I’m Back!

Well hello. Yes, I know….. it’s been a while between posts. “So where the heck have you been hanging out these days!?” I hear you ask. Hmm, well that’s a bit of a long one to answer…. In a nutshell I’ve been spending my days consorting with various medical types, trying to get to the bottom of my two childrens’ various (and increasingly complex) health issues. Yes, I’m afraid Dr Google has made more than one appearance (despite my best intentions), but I can assure your that there have been a catalogue of far more experienced Paediatricians who have followed in his wake.

Keeping it brief (and without boring you all with the details), Mr 5yrs suddenly couldn’t eat anything I gave him without vomiting and complaining of a swollen, bloated and extremely painful tummy (he once presented his big swollen tummy to me and asked in a sad kind of voice “mum, do you think I’m growing a baby in there?”). He was losing kilograms by the second. At the same time (!), Ms 17months’ weight rocketed off the charts in the downward trend, despite being fed a highly nutritious and calorific diet by her increasingly neurotic mother. Her weight now officially doesn’t even register on the growth charts.

And breathe…..

I should mention here that we are no strangers to food allergies and tummy issues. Mr 5 has been allergic to dairy and soy since he was a wee baby, as has his sister. It seems, however, that both tummies have decided to up the ante over the past 6 months.

So, feeling completely and utterly up to my eyeballs in stress, I kinda decided to take a leave of absence from Mama Maru. Mama Maru is my calm space, and it’s no coincidence that I haven’t visited lately.

It’s also no coincidence that I’m back!!

So, I have decided that I need to take a bit more control of the situation. I have spent the last months in complete flight/ fight mode, reacting emotionally to everything that swung my way. What can I say, it’s been shit! Things needed to change.

So the other night, in an attempt to rediscover that inner calm I had been cultivating earlier last year, I got busy googling ‘mindfulness’. I came across Marie Forleo, who, it turns out is a bit of a personal development guru (she’s been on Oprah, and everything). Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Dr. Phil/ Oprah self-help types. I once refused to read a highly recommended Wally Lamb book because it was on Oprah’s Book Club list (in my defense I should state here that I was in my 20’s – I like to think I have evolved somewhat since then). I’m not sure what this says about me!? I guess I have always been one to steer away from popular dogma.

Anyway, Marie Forleo spoke to me the other night, in a way that my very well meaning husband and friends have not been able to. She’s wise, intelligent and a little bit funky. She’s my kinda chick. In one particularly goofy clip on YouTube, you will find her hanging out in bed with her husband. Stay with me here… They’re talking about an approach they use called “I’m back”. Put simply, when your mind is super crazy and worrying about this or that, all you need to do is tell yourself “I’m back” and waddya know, suddenly you’re back in the present moment and all that worry and stress is gone.

I’ve been practicing this for a couple of days and I’m converted. It really does work! For example, tonight while making pumpkin soup for my sons breakfast (seriously, this is the only thing he’ll eat for breakfast these days!), my blender had a major blow out. It looked like this:

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What you can’t see is the soup all over the clean dishes drying in the rack , soup spilling down the cupboards and all over the floor. A week ago, I would have cried, stamped my feet, cursed life for being so damn crappy, and then put myself to bed and not slept for hours thinking about how shit everything was and how there was no pumpkin soup for the morning. Tonight, as the glass jug shattered and my sons precious soup splattered all the way across our kitchen, I simply took a deep breath and told myself “I’m back”. And I was!

It’s good to be back.

This Girl

Photo by Amber-Jayne Bain

                                                                                                                  Photo by Amber-Jayne Bain

This is my girl. She’s my baby and she’s turning one. One whole year has passed since we bundled our precious little daughter up and brought her home. She was born in the middle of an earthquake storm. The fault lines that run through Wellington had been rubbing each other up the wrong way for weeks. Sometimes their tussles were violent enough to have us rushing under tables or looking for heavy structures to hide under. I must have looked quite the sight, hurriedly trying to wedge my heavily pregnant body under various structures in our house – the dining table, the kitchen bench.

While they were a nuisance, these earthquakes perfectly signified the crescendo of what had been an extremely stressful pregnancy. Although the wriggles and kicks of my unborn baby assured me of her vitality, I could never truly allow myself to believe that she would be born alive after the death of her big sister just one year earlier.

She was born alive though. This daughter of mine, she opened her eyes and she cried out. She was pink and she was perfect. The anxieties of the past 38 weeks were shed in an absolute instant. The indescribable bliss of holding my living, breathing daughter. This girl, was my girl.

That was one year ago.

Every day since, I have held her and luxuriated in the act of breathing her in. Her warmth and the way she curls into my body when we cuddle is a novelty that never tires. This girl who loves peekaboo and books; who says cuddle and cat; who laughs when her brother laughs. This girl is my girl.

Happy birthday precious.

Calling Doctor Google

Driving my baby girl to the ophthalmologist last week, I was bracing myself for the bad news. We had noticed a few weeks before that her right pupil was a lot bigger than her left. A quick consult with Doctor Google and the diagnosis was made. It wasn’t good news. Trusty old Dr G sat me down, held my hand and explained. He was certain it was an optic tumour. The prognosis wasn’t good. He went into great depths with his descriptions of the different types of tumours it could be. He explained that the treatment process would be lengthy. There would most certainly be surgery, which would then likely be followed by radiation and finally, months of chemotherapy. Even after all this, he couldn’t guarantee my daughters outcome.

ImageI was beside myself. I was losing sleep and struggling to keep my worries in check. The panic and anxiety was all consuming. After having worked very hard to kick my comfort eating afflictions this year, I was back with my hand in the cookie jar. I started buying large blocks of chocolate again, and not sharing. A trip to our family doctor for some reassurance was met with a distinct lack of commitment either way, and a hasty referral to the Ophthalmologist was made.

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It was a very long two weeks waiting to see the specialist. My ever efficient mind went to work, busying itself with the planning of logistics. We would surely have to go to Auckland for her treatment. Auckland is an 8 hour drive from Wellington. How would we juggle this? The best plan would be for me to go with my daughter and my husband to stay at home with our son. We’d have to arrange childcare for the days when Mr4 is not in Kindy. Should we just pack up and move back to Australia before the treatment? Would she get better care in Sydney? In all, it was a very productive 2 weeks. By the time our appointment came around, I had all the logistics very clearly mapped out.

Sitting in the clinic room while the Ophthalmologist examined my baby girls’ eye, I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. The palpitations of my heart were thumping at my eardrums, making it hard to hear. I had to work hard to concentrate on what the specialist was saying. He talked about all the different things he looks for when someone presents with an enlarged pupil (which of course I already knew about, thanks to Dr Google). He then said that our baby girl didn’t have any of the other symptoms that would give him cause for concern.

I had to ask him to say that bit again.

She was going to be fine. She simply had one pupil that was about 1mm larger than the other. It was called Physiological Anisocoria, and it was nothing to worry about. Casting my mind back, I recalled Dr Google mentioning something about it possibly being entirely benign. Interesting how we quickly brushed past that fact in our long discussions.

So, thankfully our baby girl is completely healthy. There will be no trips to Auckland for treatment, and family life can continue as normal. Reflecting on all the anxiety of those few weeks, I wonder why, oh, why I consulted with Dr Google over this? He never, ever brings good news; and it’s no secret to me, that he is so very often wrong with his diagnoses. It makes me wonder if he actually has a medical degree!?

Do you consult with Dr Google?

Has he ever given you palpitations?

The waiting place…

It’s May. Almost June. Winter is looming large. Those dreaded Wellington winds are blowing and the damn southerly is biting hard. The summer-time love affair I was enjoying with this city has soured. The house is off the market for the time being, and our move to Australia is feeling ever distant. The property market is still pretty dismal for sellers, so we are treading water, waiting for a change.

This weekend, my son and I were reading “Oh, the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss. In the story, he describes a most useless place, the waiting place, where people are just hanging about waiting for planes or trains or for their hair to grow. It was the most perfect description of our current state of idleness. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for the market to change; waiting for the winds to stop; waiting for the sun to shine; waiting for the house to sell… Oh, what a dismal old place this waiting place is!

20140527_110951I guess we all pass through the waiting place at different times in our lives. I have certainly been here before. It’s a very frustrating place to be, but I have also found that it’s a terrific incubator for ideas and determination. By the time our house sells, I will be so hungry to get to Australia. We’ll land in Brisbane and I will hit the ground running. After all this waiting around, I will be brimming with such drive and ambition that nothing will stop me!

For now though, I just need to tolerate these dormant moments, and keep reminding myself that this is just a temporary state. There’s nothing like a bit of Dr. Seuss philosophy to provide a little clarity.

Grief, recovery and a baby shower

I went to a baby shower at the weekend. For the first time in a very long time, I actually sat and joined in with stories of waters breaking and labour pains. I laughed. I felt normal. Stella was on my mind, but not in the gut wrenching, “how the hell can I get out of here” kind of way she normally is during these types of discussions. I talked about my eldest child’s birth. I laughed at how his waters broke while we were having dinner at a friends’ house. I nodded knowingly at the discomfort of late pregnancy. I laughed at how bizarrely primal and animalistic labour is. I bit my tongue when one mum told the heavily pregnant guest of honour that she was “in the safe stage” of her pregnancy. I kept it to myself that in pregnancy there is in fact, no safe stage. I stayed quiet about the birth of my second child, and didn’t talk about my third.

My second child, Stella, was stillborn. Just out of the blue, she died. It was an ordinary Wednesday back in 2012. It was August, and we had the in-laws staying with us. It had been my husbands’ 40th birthday and I had thrown a surprise party for him. All his family from Australia had come to New Zealand for the celebrations. It had been the most joyous time, and I was revelling in the success of all those months of covert party planning. And then I woke up. It was a Thursday morning. There was an ominous stillness in my belly. My baby was dead and nothing would ever be the same.

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In the 20 months that have passed since Stella died, life has gone on. I have woken up every single morning and gotten myself out of bed. I have cared for, and nurtured my son in the best way I know how. I have continued to be a good wife to my husband. I have carried my precious third born to term, and delivered her, alive and kicking, into the world. That I survived the anxiety and fear of my third child’s pregnancy still astounds me. Nothing can prepare you for pregnancy after such profound loss. In doing all these things, I have continued to exist every, single, day, since the day that my daughter died.

Moving through these months, I have felt like a mere approximation of myself. I lost the easiness that I have always had with people. I became tense and anxious. I dreaded meeting new people. People who didn’t know about Stella scared the hell out of me. I was fearful of what they might inadvertently say, and more so, about how I might react. Simple discussions with strangers in supermarkets about how many children I have could send me off to a very dark place. With my friends, when I wasn’t aloof I was intense. I felt tainted. I was awkward and uneasy. On certain days, it was almost debilitating.

Recently, there’s been a welcomed shift within me. I’ve been feeling a bit less like a cheap imitation of myself, a bit more like the real deal. I’ve found myself meeting strangers’ eyes on the street and smiling back at them. Conversations with the other mums at my sons Kindy have been coming more easily. I even had coffee with a new mum yesterday. These are the types of things the old me would have done, without even a second thought. The me before grief took hold.

I’m certainly not saying that my grief is done. It is liberating to feel some sense of forward motion, but I’m still not as accepting of my daughters’ death as I would like to be. I suppose grief is something that I will never shake off, and maybe I don’t really want to? It is after all, the vehicle that enables me to continue to parent Stella. By taking care of my grief, I am in some small way taking care of her too. I am not yet whole, but for now though, this is good enough.

Fijian escape and a baby on a bender

The holiday started at a crowded and chaotic Wellington airport. We were off on a much anticipated family trip to Fiji. There was fog; a lot of it; and yes, it was lingering. Air traffic around the city had ground to a halt. Our plans of being poolside, cocktail in hand by 3pm were diminishing fast. The weeks leading up to this trip had been fraught to say the least. The hubby was doing some crazy hours at work (often 12-14 hour days), which left me lone-wrangler to Mr4 years and Ms9 months. Mr4 had also been experiencing some health problems which resulted in some minor surgery just before our trip (thankfully with a positive outcome – phew!). Add to this, the stress of trying to sell a house and voilà, you have one pretty stressed out mama. Yes, I was in desperate need of a nice, relaxing tropical holiday!

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So, back at the airport. With the hubby on his way back home in a taxi to collect his forgotten passport, I found myself in command of a wayward luggage trolley, several large suitcases and two small children, one of which was harnessed to my front, the other manically speeding around the over-crowded Air New Zealand check-in area pretending to be a jet. It occurred to me at this point that things hadn’t started well. In an attempt to quell the rising anxiety, I felt it was time for a little mindfulness. I really needed to put aside the stress of the past weeks and the frustration and uncertainty of how and when we were going to get to Fiji, and just concentrate on what was happening in that very minute. I knew we’d eventually get that poolside cocktail, and I just needed to go with the flow until we got there.

With a passport holding husband back in the fold, we hunkered down, waiting for the fog to lift. Long hours were spent playing any and every child’s game that involved a pen and paper. Every shop in the airport was explored. Twice. We watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ plane land (interesting how their plane seemed to have no troubles navigating the Wellington fog!?). We ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen for ages. We chatted to other stranded passengers. My husband and I chatted with each other. It was actually a very pleasant family day out. In the end our flight didn’t leave until late afternoon, which meant staying in Auckland overnight and then an early morning flight the next day to Fiji.

By 11am the next day we were there. Hoorah!! The resort was gorgeous. White sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and recliners. Enormous pools that snaked their way around the resort. We had arrived and it was going to be bliss! There was even an adults-only pool, the Holy Grail. Two years ago, we’d had a Fijian family holiday. There were only three of us then, back when Mr4 was Mr2, and Ms9 months was not yet here. Back then, the hubby and I devised the most perfect holiday formula. We would take it in turns (day-on, day-off) to be on child-duty. On your day-off you could chose to do what-ever you liked. I would often spend the morning with the family, but then take my leave in the afternoon, heading straight for the much coveted adults-only pool. Book in one hand; cocktail in the other; the rapturous sound of silence in my ears. What could be better!? We left Fiji feeling renewed and refreshed. Family holidays are awesome!

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Or are they!?

So, the hubby and I figured we’d just apply our winning formula to this holiday. Eeeeeasy! However, there was one particular variable that we failed to factor in; the small matter of Little Ms9 months refusing to sleep in the hotel cot. In order to get our cherub to sleep I ended up having to share a bed with her. Given that Ms9 months is still breast feeding, sharing a bed with the milk truck was just a little too exciting for her. She managed to work her way through the entire week on a constant milk bender. It was almost like she was a teenager away on an end of year schoolies trip, but instead of binging on Midori and lemonade, it was mums milk all the way. The milk truck was exhausted! There was little hope of me catching up on sleep during the day, since our bundle of milk would only sleep in the daylight hours whilst being chauffeured around the resort in either the front pack or pram. The minx! I hasten to add that she sleeps perfectly well in her own cot at home, so this was a complete surprise to us. I spent the entire holiday in a sleep deprived state and feeling utterly wrung out.

Dad, forget sleep, where's the milk truck?

Dad, forget sleep, where’s the milk truck?

Sadly, our winning holiday formula didn’t make it out of the bag this trip. There was no time hanging out by the adults-only pool and neither of the two books I’d packed for the trip made it out of my suitcase (two – what was I thinking!?). We did have lots of family fun though. Mr4 spent hours swimming and digging in the sand. We took a boat trip out to a gorgeous tropical island. We ate out for every meal. The sun shone every single day and the sunsets were just simply stunning. We spent time all together, the four of us as a family.

IMG_6050Since we got back, I’ve been reflecting on the trip and the mismatch between how I thought the holiday would be, and how it actually was. I have come to the conclusion that I have probably been a little selfish in my expectations of what a family holiday should be. Holidays have always brought out the hedonist in me, and I guess this one was no different. Looking back, I now realise that I was so focused on the things I wasn’t doing (i.e.: sleeping, relaxing by the pool, reading my book etc), that I struggled to focus on what I actually was doing. It’s a shame that the mindfulness I had been practicing so well back at Wellington airport didn’t join me for the Fijian leg of the holiday. Family life is busy and family holidays are no exception.

Is there such a thing as a relaxing family holiday? Any tips welcomed!

New Merino and a Bolting Horse

A friend informed me the other day that 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Now, I don’t know much about the Chinese zodiac, but I do know that there has been more than just a touch of the bolting equine about the past few months in our household. At the risk of sounding prosaic, where the hell has this year gone!?

ImageWe find ourselves now in April (well, almost), and our house that was meant to sell in February is still on the market. It’s simple case of supply versus demand. The housing market is over-supplied and the punters are thin on the ground. We are now faced with a catalogue of decisions about the rest of the year. Do we take the house off the market for a while, or do we rent the house out and hightail it back to Australia? If we do stay, then which school should we enrol our son in when he starts in October? If we go then how do we juggle the logistics of selling a house remotely? I feel a bit irritated with having to ponder all of this. The Grand Plan had us selling the house back in February and being all settled back into Aussie life, complaining about all this heat, by now.

I found myself at the shops the other day, perusing merino for the kids. I even made a few purchases. Here in Wellington, this is what you do at this time of year. You invest in new winter woollies in anticipation of the coming winter chills. The fact that I have made these habitual purchases gives some hint as to my state of mind. I keep thinking that in a parallel universe I’m living it up in sunny Brisbane, buying sunscreen in bulk and throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

ImageIn the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty, I am mostly keeping up with my goal of being calm on purpose. There are times when the anxiety of the unknown abducts me and holds me for ransom. I pay the ransom fee (usually about 5 uninterrupted minutes of quality time with a bar of chocolate) and then I just get on with it.

I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to tame my unruly Horse? I guess I just need to hold on tight and let it take me where it will. If that means we stay here in Wellington, well then at least the kids have new merino.

Has your Year of the Horse jumped the fence and bolted up the road like mine?