amber rahim

Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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Difficulty eating, not picky eater.

“Oh, they’re a picky eater? Well, you’ve just got to be strict with them”

“Don’t spoil them”

“Let them go hungry. They will soon give in”

“When they see other kids eat, they’ll eat”

Some of the wonderful and pointless advice I have received over the years. And if you have a child who has difficulty with eating, then you’ll understand me when I say that there are two camps on the topic of kids and eating.

Camp 1

My kid had no problems and I think that’s because I’m a good parent. Do what I did and you won’t have a problem.

Or

My kid eats but I want them to eat more healthily. They ate the carrots yesterday but today they threw them on the floor. Oh my god, my kid has an eating problem!

We talk about this a lot and give advice to others whenever we can.

Camp 2

It’s nuts. Eating is something that all animals do naturally, without event thinking about it. But my kid has real issues with food and the process of eating. So how the heck do you teach an activity that is instinctive? Yeah, that’s what we are trying to figure out.

We get advice all the time but rarely get listened too.

And ok, there is a third camp. A camp of people who feed their kids, their kids eat, mostly, and they don’t worry about it too much. But they also tend to just get on with it and don’t give meaningless advice to others.

I’ve been in Camp 2 for the last 8 years. It’s been a long road. It’s tested my patience. I’ve questioned my parenting hundreds of times. I’ve let the whole thing go (my daughter had a feeding tube so what the heck) and I’ve worked at it like a demon. I wrote my side of the story on how to actually help your kids to eat in this post 8 ways to get your kids to eat

And in 3 words? Give It Time.

But today’s post is a celebration. A milestone has been achieved in our household.

F, my daughter with the incurable kidney disorder, the one who drank Maggi flavour enhancer, neat(!), for about 4 years, the one who didn’t eat more than crumb size bites until she was 5, the one who projectile vomited at the touch of a banana, the one who had to learn how to move food to the back of her throat so she could swallow it, well she ate a baked potato. With tuna mayonnaise. And a little bit of salt and butter.

A complete meal.

Not bits and bobs. Not a collection of random food stuffs. Not just a single item like tuna or a plain tortilla wrap dipped in ketchup (yes, that really was an acceptable meal for her for a long time).

A complete meal.

AND

She took a complete, normal sized bite. You know, the amount of food you can get on a teaspoon and that any other kid of 8 would eat. You know, where the food actually fills your mouth completely.

AND

She didn’t vomit or gag.

She just ate it. Said it was delicious. Then took another bite. And another bite. And another. Until it was finished.

I cried. I held my tears inside because, well, she would just think her mum was a freak. Can you imagine taking a bite of a baked potato and seeing your mum cry because of it? She’d call a doctor.

But inside I cried with joy.

She ate! a complete! meal!

I want to add exclamation marks everywhere because all the words are so exciting and so important!!!!!!!!!!!!

And you know what else? She loves spicy tuna maki. And eats the whole thing. Not just picking a few grains of rice out and drowning them in soy sauce (because really, that’s how she used to eat them). SHE EATS THE WHOLE THING

I know there are so many other battles still to face. So many other things she needs to learn how to do to look after herself, and I’m not even talking about her medical routine. But she can eat. She can finally do that one thing that so many of us take for granted. She can eat.

Woohoo!

For all of you who are facing this challenge, a child with difficulty eating, I just want to say:

Hang in there. You’re patience is just perfect. You’re impatience is natural and sometimes will give you the push your child needs to be challenged. And take time to celebrate the milestones. Because there are many along the way. The first bite. The first time the food stayed in. The first time they say “can I try that?” Enjoy them all.

Who would have thought that baked potato with tuna mayonnaise would make me cry with joy?

tuna

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Happy Mandalas and broken hands

I love colouring. I always joined in when F was little and probably did more colouring than she did. I definitely do more than S.

Recenty my sister in law bought me a Mandala colouring book and I’m hooked. I have thin pens and thick pens and have reserved a couple of pages for the girls to colour (because of course if I am colouring, they want to).

i love using the thin pens the most. It takes more concentration and the colours just seem to be more sharp, jewel like.

its very soothing and this daily practice has been like a kind of meditation for me: it builds my reserves of resilience.

But today as I colour I feel restless. Some words need to be spoken. Yet I feel that my life while be forever changed and I’m not sure I am ready for that. But I don’t the know how much longer I can hold them in.

But these words I can say: we took S to the hospital today. She fell and hurt her hand. No amounts of bruises and scrapes stop her, and she reminds me of my sister Y, fearless and ever on an adventure. But today she cried so. She fell asleep in my arms and on waking, cried some more.

It was a quick visit and it looks like she bruised it. No broken bones they said. Let’s hope that’s true.

I caught myself comparing this visit to all our other visits with F. Those visits are always so complex but today I don’t want to compare. I am going to try and enjoy that whole process took under an hour, including the 20 min drive each way.

It was a breeze. So thank you God for the ease and speed today.


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How can pink donuts be my downfall?

I have written a lot about how I have dealt with never ending sickness extreme eating problems (i.e. nil by mouth for 5 years).

I think I have written about it with patience, become a little bit wiser through the process.

Well, today I do not feel even remotely wise or patient. Today sucks.

You see, little sisters copy big sisters. In everything. All those quirky eating/non eating habits that I was able to deal with in F, who has the illness and the multitude of reasons why she does that weird stuff, well, they just suck when S does them.

Take donuts. Until recently, F didn’t eat any kind of bread or bread stuff. Yet she was interested in the little sprinkles on pink sprinked donuts.  So what did she do? Pick off the sprinkles.

S loves bread. I mean really loves it (except crusts but hey, she’s a kid). How does she eat donuts? She picks of the sprinkles (and icing because she’s a sugar junky).

Now I don’t want to force either of my kids to eat junky donuts, I really don’t. But I want to shout “just eat the effing donut!”  Sometimes I feel trapped in this circle of weirdness with food and only one of them has the illness!

Can’t catch a break. You’d think it would be easier with the “healthy one”.

Sigh.image

Ok, whingeing session over.

 


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What’s different about chronic illness No. 4: the risks are high

I write about both the good and the bad that comes with living with chronic illness. Today is unfortunately about the bad.

On Monday we found out that a boy in F’s class at school, whose initial is I, died last week. His illness had taken over and there was nothing more they could do. His parents and the teachers knew it was only a matter of time until it took him. And it took him last week.

F cried and remembered J, another boy from her school who died last year. When she got home she told us she felt wobbly inside thinking about them, thinking that she didn’t want this to happen to her.

I wish I could tell her that it won’t but as I write, the daughter of a friend, who has the same illness as F, is losing kidney function by the week and is almost in stage 4 kidney failure.

Did you know that you can’t tell if your kidneys are failing, unless you test for it? Well, that is until it gets really critical.

This is why we need check ups so often. This is why we need to take her to the hospital if she gets stomach flu and vomits for more than a day.

This risk is always there.

It’s as far away as the sun, and closer than her shadow, all at the same time.

That’s what is different about chronic illness.

 

In memory of I, a sweet soul. Prayers and all our love and compassion to you and your family.

 


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Dear children, your happiness is not my goal

I sometimes struggle with being a parent, it seems so hard and kids just seem so determined to do their own thing. I sometimes wonder “what is it that I am supposed to be doing here? How can I know if what I am doing is right?”

So I did what I often do when faced with life’s big questions, I perused Facebook. Specifically, my saved items in FB that I have saved because they look really interesting and worth my time (but will actually take some time to look at so I  decide to do it later and continue with the chitchat instead).

I watched this Ted talk by Jennifer Senior on happiness for children. It’s 18 mins long and if you cherish your sanity as a parent, I highly recommend that you watch it. It is the inspiration for my post today for 2 reasons

  1. she has put into words thoughts that I have been struggling to define (and has research to back it up)
  2. I want the best for my children

So here is my attempt to explain why my isn’t my goal to make my children happy.

It helps my sanity, and certainly my anxiety, that I am naturally quite lazy. Hmm, hang on, thats not quite right; I work very hard when I believe in something. But when faced with something I don’t believe in, my response is “what’s the point?”

When it comes to parenting, these are some things I don’t believe in:

  • I don’t believe in parenting as a verb

Until the 1970’s, parent was only a noun (thanks for the info Jennifer): something we could be, not what we could do. This small grammatical change seems to coincide with an increase in the amount of work we apparently need to do as parents. So many objectives, so many goals, things we “absolutely must do” and things that we “must never do”. And that can be the same thing, the answer just depends on who you ask! Why should there be so much work? What is the point of all that running around, of the stress?

  • I don’t believe our goal, our objective, should be that our children are happy

I truly want my children to be happy but I also believe that we are responsible for our own happiness. So how can my children’s happiness be my goal? How can I make sure my children are happy? Take away their autonomy? Take away their independence? Replace it with instructions of do this, do that?

How would I even know what to do for my children when I get lost and sometimes can’t figure out how to make myself happy?

So what are my goals?

When Jennifer says “what if we aim for productive kids, moral kids, and hope happiness will come from the good they do and the love they feel from us?” my heart sings and my soul says “Yes!”

What if my goal as a parent was to teach my children decency, work ethic, love?

Well, to start with, I know what to do to teach these. I can demonstrate decency, a good work ethic and love. I can explain what it is (to me at least) and encourage them to develop their own values.

I can praise them when they practice it with a “you worked really hard on that”. How would I praise happiness? With a “well done, you are happy”? I think they would just look at me like I was a loon.

Decency. Work ethic. Love. I can work with this.

As I write this I realise this is exactly what my parents did for me. They taught me decency: how to treat others; how to behave in society so that my contribution is positive; how to stop myself being rude to the obnoxious colleague and still stand my ground.

They taught me to work hard, work thoughtfully and to be proud of myself.

They taught me how to love unconditionally by loving me and each other that way.

And you know what? I’m pretty happy. I’m fairly confident. So maybe it works after all.

Decency. Work ethic. Love

 

p.s. I am not saying that I have the answer for everyone. This just feels right for me.

This is just my response to that overwhelming feeling from society at large that I should be making sure my kids are happy and I just don’t buy it. Check out what Jennifer has to say. Think about it. That’s all.


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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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Bonding

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.