Wednesday 31 March 2010

What I love about being a mummy

I don't know what I expected to enjoy the most about being a mummy. I thought it might be togetherness, the intimacy of breastfeeding, reading, playing, finding new toys to love, and going places together.

What has suprised me is that what I enjoy most is observing Joseph. Looking at how he views the world. I am endlessly fascinated by what he finds fascinating. Sounds, television programmes, different foods, the sights outside our window.

Joseph's favourite spot in the whole world is his highchair by the living room window. Our street is not exciting, Accrington brick houses, the odd person walking past, kids playing after school. This morning some noisy Canadian geese flew overhead, squawking, and Joseph gazed at them, cooing after them. It was just so lovely, something so mundane, that you could so easily overlook, if you didn't have a brand new human sponge eager for new experiences.

When he was a little baby, his surroundings were unchanging. Lights were always the same, sounds were the same, even the people didn't change. When Joseph came home, overstimulation was constantly a problem. I kept him quiet, kept toys to a minimum, even his clothes were kept subtle and comfortable and non stimulating.

The past few months have been like watching him come out of his shell. He observes, he plays, he sings, he tries to communicated, he eats chunky lumpy food and is trying to feed himself. I am not sure how I will feel as his independence grows, and he needs me less, but I hope I will always learn from him.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

There's One Born Every Minute

Tonight myself, and a lot of people like me have been watching this. Every week this program follows two women in labour, giving birth to their babies. Tonight, was different.

The babies had already been born, but should have still be in the safety and comfort of the womb. Instead, these babies were in a neo natal unit. One of the neonatal nurses said it best "its a whole other world behind these doors".

In the unit they showed parents on either side of an incubator changing a nappy. It brought back such happy memories, that ten minutes of normality, of changing your baby, touching your baby, doing something positive.

It's so hard, if you've had a "normal" birth experience (and I don't believe any birth is "normal" its a unique life experience and an individual one for all parents, but I think my reader, you know what I mean) to relate to life behind those doors. To the rigidity of ward life, to the restrictions on cuddles, on bringing things in to the unit (we weren't even allowed to leave a little teddy in the incubator)

But what I found personally difficult for me, is that I no longer recognise Joseph as that baby. I can't relate to that little person (one of the mums on the unit in the program said her baby looked like an alien - which is how I felt too), to the frail, tiny being who some days fought for his life.

Which, I suppose, is progress, that I am living in the now, with a strong, happy, bouncy boy.

Joseph is a success story, he is the reason neonatal units exist, and, to be political for just a wee moment, should be adequately funded, so that more mums like me, can have their success stories at home, tucked in their cots, sucking their blankets, where they belong.

And a special mention to my mum friends here for holding my hand tonight!

20 years ago.....

Joseph and I have something in common. Well lots of things in common, a love of singing, a wacky sense of humour and a tendency to hoard toys, but also we have one of those faces. You know the ones, open, welcoming, smiley, so people think they can say anything to you.

We were on the bus yesterday on the way to baby group and we were chatting to a nice little old lady we have seen a few times. She (like many others) is a paid up member to Joseph's fan club! She was talking to one of the crusty old men (now for those not familiar with Lancashire, these crusty old men abound, and are lovely, but do not hold back).

She was telling him about Joseph being born at 27 weeks and 1lb 7oz, and he looked at him and me and said "twenty years ago he would have died". Helpful? Hmmmmmmm

To be fair, twenty years ago we both would have been dead. I probably wouldn't have been diagnosed so early, and my liver and kidneys would probably have carked it, and we would have died in short order.

But that has to be one of the top ten things not to say to a parent of a premature baby.

For those who have had premature babies, or any baby, what are your top most unhelpful comments?

Monday 22 March 2010

Quiet Days

I should have been clearing, sorting and organising today, but my shoulder hurt, and we were both tired all day! So today has been a thinking day for me and a growing day for Joseph.

I found this delightful recipe today. I didn't make pizza, but I did make the bread, it was amazing, so much easier than making naan bread! So easy it should be illegal! Joseph sat on his bumbo whilst I made it. He had his with marscapone cheese, fresh figs and banana. I cooked ours later with slow roasted lamb shoulder. It tasted like souvlaki from the Parthenon in Hobart. Well, almost!

As well as cooking I have spent the day pondering. After over 7 months of room sharing Joseph will soon have his own room. For years I have dreamed of having a beautifully decorated children's bedroom. I have decided to do a pirate theme in Joseph's room. I hope he likes pirates! He used to do the most delightful pirate face when he was very little before he had any fat on his face!

I was considering a mural but now after visiting this blog, am thinking of pirate dioramas instead, with paint and paper. I am sure it won't look anything like Charlotte's!!! Aren't they just darling?

So tomorrow it will be back to packing, tidying and organising, and little time for daydreaming, or trying new recipes!

Saturday 20 March 2010

Moving On

When we found out I was expecting, my husband panicked! We lived in a one bedroom flat, compact and bijoux! My husband suggested we look at houses, and move, quick! We looked around, we put ours on the market, and crossed our fingers. Nothing, not a nibble. The flat was still on the market when Joseph was born. I promptly rang the agent and took it off.

So Joseph came home with us to our flat. And it's been wonderful. I haven't needed to have baby monitors, Joseph is always within hearing distance. Our neighbours have been amazing, Neil and Martin redecorated our flat, Rita had the generosity to give me her housekey and access to her freezer to store my breastmilk, and everyone in our street pitched in to raise money for Bliss.

I am not unaccustomed to moving, I have done it 16 times. My husband only 4 times, and he has lived here for 15 years. But we leave this place both with heavy hearts, and happiness. I am not sure how we would have got through the last 12 months without our neighbours. I am not sure how I would have managed with my neuroses and a larger house!

But it has come time to move, and the gods have been looking down on us. We didn't even put this house on the market properly when we got an acceptable offer. The house we really wanted was no longer on the market, but the exact same house, but a mirror image, was on sale in the same street at £10 000 less than the other house.

And it really is finally time for Joseph to have his own bedroom. The first few times the singing at 5 in the morning is cute, but now the novelty is really wearing off!!!

Thursday 18 March 2010

The Joy of Recycling

I am not a very good greenie. I do my best, but my best is not good enough. I do put my rubbish in the right bins, but sometimes I forget to take Dolly Parton's brassieres to the supermarket. (My sister gave me these fantastic string bags, the first time I used them I put melons in them, and they looked very sexy, in a slightly disturbing way!!!)

But I strongly believe in clothes recycling. Having a premature baby means you go through a lot of clothes. Joseph was just three and half pounds when we started buying clothes for him. Our unit said they provided clothes, but what they had was girl stuff! I would have put him in pink, personally, who was gonna see him? However, it makes you feel like you own your baby if you can go out and buy lots of lovely clothes.

So now Joseph is in 6-9 months clothes. I would hate to think how many pieces of clothing I have recycled. I like to give them to friends, when I can, otherwise I send them to the charity shop. I buy as much as I can for Joseph at charity shops. It's really funny, people look at me strangely, there is a real cringe about second hand stuff in England, I find. And its not about saving money particularly (although that is a great benefit), it's about putting money into the community, funding local projects, its about clothes ending up on babies backs and not in landfill and its about recycling!

I'm looking forward to moving to my new house where I can more readily use my sewing machine, and I can really start recycling, turning my husbands old shirts into waistcoats and trousers for Joseph, and extending my own wardrobe too!

Sunday 14 March 2010

I'm The Mummy

I've been reflecting today on my own journey to motherhood, and got to thinking about Joseph's first week. Joseph was born on a Friday. I spent the whole weekend trying to get my head around the fact that my pregnancy was over, and that I had a child. It's really hard, and I think all my special care mums will feel agree, to believe you have a child. Your in a hospital room, your baby is not with you (in my case on another floor and down the hall) and your caught in this half life.

It wasn't until the Thursday my maternal instincts kicked in. Joseph became critically ill on the Tuesday. His stomach had early stages of NEC (necrolitising enterocolitis). He was being fed through the umbilicus, and they could no longer do this, due to the infection. But they couldn't begin to solve the problem until Joseph was stable.

I was asked to give permission for a long-line to be inserted. This goes through the babies arm (in Joseph's case, sometimes its through the head) and straight into the stomach, as I understand it.

On the Wednesday night one of the nurses came to see me and told me that they had tried twice, and it had failed. That if they couldn't do it, Joseph would die, and they would have one more attempt.

I didn't panic. I'm not sure if the amount of medication I was on protected me from what was happening, or I just had so much faith in Joseph that he would be fine, I just don't know.

I opened the doors of the incubator, held Joseph's foot, and explained to him exactly what they would do and why. I asked him to show the doctor the right vein, to stay relaxed, and let him finish the procedure. I told him I loved him, and that I believed in him. At that moment, I felt like his mummy. I hadn't held him yet, but I knew him and loved him.

His consultant came in on Thursday morning to ask for my permission. I glared at him and said "right I am the mummy, and this time you do it my way!". He glanced at his registrar (like Noah's ark doctors come in pairs!) and said "ok mummy what is your way? At this point I will try anything". "Talk to him. Tell him what you are doing, reassure him, treat him like a baby" He smiled and said "I never do that, but for you, I will try".

So I left whilst they turned special care into their mini operating theatre. I spent the day in my room, listening to my iPod, expressing, and sending all my thoughts and love to Joseph (and the clinical team).

I came down at 3 pm, it was still an operating theatre, so I turned to go, but the consultant gravely came out. My heart sanked. He put his arm around me, he smiled, "I did it your way. I have learnt something today. Mummy's are the best doctors. It's worked."

The following day the consultant came to debrief me. After he had finished he said "what do you do, in here, every day". I smiled and said "I sing, I bring in photos, I tell him about our lives, about his home, about our family, I massage his feet, I do containment holding, and I sing."

He said to me "you must keep doing all these things, especially the massage, he is the best 27 weeker we have ever seen, and its because of you."

On the Monday, he had gone, to be replaced by another locum.

But the senior neo natal midwife on duty brought over something, it was a prescription form. And on it was "Mummy massage repeat as required daily until discharge".

Saturday 13 March 2010

There are Many Many Mothers....

It's Mothering Sunday tomorrow, and it will be a happy day for me, spending it with my husband and my beautiful son. It will be a day of celebration and happiness. But today, for me, is for reflection and to think of those around me who do not have their children with them.

Mother's Day is not a happy day for many people, many of my close friends, people I have met through this journey. Or a bittersweet day, for those who have children, but not all their children with them.

I made a very close friend in special care, and we spend time together every week. She has a beautiful daughter, but she should have another daughter, a twin for her beautiful, feisty surviving daughter.

This week I have spent time raising awareness of Evan's Butterfly Ball. Evan was born on Valentine's Day last year. At 27 weeks, like my son Joseph. His mum Emma had pre eclampsia.

But Evan didn't win his fight. He fought and fought so bravely for 9 months, and died in his father's arms at home. But even more sadly, Evan had two brothers, who were there to meet him when he grew his wings.

There are many, many mothers this Sunday who will feel sad, who grieve, who need a card, a hug, some flowers, to be told that this day means no less for them, than it does for those mothers, like me, who are blessed beyond measure.

Sunday 7 March 2010

You gotta have faith...

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. The very fact that we have faith, is evidence that what we hope for is real"

Hebrews 11:1

When Joseph was born, I was terrified. I didn't see him, I did hear him cry, eventually, but I felt so lost, so scared.

Soon after Joseph had been delivered, the consultant who performed my caesarean came to see me. He put his arm around my shoulders and said "I could lose my job if you chose to report me for what I am about to say...." I thought, whatever is he going to say?? "Right", he said, visibly nervous "I have delivered your child safely into the world".

"Yes", I replied, "and I am very very grateful for what you have done". He smiled and said "now look, whatever happens now is a matter for God, its out of my hands, its out of your hands, and it is up to you to pray for your baby".

I grinned from ear to ear and said "I knew it! I knew you were one of us!" (just to explain I do have a belief but its not a formal one, it is Christian in essence, and I shan't go into detail - but if you think I'm going into a great religious diatribe, bear with me) I continued "I am fully aware that it's all in God's hands now, and not only will I pray for Joseph, I'll pray for you as well".
I think the poor guy was shocked!

Anyway, every day I kept faith. I hoped, in the true nature of hope, the faith in things unseen. Although I couldn't always see it, I had hoped that one day Joseph would be at home, with us, playing with his toys.

When Joseph was still under 2lb I booked our trip to Australia for January. Joseph would be 7 months when we got on that plane at Heathrow. I looked at him, teeny in his incubator and hoped that he would be well enough. But it wasn't hope in a vague "I hope so" sense, it was a firm hope, a faith that Joseph would make it and be fine.

I believe in visualising. I would think about us in the sunshine, Joseph with my sister - his aunty Penni and his cousins, my greatest friend Susan, about showing him where I am from, and where his extended family live.

I kept that faith, and we made it! During my visualisation, I visualised a happy, calm baby who enjoyed the joy of travelling, and funnily enough, we didn't have one moment of trouble, he adored every moment.

And I have faith that our trip to Australia is just the first of many adventures.

Saturday 6 March 2010

The Joy of Poo

When you think of poo, what does it conjour up? A horrible smell, disgusting colour? Joseph has made me see poo in a whole new light.

When I was pregnant I remember reading an article in a magazine about how parent's attitudes to poo can cause problems in later life. Making horrible noises when changing a nappy, showing revulsion can cause a child to perhaps be anxious about their bodily functions, causing problems with toilet training, and possibly irritable bowel syndrome.

So I decided that I would be positive about poo right from the beginning.

When Joseph was born he struggled. His stomach and digestive system had stopped growing at 24 weeks. Day by day passed and Joseph hadn't done a poo. He was too poorly to have any studies done, our hospital has only the most basic facilities and to do anything further he would have to be transported out, they didn't think he'd make it.

For days there was worry and panic. His consultant came to see me and said they believed there was a serious problem, that Joseph would not be able to eat or drink possibly his whole life, and he'd need a series of operations, including a PEG feed, so he could be fed directly into his stomach (at the time he was fed "superman formula" through a long line in his arm, and had breastmilk as a mouth wash.

I was a bit confused at the time.....and perhaps was being a little too positive, and looked at her and said "I don't think so....he's a Hodges man, he'll be fine".

I prayed, the nurses prayed, we all prayed Joseph would poo, and show us that things were all connected and in good working order. I ate vast amounts of curry, and they started breast milk infusions via naso gastric tube supplementing the long line, to see if that got things going.

About two and a half weeks passed, I walked into the ward and there was a buzz! Everyone looked happy, even the doctors. Three nurses came and excitedly took me by the shoulders to the bin. On top of the bin was a nappy. Inside the nappy was an enormous amount of lovely, sweet smelling poo!!!!

The relief was amazing. His digestive system had grown, it was developing. He continued to tolerate more and more feeds, and do more and more poo!

To me poo will now always be a sign that everything is working! And I've never once complained about the vast amounts of poo Joseph now creates!

Friday 5 March 2010

Handle With Care

When Joseph was in special care my overwhelming feeling was isolation and separation. I was in hosptial for 8 days. I was kept in a room on my own, in antenatal. Which was lovely because I had my own space and was away from the mums with babies. Except it made me feel like a freak. I wanted to talk about my baby, and share those first moments with other mums.
I remember feeling a pang of sadness as I watched babies with their mums, and people making noises about smelly nappies. I would have given anything at that point to change my babies nappy.

My opportunity came two weeks after Joseph was born. It was carefully planned and orchestrated that I would do Joseph's "cares" one evening. Joseph was still well under 2lb at this stage. His skin was transparent. He looked like a miniature old man! A beautiful old man!

I felt so nervous, I stood in front of the incubator looking at my beautiful teeny baby, and marvelling at him. Fabia, one of the senior neonatal midwives stood on the other side and talked me through it.

It was just so lovely doing something so normal. I was worried I wouldn't manage, with just my hands through the portholes, still separated from my little baby, but so much closer. It was like changing a nappy on a little hairless kitten! He had no fat at all, he was just soft skin with bones protruding. Its hard for me to imagine those slim small legs when now he has delightfully baby-like chubby thighs!
Over time it got easier. Corey and I shared care times, I would do the morning, and he would do the evening. It was the highlight of his day, and mine. As we got more competent, we were left to get on with it. It was like having a baby, almost.
But once Joseph moved to HDU things got complicated. Although only in the next room, care times got messed with and confused as there were more staff and communication was not always clear. I remember one day ringing my sister in tears because a nurse had messed up and done Joseph's cares. For six weeks I had been going in at 11am and all of a sudden they decided to change it. I was devastated. I went out into the carpark and cried and cried. I felt like they'd taken the one meaningful task of my day away from me. And they had. When you only get to touch your baby once a day for five minutes, every second is precious.

Even now I take no nappy change for granted. I enjoy that intimate time with Joseph, and its even more fun now that he giggles and blows raspberries, and tries to put his feet in the contents!

Thursday 4 March 2010

All hail the fish of calm

I love fish, not in batter with chips (well that too) but swimming, whether in the sea or an aquarium. My interest and love of fish is shared by my little boy, who, at 10 months old, adores going to aquariums and intently watching the fish. Particularly jellyfish, I have discovered.

Fish are calming. Nothing soothes the senses like watching fish, gliding, hovering, just swimming back and forth.

So began the fish of calm, as a bit of a joke on one of my parenting forums. One of my pregnant friends had been bombarded with well-meaning but misplaced advice. So entered the little fish of calm.

When you are pregnant you become, oddly, public property. Everyone wants to know all the details, are you aiming for a natural birth? Will you breastfeed? Will you go back to work?

When I came home with Joseph it got worse. Isn't he small? Is he disabled? Will he live a normal life? Where do you buy his clothes? What do you do for nappies? Aren't you scared you'll break him?

Did you have a c-section? Do you feel like you've missed out? Are you depressed? Do you feed him yourself? How do feel about giving your baby formula?

It used to drive me mad, to the point where I hated leaving the house. When I carried Joseph in the sling, it was even worse! Not only were people amazed at how I carried him, when they looked, they saw this beautiful but teeny little human all tucked up.

I had never realised just how exposed I would feel, and how stressed it would make me. And it used to stress Joseph out too. I remember one sunny afternoon we stopped in Llandudno for a quick ice cream, and we had about 20 people stop and talk to us. Including a couple who had learning disabilities, who saw myself and my husband and said "you're both handicapped, why have you been allowed children and we havent?" Still scratching my head over that one.

So when I get stressed, and feel exposed I either find, or imagine an aquarium, full of fishes of calm, who swim backwards and forwards, taking my stress with them.

Monday 1 March 2010


I've been to cities that never close down
From New York to Rio and old London town
But no matter how far
Or how wide I roam
I still call Australia home
I'm always travelin'
And I love bein' free
So I keep leavin' the sun and the sea
But my heart lies waiting over the foam
I still call Australia home
All the sons and daughters spinning 'round the world
Away from their families and friends
Ah, but as the world gets older and colder
It's good to know where your journey ends
And someday we'll all be together once more
When all the ships come back to the shore
Then I realize something I've always known
I still call Australia home
As a child, I used to sing this in school. Back then, I could never imagine leaving Australia, and living anywhere else. In fact, I didn't think I'd ever leave Tasmania. All through my university years, and years of work, I would watch my friends leave Tassie to go and explore the world. Instead, I went to the University of Tasmania, married (then divorced) and stayed in my safe little world.
In 2002 I decided to leave. I'd had enough of the insular little world I had created, of seeing ghosts around every corner, and I wanted to do, in my thirties, what I had never done in my twenties, and break out and see the world.
I chose Ramsbottom, and there I met my now husband Corey (on the bus, of all places!) When we married we felt that having babies would be very difficult (I'd had previous miscarriages and varying diagnoses of female problems), and we were stunned when we fell pregnant less than two months after our wedding!
When Joseph was 2 weeks old, and in ITU, looking teeny tiny, I rather bravely/stupidly, booked our holiday to Australia! I couldn't visualise what it would be like, what Joseph would be like.
So in early January, we flew to Australia (via Dubai!). Joseph was an absolute dream, he loved flying, he adored the attention, and he was fantastic everywhere we went. I took him home. To meet his Aussie grandparents for the first time, to spend time with his Auntie Penni, and his lovely cousins, Fred and Una.
There were some happy times, but when it came time to leave, my heart was heavy. My life is in England. Joseph has an English passport, and an English father. We own a home here.
When I win lottery, we will spend 6 months here, and 6 months in Australia. In this new global village I wish it were easier to split one's self between the two hemispheres more easily.
But until then, Wiggles videos, frequent phonecalls, and Vegemite on toast are our link to that other part of me, dwelling in Australia.