Trudging Through the Mud

Life at the moment feels like when you’re trudging through thick mud. You’re getting somewhere, albeit very slowly. Every now and then an obstacle is thrown in to intensify the challenge and you continue because you have no other choice but to force your way to the direction you need to head in.

You look to your sides and the paths of others seem relatively struggle free, if anything they enjoy their terrain joyously with flashing rollerskates on as you wish your shoes didn’t have holes in. The holes let the mud in and start to fill your boot, your socks get wet and the mud adds weight to your already dragging, aching feet.

Honestly. This last few weeks feels like it has added about 20 years age to me. My whole body aches. I’m not getting a lot of sleep. It is either interrupted by crying child, or by my own nightsweats/night terrors.

I woke up today a bit disorientated because Amy isn’t here. She’s at respite. I feel relieved that I don’t need to do the whole lifting, fighting to dress her, cleaning of entire bedding set etc like every other day, but I feel a grieving feeling, and a guilt that she isn’t here. I feel bad that I can’t just do it all myself and that I need that additional help. I rang to see how she is, and she is fine. They said that yesterday was a different story – she was inconsolable, very agitated. Her behaviour lately is so up and down. Since she had that big seizure, and the few weeks running up to it, I have seen a big change in her. She is either almost sedate, non reactive, non sociable, a bit “out of it”, or she is angry… literally ripping her hair out, cutting her face, thrashing around screaming. It’s exhausting to watch, and probably more exhausting being her.

I’ve been struggling to get her the care she needs. The unreturned phone calls, the constant leaving of voicemails, the paperwork, the appointments we’ve missed or had to rearrange. To put it bluntly, it feels like people simply don’t care. We are changing GP. They declined one of her prescription requests the other day, and when I really needed an appointment for myself they couldn’t offer one. I just hope that this next one isn’t somehow worse. Amy has a controlled medication and loads of other ones and I usually need to collect a huge order once every few weeks. Some of her medicines come from hospital because our last GP refused to fund them. So like is usually like one big treasure hunt for meds you don’t want her to need, and also are not sure of the long term effects, or even if they are presently effective.

Whilst I had her yesterday her athetoid (involuntary) movements were uncontrollable. Her arms were like propellers and her mouth movements were reminiscent of seizure activity. I know that she is frustrated – she can’t verbally articulate her wants and needs, so to get her message across it can often come out in the form of lashing out – hitting, kicking, scratching and pinching. Trying to anticipate her needs causes me so many different emotions – frustration, sadness, hope, desperation, exhaustion, so many things. i hope that because we are only 4 years in that one day it will get easier. I am already working on getting her some bigger, and more relevant PECs symbols and though at times it seems futile as she won’t always register them, I guess if we don’t try then things will never change.

I have tried lately to pull myself out of my shell, to try and be my own person more and cultivate some new interests. I was already growing veg (mainly for guinea pigs) and going on lengthy dog walks… but I started rock painting, and also geocaching. The rock thing is getting me down slightly as it seems to be an amazing bonding hobby for parents and their able bodied children. I am still going to try and get Amy interested but right now the awareness just isn’t there and she is quite reliant on music or videos to soothe her. She loves being out and about, but we shall see how we go. I will try to collect some rocks and see if she will help me with painting them. Crafts and baking etc seem to not interest her, but I suppose she wants to do things that her motor skills DO let her do, she knows her limitations and she knows what she likes. Seeing people post how excited their kids are when they find the rocks, or when their rocks are found makes me really happy, but it also shows what we are missing. I noticed lately on our travels that children are starting to stare at her more. I guess the developmental gap is showing, and she is too big to be mistaken for a baby in a pram. I find the best thing to do is to try and open a dialogue with them “Amy, that little boy is looking at you, are you going to wave hello?”. I hate doing it, but I need to bridge that gap and teach people that just because someone is different we do not distance ourselves or stare.

The geocaching is harder because my phone battery dies so easily haha! It is however very exciting when you do find one.

I feel a bit like a tree that has been uprooted from the ground, and my feet are trying to reroot so I can ground myself and feel like part of the earth again. No matter where I go or what I do I feel entirely detached, almost like an alien observing the human species. I can interact with these people, I can forge polite conversation, but then I retreat to my internal monologue “they don’t get it. they don’t understand.”, “you’re annoying people, you’re pointless”. Seeing people park in disabled bays without a blue badge is enraging me… seeing ignorance and lack of compassion in the world is something that affects me deeply. I wish it didn’t, but it does.

You know when you’re a child and you do that thing in your classroom chair when you tip yourself backwards? Eventually you tip it just that notch too far and give yourself a shock… I feel like that A LOT at the moment. That jumpy, on edge feeling that something bad is about to happen. The calling an ambulance thing last week has triggered this, I have never been so scared and shaky in my life… and yet I know there are people out there who do this everyday for someone they love who has medical issues. I keep panicking that someone I love will get suddenly ill, or worse. And I want to constantly know everyone is okay because I cannot bear the thought of something happening to them. There are a lot of incredible people in my life who deserve nothing but happiness, love and success, and yet they are daily having challenges thrown at them. It just isn’t fair and I wish I could help. I feel so powerless to fix so many things that aren’t right in our lives.

I’ve tried improving my diet. I haven’t launched into a full blown diet as that will set me up to fail. But I have gained a lot of weight and am trying to make positive steps to improve. I have lost 7 pounds now in 2 weeks. I’ve taken some “before” photos in the hope that in two weeks I start to see a difference. I think I do already but the main point is to get more energy and feel better in myself… I’m no longer about trying to look amazing… it doesn’t work with my current eczema, anxiety and eye problems! Haven’t even been able to wear eyeliner in 3 days which is unheard of. I am also planning on some voluntary work. The school wanted parents who can help parents of newly diagnosed children, and the idea of making those early and confusing dark days for people even a tiny bit easier fills me with hope. So that will be good. My self worth is shot not having a “real” job. I miss the busy office, I miss the adult conversation and the banter (hate the word banter), heck.. I miss the money!! Carers barely get paid at all, there are no sick days, no holiday, and making plans you can commit to is hard… you just never know what could happen even an hour from now sometimes. It’s lonely, and it’s physically and mentally exhausting.. as I have found to my detriment this week as I have burnt out.

I referred myself for help the other day… it’s a self help thing that I think is linked to the NHS. I did it once already to help me with the grief from the miscarriages but I wasn’t in a place where I could try to fix myself. A few nights ago I had such a vivid dream. I was surrounded by people I know and they said “cez, we have someone here who would like to meet you”, and from behind them stepped out this beautiful little girl. She had long blonde hair, a frilly top, and leggings. She looked so alert and full of life. “Hello, who is this?” I asked. When suddenly, in the pit of my stomach I started to feel sick. “This is Millie.. you never did miscarry… we didn’t think you would be able to cope with another child so we put you to sleep and gave a csection… she has been raised by others for 3 years”. My heart pounded, I felt weak, I almost fell to the ground. The dream then cut to me lay on the grass with the little girl. “Mummy. Why do stars come out at night?” she asked. I pondered with her, trying to think of a child friendly way to explain the world and how it rotates. I smiled to myself at the inquisitive nature of children and felt thankful that I could help her learn about the world.

And then I woke up. Covered in sweat, roasting hot, heart pounding. Another dream about the lost children. I feel tearful thinking about it now. It ignites the hospital flashbacks of the csection, being wheeled a long rapidly in a hospital bed watching the ceiling tiles fly by. It was only half 4, I take myself to the bathroom to calm down and realise Amy’s feeding pump is alarming. I go to fix it and she is lay there wide awake and smiling at me. Life is good. She is alive and well, I can go back to bed for a few hours.

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(pictured is my amazing daughter. Who I am lucky to have)

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The Day my Life Changed Forever

So this the birth of my daughter is the most dramatic, amazing, heartbreaking, most everything story I have to tell. I suppose everyone’s “birth story” or “becoming a parent” story is the biggest thing that ever happens to everyone. But I want to write down my daughter’s story before writing my posts about how incredibly proud she has made me recently. I have always been proud of her but this last few months have been absolutely astounding. Nothing can prepare you for parenthood, or birth, or anything like this. The world we were plunged into in 2014 truly defines me today, it also accounts for my perspective of the world, my view of the past, my anxiety of the present, and my aspirations and hopes for the future.

I am a mum. I am a “special needs” mum. I am the proudest person in the world. I am an advocate. I will fight EVERY negative view on disability, I will fight to raise awareness, I will fight for inclusion and equality. I will be that annoying person who harps on and on about accessibility to shops and the community in general. I want to see a world where my daughter and every wheelchair user gets the same rights and access to the world that we as “able bodied” people take for granted. Things have got so much better in the world, but we have a long way to go to fight stigma and assumptions. Anyway, I will dismount my pedestal now.. back to the story… ahem.

Me getting pregnant did come as a surprise. I was pretty well adjusted to nights out, playing with lego, playing video games, going to rock gigs etc… I liked my me time and I liked working full time and trying to build a career. My pregnancy was pretty typical… everything went absolutely fine for the whole pregnancy, I was the right weight, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I did it all by the book… after all.. I was creating a life! I did eat quite unhealthily but I made sure I got my 5 a day and if not that at least lots of vitamins…

Maternity leave began for me at about 36 weeks weeks. Amy was showing no sign of arrival and eventually I had to have a sweep. At 41 weeks and 3 days my water broke. By the way for me it was nothing like what happens in the movies… I wasn’t even sure that was what had happened until I phoned triage to check!! I knew at that moment I was to become a mum in the next 24 hours.

The next day my contractions began. They were indescribably painful. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain I was in. I remember being on all fours in my front room screaming my head off not knowing what to do. Phil rushed home from work to take me to the hospital.

When I got to the hospital they told me I was in the very early stages of labour and that it might be a benefit to me to go home for a while. I said no… I was in too much pain. In retrospect I am so glad I made this decision because if I had it’s pretty certain Amy would not be here with us today.  A thought that fills me with all sorts of pain. She is the Ash to my Pikachu and so on.

I was given some pain killers and was put on gas and air. All it did for me was make me feel nauseous. The nurses/midwives came in and checked on me every few minutes to check her heart beat. All was fine. They were about to tell me I could get in the birth pool if I want. I didn’t really have a birth plan as I had been forewarned by so many that no matter what you plan… fate or your baby will have other plans. So I thought I would just go with the flow.

After a few hours of being in the hospital the nurse came to do a routine heartrate check.. her face dropped.. she left the room quickly. The senior midwife ran in and urged me to get on the bed and lay on my side. I was so panicked and in so much pain I was shouting that I couldn’t… but obviously I obliged.

Next thing I know I was rapidly being transported down hospital corridors in a bed surrounded by surgeons, doctors, midwives, nurses.. I don’t even know. I just remember screaming “please, make my baby safe”. I was in a deep panic and hyperventilating. The surgeon was explaining that I was about to have a category A c-section. I screamed for them to put me to sleep faster. I remember the mask going on and slowly feeling calmer and dozier. I was asleep.

When I awoke I could hear my name being repeated over and over. The morphine has distorted my reality and my first words were “I’m a robot now.” Something I look back on with both a combination of amusement and heartache.

When I was taken to my room I wasn’t aware of all the tubes attached to me, of my smaller stomach, or the fact my baby wasn’t there. In my drugged up state I felt like they were just preparing her to come and see me. Time didn’t pass slowly at all. My mum, dad, mum in law and Phil were there. I chatted all sorts of rubbish not understanding the severity of the situation whilst everyone around me was worried sick.

Eventually they brought Amy in. The situation hit me at last. “She’s very very poorly” said the midwife. “I’m so so sorry. This… just doesn’t happen”. Everyone was in a state of shock. I later learned that the entire staff involved in Amy’s birth endured a long debriefing as it was a distressing and traumatic time for all involved… after all, it was totally unexpected, totally unpreventable.

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Amy was transported immediately to the city hospital for cooling therapy. She had been resusitated for 8 minutes following the csection and suffered a severe brain injury (one that would come to be know as “hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – grade 3). The cooling therapy would keep her at 33 degrees to help prevent the brain damage spreading further. The next day I woke up and had a panic attack because she was in a different hospital to me. The adrenaline kicked in and I was shouting and rushing round packing my bags. I forgot I had just encountered major abdominal surgery.

An ambulance took us to the hospital. A doctor met with us. “Is there any hope?” I asked… still drugged up and totally unsure of what was happening. The doctor provided a grave expression and told us she didn’t expect Amy to make it through the night, and if she did she would be a “total vegetable” (A term I have come to detest and advocate against very strongly).

The next 5 days were spent in absolute agony both physically and mentally. With each day we saw progress with our little girl as she lay motionless attached to what seemed like hundreds of machines in the newborn intensive care unit. Compared to the other babies she seemed giant… she was the only baby in our section who wasn’t premature. It didn’t seem right that she was here. I remember breaking down so many times “why us?” “why her?” “will she ever come home?”

I remember the time a nurse told us she had done a wee. This was a huge win. Something you wouldn’t even think about as being an achievement.. this was huge. After a few days they started to wean her off the oxygen to see how she coped. After a few days she was off oxygen and breathing for herself. I well up just thinking about it. A nurse said to me “just think how good it will be when you finally take her home.” At the time this felt like a sick joke.. I had been led to believe that she was never coming home. I thought that eventually they would want to switch the ventilator off or that her heart would give in.

She was having constant seizures and we could see on a monitor every time she was having them. It was heartache like you could never imagine, I cannot quite convey just how incredibly hard those days were for us and how we all got through it amazes me. She fought, we fought, and so did the hospital staff.

She needed constant suction (she had no swallow reflex) and already had pnemonia from aspiration of meconium) and was fed via an ng tube in her nose. I was expressing breast milk every few hours to help give her the best chance. I continued to do this for 6 agonising weeks. I have a huge respect to anyone who manages to breastfeed… pumps hurt a lot more than oral breast feeding.. by the end of it I was in so much pain from mastitis and bleeding. 100% worth it. The csection scar hurt more and more as the painkillers wore off. I had a daily injection to prevent clots and wore anti DVT socks too. The scar was covered with a huge bandage. Just getting up to walk to the bathroom took around 30 minutes. At the time the pain was a sore reminder of what she was going through.

There was a day both Phil and I totally broke down. It was because I spent all morning trying to build myself up to say out loud “why doesn’t she move?”. Later that day a nurse said to me “There are good days and bad days. Today I think you had a bad day… but there is always tomorrow.” Those words will stick with me forever. The other thing that will stick with me forever is my respect for nurses and doctors who work tirelessly in highly stressful environments not only keeping people alive, but also helping encourage people who are experiencing a huge shock to the system. They don’t ever stop these nurses… they are filling charts, checking on patients, performing procedures, washing hands, getting meds… endless tasks. I bet when they get home at the end of the day they ache SO much. I hope they also ache with pride at how incredibly amazing they are and know what a difference they have made to the world that day. Seriously. The most inspiring time of my life. I have so many quotes from nurses, “there is always hope” being one of them. Thank you st marys from the bottom of my heart.

When the cooling cot was warmed up to normal temperature we saw her finger twitch for the first time. How we cried. Our little girl was with us. She could move! We filmed that little finger for such a long time. I am now crying just thinking about it. The first time we held her was on day 4… she was still fully ventilated and it took the nurse 45 minutes to get her safely out of the cot and into our arms.

After a few weeks she got transferred back to our local hospital to the neonatal ward. When she was about 4 weeks old she made her first sound – a cry. We were amazed. When we had met her pediatrician for the first time she asked me what concerns I had… one of my main ones was “how can she tell us if she is in pain?”… well, the cry eventually came and she showed her first signs of communication. We were amazed. I remember telling the doctor that ALL I wanted was for her to be happy and have an excellent quality of life… and this is still true as ever. Fortunately she IS happy and DOES have an excellent quality of life.

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At 5 or 6 weeks old she was okay to come home. We were so happy and so scared!! We were armed with tube feeding supplies, medications, and a suction machine.

So that’s sort of it. The shortest version I could write. There is so so so much more to the story than this but I wanted to get this out there for people following this blog who don’t know me or my story. I will come back to bits of this story in future entries as so many things happened that shape how I think of the world today and how I operate in this entirely new world.

Amy is now over 2. She has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy… she has mixed cp meaning her muscle tone fluctuates… sometimes she is very stiff, sometimes a bit floppy… she has constant dystonic (uncontrolled/involuntary) movements and literally does not stop moving unless sleeping. She is still 100% tube fed but via a gastrostomy button (on her tummy) and is fed 24 hours a day on a medicated formula via a feeding pump. I will no doubt discuss that surgery on here, and also the many feeding issues we still encounter to this day.

She has progressed so much. In spite of her restrictions her body forces on her… she is an incredibly bright little girl. Cheesy as it sounds she surprises us everyday with her tenacity and feistyness. Everyone who meets her adores her. She really is the best thing ever to happen to me.

I do still suffer PSTD from those dark days.. I do still get flashbacks. But i am getting better. I once collapsed at the sight of a surgeon a year or so ago because it gave me an unpleasant flashback. I am getting better at these things. Now I can focus on where we are now and whilst we do have a lot of challenges and hard times… we can smile.

I hope everyone can appreciate that this was a particularly difficult post for me to write. I know it wasn’t well worded or anything, I just typed and typed and told it exactly how it was. It has been hard reliving it in this amount of detail as usually when people enquire about Amy’s story I only tell a short version, kind of a default response I have made. This post made me relive every room, every conversation, every thought, just everything.

A huge thank you to my amazing boyfriend Phil, my parents, my mum in law, my grandma, all of my family and friends, st marys hospital, stepping hill hospital.. and the therapists who continue to believe in and work with amy and I today. Most importantly thank you Amy for pulling through and for continuing to make my life a happy one.

For anyone interested in keeping up to date with amy and her antics.. search “amy rose’s army” on facebook.

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