Tales of Love and Loss and Living

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In which our reluctant hero attempts to tackle a tricky subject.

It’s Friday, it’s six o’clock, so it’s blog time. In a change from my usual light-hearted guff, this week I’m writing about something genuinely difficult but important. Baby loss.

You may, or may not, know that this week is Baby Loss Awareness week. It is also National Curry Week, which would have been a far more sensible subject to write about, but who needs another parenting food blog?

If death is something of an elephant in the room, then baby loss is more a roomful of elephants in the elephant house at Elephant World. A full on safari that nobody really wants to acknowledge or talk about. And perhaps unsurprisingly so. It’s not generally regarded as a good source of light-hearted banter for the dinner table or down the pub. It’s the sort of topic that makes people a little awkward and twitchy. About as awkward and twitchy as I felt while deciding whether writing this post was a good idea or not. But write it I did.

Like most of my weekly posts, this was written on a train and scheduled well before Friday’s 6pm publishing time. When it goes live, I will be sat on another train, trying to get home from work after a few nights away. Which is coincidentally what I was doing when my wife found out that our first child, a beautiful little girl, had passed away in utero. Singularly the most difficult thing that we have and hopefully will ever have to face as a couple and I wasn’t there. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.

I found out the news on platform one of Wolverhampton railway station. As I got off the train, my wife was waiting for me. Her sizeable bump was as evident as it had been when I was at home the previous weekend. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but it looked different. Moments later we hugged. I started to cry. I didn’t think that I would ever stop. It was April Fool’s day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.

For some reason, the one memory that sticks out from the rest of the day was that, once home, our cat, Momo, wouldn’t leave the bump alone. He would lie, paws across, almost cuddling it as if he knew that something was wrong. Our emotions were all over the place but somehow we managed to get through to morning and back to the hospital.

Saturday morning’s scan reaffirmed the bad news. Having been absent the previous day, I was clutching to the ludicrous hope that a heartbeat would be found. It wasn’t. We chatted about what would happen next with the consultant, my wife took some medicine and we went home. I’m guessing that we must have packed some things ready for hospital but I don’t recall a single thing from the rest of the day.

We headed back to the hospital at 10am on Sunday morning to have our baby. Mentally, this was difficult to comprehend. How do you prepare for a labour and delivery, months before you expected it, when you already know that there’s going to be no happy ending? It’s tough.

Various tests were undertaken and the process of getting baby moving started sometime before midday. We had about half of the contents of HMV with us to help us get through the coming hours. Books, DVD’s, music, the lot. They never made it out of the bag as within an hour the contractions were so painful that co-codamol and morphine were being brought out. This was topped up with plenty of gas. If you’ve not tried gas, do. It helps. Even us blokes.

By mid afternoon, my wife was in a massive amount of pain once more but also appeared to be tripping. I guess that this isn’t a normal state to be in during childbirth, but I guess that this wasn’t a normal childbirth. She asked for an epidural, was refused one but took it well. One bizarre side effect of this cocktail of drugs was over politeness when speaking. At this time, every sentence contained several “please and thank-yous” in an almost childlike way. It melted my heart.

Sickness followed which was keeping me very busy. Contractions, pain, vomit. This was pretty much the next four hours, until at half seven there was a “whoosh!” and our daughter was born, in her waters, to the evident surprise of the midwife. Countryfile was on the television in the bereavement suite.

“We did it!”

My head was all over the place at this point. I was a Dad which was an extremely proud feeling. This was mixed in with an empty sadness caused by the loss. And relief. Relief that my wife got through it relatively unscathed, physically at least. Selfish as this is, even now I can’t contemplate how I would have coped if anything had happened.

We became parents for the first time on Mother’s Day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.

We met our daughter for the first and only time the following day. Not knowing what to expect, I was extremely apprehensive beforehand due to an irrational fear that I may have rejected her. I’m not going to describe the meeting other than to say that the time with her was oddly normal and relaxing considering the circumstances.

At the hospital, there were lots of decisions to be made and seemingly no time to think things through. Should we have a post-mortem or not? Did we want a funeral? Did we want a burial? Other things too. There seemed to be leaflets everywhere but their words just went in and out.

Everything had been fine at our twenty week scan which was a couple of weeks later than planned, although I don’t recall why. We knew that we were having a girl and having looked at names there was one that seemed to stick out. After the scan, I headed from the hospital to the station for a fortnight away with work. The song “Evelyn Evelyn” by the band “Evelyn Evelyn” randomly came up my phone as I waited for a connection at Nottingham station. Spooky. I texted my wife.

Less than a fortnight later we had lost her. As the age at birth was deemed to be under 24 weeks, based largely on measurements taken at the scan, there was no birth certificate issued. We are still not sure that this is correct. The support provided at New Cross Hospital was fantastic, and we were lucky enough to receive a SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) memory box which remains very precious. But no birth certificate. Legally, I was merely the husband of the patient. I couldn’t make any decisions. I couldn’t sign any forms. It still angers me.

We opted for a funeral but no post-mortem. If we had done so, we may have discovered the cause of death, which may in turn have helped during any future pregnancies. Or may not have. Having met our daughter, there was no decision to make. Nobody was going to cut her up.

The time up to the funeral passed so slowly. Fortunately it was glorious weather for April which meant that we could spend time outdoors. This was a massive help mentally and probably just as well as we couldn’t get in the house for flowers. I wrote a poem that was read out at the funeral. Friends and family gathered and left. Close friends returned later in the evening whereupon I invented the concept of “emergency wine.” We got ready for bed. Up to this point we had some focus and purpose, but what next? It all got a bit much. I cried myself to sleep.

Visiting the cemetery gave me a headache, although months later I started to find it quite a peaceful place. SANDS sessions, although massively beneficial to some, weren’t for me and just seemed to regress my mental state. I’d have to go back to work at some point, but I didn’t really want to talk to my then boss. Not because he wasn’t supportive or anything other than a genuinely decent man, but he had recently lost a son who had unexpectedly dropped dead at home in the kitchen, aged sixteen. To me, that was at least a nine out of ten score on my recently derived “grief scale” whereas our loss was probably only a four or five in comparison. Madness. Literally.

Things slowly got back to normal. Little steps. Day by day. Month by month. Other, much earlier, losses followed which was tougher to take with each new setback. Pregnancy tests went positive then faded away every month.

Eventually our luck changed and we had another baby girl, and, twenty months later, a baby boy. You may recall me moaning about them in every other post in my blog. Which is what we all do as parents because, although our love for them is unconditional and it is hugely rewarding, it is also bloody difficult at times. We have never taken any of our children for granted and realise how lucky we are to have had them. Others that have experienced loss may not have been as fortunate as us to experience this joy.

Evelyn’s birth has changed us forever. More than five years on, there still hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about her at some point. They say that time is a great healer, and it probably is. For the most part we don’t get sad any more. Oddly, the saddest I have been about our experience of late has been over the last few days thinking about, and writing, this post. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.

Food Glorious Food

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In which our reluctant hero serves up nine and a half of his five a day.

Food is back on the menu again, or in the news at least, as the biannual “Children’s lunchboxes still unhealthy shock” story resurfaces. According to an article on the BBC and elsewhere, fewer than two in 100 children’s lunches (that would be one in 100 then, Auntie Beeb?) meet the government’s nutritional standards. Children don’t eat enough fruit and veg and prefer crisps and biscuits? Who knew?

While our two are a good way off needing a packed lunch each day, presumably the same guidelines apply to feeding the little people once they’re weaned off milk and relying on solids as fuel. Seems logical, but are we doing it right at home? I do hope so as the shame would be just too much if we don’t.

To test, I decided to look up the governmental guidelines, compare to an average lunch served at our house and smugly show how we are the exceptions to the rule. We’re middle class and have heard of “5 a day” and all that after all so what could possibly go wrong?

OK. Here goes…

1. One portion of fruit and one portion of vegetable or salad every day to be included in packed lunches

Fruit. Tick, tick, tick. No problem with the fruit. The fruit is covered. Veg though? Occasionally a tomato or bit of cucumber may be nibbled at during lunch if there’s a full moon due. Homemade soup is a favourite of our youngest, the eldest rarely touches it. Baked beans and spaghetti hoops count as vegetables too according to the tin so there’s enough here to justify that we provide at least one of each I reckon. Tick.

2. Meat, fish or another source of non-dairy protein should be included every day. Non dairy sources of protein include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, peanut butter and falafel

Sadly, by “meat and fish” the guidelines are referring to unprocessed stuff as opposed to turkey twizzlers. I’m guessing wafer thin ham doesn’t count either, so probably a no here. Pulses? You may as well try feeding them poison asides from an inconsistent and erratic relationship with hummus which is either wolfed down or refused in equal measures. We get through peanut butter by the bucketful and as I have just decided that the children are, on balance, probably vegetarian (they love veggie sausages – what more proof do you need?) I’m having another tick here thank you very much.

3. An oily fish, such as salmon, should be included at least once every three weeks

Oily fish? We’ve barely managed to get a portion down in three years let alone every three weeks. Deep fried fish fingers count though, right? It’s bound to be olive oil that they use at the chippy. Tick.

4. A starchy food, such as bread or pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other cereals, should be included every day

Couscous is a no-no due to the texture, and rice is a bit hit or miss too. They’re fine with the rest and we normally buy wholemeal bread or the “best of both” option if white. As lunch normally involves butties or toast, that’s another tick.

5. A dairy food, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais or custard should be included every day

Yep. Or ice-cream. Probably. Not that this would be a good idea in a lunchbox. Tick.

6. Free, fresh drinking water should be available at all times

Water is always available as we are lucky enough to own a tap despite living in Wolverhampton. It never gets drunk but that’s not a stipulation of the guidelines. Tick.

7. Include only water, still or sparkling, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yoghurt or milk drinks and smoothies

You’ve missed squash off, spoilsports. We give the little people fruit juice or milkshake occasionally. Half a tick?

8. Snacks such as crisps should not be included. Instead, include nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit (with no added salt, sugar or fat). Savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit, vegetables or dairy food are also a good choice

Our two rarely have crisps as if we have any in the house they are stored above head height and mummy knows where they’re kept. Peanuts, yes but salted or not at all but cashews are a big hit with our eldest. Breadsticks and Mini Cheddars they will eat by the skip full, and raisins also but, oddly, no other dried fruit. Close enough. Tick.

9. Confectionery such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets should not be included. Cakes and biscuits are allowed but these should be part of a balanced meal

Chocolate based things are treats if tea has been polished off nicely. Like me, neither of the children are that keen on cake (the little one more so) and we normally go for “healthier” biscuits, if there can be such a thing, like malted milk, digestives or hobnobs. And custard creams. They’ve got custard in and this also satisfies rule five. Tick.

10. Meat products such as sausage rolls, individual pies corned meat and sausages / chipolatas should be included only occasionally

Our two aren’t keen on pastry, but the government is having a laugh if cocktail sausages are on the “banned from daily consumption” list. Without those there would be a fifty percent reduction in our children’s protein intake. And mine. I’m not counting that as a parenting fail as it is blatantly silly. Stupid experts with their facts and logic and stuff. Tick.

So, there you go. We’re not doing too badly, but the difficulty is not necessarily serving the right stuff up but finding the day that the kids are in the mood to eat it. By my maths we scored a massive nine and a half out of ten. Or, using the BBC’s logic, more than nine out of ten. So ten out of ten then. Yay! Tick.

 

[More details about healthy lunchboxes are here, should you wish to explore further.]

Testing Times

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In which our reluctant hero goes back to school. Probably. 

Thinking back to childhood, memories that often surface include time spent at school. Colouring; learning to read and write; pouring warm milk down the playground grid; making new friends; trying to fly by running down a bank with your coat out like rudimentary wings; the dreaded lost property bag if you forgot your PE kit; not quite making it to the toilet in time. Happy days. Think harder and less happy memories may also surface. Tests. Ugh!

This week it was examination time at our house with man and boy off to the local Health Centre for the mandatory two year check.

Now, you would perhaps, logically, think that the two year check was a check to see how said two year old was faring, two years on. You would be wrong. The check turns out to be less checky and more of a test. A test with hard sums and no calculators. A test to see how much Dad has been paying attention over the last two years, and to see how much attention is paid to Dad. What could possibly go wrong?

The first part I passed with flying colours. Flying red colours in fact, as I remembered to take the red book for teacher to write the test scores in. All by myself. Go me! Tick.

From then on in things got a little trickier…

“Can the little one walk up the stairs by himself?”
“Yes!” Tick.

So far so good…

“When he walks up the stairs, does he do it one step at a time, by making sure that both feet are safely on the step before attempting the next one, or something different?”
“Erm…”

The problem with tests is that you have to revise. Question one and I am already concerned that I have not put the necessary hours in to get the required Grade C or above. What’s worse is that I should have been prepared for this question having had the same one at a previous exam twenty months ago. But nope. Not a clue. And why would I have? Standing with a clipboard making copious notes on my children’s stair walking technique has never been high up on my list of priorities. Getting them up the stairs for bedtime without resorting to a size eight up the rear is a battle in itself. So I wing it.

“B. Yes, It’s B.”

It’s an established fact that “B” is always the answer in multiple choice questions, isn’t it? That’ll do. 3-1 odds. I’ll take that. Tick. Next…

“Do you think that his speech is better, about the same as, or slightly behind that of other children of the same age that he socialises with?”
“Erm…”

Socialises with? Same age? Isn’t this the neglected second child that they’re talking about? Clearly he doesn’t have many of his own friends and mostly hangs round with his big sister and her friends instead. I’m at work when most of this stuff happens anyway so my only reference point is big sister at the same age. Think man, think!

Now, I distinctly remember her getting immensely stressed months before her second birthday concerned that she “had forgotten to send the invitations out to the party guests.” How does that compare? Hmmm…

“B. Yes, it’s B. I’m sure. Final answer.” Tick.

The next bit focussed on physical things like following instructions and copying actions. The boy is pretty good at fetching things and putting them away when asked. He also loves running and jumping and so on and is brilliant at mimicking. This will be a doddle.

“OK, little man. Can you copy this noise with your mouth? Click, click, click…”

Nothing.

“Click, click click…”

Nothing again. Best help as the health professional clearly hasn’t got a clue and we often do this sort of thing after brushing teeth. Daddy do it.

“Click click, click…”
“That’s not right. Silly Daddy!”

Jumping next. Sadly, further instruction and encouragement failed to remove the superglue that had welded the soles of his pumps to the floor. The same for running. Having grown up with “One Man and His Dog” being about as good as Sunday television got, I wondered if blowing the whistle out of the box of prompts for the test would help spur things along. It didn’t.

Recognising things in books went far better until the shyness kicked in, and tower building was a particular hit. The hit in this case propelling the blocks to the far corners of the room to a cry of “TIMBER!”

Anyway, we got through the rest of it with ticks in most of the right boxes. Largely by guesswork and the reluctant participation of a little boy who was less than impressed at having being forcibly removed from the paddling pool on a glorious summer’s afternoon to attend.

My advice to anyone who has the check coming up is to do your homework. Study, make notes and write the answers on your arm if necessary. Take sweets or doggy-chocs as a reward for good behaviour. Practice advanced Lego construction techniques and get the little one familiar with the “Daily Mirror Book of Facts” to help in the General Knowledge round.

At the end of the round we scored seventeen points with three passes. I’ll take that.

Keeping Your Cool

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In which our reluctant hero gets a bit under the collar.

In typical British fashion, the weather this week has taken us all a little off guard. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Floods. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Heatwave. More heatwave. Followed by a hot spell. And that was just Monday.

Everything has been a struggle. Mowing the lawn, catching the bus, movement as a general concept and simply getting to sleep have all involved a mop of the brow and several “uffs.”

Keeping our little people at a comfortable temperature has been a battle since they were born. One winter and one summer baby presented very difficult challenges…

  • Are the extra hat and fourth cardigan really necessary?
  • Speedos over a nappy is fine, right?
  • Sleep suit or not? What about a blanket?
  • How do you cool a three-week old down on a scorching day when they’re not supposed to drink beer?
  • Does 90℅ of heat really get lost through your head? (Clue: The answer is no…)
  • Is chucking a bucket of ice into the pram ok?
  • Is putting a cover over the push chair sensible provided that you baste well and keep turning?
  • Is it ok to leave children in the car for forty minutes on a sunny day, while we nip to Next?

Aarghh!

We never seem to get it right, no matter what we do.

I’m probably over worried about our two burning and sit poised with the factor fifty any time the sun pops out for more than ten minutes from February onwards. I don’t really feel the cold so perhaps the risk of them freezing should be more of a concern. Snow joking.

But despite the paranoia, we got caught out last weekend after spending a day outside in weather that started off murky and finished brightly. It was only when it got to teeth and bed time that I spotted that dad, son and daughter were sporting identical comedy nose and cheek war paint. Oops.

How long should you go out in the sun for anyway? Half an hour of midday sun is enough to get fried, but this week the BBC were reporting that parents should give vitamin supplements as children (and grown-ups for that matter) aren’t getting enough vitamin D. That you get from the sun. You can’t win.

As a society, we’re more aware of the risks during summertime these days and, consequently, the kids don’t know that they’re born. Again. Fact.

Yes, the car interior gets to temperatures hot enough to cook a naan bread on the door trim, but once in we have one of the genuine wonders of the modern age to help. Air conditioning. A bona-fide miracle hidden beneath a little button with a snowflake on. No such luxury for the 1970’s generation who frequently received third degree burns from sitting on vinyl covered car seats in shorts. Ouch.

Our three-year old has to take a hat and a bottle of sunscreen with her name on to nursery each afternoon in case that she plays out. When we were that age, a liberal amount of protection would be slapped on in May (if anyone remembered) with the expectation that a top up coat would probably be needed in late September. The savings made on sun tan cream soon disappeared purchasing industrial size containers of Nivea “After Sun” that we would jump into to help extinguish the flames before bed.

So, what should we do as parents to combat the heat? Not a clue I’m afraid. Think about stuff for a bit, do what seems sensible and hope for the best I guess. Like we do with everything else.

Or maybe you could have a gander at this interesting and informative post put together by NCT about sun safety for children?

I for one would have benefited in seeing it earlier in the week. Never mind the kids, it would have saved me the trouble of tapping out a blog on a sweltering train when I could have been watching the new series of Mr Robot instead.