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Archive for May 2011

I promised an update on my progress at rowing. For the last few Saturdays, I’ve been arriving at the Nepean River at the ungodly hour of 6:45am, hopping into the tiniest and wobbly-est boat you can imagine, and rowing. And rowing. And rowing. 16km, over two sessions. 16km!! Then we go to the gym to lift stupidly heavy weights (well, I lift tiny baby ones while the others lift stupidly heavy ones). This, they promise me, will build up my ‘rowing muscles’. Yes indeed, there is a sub-category of muscles that are reserved just for rowing. You don’t know they’re there until you use them too much (lifting said tiny baby weights), and then discover that you can’t actually move at all for days afterwards.

Each week as I drive down to the river, I question my sanity. Why am I doing this to myself? There are other ways of getting fit. Other, perfectly rational, non-threat-of-getting-chucked-into-sub-zero-water activities, such as soccer. Or Wii Fit, which wouldn’t even require me to step foot outside. Why am I even contemplating going anywhere near that water? Go back home, you idiot! But then, just as I am on the brink of turning the car around and sprinting home to my nice warm bed, I remember one thing. It’s bloody fun!

I’m even improving, I think. My recovery rate is anyway. Recovery rate being the number of days it is before I am able to sit on the floor again. Put on my shoes. Brush my hair. Pick up my kids.

The blisters are a killer, though. I’m developing some pretty ugly calluses on my hands, but this doesn’t stop new blisters from forming right on top of the ones from the previous week. Ouch. I’ve developed a new style of driving for the few days it takes the blisters to stop hurting. I call it fingertip driving.

But it’s not all pain! I’ve seen more of the river now than I ever had before. Once you get past the populated area (ie the posh water-front houses), the river feels completely different. The bush-covered mountains march right down to the riverbank, and you can hear parrots and lyrebirds calling in the trees. I’m told there are platypuses swimming in the narrows, too. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, especially when the sun is rising and the sky is just lighting up. It’s also breathtakingly cold up there. The narrows act as a wind tunnel, sending frosty air straight through you. Actually, you don’t notice it much if you keep moving – rowing is sweaty work – but if you stop to rest for too long, you’ll know it. Our coach measured the air temperature at 1 degree celsius last Saturday. Gulp. I hate the cold.

And it’s not even winter yet. Okay, tomorrow it is, but so far it hasn’t been winter yet. Which reminds me, I can’t think of anything more stupid than taking up a sport like rowing in winter. I’m only learning, so I’m bound to fall in lots before I get better. I could have at least timed my period of falling in lots for when it was warm. Stupid. Yet, I’m hooked.

Luckily, the coach seems to sense my sheer terror at the thought of going swimming at 7am, and so has kindly put me in a double scull each time. This significantly reduces the chance that’ll I’ll fall in, but doesn’t eliminate it all together. Doubles are wider and heavier, so they are more forgiving of any mistakes you make. I’m not kidding when I say that the single sculls I’ve rowed in have both been narrower than me! The seat, which slides back and forth, actually sits just below the side of the boat, so that when you sit on the seat, your thighs are hanging over the side! And you don’t need thunder thighs for this to happen, either. So you can imagine just how easy it is to tip over. If you look at it the wrong way, it will tip over. When I say this sport is fun, it’s really of the scary-fun variety. The threat of hypothermia keeps it real.

But I am having fun. I’m enjoying learning new skills, gaining confidence, getting fitter, meeting new people, and spending time with my sister. We joke about songs that we sing to ourselves as we row. Row, row, row your boat being an obvious one. She sings “How long, how loooooong will I sliiiiiiiiiiiide?” (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), while I sing Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the water”, in reference to the fog we row through on those early mornings. In fact, there are so many songs that make allusions to rowing, that I’m beginning to suspect that most songwriters must row in their spare time. For example, Powderfinger’s lyric “Waaaaaaaait for me, we’re pulling it together now” is clearly about a rower who is struggling to keep time with his or her team-mates, as I did when I was unexpectedly put in a quad with three teenage boys who were in a hurry! There are others but I can’t think of them right now. I’ll put them in another post when I do.

So, while I’m definitely infatuated with this sport, I’m still not sure whether I’m ready to commit. You see, sooner or later it’s going to rain. And rowing down the river in the rain, in winter, with the ever-present risk of literally becoming one with the river… well, it just may be too much for me to handle right now. Let’s hope for clear skies for at least a little longer before my relationship with rowing is put to the ultimate test.

I recently wrote about a family member’s struggle with Pyloric Stenosis, here. PS is a condition that develops in infants, in which the exit from the stomach to the intestines becomes blocked, meaning the baby is unable to digest its food. Since posting this personal story, I have noticed that some ‘googlers’ have been lead to my site, using search terms such as ‘Pyloric Stenosis’ and ‘vomiting in babies’. Whilst reading personal accounts of the condition can be helpful, I think I should take this opportunity to provide links to some other websites with information about Pyloric Stenosis.

If you think your baby may have Pyloric Stenosis, it’s important that you arm yourself with all the information you can so that you are more confident when seeking advice from a doctor. Unfortunately, despite PS being a relatively common condition, it is not unusual for babies with this condition to be misdiagnosed with reflux. If you are not happy with your doctor’s assessment of your baby, show him or her the information you have, and insist on another opinion. If your baby is projectile vomiting, is not gaining enough weight, is losing weight, and looks unwell, then it is highly unlikely he or she simply has reflux. Ask for an ultrasound to help rule out Pyloric Stenosis first.

Here are some websites with useful information regarding symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of Pyloric Stenosis:

Kidshealth – Pyloric Stenosis factsheet

Medline Plus – Pyloric Stenosis

Also, Fred, a survivor of infant Pyloric Stenosis, has done a lot of research into the condition. His blog includes information about Pyloric Stenosis, as well as stories from other parents who struggled to have their babies correctly diagnosed and treated for PS.

Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? I think some doctors need to recognise that they aren’t the only ones with access to information (and therefore power) anymore.

I’m just going to lump some photos together from the last couple of months. Haven’t got time to do it properly!!

Neave looking very grown up indeed! And a lot like me, actually. Doesn’t happen much, she mostly looks like Tom’s side of the family.

I got all excited about a beach scene that we saw on Playschool, so we gave it a go…

I call Tiernan’s one ‘Beach Massacre’. Because that’s basically what it is. See all the red – that’s zebra blood, apparently. Some hunters shot the poor thing on the beach, next to a sandcastle. Horrific. Maybe it’s because he’s turning four, but Tiernan is suddenly fascinated by blood, guns and death. What the? Where the heck does it come from??? Did he invent all this gore on his own, or has he picked it up somewhere… I just don’t know. Not sure I’m dealing with it the best either – I’ve told him we don’t use the word ‘kill’ in our house, and we don’t pretend to shoot things, either. But still it continues. Hmm.

A Quiche. Made by moi. Pastry and all. Delicious! I made it for my grandmother, Ma, who came for lunch just before Mother’s Day. She lives quite close to us, but we hardly ever see her. It’s really my fault for being so slack. Sure, she’s just a little loopy sometimes, but she’s my Ma and she deserves the chance to know her great-grandchildren. I spent the entire visit feeling extremely guilty that the kids barely knew her and basically regarded her as a stranger. I’ve resolved to do lunch with Ma way more often in future.

Neave is learning to feed herself. With predictable results…

Weetbix. Hence, shower time is now immediately after breakfast.

I thought these trolleys were brilliant for about five minutes. The looks of panic on the faces of the elderly shoppers we shared aisles with were very telling. I finally breathed again when we made it to the check-out and returned them. No broken bones.

Tiernan and Molly made a nest for Elle to lay her eggs in. Tiernan was very disappointed to learn that cats don’t lay eggs.

Crocodile dress-up for preschool today.

Raaaaaaar! I’m rather impressed with my costume design, I must say.

Earlier this week I did my first day of (paid) work in 18 months. I loved it. I suspect I will love pay day even more.

It was really hard for me to make the decision to finally start working again. I really don’t like casual teaching. I don’t like walking into the unknown. I don’t like the hours of preparation that usually ends up being wasted when things either don’t go to plan, or I end up not being on the class I was originally assigned to. I don’t like having to wing it – I don’t feel I really have the depth of experience to draw from to do this properly, yet (having completed my training after my first two children were born, I’ve never actually had a class full-time, except on prac). I don’t like having to try to get to know a different bunch of kids, and often a different school, every day. I don’t like the disrespect from students (and sadly, even other teachers occasionally), that comes along with the job. Basically, it sucks. However, it’s the only way forward for me at this point. It’s also a good way to get into a part-time position, which is my current goal. I ummed and ahhed about it for a few months, but it was really the money (or lack thereof) that finally made up my mind for me. Kids are expensive to keep! They eat a lot. They keep growing out of their clothes. They need expensive medications and therapies. Sigh.

So that I don’t sound too much like a martyr, I will say that it’s not all about the kids – I need money to do things that I want to do, as well. Getting a part-time job is also mostly about me. Sure, the financial security would certainly help, but really I want to start using my degree properly, get reconnected with my professional field (I feel completely out of the loop right now), and start building a career. Slowly.

After meeting up with a family friend, and hearing all of the wonderful things she had to say about her school, I decided to check it out. It’s a Special Education school that caters for children with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. Having never set foot in a Special Ed setting, I decided to volunteer for a day before deciding whether or not to give teaching there a go. Despite being a pretty level-headed person, I will admit that it was an eye-opening experience. I entered the school wearing my ‘parent’ shoes as well as my ‘teacher’ shoes, and couldn’t help being filled with compassion for the parents of these children with very intense special needs. I didn’t expect to be shocked by the experience, and I wasn’t, as most of the behaviours I witnessed were similar to how my children behave. Only, my children will grow out of it, while these, much older children, may not. Some will eventually obtain a degree of independence from their parents or carers, and others never will. Heart breaking.

It didn’t take me long to decide that this was something I wanted to do. I was watching a maths lesson with some children around the age of seven. At the beginning of the lesson, I couldn’t help wondering, what was the point? These kids can’t speak, are you really going to teach them maths? Then they demonstrated to me just how switched on they really were. They didn’t need to speak verbally, they were able to indicate their understanding in other ways – some in sign language, some by pointing to signs, words or symbols. Watching them communicate in their own unique ways, and seeing their faces light up when their efforts were acknowledged, was a lesson in itself. I also noticed that the teachers seemed to share a special bond with their kids – a bond that has been forged through patience, perseverance, commitment, enthusiasm and heaps of hands-on work. It was lovely to witness, and it made me want to get involved.

So, I signed up. I was assured I’d be given an ‘easy’ class to start with, having no training or experience whatsoever in Special Ed. But of course, that’s not how it went – I was well and truly chucked in the deep end! My first class was five beautiful (but challenging) boys with autism. I really started to worry when I was asked by the teacher I was relieving whether I wanted to swap with someone else! I decided to stick with it – if I could survive a day in this room, then I’d be able to do anything. Well, I not only survived the day, I really enjoyed it. My main saviour was the Teacher’s Aide – she really knew her stuff and had a way with each of the boys. She ran the show and I followed her lead. I learnt heaps, and want to learn heaps more. I was really impressed with how the staff handled the boys, and planned and programmed for their development. I could see that they all loved their jobs, and loved the boys, too. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. I copped a few scratches, kicks and slaps – mostly from one boy who was having a very bad day. It would take a lot of determination and commitment to turn up to that classroom each and every day, to face the same challenges each and every day. I take my hats off to those teachers and teachers aides. But especially, I am thinking about the parents, carers and families of those boys. Sometimes life is just not fair.

At the end of the day, I was asked whether I would ever come back. “Of course!”, was my enthusiastic reply. I hope to be back there soon – just waiting for that call…

Imagine you have had your third baby. He is beautiful, perfect, just like his brothers. You breastfeed your baby boy, and he grows quickly, adding a kilo to his birth weight in just three weeks. He is healthy and happy. He smiles, goos and gurgles away as he approaches two months of age. His only issue is vomiting after feeds, but you know this is quite normal for small babies. You treat his ‘reflux’ by burping him after each feed, and elevating his head when he sleeps in his bassinette. But the reflux slowly gets worse. You decide to see a doctor, because you think it can’t be good for him to be vomiting so much. The doctor sees your baby, who is still generally very happy and healthy, apart from the vomiting, and a cold. He diagnoses bronchiolitis, a respiratory ailment often brought on by a cold virus. You accept the diagnosis, even though it doesn’t sit right with you – he does have a cold, and he may even have bronchiolitis, too, but the vomiting does not seem to be associated with coughing. You wait another week or so. The vomiting has continued to worsen, and now your poor little baby is starting to look unwell. His colour is just not right, and his growth has slowed down. You go to a different doctor. Living in regional NSW, there aren’t a lot of doctors to choose from, but you do find one and you tell him your concerns. This doctor diagnoses bronchiolitis again, as well as mild reflux. You are told to keep doing what you’re doing. You protest that what you’re doing isn’t working and you think it may be more serious than simple reflux – he is projectile vomiting after every feed. He is not gaining weight anymore. This isn’t right. Your cousin had a stomach condition as a baby, called Pyloric Stenosis. Could this be the same? The doctor shakes his head. He doesn’t say it, but it is clear he thinks you are overreacting. You take your baby home, knowing deep down that something is wrong with him, but doubting your instincts because you have been put in your place by someone who tells you they know better. Again, you wait. But your baby is not well. You take him to the hospital and explain the whole story all over again. They send you home. He has reflux. Soon you notice that your baby is actually losing weight. You know this is very bad news. Your baby still smiles and goos and gaas at you, but he’s more irritable and upset than is normal for him. His nappies are not as wet as they should be. His poos are black. You suspect he is becoming dehydrated. You take him to another doctor. He listens to you. He can’t believe you haven’t been referred to a paediatrician already. He agrees that your baby shouldn’t be losing weight. He sends you home with reflux medication to try for a week. If this doesn’t work he will send you to a paediatrician. You feel relieved that someone has finally listened. But you still think it’s not reflux. After three more days, your baby is still projectile vomiting. You wonder how he can possibly hold medicine down when he can’t even hold his milk down? You are deeply worried about him. You muster the courage to face the doctors at the hospital again. You know they think you are just another overprotective mother. You try to believe it yourself. But that nagging feeling, that there is something seriously wrong with your baby, just won’t go away. You take him to the hospital again. You insist that this is not reflux. You argue that you want tests done for Pyloric Stenosis. They send you home once again, with no investigations or treatment, but with a referral to see a paediatrician in two days’ time. The next morning, your baby is listless and wailing in pain. He has not had any wet nappies in 24 hours. You are at your parents’ house. Your Mum is also deeply worried about him. She drives you and your baby back to the hospital. “This time”, she says, “We are not leaving until you test him.” You and your husband agree that if they send you home again, you will drive your baby to a hospital in Sydney and insist on tests there. Finally, they listen. Finally, they give your baby more than a passing glance. He is clearly a sick little boy. They admit him into the children’s ward. It is no surprise to you when they declare him dehydrated and in urgent need of intravenous fluids. It is no surprise to you when an ultrasound reveals a blockage in the base of his stomach. Pyloric Stenosis; a condition that develops in babies between three and five weeks of age, where the lining at the base of the stomach continues to grow and thicken, restricting (and eventually blocking) the flow of milk into the intestines. Your baby needs surgery. It can’t be done at your local hospital: they find you a bed at Westmead Children’s Hospital (WCH) and prepare you to be transferred first thing in the morning. However, in the morning, there is another problem. The admissions department at WCH won’t accept the diagnosis. They want the tests to be done again before they will agree to admit your baby. Your local hospital re-runs the tests. You are very frustrated – all of this is taking up precious time. You are no longer allowed to feed your baby. He is upset and in need of comfort, but all you can do is hold him and rock him. He needs surgery to get better, but you are still waiting. Later that day, WCH is still not happy with the second round of tests. They agree to have you and your baby transferred, but will not admit you directly: you will have to start the entire process again through the emergency department. You are incredulous that the children’s hospital will not admit a 10-week-old baby, who is on a drip because he simply can’t feed properly. You are so tired of the whole ordeal. But you have no choice. You and your baby are transferred by ambulance, and arrive at WCH at midnight. Your husband takes your two other children to stay with family who live nearby, before joining you in the emergency department to start all over again. At 3am you see a surgeon. He quickly agrees with the diagnosis of Pyloric Stenosis, and puts your baby on the urgent list for surgery in the morning. He is appalled at the treatment you have received at every turn. He informs you that babies with PS usually do not live as long as your baby has. The condition is usually picked up within a week of its onset, and after surgery, most babies have fully recovered within two weeks. He tells you that your baby’s recovery may be prolonged, because he has been suffering for so long. During the rest of your stay at WCH, the treatment you receive from doctors, nurses and staff is exemplary, reminding you of how simple the whole process could have been. Seeing other sick children makes you feel grateful that your baby has something that can easily be ‘fixed’. Some families are not so lucky. The surgery goes well. Your baby does suffer from some discomfort afterwards, but he tries his best to be his normal, happy self. You are allowed to start feeding your baby small amounts of expressed breast milk later that night. It takes a day before he starts to keep the feeds down. With some milk in his belly at last, he instantly starts to look better. Soon, you are allowed to offer him the breast. You rejoice in his enthusiasm as he latches on. He feeds as though he never wants to be parted from you again. The feeling is mutual. You are relieved when your baby is discharged from hospital just days after the surgery. You and your little family return home together, where your baby continues his journey towards health and happiness once again. You are grateful to have your baby at home, recovering, but you are still frustrated and saddened. Your baby should not have been turned away all of those times. During your stay at the hospital, you learnt, from a nurse, that the black poos your baby was producing are a symptom of starvation. You burst into tears on hearing this. Your baby was starving, and no-one paid any attention until it was nearly too late.

There are so many things wrong with this story. I’ll outline just a few: why, when we have the money and resources available at our fingertips, is our health system so completely screwed* up? (*I want to use a stronger word, but will refrain). How can mothers be dismissed and ignored so easily? What would have happened if the mother involved had not had access to the resources that enabled her to (eventually) be heard?

I don’t have the information to answer the first question, except for a little insider knowledge that has come from someone I know who works in the health system. She works in mental health, and she sees cases like this all the time, where paperwork is more important than actually spending time with, and talking directly to, the client. If the paperwork isn’t filled out, you are prone to litigation. Everyone is so busy filling in paperwork, they don’t have time to do their actual job, which is to assess, treat and follow up with clients. Also, I have a feeling that this is all tied up with funding. I’m sure hospitals have to justify every single test they run, investigation they start (probably with mountains of paperwork), in order to satisfy budget restraints. So they don’t want to do anything unless it’s truly necessary. But, in this case, the warning signs were all there. Why did no-one listen?

Which brings me to my second point. Why do we have to constantly struggle against this ‘overprotective mother’ image? Why can’t we be respected as concerned parents and care-givers, as one of the people who know our child best? It took immense courage for the mother in this story to continually seek help, even though she was made to feel stupid for her concern. I’ve been there, myself. Whilst pregnant with my first, I had symptoms of a serious illness, but was turned away and made to feel like an idiot. I put up with the worsening symptoms for three more weeks before my body began to let it be known that something was very wrong. My baby and I were both put at risk because a doctor did not take me seriously. Why does this happen over and over again? Is it simply another symptom of a patriarchal system, in which all power is placed in the hands of the professional, whilst mothers, unpaid and undervalued, are assumed to know nothing? My mother put it best, in a discussion we once had on this issue: Munchausen’s by proxy is rare, yet every mother is assumed to have this syndrome, until proven otherwise.

My last point is to do with social and cultural capital. The mother in this story has some privileges, which helped her to eventually demand the help she needed. She has a supportive family network to draw strength from, and to help in caring for her two other children while she tried to get help for her baby. She and her partner have their own transport and enough money to be able to get their baby to Sydney if necessary. She is white, and had the necessary language skills to express her concerns (even if they weren’t listened to at first). Now imagine she was a migrant, with little money, or family support network. Imagine she didn’t speak English well – it is hard enough to express concern for a child, without appearing too emotional (because that earns an immediate dismissal), when you are speaking in your own tongue, let alone trying to do it in another language. Or, imagine this mother was Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – imagine the extreme anxiety that fronting up to an institution with her tiny baby, seeking help, but not knowing what might happen, may have caused her.

This is so wrong. On many levels. Luckily, this story ended well. But I wonder how many others have not? It’s not over, either. The mother involved, and her family, have registered a complaint to NSW Health, and I congratulate and support them in this.

Perhaps the hardest thing about this, for me personally, was visiting this tiny baby in hospital the day after his surgery. I had been involved in the saga, but had not actually seen him until this day. He looked sick, even though he was already much improved, due to the IV fluids he’d been on for days. But sick is sick. He’s a tiny baby. How could anyone turn away a tiny, sick baby and his frightened mother? How could this have happened?

Dear Blog,

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately, hasn’t it? I’m sorry to say, you’re a bit like the pot plants I get so enthusiastic about when I first meet them. I say hello and promise that, this time, I’ll be a good Mummy and will water and feed them, and show them love. But then, because they don’t call out for attention (like my kids and pets do), the feeding and watering become less and less frequent, and eventually they shrivel up and die. Well blog, I promise this won’t happen to you. I will remember to feed and prune you, and stop in to check  on you.

But the truth is, I’ve been seeing someone else. Well, three ‘someone else’s’.

Are you mad? Let me explain.

A number of new things have entered my life in the last few weeks.

First of all, I’ve decided to return to casual teaching. It was going to be just one day a week, but even before I’ve started I’m about to make it two days. Blog, the bottom line is, we need the money. I can’t spoil you with tales of exciting adventures and fun activities, if there is no money to fund them. You understand, don’t you?

Secondly, I have taken up a new hobby. Sorry, Blog, but while you are good exercise for my brain, the rest of me is getting a little flabby. I need to get moving, out in the fresh air. So I’ve started rowing. A bit random, I know. My sister took it up a few months ago and is pretty brilliant at it (she may be off to the Paralympics next year!), and she convinced me to give it a go. It was so much fun! We went zooming down the river together in a double scull, the wind whistling in our hair and the trees on the bank sliding effortlessly past. Well, they slid effortlessly past when I wasn’t contributing to the rowing (which was often, as I kept nearly tipping us in every time I got my oar ‘stuck’). I’m sure I’ll get better with practise. Well, I can’t get much worse. I had my first solo row last weekend and ended up taking a dip in the freeeeeeeeeezing river. I’m not keen for a repeat, so I’m determined to get better. I promise I’ll update you on my progress, Blog.

The other ‘new’ thing is a new playgroup, on Monday mornings. It’s been a while since we’ve attempted a big, proper playgroup, because I find it a bit daunting with three to keep track of. But I really like this one. It’s run by the church and everything is very well organised, without being over the top. The parents are very friendly, and there are even some extra hands on deck – volunteers, who come along to help out, which is lovely. Best of all, I already know quite a few of the Mums, as they were in my original mothers group, from back when Tiernan was tiny. It has been wonderful to catch up with these families again. The only bummer – it starts at 9:30… on a Monday. This was the main reason I was scared off when my mothers group merged with the playgroup a couple of years ago. We are not morning people. However, now that Neave is 1 (that magical age when things suddenly get a bit easier), I think I can rise to the challenge of getting our butts over there by, say, 10. I think you will like playgroup, too, Blog. The kids and I do. It makes us happy. Can’t you be happy for us, Blog?

Don’t worry, Blog. I still love you. You help me make sense of my messy life. You help me to relax. It’s not the end.

Hey, with all this new stuff to write about, perhaps it’s just the beginning?

Love, Anna xxx

I had very little sleep last night. Now I’m cranky.

I’m worse than a bear with a sore tooth.

I’m like a cranky Mama Bear with a sore tooth who also hasn’t had any sleep.

Neave must be teething.

I’m writing this as I make ‘second breakfast’, at 9:30am. Tiernan missed the first one, at 6:20, but Molly, Neave and I were there.

“Mummy, it’s dark!” said Molly. That’s because it’s too fricken early. I responded, telepathically.

After breakfast, Neave and I went back to bed.  The Pooh Bear DVD babysat Molly.

Then Tiernan got up and started demanding things.

It got ugly.

I yelled at him for going into the bathroom. He just wanted to wee.

I hid in my room until I could be reasonable.

This morning, motherhood most definitely sucks.

But I’m trying. We’re starting again with second breakfast.