Sick and The Single Parent

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There are plenty of things about single parenting that suit me just fine.  When we go on a road trip, I can decide to stop for the loo or a coffee break whenever I feel like it.  If I am too tired to cook after a long week at work, I simply order take away.  When doing the grocery shopping, I buy whatever is on special and I never have to worry about buying the “wrong” butter.  The kids and I pretty much just get on with things and mostly, we’re doing just fine.

But when a nasty bug hits, it hits hard.  About a week ago, what I thought was a bit of a cold came my way and as most parents know, a cold is just something you throw a bit of paracetamol at so you can continue on with your day.  Then I picked up my kids from a weekend with their father and it was clear my youngest wouldn’t be going to school that day.  I have the privilege of being able to work from home from time to time so I didn’t panic too much.  I came home, put my child to bed and whipped out my laptop.

Both my daughter and I became worse as the week went on and as much as I tried to just push through it, it’s just too hard when you’re doing it on your own.  Unfortunately, my closest family member lives a seven hour drive from me (thanks John Howard) and therefore there’s no one to call on when I need back up.  I have really great people who live close by who I am sure would grab some milk or a loaf of bread and drop it by if I asked, but it’s the 2am terror of a temperature that reaches up to 41.2 and there’s no more Panadol in the house.  Worse, there’s no one to look to for reassurance when you’re trying to work out whether the fever will break or whether to call an ambulance.

Then, the next day, when your child is finally asleep, and their temperature is mercifully back to normal, you still have to look after your other child, do the normal domestic tasks, get work done and generally carry on as though you aren’t sick as a dog yourself and struggling to get by.

Earlier this year I started a new job.  Since I’ve been there both children have been sick twice and I have been sick three times.  Each time necessitating days off.  Each time I have been wracked with guilt about taking time off a new job and wracked with guilt about thinking about work when my child is sick.  But the reason I think about work is because there’s only one income and there’s no such thing as a single parent having the choice to be a stay at home mum.  The government has made it clear that if you are a single parent you go to work, no matter what.  (As an aside, I’d be interested to see what a longitudinal study might reveal about this really poor piece of policy.. but that’s for another post).

And so it’s been a pretty crappy week here.  My daughter, as children often do, began to bounce back just in time for the last day of school and she and her sister headed off for a week with their father whilst I collapsed in a heap.  The house is a mess, the dog keeps getting lost in backyard because the grass is so high and I still feel like a big puddle of blerg.  Oh – and I’m still sick.  Flu apparently.  Fantastic.

I’m not trying to garner sympathy here, I’m just pointing out how freaking hard it is to be on your own sometimes… believe me, I have the eye bags to prove it.

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The Cliffy Shuffle

Cliff Young 8

This morning I went for a 7km training run with my friend MP.  (MP is one of the nicest people I know.  Seriously.  Even when we got cut off by a gigantic truck which could have flattened us, she merely issued a stern, but non-shouty chastisement.  No screaming like a banshee at all.  Unlike me).

It is lucky that MP is of such an accommodating nature because as we hit the trail this morning, it swiftly became evident just how unfit I really am.  This has me quaking in my ratty old sneakers about how I’m going to manage next week’s 9km Bridge Run.

We started off at a brisk walk, chatting about kids and life and then after a quick loo stop (we’ve both had kids, no bladders of iron for us), we started off at a gentle jog.  Or more accurately, the Cliffy Shuffle.  Actually I was the only one shuffling, MP has recently completed the City to Surf so she’s far ahead of me yet stuck by me all the way and coached me to keep on going.

Thing is, I’ve been training on and off for a few months.  I was very keen at first but was felled by a new job with much longer hours and then a rampant winter virus which got the kids first, then me, then me again.  So I’ve really only been regularly training for the past 6 weeks and boy, does it show!

I did the Bridge Run 4 years ago and trained fairly solidly for three months.  I was also several kilos lighter and obviously, younger than I am now.  I had never been a runner before so I was thrilled to cross the finish line in 1 hour and 13 minutes.  There, thought I.  I can do it!!  I planned to keep training, perhaps do a half marathon, the sky was the limit!  Alas, I decided to take a week off to recover and that was the end of my running.

This time I’ve been using the brilliant C25K app on my phone.  Most of my training has been on the treadmill due to having kids at home but when it’s just me on the weekend, I’ve headed outside, the dog trotting along beside me and have been very pleased with my progress.  Until today.  Big sigh.  But I am absolutely going to do it.  Plus I’m very motivated by possibly getting to meet up with Steph from Mamamarmalade on the day.  She’s the one who inspired me through her blog to start running again.

Anyway, at the end of the 7km course it turned out we had run for 28 minutes in total and the longest stint was 19 minutes.  I was pretty pleased with this, despite my huffing and puffing (but with barely enough breath to blow a house of straw down) at the end.

As little treat and incentive I popped into Lorna Jane and bought my first ever pair of running tights.  They look absolutely ridiculous (turns out I haven’t lost an ounce of weight despite all this running) but I don’t care.  I am determined to get through the race, raise money for my charity and enjoy myself no matter what, even if I have to do the Cliffy Shuffle the whole entire way… sans gumboots of course!

For Bailey

Bears-of-Hope

In the upcoming Blackmores Bridge Run, I will be running for Bears of Hope.  Here’s why:

Once, when I was 27, I decided I wanted a baby.

One night, on the way home from work, I dropped into the newsagent to find a magazine for the train journey home.  I did this most nights.  Sometimes I grabbed newspaper, other times a fashion magazine.  This night, I glanced around the selection and came across a magazine with my brother in law’s partner and their baby son on the cover.  Both models, they had produced a very cute baby who now laughed gorgeously on the cover of a Mother & Baby magazine.

I was delighted to see people I knew on the cover of a magazine, so I grabbed a copy and eagerly read it on the train.  I’d never read this sort of magazine before and the only reason I was reading it now was because I was hoping to see the pair of them featured somewhere else in the magazine.  I read it from cover to cover and in the hour it took to get from work to home, something clicked and I knew I had to have a baby.

My (now ex) husband was not quite as keen as I but it was a discussion I kept going and even though I went off the pill that night, we waited a couple of months before officially “trying”.  The next month when my period, 28 days on the dot, was a couple of days late I was convinced I must be pregnant.  I bought a test.  Negative.  But no period meant pregnant right?  Alas the next day I woke up cramping and cranky and disappointed.  Never mind I thought.  We’re both young, healthy, in love (I convinced myself that this helped), so I was sure I would be pregnant the next month.  And the month after that.  And the month after that.

After six months I couldn’t understand why I still wasn’t pregnant.  In a panic I began to make enquiries of the process of adoption (yes, I jumped straight to that) and read everything I could about making it happen.  I started taking my temperature, found out I wasn’t ovulating when I thought I was and just a few weeks later, after spending a small fortune on home pregnancy tests, I finally got two blue lines.

I cannot begin to say how thrilled I was.  I had imagined this moment for so long, cooking dinner for my husband, saying “guess what” and telling him we were finally having a baby.  I couldn’t wait however and I rang him at work and blurted the news over the phone.  He seemed shocked.  He said he was happy.  He said he’d have to call me back.  And when he did call he said “I really want to be with you to celebrate but I can’t miss going to the gym tonight.  I’ll see you at 10pm”.  I can’t say I wasn’t a little deflated but I didn’t let it faze me.  Because I was pregnant.  I was going to have a baby.

The doctor confirmed that I was about 4 weeks along and I immediately started buying baby magazines, pregnancy books and staring longingly into the windows of Mothercraft.  We agreed we wouldn’t tell anyone until we had reached the magical 3 month mark but after a 10 week scan revealed a strong heartbeat I couldn’t wait any longer.  I told everyone at work and was greeted with much happiness and congratulations.  I was living in the UK at the time, far from my best friend and my mother and those I most wanted around but was excited about the fact that we were moving back to Australia later that year and I would arrive home six months pregnant. I imagined my maternity outfit, how glowing I would look, how people would rave about my pregnancy suiting me.

Things seemed to progress as they were supposed to.  At 8 weeks I had a scare when I started spotting but was reassured by a doctor who said it was an implantation bleed.  It stopped after a couple of days.  My boobs were gigantic by the time I got to 12 weeks and the morning sickness had stopped by then.  But I didn’t feel like I was growing much.

I went to the doctor who reassured me that my strong abdominal muscles were keeping my stomach flatter than I might think it should be.  Given that I hadn’t done a sit up in over a year, I should have questioned this but I didn’t.  My appetite was huge and I was certainly putting on weight but I didn’t feel that I looked pregnant.  When I enquired of a friend she said she hadn’t really begun to “show” until she was five months along so I relaxed a bit.  Despite having barely a bump I began to wear maternity clothes.  It was coming into summer and I opted for flowing dresses and loose blouses and was very pleased when someone asked if I was pregnant.  Yes I said, beaming.

At sixteen weeks I had to go to the hospital for a check up and some blood tests.  It was a nightmare there that day, reliant on NHS care, there was a huge back log of women to be seen before me and by the time I was supposed to be seen, they had forgotten about me.  I started to panic and spoke to a nurse who took me to see a doctor who spoke such heavily accented English I couldn’t understand him.  Eventually it turned out that I wouldn’t get my blood test because it was too late in the day and I was to come back again.  I became very upset about this, I couldn’t quite work out what was going on and I was anxious to know the baby was alright. The same nurse came back again and let me listen to the baby’s strong, regular heartbeat.  I felt better.  I went home.

At the next appointment I had the blood test and was told that if anything was wrong, they would come and see me.  The nurse explained that they were very careful to ensure they spoke to  women directly if irregular test results occurred.  “We don’t want you getting anxious, so we will come and see you and explain what is going on.  We find it’s less worrying for our mum’s to be”.  I went off not expecting to hear anything until my next appointment where they would tell me everything was normal.

A few days later I came home and found a handwritten note in the letter box.  Someone from the hospital had come to see me.  I wasn’t home, of course.  It was a week day.  I had been at work.  The letter said I needed to call the hospital for my test results.  I was 18 weeks pregnant.

Within a few days I was at the hospital.  My blood tests had shown that there was a 1 in 110 risk of my baby having Down Syndrome.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was only 28, as was my husband.  How could this be?  Didn’t this only happen with older mothers?  The hospital tried to reassure me but they were concerned.  They said to be sure, they would have to do an amniocentesis.  I was reluctant.  I knew there was a risk of miscarriage.  But I was also terrified and I needed to know.

I was booked in shortly after for the procedure.  My husband and I did our best to convince ourselves over the next few days that everything would be fine.  The night before the test I lay in bed, not sleeping, saying over and over again “please be okay baby, please be okay baby, please please please be okay baby”.

The next day we went to the hospital.  I was wearing a pink maternity dress which I loved.  It made me look pregnant.  I was frightened about having a needle inserted into my uterus but I tried to be brave.  There were lots of people in the room.  They set up the ultrasound machine and began to pass it over my stomach.  No one spoke.  It was too quiet.  No one happily said “there’s your baby”.  No one said anything.  “Is the baby alive” I asked and they said yes.  Then I heard the heartbeat and my breath caught with relief.  Then they told me they couldn’t do the test.  Both the doctor and the nurse looked unsmilingly at me.  The doctor said, there’s not enough amniotic fluid.  We can’t withdraw any fluid.  I didn’t understand.  Where had the amniotic fluid gone?  They told me that the baby had swallowed it.  They said the baby’s stomach was distended, the organs weren’t developing properly.  I said “is the baby going to die?”  And the doctor said “yes”.

I just don’t know how to describe how I felt.  It was like someone had taken my breath away.  The doctor had been so certain in his reply.  There was no hope.

I had heard about some new breakthrough surgery that had recently happened.  A renowned neo-natal specialist had performed life saving surgery on baby whilst in utero.  The baby had then be placed back into the womb and had continued to develop normally and had been born alive.  Perhaps they could do that for my baby?  I didn’t care what it took, whatever had to be done to keep my baby alive.

They said there was no hope.  They looked at me sadly and said I would have a decision to make.  I could continue with the pregnancy, carry my baby to term and then give birth.  Although there was no guarantee that the baby would make it to term and no matter what, when I did give birth, my baby would not survive. My other alternative was to be induced in the next couple of weeks. I could end the pregnancy.  It’s such a terrible, terrible choice to have to make.  I could hardly comprehend what was going on.

The doctor referred me to a specialist in London and we headed down a day later, to sit in a room full of women in various stages of their pregnancies.  None of them were smiling, their partners all looked anxious and it was very quiet.  We waited for hours.  When finally it was our turn my husband said “we don’t want to know the sex of the baby, it’s better if we don’t know”.  I just went along with what he said.

When I walked into the room the specialist was the same one who had performed the ground breaking in utero operation I had heard about. I couldn’t believe this world renowned surgeon was seeing me on the NHS.  I was astounded.  He and his team, were the kindest, most caring people I’ve met in the medical profession.  He scanned my woefully small belly and I knew straight away it was the end.  He kindly explained that my baby had Prune Belly Syndrome caused by obstructive uropathy.  The specialist then said “you’re baby is a boy and this condition is most common in boys.  You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a one in 100,000 thing that happened”.  He went on to give me the same choices my original doctor had.  He told my baby’s lungs were trapped under constricting ribs and that he would suffocate to death at birth.  This was unbearable to me.  My baby boy.  My precious baby boy who was so wanted, so loved already, who I longed to bring to term, to bring home, to wrap in a blue blanket and hold close to me.  I couldn’t let my baby boy die this way.  So I chose to bring it all to an end.  I was 20 weeks pregnant.

The hospital was a nightmare.  There were pregnant women everywhere, arriving in labour, excited about giving birth.  I was in the labour ward next to women who were loudly laboring, then the cries of the new babies were heard again and again.  I sobbed as I passed a picture board in the hallway, full of women holding newborns, smiling, happy, exhausted after having their healthy babies.

I didn’t want to experience labour only to have no baby to take home at the end.  I had been given medication before arriving at the hospital and after I was set up in bed, I was given an epidural at the same time as I was given the drugs to induce labour.  All I felt, in the entire time, was a short cramping at the start.  Then I was numb from the waist down.  I cried a lot through it all.  I cried when a cruel and unfeeling nurse jammed the cannula into the back of my hand causing bruising and swelling that lasted for weeks afterwards.  I cried when I wet myself not once but twice, laying in bed, in front of my husband dripping in urine because nobody told me that when you have an epidural you don’t know when you need to urinate.  And so my bladder just let go.  After the second time one of the more thoughtful nurses organized a catheter.

I cried when my husband told me that because of this he was taking up smoking again.  And when he sat in front of me eating toast and drinking tea which I couldn’t have, just in case I needed to be rushed into surgery.

I cried when a nurse told me, after 20 hours of labour, that she was finishing her shift and when she came back tomorrow, it would all be over.  I cried when she came back the next day and I was still waiting for my baby to be born.

After about 40 hours, I was examined for what seemed liked the millionth time and was told it shouldn’t be too much longer.  My husband asked the nurses to tell him when it was almost happening, because he didn’t want to be in the room when the baby was born.  He said it was too much for him.  Approximately 5 hours later the nurses said it was time.  I was 8cm dilated and that was as far as I needed to go.  It was time to push.  My husband left the room, left me alone with strangers, to give birth to my baby boy on my own.  He was born quickly after that.  I said “is it a boy” and it took them a minute to tell me because his poor, swollen belly was so low.

I chose not to see my baby.  I was just too scared, too alone, too young.  I didn’t know what to do.  My husband didn’t want to see the baby, he didn’t want to name him and instead of “baby” he simply said “the pregnancy”.  The nurses told me they would take the baby away, take photos of him and if I ever wanted to see them, they would keep the pictures on file for me.  They said they would clean and wrap my baby so that I would have a memento one day if I wanted one.

And then I was done.  I stayed the night, by myself, in a room with a double bed which looked a bit like a motel room.  I think they had it for bereaved parents.  The next morning my friend, who had driven down to support me, picked me up and I went home.  Without my baby, just me.  And then he was gone.  My milk didn’t come in, my breasts went back to normal and all I felt was the heavy, dragging blanket of grief which settled over me.

A year later I wrote to the hospital requesting the photos.  I was desperate to see my son.  Unfortunately, they didn’t clean him or wrap him or save a memento for me.  The only pictures I have are of my baby son, newborn, naked, laid out on a green cloth.  They’re upsetting but they’re also deeply important to me.  I’m glad I at least have these, the photos of my son, Bailey.

I’ve joined a club that no one wants to be a member of and one that I can never leave.  It’s been 15 years and sometimes I’m overwhelmed by grief and other times, his birthday passes me by without a thought.  I feel so guilty when this happens.  I’ve been lucky too though and that’s what comes to me, when the sadness creeps in.  A year after my son was born, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  Three years after that, I was blessed with a second baby girl.  For both of them, I am truly grateful, they are the most precious things in my life.  I will never forget how lucky I am to have them.

(Image borrowed from Bears of Hope)