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Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about

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5 tips for the caregiving husband. #heforshe

My sister and I were reminiscing the other day about things that happened in our childhood and as she talked I realised that I hadn’t thought about these events – big events – for years. I had never thought “what was that like for everyone else?” I started to see them a new light and it made me wonder what our history with Bartters and chronic illness was like for my husband, J.

The mystery of : what was wrong with our child? The emergency caesarean. All the hospital drama (our very own Greys, but without any of the hook ups). The years of intensive care and so many near misses.

I know what it was like for me.

But dear J, what was it like for you?

What is it like for a man when he finds out that his wife might lose her baby? His baby?

What’s it like to see the business end of a cesarean; cuts through seven layers of her body, edges pinned back while they put their hands in to pick up your little baby saying “grab the other leg”?

What’s it like to leave your wife on her own, barely able to walk to the hospital to visit F, because you need to go back to work? (just to clarify, I wasn’t walking all the way from home, that would be heartless! I was at the Ronald McDonald house next to the hospital).

I do not know what that is like, I can only imagine. I do know this: when you are sick or it is you that has had the baby, everyone knows what is wrong, they know they need to express sympathy of some kind. They do not expect you to come to work.

But the husband? They expect him to come in, be focussed, do their job. Carry on as normal.

Because while they understand the terrible situation you are in and have sympathy, there is still a job to be done.  They give you a day or two of leave and that is supposed to be enough. You might use some of your vacation days too but there is only so much extra leave that you can take before employers start to feel that they cannot rely on you.

So, husband with the wife who needs you and the child who is fighting for her life, what do you do?

You can’t do everything and someone is always going to be disappointed. Rock and a hard place, that’s where you are my friend.

Here are some suggestions, from a woman who has been on the other side, noticing what you have to deal with.

  1. Accept: you can’t do everything. And that’s ok.
  2. Breathe. Deeply. You get cranky and uptight when you do that shallow, upper chest only breathing. If your belly is expanding when you inhale, you are breathing well.
  3. Sleep: take naps. Lack of sleep really compromises your decision making abilities. It just messes up your thinking. I know you are trying to get those extra things done but just tell me you need to sleep and I will make sure you don’t get disturbed.
  4. Choose: don’t do it all. Let some things go. Choose what feels right for you. Make choices you can live with. We (the wives) may not always agree or understand your choices but you can escape us, at least for a while. You can’t escape yourself.
  5. Talk. Man, I don’t know how to stress this enough. Talk to your boss. Talk to us. And when talking to your wife: use simple language (especially at the beginning). We may look calm and rational on the outside but inside we are freaking out. We have no idea what we are doing and are scared. So don’t ask us to figure out what you mean, be obvious and clear. But don’t patronise us because then we will bite your head off. (Ah, there you go back to that rock and hard place)


Finally, why do I have the #HeForShe tag on this? Well, this post is also about feminism – the equality for both men and women. When we talk about babies and their illnesses, most of our thoughts go to the mothers and how they deal with it, what support they have. But what about the men? What support do they have? I hope this post highlights that we need to think about them too.



Invisible Scars

A year ago today I got the message.

Alone in my bed, late at night, crying in devastation at the loss. My mind and heart shying away from the awful truth, not wanting to accept it.

My brother-in-law found my nephew, his 17 year old son, hanging from a tree in their back garden.

I still can’t think of it without crying: that you were in so much pain, so taken by this terrible illness.

You have been irrevocably changed, unable to talk, unable to do so many things.

And we have all been changed too. Something inside of us has broken and will never get fixed. Not because of what you did, but because of your pain.

We may get on with our lives, laugh, make plans for the future, but this will always be there: that cut deep into our heart and soul. We miss you.



If you are affected by this in anyway, talk to someone. Tell them your reaction to this story, share your feelings, your thoughts.

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They say that the first few hours after the birth of your child are critical for bonding.

If that’s true, I’m fucked. And F has a really great connection with some NICU doctors and nurses whose names I can’t even remember.

At 29 weeks my labour started and they managed to halt it after 30 hours.  My birth plan, which I hand only just started thinking about, became this: keep my legs crossed for as long as possible. Her lungs aren’t ready yet.

A week later you came into the world just before midnight, by ceasarean. 5 eager doctors waiting to whisk you away.

Before they dashed off I got a glimpse of you in the incubator about a meter and a half away. These doctors were greedy to have you to themselves, their reluctance to take those 30 seconde so that I could get a glimpse of you were clear (ok, let’s be fair, they needed to take action quickly to save your life so they couldn’t hang around).

That was the last I saw of you for 24 hours. You were a tricky little lady, with your tiny veins and losing fluids so quickly. They have never had such a challenge to keep a baby hydrated before (and I hope it never happens again).

I did not recognise you that second day. You were so tiny, and so different than the baby I had seen the day before. Wrinkled. Where had all the softness gone?

It took two of them to pick you up, hold your limbs in place and keep all those tubes and wires in place, and place you on my chest. I don’t think you could have found two happier people in the world at that time than us.

We didn’t get long, kangarooing is very tiring for premature babies, and you had to go back in to your incubator,your new womb.

Over the next 5 weeks we didn’t get t spend much time together and I didn’t get to hold you much. You were really ill and sometimes I wasn’t even allowed to touch you at all.

The next few years were a roller coaster where I felt that I never gave you the attention that you deserve because there was so much to do to keep you out of hospital, to get you feeling well.

I always thought that we only started bonding when you were about two and a half. This week you turned 7 and I realise that I was wrong.

We have been connected, bonded since the moment you existed.

I did not have a “big moment” or rush of feelings when I looked at you the first time. There was no sudden falling in love. I was in love with you already.


How to stop shouting at your kids: 1 simple rule

I have read many articles on this topic but have found one thing that you need to have in place for those tips to work. I discovered it after getting advise from a child psychologist.

About a year ago we asked a child psychologist for help. F had started to have tantrums. Major episodes of anger and sadness and we just couldn’t get through to her at all while it was going on.

Given the traumas in her past and the strict medicine routine that she is on, it was not surprising.

The psychologist talked to us and to her and gave us some things to try (we had already been doing some and had some new ideas).

Then she said this:

“next time she has a tantrum, record it so that I can see what she is doing.  And I can hear what you say and maybe give you some tips on how to respond”.

This was it. The moment of inspiration.

Yes, I hate my voice being recorded and really did not want to see what I looked like on film but it was something else. The thought of being observed, especially by a psychologist, that made me pause.

You see, it’s hard to keep calm, be patient, be neutral even, when you have a kid suddenly dive full on into a tantrum. They can have been annoying the hell out of you all day long and then launch into a fit and yet I’m supposed to stay calm, rational. I’m supposed to but I don’t always succeed.

So that pause told me something: that I was pretty sure that I was not helping the situation. I probably added fuel to the fire.

So I went home and thought about it. What if, in my interactions with my kids, I behaved as if someone was watching me?

Ever noticed, when you are at your mum’s or in-laws house and your kids start acting up, how much patience you have? Or when you are at the park? Oh, definitely now: when other mums are around?

I started noticing.

My tone of voice, my level of calm, my ability to bite my tongue and not join in the snarky-ness. These were all different when other people were around and when in the back of my mind I thought “if she kicks off, I’m going to be filmed as well as her”.

She never had such a big tantrum again. Yes she played up. Yes she got really angry. Yes she got really sad and cried and shouted.

But I did not.

So this is my conclusion:

There is no one more patient than a parent who is being watched. And a watched parent never shouts.

A Watched Parent Never Shouts