The long and winding nights…

The Miracle is almost seven months old. Where did that time go, friends? As I type, my living room is full of twinkling Christmas lights and I’m aware that it’s not that much further on than the point last year in which I shared our somewhat surprising, but happy, news with you all.

By seven months, you’d think that The Miracle would be starting to sleep a bit, right? Wrong. Despite embracing the revelation of food – and believe me, he really does embrace food – The Miracle is resolutely a boob man. Food is wonderful; it’s a joy, it makes him laugh and smile and he can’t get enough of it. But it categorically does not take the place of his milk. Especially his nighttime milk. He’ll feed around three to four times a night and he soon worked out that at night, I’m not rushing around after his sisters and he can take his time. A feed can take anything from five minutes to an hour. My mum says it’s a habit, but with the amount of milk he takes, I don’t think so. That, and the variation of times suggests that he is hungry or, at the very least, thirsty. Besides which, what am I going to do about it? Not only is he my final baby, so I’m going to indulge him – sorry, but not sorry about that – but if he kicked off, the whole house would be woken up and Big, Medium and Little would join in the cacophony of screams. I’d like to say Lovely Husband would wake too, but he probably wouldn’t. (As an aside, why do people say they want to sleep like a baby? They should say they want to sleep like a husband).

And it’s not just The Miracle that’s stealing my sleep. Medium, in her angst over school, has been glued to me at night too. We have a king-sized bed and between her and The Miracle, I may as well be sleeping on a shelf. Add to that Big’s predilection for calling me to tell me that her duvet is ‘wrong’, her ‘pillow is too cold’, she’s got an itch, it’s dark outside (I kid you not!) and ‘is it tomorrow yet?’ along with Little’s sudden insistence for dummies of a particular colour, and I do wonder how I’m still standing. Sleep deprivation is a killer and, since The Miracle arrived, I’ve been known to:

  • Put my car keys through the dishwasher;
  • Find my phone in the fridge;
  • Make a cup of tea and put the used tea bag in a new cup, then throw the cup of tea in the bin;
  • Get in the car and drive to school, despite needing to go to the doctor’s in the other direction;
  • Actually, get in the car and drive to school regardless of where I’m meant to be going;
  • Break eggs for a cake and put the shells in the mixture and the eggs in the bin;
  • Completely misread a message from Lovely Husband, explode in rage at him at what I thought he’d said and then have to back down when I realise I’d flown off the handle at…. er, nothing;
  • Leave my bank card in a payment device and wander off;
  • Leave cash hanging out of a cash machine (thank you, honest person that chased me).

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I sometimes think I’m going a bit mad.

My rambling aside, I’ve been sent a bottle of Infacare’s Night Time Baby Bath to try, and they’ve said that I can have a couple of spares to give away to you. Comment with your best sleep deprivation faux pas, and the best two will receive a complimentary bottle of bubbles.

Their blurb says that Infacare’s Night Time Baby Bath produces masses of long-lasting bubbles, perfect for  little ones to have fun with and the gentle, powdery fragrance helps to relax, easing tots first into bed and then off to sleep. If you think I’m wasting that on the kids, you’re mistaken. Anything for a good night’s sleep. This bad boy is mine.

RRP – Infacare Night Time Baby Bath £3.49 for 750 ml. Stockist details: available from all major supermarkets, as well as Lloyd’s Pharmacy and Boots. For more information: www.infacare.co.uk

 

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The long and winding nights…

The worst mother in the world?

There are 200 children that attend Big and Medium’s primary school. The majority go in smiling and excited about their day ahead. Big absolutely loves school. She skips in, and comes home full of news about her day. She strongly believes that her teacher is a real-life princess. So does Lovely Husband.

Medium, on the other hand, hates it. As soon as she wakes up, she’s surly. She doesn’t want to eat breakfast or get dressed. Eventually, she’ll come round enough for us to feed her and get her ready for school. She’s subdued on the journey there, but usually bounds into the playground happily to play with Big and her friends.

But then the bell rings to start the school day, and to start Medium’s tears. Her response is almost Pavlovian. “Ooh, bell – I must cry.” The Reception children face a long walk from the playground to their classroom. It’s even longer when you’re grasping your sobbing child’s wrist and half pulling them up the path, before untangling them from your leg and bowling them into their incredibly kind and patient teaching assistant.

I have tried staying with her, but it makes her worse. I have tried putting notes in her pockets and giving her something of mine to ‘look after’. I point out a particular cloud or some other landmark each morning and tell her that every time she looks at it, Mummy is looking too and that I’m never far away. I tell her what she’ll have for tea so she can look forward to it. I tell her the exact time I’ll be picking her up. I excitedly wonder if the dinosaurs will be out for her to play with, and if her friends will have bunchies or plaits today. Nothing works. She’s developed a vocal tic that disappeared over half term, but returned as soon as her uniform was laid out.

I’m left wrung out before the school run is over, and constantly questioning myself. Medium is only four. She doesn’t legally have to be at school, and I wonder if I’m damaging her somehow by making her go. I’ve considered deferring, but she’d lose her Reception year and the jump to Year One is big enough without that hurdle to cross too. The speed at which they rattle through the early phonics – something she doesn’t find easy anyway – in Reception rules out the possibility of her losing that year. Put simply, she has to go.

This week, she starts part-time hours and breakfast club twice a week to see if that eases the anxiety she feels at leaving me. She’ll miss assembly for a while, and school are trying to work out coping strategies for her at lunch times. They’re supportive, and we’re meeting regularly to come up with new ideas to make this easier for her.

But nothing makes it easier for me. My guilt at leaving her so unhappy lasts all day. It’s exhausting. Medium is my sunshine child; the child that smiles all day and throws out so much love. I just wish she’d come out from behind this cloud.

The worst mother in the world?

A letter to Medium’s teacher

Dear Reception Teacher

RT (do you mind if I call you that?), there are some things that you need to know. I realise you’ve been doing this job for donkey’s years. There’s not much that you don’t know about children. You’ve encountered all sorts of personalities and brought the most unruly into line. I know that. I respect that. But this little fuzzy haired blonde in the line? She’s mine.

I know that all children are special. I know that every mum standing in line with their child will be giving you the same doleful, anxious eyes as they hand their child over to begin their school career. I know you don’t want to see our tears or take on board our anxiety. And you’re right: We’re adults and your concern is educating our babies.

But that’s just it. These are our babies. Medium has only just turned four. She’s the youngest in the year. You don’t care if she can write her name (she can’t), but you’d like her to be able to dress herself and wipe her own bottom. She tries, I promise, but it’s hit or miss. She is only just four. I don’t always see the capable little girl that she’s growing into. Sometimes I still see the big blue eyes staring out of her baby blanket and remember the first day that beautiful face broke into a smile.

That face smiles a lot. She’s a cheerful soul. She’s the kindest child I’ve ever known, always first to pick up her sisters if they’ve fallen, ready with a kind word if her brother is crying and happily approaches other children to join in her games. She’s great at sharing and she makes friends easily.

Her imagination is incredible. Her role-play is legendary, with her often staying in character for weeks. And when she’s in character, so is everyone else. It can be exhausting.

She sounds a dream, right? Not always. She’s complicated. Medium feels things so deeply and she’s easily hurt. A slight from you will take her weeks to get over. If a friend says a harsh word, it wounds her. She doesn’t retaliate. She doesn’t fight back. She just takes her hurt and stores it away. So, please… Please don’t let her get hurt.

She worries; she really worries. She’s worried about starting school, and change unsettles her. She’s a homebody at heart; her favourite times are when she has her family around her in her own home. She’s going to find starting school tough. I won’t be there and, as far as she’s concerned, a few minutes on Mummy’s Lap can end wars. Mummy’s Lap won’t be there, and that makes a the knot in my tummy twist.

You need to know that she still sleeps with her cuddly Horse, now somewhat loved a bit too much. She’ll shout for him if she’s hurt herself. Is it okay to pop him in her backpack or is that too ‘baby’? Remember, she is my baby after all.

I know you’re great and I know how well you took care of Big, but I look at my newly four-year-old Medium and she just seems so young to be joining the playground throng so soon.

So RT, I give you my Medium and I beg you to remember that Big School is a big deal – not just for Medium, but for me too. I beg you not to change her. She’s awesome as she is.

Love

Second-time Reception Mum x

 

A letter to Medium’s teacher

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