Why can’t summer last forever?

For a few months every year we get to experience something resembling normality. Every second person hasn’t got a cold or cough, I stop seeing other children as walking biohazards and our Cystic Fibrosis routine stays at preventative. This still means nebulisers and chest physiotherapy at either end of every day, but we do this like we do teeth brushing – we’re just so used to it.

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Clean teeth – check! Clear chest – check!

I see my daughter running around the garden and jumping on the trampoline without any kind of coughing fits. She’s able to keep up without coughing up. Her face shines like a thousand sunbeams. Her cheeks are full of colour, her eyes are full of mischief and her night is full of dreams not hacking. She sleeps, I sleep, we are all round happier and well-adjusted individuals.

We leave the house without the fear of what germs we might bring home with us and I am genuinely quite relaxed instead of just faking it like I do for the rest of the year. I don’t have the CF nurses on speed dial, we manage to catch up with friends without snotty nose cancellations and my shoulders drop a minimum of three inches. I even have some days when CF doesn’t majorly cross my mind, other than keeping on top of meds. This is spectacularly huge! Oh, to feel like that every day.

Summer is our happy place and I so wish we could bottle it. I sometimes wonder if I could train myself to be this positive for the rest of the year could I somehow affect how we experience the other seasons. Head in the sand moment? Completely. But I don’t care. I’m building myself up and a little positivity goes a long way from a mental health point of view. So this year, I’m making a vow to myself to think like it’s Summer even when Winter rolls in (you may need to remind me of this come November). I’m not naïve enough to think that a sunny disposition can somehow shine CF into the shadows, but wow, that’s a lovely thought. And we all need more lovely thoughts in our lives.

Speaking of loveliness – shine on my sunny little CF warrior. You are the light of my life, every single month of the year.

Bernie xx

Her own room, so soon?

I’ve finally done it! I’ve put my big girl pants on and moved my lovely little lady into her own room. I won’t lie – there were a few tears, a sizeable amount of separation anxiety and a few sleepless nights (you’ve guessed it, they were all mine).

Ok ok, so she’s four. And a half. And I’m sure I should have done this, what, four years ago? But she’s my last baby, my muse and my world; I would have let her sleep beside me forever.

But never fear; my plans were clear:

  • There’s a spare bed in her room so I can still keep up the night’s watch when her CF is causing trouble,
  • She was an integral part of the design team to help her take ownership of her space,
  • And there’s enough pink in there to power several unicorn manes, so I guess all is right with the world of zzzzzs.
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Too-wit, too-woo, if I survived it you will too!

I’m slowly learning to sleep without her sweet breath on my face, although I do still pine for her nighttime cuddles. (My husband isn’t half as affectionate in the wee hours. He also takes up a tad more space.) She still occasionally creeps out of her bed in the middle of the night to come into me to whisper these four precious words – ‘I love you, Mammy’ – but how could you be cross waking up to that? When she does, I walk her back to her room, tuck her in and give her a big kiss; to which she responds by lifting her shoulders to her ears, smiling with glee and uttering the most adorable ‘awwwwwwwwwww’. I know, I know, we’re so Disney. But our lives have enough moments of darkness (‘Winter is Coming’ and all that), so I’ll take all the affection, sunshine and rainbows that I can get my hands on.

I’m very proud of my little warrior taking this next step towards independence. (And I’m more than a little proud of myself too!) So for those of you out there who are co-sleeping and worried you should be putting a stop to it – don’t fret, the time will come when your little people are comfortable in their own slumber skins at night and you’ll miss them like crazy. It’s not what the parenting book say, but I say, enjoy it while it lasts. I know I will forever treasure the fond memories of those little feet in my face.

Sleep well,
Bernie 

 

 

 

To my child with the imperfect genes; you are perfection

To my darling baby girl,

On the day you were born, it wasn’t just my world that changed forever. I changed forever. My heart, my mind, my being; they are all unrecognisable since. You have touched, enriched and changed every single thing about me as a person.

When I went into labour, all I was concerned about was having a VBAC. Looking back I reflect on how naïve I was; I knew nothing of what was coming. I knew nothing of the massive journey we were about to embark on together.

When my waters broke they were green – how panicked would I have been if I had known then that you had Cystic Fibrosis. The idea of you inhaling meconium into your vulnerable little lungs would have sent me into a total tailspin. But despite the meconium, your heart rate stayed steady – you were cool as a breeze. And four years later, you still are.

I had to be sectioned in the end, but once again, you took the procedure in your stride. Me on the other hand? I had a haemorrhage and lay shaking uncontrollably on the operating theatre. My body was in shock and I remember the unsettling feeling of not being able to control the movement of my limbs. They went to put you on my chest and I was terrified because I couldn’t calm my body down. I didn’t want you to fall. I wanted to protect you. But when they placed you on my chest, my body instantly became still. It was like you had some magical, spiritual quality. You soothed my entire being. And you still do. Every single day. I don’t know how you do it, but you do. As your mother, I feel it should be my job to settle you, yet it is you who settles me.

As soon as they lifted you, I began quaking again.

You were born with a tough set of genetics; a health challenge that is daunting to say the least. But you were also born tough. I’ve never met a little girl with so much courage or personality. With your crazy curls and the positivity that oozes out of your pores, you light up every single room you enter.

You move like a dancer. Negotiate like a chancer. Hug like a bear. You speak with words beyond your years. You somehow always know what to say to lighten the mood. You empathise and notice people’s moods in a way I never thought possible for a person who has only been here four short years. No matter what is going wrong, it is impossible not to smile in your presence. While I live with fear in my heart as we fight CF together, I also live with an abundance of love, laughter and hope.

I may be more anxious than I have ever been in my life, but I am also more happy than I have ever been. Because you, my little lady, are infectious. Your giggle, your personality, your attitude – you are truly magnetic.

I know parents are supposed to remind themselves that their children are their children, not their friends. But I don’t care what the books say. You are my very best friend on this planet. Everything in my life is better in your presence. I love everything about you and I always will.

You may have been dealt an imperfect set of genes, but don’t let that hold you back. Always remember that you are powerful, you are precious, YOU ARE PERFECTION.

To the good people in our bad healthcare system

Like others, I find myself regularly ranting about our healthcare system. And with bloody good reason. It’s slow. It’s dilapidated. It’s out-dated. It’s broken. Some of the stories you hear are not only embarrassing, but downright terrifying. The system is meant to protect us, yet we often feel at our most exposed going into a medical environment – the fear of going in with one thing and leaving with an extra three for free is a very real phenomenon.

I spend a good chunk of time in and out of hospitals and clinics with my daughter who has Cystic Fibrosis, so I’ve seen samples of the best and worst bits of the system. I’ve been abhorred at water-stained ceilings, dirty bedrails and having to carry breathing equipment up and down stairs when my daughter was moving ward for the FIFTH time during a 12-day admission. Acceptable it is not.

But I’ve also experienced much kindness and thoughtfulness from staff who are doing their best to compensate for the shitty excuse of a healthcare system they find themselves working in.

So I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge that this bad system is also filled with some really good people. People whose kindness will stick in your mind long after the trauma is over. People who can make the most horrific experiences even 1% easier to deal with. And that 1% may just be what gets you through it.

I’ve had a couple of standout moments of kindness over the last few years – they stay in my mind, yet when I discuss healthcare, they’re not what’s on the tip of my tongue. I’ve often thought about sharing them, but have never done it. So here goes – here’s a sample of my gratitude list:

  • To the CF nurse who gave me her mobile number when my daughter was first diagnosed – I will never forget that you were prepared to let me call you at any time as I struggled through the most difficult weeks of my life. I think I only called twice (I’m sure I thought about calling twice a day!), but knowing that you were there gave me such huge peace of mind. It’s a gesture I’ll never forget.
  • To the male* nurse in A&E who found us an isolation area when my daughter was only tiny and had to come in for review. You knew me and my husband were on the edge and you hid us in a room away from everyone else. I don’t remember much about that evening but I remember you bringing in cups of water and juice for us even though you were rushed off your feet (I’m pretty sure we looked like we needed something stiffer). While I can’t bring to mind exactly what you said, your kind face and voice will stick in my head forever. I still always recognise you if you’re on duty when we have to go in. I’m sure you’ve long forgotten us in the sea of panicked faces you see daily, but your face and manner are etched in my mind forever.
  • To the ward nurse who brought me a cup of tea after a terrifying day with my daughter during her first admission. Her oxygen sats kept dropping, she needed a nasal gastro feeding tube inserted, there was a failed attempt to insert a picc line and therefore blood everywhere. Quite honestly, I was just as traumatised as she was by the end of it and I was crumbling into a million pieces. You’re not allowed hot drinks on the ward but when my daughter was finally asleep, you brought me a glorious cuppa. I hadn’t left the room in days (and you knew I wouldn’t leave to go to the canteen even though you had offered to sit with my girl) and this small gesture meant everything in that moment.
  • To the out-of-hours doctor’s receptionist who let me wait in the car with my daughter when she needed a weekend review – your willingness to call me when we were next, instead of having us sit amongst the germs in the waiting room, massively eased my anxiety. Not everyone appreciates the danger zone that is the waiting room.
  • To our own clinical nurses – some weeks I speak to you more than my own family! I know it’s your ‘job’, but kindness isn’t something that can be learned and your natural empathy and willingness to answer my two thousand questions** never goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

These may read as very small things, but emotionally, the small things are often the big things. And while we need to 100% keep shouting for better healthcare, we should also make sure that we don’t channel our frustration at those who are trying their best within the current system. So my mantra is to always be kind – always say thank you to those who are thoughtful and helpful to you and your children. Yes, you’re going through shit, but they’re probably taking shit from all angles and are trying to put a brave face on it. We’re great at giving negative feedback, but let’s give the positive feedback too. (I know not everyone deserves it, but it’s worth noticing those who do.) Kindness works in both directions and who knows, your positivity may just be the 1% that gets that person through a difficult shift.

 

*I know I shouldn’t draw attention to gender, but if I don’t your brain will probably picture a woman in this scenario? This may be wrong but it’s totally true!

**On a good day

Image from Pixabay

An ode to in-flight germaphobia

We’re off to the sun
For some family fun
But I have a secret confession…
It’s not just four of us flying,
We need space for my trying
Germ avoidance obsession.

My germaphobe is not new
But it’s also quite true
That it’s gotten a whole lot worse,
Since my daughter’s diagnosis
Of Cystic Fibrosis –
An illness that can be a curse.

I’m not going to lie
Each time that we fly
It’s not people’s faces I see…
It’s seat-numbered germs
I just can’t come to terms
With the bug fest surrounding me.

Of course my kids don’t know
That their Mum’s a psycho
I do my best cover up job…
Milton wipes in one hand
All the gel in the land
‘Die, little buggies!’ I sob!

If I hear a sneeze
An audible wheeze
Or worse, a big, fat, juicy cough…
My heart starts to sink
Someone pass me a drink
Stop world, I just want to get off!

All that recycled air
Is the ultimate scare
I’m practically shitting my knickers…
For the length of the flight
The fear is not slight
Of the kids who are coughers and lickers.

If the kids need a wee,
I can’t breathe when I see
The state of the aeroplane jacks…
‘Don’t touch a thing’
Is what I must sing
While inside I have panic attacks!

You might think that I
Should give Valium a try
Or get over myself completely…
But I’ve seen how a cold
Can do damage untold
Hospitalising my sweetie.

But we must embrace life
Despite fear and strife
My daughter, she deserves to travel,
And have fun at the pool
Show new friends that she’s cool
While I pray our luck doesn’t unravel!

So wish us well as we go
All you germaphobes know
That it’s hard to relinquish control…
But with a squirt and a wipe
I’ll manage my type
And the break will be good for the soul!

Let’s make ‘13 Reasons Why’ one good reason to talk

Like lots of people, I’ve found myself fixated by Netflix drama ‘13 Reasons Why’, binge watching when I should have been binge sleeping. The show tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student suffering from depression thanks to being the victim of cyber bullying, stalking, sexual assault and many other soul destroying experiences. Hannah takes her own life, leaving behind audiocassettes detailing the 13 reasons that pushed her to the edge. Each episode covers one tape side, documenting one reason (and one person) that contributed to her taking this fatal step.

Although the idea of a teenager using tape cassettes lacks real world credibility, it’s a captivating device that keeps you yearning for the ‘next side’. But it’s not an easy watch, and the show has been much criticised for glamorising suicide, with many suggesting that the idea of revenge from beyond the grave may (unintentionally) prove attractive to those in similar states of distress. On the flip side, ’13 Reasons Why’ examines really important issues facing the youth of today. It makes the audience think about how we could all do a little more to look out for each other – a message that’s of critical importance for people of every age, not just teens.

My children are young, so I don’t know how I would feel if I had teenagers and they wanted to watch it. I suspect I would insist on watching it with them, so that we could openly discuss the issues. To me, regardless of your opinion of the show, this is its one true strength – as a prompt into topics that are pretty impossible to bring up otherwise.

As a parent, it reminded me to cherish this time when my children are so young. Their minds know no dark; instead they’re filled with thoughts of ponies and football, not self-doubt and paranoia. I always know where they are. They tell me literally every thought they have (I will now stop groaning at this fact!). I am fully embraced; I am never shut out.

As a person, it makes me think about the times I have been very low myself. My daughter’s illness has occasionally brought my own mind to dark places and while I consider myself generally a very level-headed person, I’ve found these thoughts extremely hard to deal with. I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve had fleeting thoughts of ending the torturous emotional pain, I’ve cried tears that I thought would never stop. And while I’ve been able to shake myself out of it, it’s made me realise how easily a seemingly strong person could mentally slip into considering the unthinkable.

Our children have a lot more to deal with than we ever did. We didn’t grow up online. Our mistakes weren’t posted on the Internet to follow us around forever. And we didn’t have to grow up half as quickly. If we learn only one thing from this show, I think it’s that we should never dismiss how someone is feeling, whether they’re a child or an adult. Even if the trigger for low mood doesn’t seem all that serious to us, it could be everything to them. We’re all so busy trying to keep up with our chaotic lives that we forget to ask each other how we’re doing. So whether you loved ’13 Reasons Why’ or hated it, make it one good reason to ask someone how they’re doing today. Make it one good reason to remind your children that they can talk to you about anything, without worrying about getting into trouble. Make it one good reason to be kinder to people – because the truth is, you just never know what’s going on behind the façade.

Image from Netflix

The problem with business trips when your child has a chronic illness

Can it be done or are you destined for turbulence each time?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair bit with work over the years. Shooting tea ads in Thailand, beer ads in New Zealand, chocolate ads in Prague…you name it, I’ve done it. It was always one of my favourite things about my career as an advertising copywriter. And why wouldn’t it be!

Of course it got more challenging when I had my first child, but the recession had also hit, so a reduction in foreign shoots coincided with those hands-on first years. That made it seem easy enough to juggle. Fast forward to having a child with Cystic Fibrosis, and the thing I once loved has turned into at best, a preparation marathon, and at worst, an admission to hospital while you’re away. This is the most soul-destroying feeling of all time.

I’ve had the spectrum of travel tales since my daughter was born, each one a reminder of just how much of a bitch CF is for everyone involved.

Eva’s first hospitalisation came over Christmas when she was just two years’ old. She had been incredibly well up to that, so it was a bolt-out-of-the-blue reminder that CF could turn everything upside down at any time. I was scheduled to go to a TV shoot in South Africa in the New Year – I obviously pulled out and my employers expected me to behave no differently. They were empathetic, understanding and everything I hoped they would be in the circumstances. But this was the beginning of the compatibility issues – could having a career in advertising and having a child with Cystic Fibrosis ever peacefully co-exist?

To test my nerves further, this first hospitalisation and travel cancellation came just after I had handed in my notice to move on to another agency. I had been managing well and when the headhunt came knocking, I decided I shouldn’t let my daughter’s CF hold me or my family back. Of course I could still progress the career ladder. Of course I could earn more money to keep us comfortable. So I said yes. Brave or stupid? Who knows!

Either way, CF decided we deserved another smack in the mouth and one month into my new employment, the unthinkable happened. I was due to present at a meeting in Rotterdam, my first time representing my new agency, and Eva took ill a few days before the trip. The morning of my flight, I knew in the pit of my stomach that she was going under and would be hospitalised while I was away. Bear in mind I was going to be away for one night. ONE NIGHT. That’s how quickly a child with CF can go down.

It was my first month working there and my first business trip. I couldn’t pull out two hours before the flight – how could I? I had been up all night nursing my daughter and I dragged my bleary-eyed and insanely worried and emotional body to the airport. I flicked the necessary switch and pulled off my part of a three-hour session with a global client. But afterwards, I didn’t feel proud of myself for being able to hold it together. I felt like shit. Because long term, no one will ever remember that meeting except me. I’ll remember what an awful mother I felt like during every single minute of it. And when I checked my phone as we left the client’s office, the inevitable had happened and Eva was in hospital on oxygen. I did what I had to do that day, but if it happened again, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get on the flight regardless of the consequences. (By the way, this employer has also been incredibly kind to us.)

I’ve had a few short trips since, and thankfully all has gone well. I’m just home from a two-day work trip where I got to judge at the prestigious D&AD Awards, and again it went perfectly. It does happen! My daughter is in good health and I got to travel and remember the me that I was before CF started demanding attention.

But the problem is that each time there’s a trip, the turmoil is huge as you don’t know what plans CF has for your trip duration.

So what do you do?

Do you resign yourself to career and CF incompatibility issues and just give it up? But if you do this, are you teaching your child that CF is in charge? That we need to limit ourselves because of it? That’s certainly not the narrative I want running around her head. I want her to grab life and pursue it with every ounce of energy she has.

But if you keep up your career, are you teaching your child that work comes before her health? That you wouldn’t make sacrifices for her? Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t have the balance. I don’t have the answer.

And perhaps I never will.

In the mean time, I guess I’ll just keep winging it.

Image from Pixabay