As mothers, why do we feel like less instead of more?

I had the (slightly terrifying) privilege of doing a talk at The Future in the RDS at the start of this month. In it I spoke about the difficult decision I had made to take a chunk of time off work to look after my daughter who has Cystic Fibrosis, and also start a blog and campaign for the funding of CF wonderdrug Orkambi.

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While a lot of the talk was centred around the ‘YesOrkambi’ campaign, I felt I couldn’t discuss my own story without touching on the broader issue of why taking a break (or in my case, Carer’s Leave) feels like a career suicide risk. There seems to be some kind of assumption that if Mums take a time-out, their ambitions have clocked out for good.

This is a total crock of shit. If someone goes travelling for a year, that’s acceptable. They’re finding themselves. They return, seen as enriched and brimming with transformational life experiences to bring to the table. But if Mums want to enrich their family lives, engaging in such transformational life experiences as keeping their little people alive and happy, while multi-tasking as nurses, educators, referees and psychologists, they are somehow less on their return?

Unintentionally, we don’t help ourselves either. Because we are getting less sleep and have less headspace, less patience and less time for ourselves, we often see ourselves as less than we were.

But becoming a mother doesn’t make you less. It makes you MORE.

You are more insightful, you are more considerate, you are more in tune with the world.
You have more humanity, more compassion and more sense than to tolerate bullshit.
You have more passion, more commitment, more drive and more resilience.
You have more intuition. More moral ambition.
You have emotional intelligence like no others on this planet.

And you are STILL all the things you were before.
Contrary to popular belief, our children don’t actually erase the contents of our brains.

It’s time to start questioning how others perceive us.
It’s time to start questioning how we perceive ourselves.
It’s time to change our language and focus on the positives.

We don’t need to apologise for having families.
Or for those families taking time and dedication.
We need to see parenting as upskilling.
It’s ok to have loves outside of the office.

We need to speak up.
Talk ourselves up.
Stand up for ourselves.

And we need employers to see the benefits of mothering up.
We need to tell them how damn lucky they are.
Because while mothers may be nurturing and caring, like any protective species, we are also fierce.

Don’t be afraid to show your teeth.

 

 

The Day I Quit My Job

There’s a sentence I thought I would never write. I’ve always been an annoyingly responsible person, gainfully employed since I was old enough to reach the washbasins at the family hair salon.

I’ve worked as a writer in advertising agencies since I finished my Masters in 2012. Having reached the level of Creative Director, one would assume I would keep going on the same trajectory. Why wouldn’t I?

There’s one very simple reason, and that’s mental health. Since my daughter was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the start of 2013, I have been trying to keep way too many balls in the air. Learning about her illness. Learning how to manage it. Getting used to both preventative and reactive treatments. Dealing with grieving for the life I thought my child would have. And the life I thought our family would have. All the while trying to pretend like it wouldn’t change anything. I could still go back to work and pursue my career, right?

Well, right. I could. And I did. But while making so many pieces of myself, my mental health was slowly but surely shattering. I was commuting 2.5-3 hours a day to a demanding job. The pressure of my work used to excite me and it was absolutely part of the thrill. But I found myself putting a good front on, while inside I was feeling resentful, overwhelmed and utterly lost and broken. This was a toxic combination and I knew I had to do something.

I took a time out, taking Carer’s Leave to adjust the balance in my life and to feel more in control of my daughter’s health. I’ve learnt a lot about myself in that time. I’ve learned that I’m the type of person that needs to work, but I’ve also learned that I refuse to let anything get in the way of the wellbeing of my family any more. I can see both of my children thriving with better stability at home. I hear more laughter in my house. I feel more love in my heart. And my daughter hasn’t had an admission in my time out of the office.

So despite having a supportive employer who was prepared to try out flexible ways of working, I’ve decided to cut loose. Not to give up working altogether, but to start my own business and work on my own terms. I’ll work more when all is well, and less when it’s not. I agonised over making this call. But the hardest decision in the world seems like the most obvious now that it’s made.

It’s time to stop pretending that nothing has changed. Everything has changed. It’s also time to acknowledge that if you can’t change a situation, then perhaps you have to change yourself. So 2018, I’m coming for you. A new business, a new dawn, a new day. Fuelled by love and powered by hope; this CF Mama is getting her shit together.

Winter Is Coming: Don’t Let The Germs Win!

Back to school is upon us which means that back to bugs isn’t very far away either. For us Mums of little people who are vulnerable to complications from coughs and colds, the school year is dark and full of terrors. But rather than sitting rocking backwards and forwards in fear about the evil bugs my child may encounter, I thought it might be more useful to talk about the little things we can all do to help the health of our children and their classmates.

My youngest child has Cystic Fibrosis, so hands up, this is a partially selfish post as I attempt to protect her and give her the best chance of a hospital-admission-free first year at school. But it’s not just that. Putting my cough-and-sneeze-aphobia to one side, these simple things will help protect every single child in the classroom from unnecessary misery.

Catch it, bin it, kill it
Sneezes are the sneakiest little f***ers on the planet. They spend their days blasting cold and flu particles into the air to be breathed in by the next unsuspecting victim. The best method to put a stop to their wicked ways is to teach your child to catch the sneeze in a tissue, bin the tissue and wash their hands. I hear you, I hear you, if your child is young and busy and has the attention span of a gnat, this is a great theory but a difficult practice. In which case, the next best thing is to…

Give them the elbow
If a tissue is not an option, encourage your child to cover their coughs and sneezes so that they catch the germs rather than disperse them into the air. Best not to catch them in the hands though as hands will spread the germs around through touch – instead, teach your child to cough into their elbow. Elbows will make little or no contact with surfaces and therefore are a good alternative-to-tissue target.

If it’s green, get it seen
Green doesn’t necessarily mean a bacterial infection; the colour can come from neutrophils that your body has sent to fight a viral cold infection, for example. But it does mean that something is up, so encourage good hygiene and if the green doesn’t resolve after a few days and is accompanied by a temperature or general poor form/loss of appetite, consider a trip to the GP to see if the infection is progressing.

Clean hands save lives
If you think of all the things your hands touch in a day, it’s not hard to imagine the invisible germ load that they carry. Of course healthy people don’t feel the need to be as obsessive about hand hygiene as those who are vulnerable, BUT it’s not always obvious when someone around you is vulnerable. Good hand hygiene helps protect those with underlying illnesses, but it will also help protect healthy children from picking up every single thing doing the rounds. No matter what your health status is, proper hand hygiene before eating and after the toilet is a real sickness saver.

Don’t pull reverse sickies
Your child is sick but they really really don’t want to miss school. You’re busy at work and keeping them home would cause a whole load of hassle and stress. I get that it’s difficult, but reverse sickies are not the solution. If your child is feeling miserable, sharing is not caring! Give them a chance to fight off their illness – keep them at home, they’ll get rid of it faster and they won’t ‘gift’ it to others. Things can be passed on before symptoms develop and nobody can help that, but when symptoms are present, consider if your child should be absent.

Take antibiotics as prescribed
If your child (or you, or anyone else in the family) doesn’t need an antibiotic, don’t give one. And if they do, finish the course as instructed. Antibiotic resistant superbugs are the white walkers of our world – let’s not encourage their rise to power.

Lead by example
If your children see you practising good hygiene, they will naturally do the same thing. If you make it the norm, it becomes second nature. You’ll be protecting the health of your family. And without realising it, you’ll also be protecting the health of families like mine.

I have no dragons or swords or wildfire to make anyone pay attention to my words, but in this battle for life, I’d be thrilled if we were all on the same side.

Here’s hoping this Winter is not a long one!

Thanks for reading,
Bernie x

Image from pixabay

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