautiful place; a sandy, National Trust beach (watch out for nudists!), miles of heathland, a great pub with micro-brewery and now the Pig on the Beach, with its kitchen menu and quirky beauty treatments in old shepherd huts. I sampled the latter with a lovely pregnancy massage and I have a sneaky suspicion I may have snored.

Nearby, there’s Corfe Castle, where we enjoyed a memorable family day out once the poxy pair had dried out. Big astounded us by following the children’s trail and filling in her workbook all by herself. I’ve taken a photo for her teacher. Lovely Husband and I have a thing about National Trust coffee, so we enjoyed a snack in a flash of rare sunshine too.

We found a local activity farm, Farmer Palmers, that the pixies loved. It was rustic, compared to the farm parks local to us, but innovative and Big loved the slides strapped to straw bales and building straw mountains.

A visit to what must be the UK’s smallest museum was also a success. Medium loves dinosaurs, and enjoyed the Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester – three rooms of fossils, models and dinosaur information, including a ‘Sniff a T-Rex’s breath’ feature. All three enjoyed the Bournemouth Oceanarium, particularly Little, who finally decided to get up off of her bottom and walk around and around and around the turtle tank. Boy, did she love those turtles.

And what of Rockefeller itself? It’s certainly swish, with electric blinds, underfloor heating and all the mod cons. It’s location in Studland is fabulous – high on a hill with sea views and a terrace that cries out for gin and tonics to be enjoyed on. The house feels safe; it has a high electric gate and even in the midst of Storm Doris’s rage, we felt snug and secure.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t cheap and more than we would usually spend on a holiday rental. We tend to book five star properties only and are firm believers that if we’re going on holiday, the accommodation needs to be better than that at home. There were a few disappointments. The directions to find the house weren’t clear and my car Sat Nav, which was trying to help me find the house was apoplectic with rage as I stubbornly ignored it and tried to follow the instructions given to us. Eventually, I asked a local who directed us to the rough area, but the house had no signage other than a biro nameplate on the electric gate key pad. By the time I found the house, Big was winding up Medium, who was screaming and Little was hungry. Hell hath no fury like a hungry Little.

We weren’t the only ones who had trouble finding the house. Unique Home Stays promise a luxury hamper on arrival. Ours arrived in time for departure because their delivery driver couldn’t find us either.

If I’m being really picky, the beds were too firm for me, but I accept that’s personal choice. With The Miracle’s tendency to snuggle down on my sciatic nerve and render me a limping, puffing grump along with the eternal cold I’ve been nursing for five weeks now, this didn’t really allow me to conquer my sleep deprivation, despite Lovely Husband’s best efforts.

The weather wasn’t as kind as it could’ve been to a family that desperately needed a dose of vitamin D, but at least we were away and all together. There is nothing more precious than time in our family bubble – pox and all!

 

Family friendly breaks: Rockefeller, Dorset

Punishments

I guess it was inevitable that I would be punished in some way. I did, of course, leave my little poxy Medium for several days. I didn’t expect her to be quite so cold though, preferring my Mum’s lap to mine and looking at me through narrowed eyes with a sulky expression. She is furious with me. She’s three, she doesn’t understand that her sister was so poorly I couldn’t leave her. All she sees is that I wasn’t there.

I came home for two hours yesterday after Big was moved from the High Dependency Unit to a normal ward. I just needed to sniff Medium and Little for a moment. Lovely Husband insisted I got a cab as it would be dangerous to drive in my state of sleep deprivation, stress and heightened emotion. The round trip cost over £100, but I guess I’m quite precious too. I got home in time to have tea with the two littlest, bath them and then head back to the hospital to settle Big for the night.

And last night – finally – was the night she really turned the corner. The night before she had been very dependent on the oxygen machine, with it cranked up as high as 70% at times. All of my instincts told me that she needed sleep to recover. She needed to be left alone. When the consultant made her rounds with her nurse for the day the following morning, she said she wanted to repeat Big’s chest x-ray, take bloods and for her to have another session with the physiotherapists. “Fine,” I said. “But I want all of this to be done by 10.30, along with any medication that she needs to have, and then I don’t want her to be disturbed. She is not going to recover without sleep.”

I think they knew not to mess with a hormonal, stressed and sleep deprived pregnant mother. By 10.30, Big was fast asleep and I was guarding her like a tiger does her cubs. A nurse walked in, I growled, she put her hands up and left. My baby slept for nearly three hours, her saturation levels normal and her heart and respiration rate as they should be at rest. She woke up and the world was a brighter place. My little star was back in the room.

That afternoon, we were moved back to the ward and she continued to bounce back. Last night, she was disconnected from the oxygen machine and medication was given via a puffer, rather than a nebuliser. She slept. Boy, did she sleep. She slept through the monitors beeping away. She slept through new admissions joining us on the ward. She slept through the very poorly boy with pneumonia crying with every painful cough. She woke up as if she’d never felt poorly and wanted to go straight to the playroom.

We’re now home. As soon as the doctor said we could go home today with 72 hours direct access to the ward in case of a relapse, I nearly collapsed with gratitude and exhaustion. As I sit here typing, listening to the normal sounds of our family home – Lovely Husband calling the girls for tea, Big and Medium fighting over a toy, Little just shouting because that’s what she does – I feel an overwhelming sense of relief, of gratitude and that I can finally exhale.

But now the ‘What ifs’ start. What if I hadn’t tucked Big up on the sofa and had put her to bed instead? She was in severe respiratory distress. How much worse could that have got had I put her down for a nap and assumed she was sleeping soundly? She was admitted with suspected pneumonia. Luckily for us, it just turned out to be a very strange but nevertheless nasty viral chest infection. Other parents on the ward weren’t that lucky and now face what will feel like forever in the vacuum of the hospital, where time keeps to it’s own vortex and you have no idea what time it is, what day it is, whether it’s raining or that there’s an outside world beyond the curtains around your child’s bed. God, I’m glad we’re home.

I cannot fault the treatment we’ve received. From our GP’s immediate action to help Big, to the paramedics fast response, the paediatric A&E team’s calm and professional manner and the cheerful porters that tried to keep Big’s spirits up as she was pushed from x-ray to paediatrics. The nurses, the doctors, the consultants, the physios that finally got her to cough and move the phlegm, the wonderful play workers who distracted her through blood tests and sugar checks and the healthcare workers who brought me tea, told me to take five minutes, didn’t look at me like I was crazy for welling up every time I had to come up with some new story to persuade her to let the doctors treat her. Yesterday, the butterfly on the blood testing needle needed to drink her blood so he could go to Tesco and buy his dinner. I have no idea where that came from, but she bought it (“But he can only have a little bit!”), much to the amusement of the nurses helping with the procedure. All of them are wonderful. The hours they work are ludicrous. Our nurses worked from eight until eight. Some of the doctors started at eight and were still there at midnight. Think of these people if you want to malign the NHS, then think of how lucky we are to have them.

We’re home. She’s safe. Tonight I will be setting an alarm to administer medication at the right time and in between I will sleep. I will sleep knowing that her chest is rising and falling as it should and that we are the lucky ones that have escaped the uncertainty and the interminable time that seems to span decades in a hospital bed.

Friends, may you never ever have a week like mine.

Punishments

A bit of a mishmash

Once again, friends, my apologies. It’s been a while. Truth be known, I’ve been dealing with a never ending snot trail that began with one child, transmitted to another and then another and then me, where it promptly turned into the sinus infection from hell and took a week of antibiotics to make it go away.

It’s been a rough couple of months. Medium and Little batted tonsillitis to and fro with serves that would rival Andy Murray. Big managed to ward off the germs until term finished and then the night before I was due to take her for a special treat to Olympia, her temperature suddenly rocketed to 40degs and instead we went to the out of hours doctor. A trip to Center Parcs was abandoned a few nights in and all three were on antibiotics by Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day, I could no longer move my head and looked longingly at All The Lovely Effective Decongestants in the medical box that I wasn’t allowed to take. By the time I saw our GP after the million bank holidays, I was in a right state and burst into tears as I sat down. Thankfully, Lovely Husband was off work and able to juggle the smalls, so I actually got to lie very still and concentrate on not moving my head. A further blip with Medium last week topped up my sleep deprivation levels, so you’ll be pleased to know that my eye bags are still capable of carrying a full week’s Big Shop.

Speaking of shopping, I finally bought something for the Miracle today. I’ve always been a bit superstitious about buying things for babies before they’re born, but unless this poor boy suits pink, he’d be a bit chilly, so I bit the bullet and bought him a very cute babygro and hat. It has to be said that shopping for boys’ clothes is nowhere near as much fun as shopping for girls. Everything either has dinosaurs or trucks on it.

I’ll be 23 weeks pregnant tomorrow. It’s certainly harder this time around. By the time I’ve finished the school run in the mornings, I feel like I’ve run a marathon. I feel huge and I’ve got aches on top of aches. My blood sugars, which will rise as the Miracle grows, are okay at the moment as long as I eat before 5.30pm. By 9pm, I’m starving. Despite this, I relish every moment that I feel the Miracle move. He’s a night owl (which doesn’t bode well for swapping my Tesco crate eye bags for a smaller, more chic tote bag, for example) and likes to have a disco just as I’m falling asleep. As time marches on, I can feel myself becoming cautiously excited. In 17 weeks, he will be here and we will be six. The love. There will be so much love.

I am always surprised by the way the love for your child can suddenly hit you ten fold in the chest when you least expect it. It happened to me today. I had a parent consultation with Big’s teacher. I nearly cried as she extolled Big’s amazing progress. Big is thriving at school; her teacher is her hero, and mine if I’m honest. My shy little button is getting stuck in. At pre-school, she rarely played with other children and struggled to understand them. Today, her teacher told me she is rarely on her own and always asking to be involved. This is a big step for a child like Big. She’s recognising other children’s emotions and trying to help them and, as she gains new feathers in her wings, her confidence is growing by the day. I’m so proud of her.

I’m also proud of myself. Over Christmas, Lovely Husband nearly bought me the horse of my dreams. I even flew to Portugal to ride him and have him vetted. He was delicious, and my heart was telling me to buy him, buy him, buy him. Sadly, an issue with his x-rays meant that I didn’t go ahead and I still feel sad about this. When I examine my feelings, though, I realise I’m sad about what he represented rather than the horse himself. He represented time to myself, a little freedom, an opportunity to be me, a childhood dream realised. I had an amazing livery arrangement organised, with a ton of expert support. But it would have been a dream compromised and I would have constantly been grappling guilt; guilt that I didn’t spend enough time with the horse (who frankly deserved a better rider and a more competitive home than I could give him) and guilt that my son spent too much time in a pushchair at the side of the school. My time with the horse of my dreams will come. Lovely Husband has promised me that. In the meantime, I will enjoy every second sniffing the Miracle and counting the dreams that have already come true.

A bit of a mishmash

A monumental curve ball

I’ve been busy, friends. Busy trying to get my head around something huge.

So, there I was, smugly sticking to my Slimming World and gym regime. I lost a stone. I could feel my body changing and my fitness levels increasing. My riding was improving. My body was beginning to respond to my brain and my reactions were quicker. I felt great. I was making plans with pony pals to camp at Badminton, to do a dressage boot camp and hack around Wales, mainly drunk. I was thinking of going to Portugal to buy a youngster that would come over in a couple of years.

Then I stopped feeling great. I felt knackered. I felt dizzy and a bit sick. I wanted to be in bed, asleep, all the time. Just doing the school run felt like wading through treacle. I was short-tempered, easily irritated and headachey. My period, always unreliable at the best of times, was late, but that was irrelevant because during the wilderness years, our very clever and very lovely consultant told us that we had more chance of winning the lottery than conceiving naturally.  32 million people play the National Lottery. Your odds of winning are apparently 14 million to one. I don’t know how ‘they’ worked that particular statistic out; maths isn’t my strong point.

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was digging through stuff and happened across an old pregnancy test that I’d shoved in a drawer when I was expecting Little. Knowing it would be negative, and still feeling rubbish, I peed on the stick and carried on getting ready to go to man the pre-school cake stall at a village event. Giving the stick a cursory glance a few minutes later, I nearly passed out. Very clearly displayed on the screen was a decisive ‘PREGNANT’. What. The. Actual. Fuck.

I called to Lovely Husband that I needed him upstairs straight away. He replied that he needed me downstairs as Medium had just spat her antibiotic everywhere. “No, no,” I said. “I definitely need you up here more.” He came upstairs and I handed it to him, simply saying: “This has to be faulty.” His reaction? What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Dumping a sticky Medium in the bath, I rooted around the bathroom cupboard desperately hoping to find another test. I struck gold. Those that have experienced infertility and consequent treatments will know how many pregnancy tests you buy and stash around the house. This test also said I was pregnant.

Somewhat dazed, I went and did my stint on the stall. Then I got home and Googled all the reasons you might get a false positive on a pregnancy test. I don’t recommend that anyone does this. By the time we went for an early scan, I’d convinced myself that I had a brain tumour. Fortunately, the scan showed us a little bean with a beating heart. Lovely Husband cried and laughed simultaneously.

We’ve now had our 12 week scan and I have spent the last month in huge jumpers and with my coat zipped up on warm days to hide my burgeoning bump. At 41, the odds are against me and we didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag until we had to. I’m struggling to do up my coat now. We’re still waiting for our odds on the scary screening tests, but we didn’t get the ‘within three working days call for further testing’, so we can finally breathe out.

To be honest, even though I saw a distinctly baby shaped object on the screen last week, I saw him/her move, wave at us, suck their little thumb and their heart beat, I still can’t believe it. Early pregnancy is a funny old time anyway, but to have been told it’ll never happen and then for it to do just that is… Well, frankly a complete and utter mind fuck.

I’d given everything away. My maternity clothes all went to a charity shop and our baby stuff is currently being used by a friend. One who – phew – I know will look after it and let us have it back. Baby #4 would be an expensive miracle otherwise.

And that is just what Baby #4 is. A miracle. A little soul that clearly wants to be born. And how blessed are we that he/she has chosen us? I’m choosing to focus on that and not that I will have four children under six in May. There’s Valium for that, right?

baby-4-12w-scan_1
A monumental curve ball