The Paradox of Tolerance (or whether Mummy should ignore the nasty lady)

Today was just like any other Monday.  I look forward to Mondays, unlike most of the (working) population.  That is because I am currently on a career break and after a weekend with all three of my very lovely, but very lively, children, I quite like getting back to being just me and the little one (my 15-month old daughter).  Today was no exception, and to start the week off on the right foot I had arranged to meet a friend for a coffee and a catch up with our most recent family additions (I could have just said babies I guess, but why use one word when you can use half a dozen, eh?!)  We had agreed on 10:30 as a good time to meet, but partly because of my general levels of disorganisation and partly because of little buckles that are almost impossible to fasten and pram straps that eluded me beneath the packet of gummy bear paws my little one was clinging on to for dear life, I arrived ten minutes late.

The café was quiet, with just one other group of ladies sat down, and so I joined my friend and ordered myself a coffee.  I had waited all morning for that coffee, skipping a morning drink or breakfast at home so I might enjoy it all the more.  My little girl was pretty well behaved.  She is walking, and she likes to be on the move all the time, so she did well to sit in her pram and listen to me and my friend chatting away about our latest little dramas.  She babbled to her little friend, played with toys, and munched on a biscuit quite merrily.  My friend’s little one was getting tired, so I suggested we go for a walk and was preparing to leave when my daughter let out a high pitched squeal.  Just the one.  Now, I know that in the past she has earned herself quite the reputation of a screamer, but that was when she had just found her voice, was ready to move but not quite able, and could not express her frustration in any other way.  Nowadays my little girl can communicate much more effectively by pointing, using her albeit limited vocabulary, or the little bits of sign language she has cleverly learned at home, so the screaming doesn’t tend to feature.  It made an appearance today, just the once, but was in fairness loud enough to bring all the dogs from the neighbouring area.

Cue nearby ‘lady’ who demonstrably places her fingers in her ears, snaps her head round towards me with enough force to cause whiplash, screws her face up with anger and hisses loudly “OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE!” 

This is where the paradox of intolerance comes into full force.  This lady is clearly quite intolerant in character.  Intolerant of noise in general perhaps? Or just intolerant of children?  Maybe just intolerant of mothers daring to take a moment away from the kitchen sink to enjoy time with friends.  Perhaps her intolerance only extends to my daughter and her individual squeal.  The question is, should I tolerate her intolerance? Accept that she has an issue with said individual squeal and as much right to articulate her opinion with a rather venomous hiss?  You see, if I choose not to tolerate her intolerance, then in fact I too must accept the label.  It’s an interesting debate.  But whether we call ourselves tolerant or intolerant is kind of immaterial, because today Mummy chose not to ignore the nasty lady.  

Now to set the scene, you need to understand that I am not someone that seeks out confrontation.  I will defend myself and others if it is necessary and right to do so, but I am more likely to let something go than to start a fight.  I am not the girl that gets into rows with friends after one too many Pinot Grigio’s, neither am I the girl that hurls expletives at the person who just cut me up on the motorway.  I can be a little highly strung at times, and yes I admit to getting stressed out with everyday life sometimes, but I am no fishwife. I don’t know why I chose today to get into a public debate with this woman.  I think had she even muttered the same words under her breath I would have forgiven her for struggling with my daughter’s dulcet tone.  But there was something in her face that brought out the fight in me.  It was something bordering on contempt, and it was directed at my child.  

At first I felt shaken and in shock at the blatant manner in which the lady displayed her utter annoyance at the one sound my child had made.  I felt the tears building, and started to collect my things together.  I said aloud something along the lines of, “I cannot believe how rude that was!”  To which the lady responded that it was I who was rude, that I should appreciate that I was not the only person in the cafe and remarked “Why should anyone have to listen to that?!”  I said, through my tears, that I had never before been made to feel that way about being out with my child, to which she mocked, “Oh, don’t be so ridiculous!” and when I said that she had no idea how she had made me feel, she responded with more accusations that it was ridiculous, that I had been in there over an hour (I hadn’t), that I needed to take my child home and that it was obvious she needed to go to sleep!  I told her not to tell me what to do with my child, but she responded to confirm her right to tell me what to do with “I have been a mother!”.  One of her friends began to try and interject, tried to tell her she was wrong, but she continued to berate me for daring to have a child in the café for what she considered to be over an hour – not that it is of any consequence, but I arrived at 10:40, spent 5 minutes in this awful debate, went to the shop next door, walked to my friends’ and arrived at her house at 11:30 so I can’t have been in there for any longer than 30 minutes –  and that she did not see why she should have to be made to listen to my child‘s noise.  As I left, which I did because I just felt like running, I turned and said (rather churlishly), “I’m going home now, and when I get there I shall research just how long is considered socially acceptable for a mother to be allowed out in public with her baby.”

Shortly after I left, one of the friends of this ‘lady’ approached me outside (where I was sobbing with both sadness and anger).  She too had decided to leave, and although I felt bad that the ripples had been felt by others in the group, I was grateful that she made a stand and showed she had the grace that her friend is lacking.

To the lady who ruined my day;

I could call you names, my god I really want to! They’d be good ones too, but I’ll leave the name calling to the readers of this blog; I’m sure they’ll have a few choice words.  No, I won’t throw insults, but what I will say is this;

I commend you for whatever status you have achieved in life that has given you the right to choose who is allowed to be in your presence, even when in a public place.  That those around you should behave entirely as you expect them to, and that they should be the ones to leave when they don’t meet up to your expectations.  I personally live with the view that if you can’t take the heat, you should stay out of the kitchen.

I am envious of your perceived perfection.  Personally, I have learned to accept my own failings, to admit when I am wrong and to apologise when I can see somebody is hurt.  I guess empathy is something that cannot be learned.

You said you were a mother.  You may well have a daughter my age; I hope you treat her with more compassion. Do you have grandchildren? If you don’t, then I am sorry that you haven’t yet been granted that blessing.  If you do, I hope that you have the ability to love those dearest to you as much as you cannot tolerate those that are strangers.  I am truly sorry for whatever it was that froze your heart so hard that you could watch a mother cry in front of her child and feel no remorse.

Last year, my child stared Death in the face and although he let her be, he is always in the shadows.  There was a time we wondered if we would ever get to hear our daughter’s voice.  Today every sound she makes (yes, even that one) is like sweet music to us.  Seeing the bitter annoyance in your face today was difficult to bear.  I am sorry that displaying your intolerance and contempt was more important to you than a mother’s heart.

I am not sure what annoyed you most; the noise my child made or the fact that I allowed her to make it. Either way you judged me and my baby girl from one interaction, and I am really sorry that you have not had the pleasure of meeting us both under more amicable circumstances.  My daughter is the single most remarkable human being I know and I am pretty decent too.  I will devote most of my time with her teaching her to be graceful and kind always, to be tolerant of others, and to expect to be taken to task if she chooses to ignore that guidance.

Today I left.  I was bruised, ashamed, sad an in utter disbelief.  I hope that if nothing else, you have learned that there are consequences for bad behaviour, no matter what age you are.  Today I made a promise to myself and to my daughter; we will never be silenced or made to feel unwelcome for living.  We will celebrate being alive with every sound we possess; laughter, squeals, giggles and chatter! And we will never leave again.

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Everything changes

I have just returned home from handing back all my equipment to my employer as I embark on this new chapter in my life.  Funny how strange it felt handing back a laptop and a mobile phone that have only been locked away in the garage for the last year anyway.  I guess it felt somewhat symbolic of the final step towards (temporary) detachment from my career.  And just being there in the restaurant, drinking coffee like I used to every morning when I was there, felt quite surreal.  More so, because I had you by my side, and a rice cake in my hand instead of a notepad.  I was very aware, having just finished a year of maternity leave, that under normal circumstances I would have been there alone.  I would have been the one rushing off to that conference call, or heading off to a meeting.  I have no regrets, however. Non, je ne regrette rien.   I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the chance to take some additional time to concentrate on your immediate needs, and to regain some of the time we lost last year.  With your brother and sister I would have missed so much of what I get to see every day with you sweetheart.  Watching you develop and grow is a source of constant amazement for me, and I don’t think I will ever tire of spending time with you.

The effects of the last year were not just felt by me.  I’m sure they were felt by you, but I have no idea how because you can’t tell me yet.  I hope that you don’t remember any of it. That all you remember is how we used to go on the train for days out, or for coffee and cake and to the park.  I won’t ever forget that the backdrop for all of those things was an imposing hospital looming behind us.  But hopefully you will just remember feeding the ducks in that nice park, and you won’t have noticed the tears in my eyes that came because I was saddened by the memories that the park evoked.  One day we will be able to go to Weston Park and sit on a bench and let the warm sunlight wash over us as though it were sent right from Heaven.  We will lie on a blanket and make pictures in the clouds, feed the birds and the ducks and watch the fish in their shady hiding place under the little bridge.  But we will always make our place on the other side of that park so as to spare the mums who, like me last year, watched other families enjoying the summer through the windows of a hospital cubicle.  The nurses thought they were helping me by moving me to a room with a view. The brick wall which was our previous view had been quite oppressive, but no more so than watching mums play with their babies in the shade of the trees.

Back then I thought I did a pretty good job of protecting your brother and sister.  We told them that you had a cold but needed the nurses to help get you better because you were too young for Calpol.  It was a white lie. Quite a big one, but white nevertheless.  And you did test positive for Rhinovirus in that first week, so it seemed like a plausible excuse.  We also kept your siblings from the hospital.  They visited you on your last day at the local hospital (after a week), and then maybe once or twice when we moved to the Children’s Hospital.  We didn’t tell them when you were moved to Leeds, so they didn’t see us when I was in my darkest place.  What I didn’t know was that our attempts to protect them probably made their anxiety worse.  I underestimated Eliza.  She has told me since  that she was very worried that I would be coming home without her baby sister.  She wasn’t stupid; she knew something must be pretty wrong and that a common cold wouldn’t need her mum and sister to be away from them for as long as we were.  So she actually worried more, because she knew it had to be bad for us to want to hide it from her.  And Fin? Well he went off the rails a bit. His behaviour at school hit an all time low, and the effects of last year have only just begun to wear off with a huge amount of support from the school.  He was the baby of the family before you came along, you see.  He was excited about getting a baby sister (although I do think he might have secretly been hoping for a brother to play Minecraft with!), but suddenly not being the baby anymore is quite a lot for any child to get used to.  And then just 7 weeks after we brought you home, just as he was probably getting used to you being around, he lost you and me for a while.  6 weeks.  That’s a long time in a 5-year old’s life.  Because we played down your illness so much, he couldn’t understand why his Mum would leave him.  He thought that I had chosen you over him, and his little head wasn’t quite ready to work that one out.  His self-esteem took a huge knock, and he became very insecure for a while.  No need to feel any guilt about that though, not you or I.  I made the decision to protect them for all the right reasons and I wasn’t ready to tell them that they might lose their little sister.  They didn’t need that worry.  And by the time you read this, you will have seen that none of this had a lasting effect on them; they probably won’t even remember it when you’re old enough to be reading this.

I am not the same person that I was before I had you.  I might even go as far as saying that you are lucky that this happened to you.  You have had the very best of me this last year, and I dare say  that you will continue to get the best of me for as long as we are both here.  I have not taken a single moment with you for granted, and because of that I think I am more patient with you than I might have been with the others. I am most definitely more intuitive about your needs. Perhaps some of  that is due to age (I was 40 when I had you), or experience with having done it twice before.  But I think most of it is the incredible bond that we have developed by spending so much time together since you came into the world.  Because I am scared of you getting very poorly again (I’ll tell you one day about chicken pox and the medication that you take), I have kept you away from large groups of children in the main.  I don’t take you to baby and toddler groups or play areas where the risk of infection is a constant worry for me.  I don’t wrap you up in cotton wool either – rather than avoid all situations, I tend to weigh up the situation based on my anxieties and I guess you could call it damage limitation, rather than complete avoidance.  That will become easier towards the end of this year (2016) when you have received the MMR, Chicken Pox and Flu vaccines.  Until then, we will stay together in our little bubble where we see just the right amount of people to allow you to build relationships with other children, but not enough for me to worry about you becoming sick.  I know I cannot protect you from everything, but I have to protect you from what I see as a risk, no matter how small that risk might be.  I cannot bear the thought of seeing you that sick again, Peanut.

My social circle is a little smaller than it used to be too.  There are lots of reasons for that. I’ve become very immersed in a Kawabubble over the last year and I don’t have an awful lot of time and energy for much else.  Most of my attention is on you, and getting you through the next challenges that the effects of KD will throw at us.  A lot of my attention has turned to our little family; this experience has made my family much more important to me than I think I allowed it to be before.  It’s also very difficult for me to spend time with people who cannot relate to our situation.  I don’t want constant sympathy, but I want compassion and understanding.  People that think that everything is ok now because I wear a big smile, and you look so amazing, don’t know me very well.  They don’t know how much I still struggle to come to terms with what has happened to you, and what the impact of the disease will have on your future.  70% of children in your situation will have to have invasive treatment later in life – a heart bypass, or a stent perhaps.  100% of children who have suffered coronary aneurysms as a result of KD will suffer myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) which causes degeneration or death of heart muscle cells.  I don’t know how to compute the possibility that my child may show symptoms of myocardial infarction (a heart attack).  Just doesn’t seem real.  Later this year, whether it be through cardiac catheter angiogram or CT angiogram, we should get a closer look at the cause of the remodelling of your coronaries to better understand what the future may hold.  Right now I have to take the cues from your outward appearance and development, and you look mighty fine to me.  It’s very confusing though.  I’m still not sure if there is any chance that you could have complications today, tomorrow, next week.  I guess we have to take each day as it comes.

I don’t want people to think that I am a victim in all of this.  That I don’t want to let go of it.  In fairness, I can’t let go.  Partly because you are still affected by the disease and will be for many years to come. Partly because I feel I have gained a purpose; I can help make things better for other sufferers of the disease, whether it be through raising awareness to help speed up diagnosis, or by providing useful information to other parents going through this.  Kawasaki Disease is now a very big part of my life, of our lives, and it isn’t likely to go away.  Perhaps over time it will become a smaller part of life for all of us, but I don’t think I will ever stop talking about it to anyone who will listen (and a few who don’t!).  It’s too important for that.  I am in contact with parents and grandparents who have seen this illness first hand, some who have suffered the worst consequence of all.  For them, I will always do what I can to help change the future of Kawasaki Disease.

Having a child diagnosed with a rare, or little known, disease is life-changing for parent and child.  And when there is no known cause you never stop asking yourself ‘Why?’.  Why did this happen to you? I hope we find out one day.  I believe the specialists are getting closer – it’s just that research costs money and KD research is severely underfunded.  They believe they have identified the combination of genes that make a child with KD more susceptible to the disease.  And they are pretty certain that they are looking for an infectious/toxic agent that completes the perfect KD storm.  I desire two things; that we can gain a greater understanding of your condition so we might have a better handle on what might be around the corner, and that the mystery of Kawasaki Disease is unravelled in our lifetime so we might gain some closure.  Solving that mystery will also result in a test for the disease so that children might be diagnosed more quickly, and better treatments that further improve the possible outcomes for children with the disease.

My whole perspective on life has changed.  Things I was afraid of before no longer occupy any space in my mind.  I no longer sweat the small stuff.  I have a lot more compassion for others – through our journey I have come into contact with so many parents who have suffered challenges with their children, KD or otherwise.  Before this, I was ignorant to all that – it was happening to someone else and that didn’t matter to me.  Now it does.  The only fear I have now is of losing you, or losing any of the people that I love dearly.  I will not allow people to hurt me anymore, because nothing can come close to the pain I have felt over the last year with you.  None of that matters.  Yes, everything has changed. Our lives are different than they would have been if KD hadn’t crept in.  But it’s not all bad. It’s different, but not bad.

Sometimes I am scared, often I am sad.  I worry a lot about the future for our little family.  But above all that, you will grow up knowing that you are loved and cherished more than you could ever fathom.  You are a special little girl who will achieve great things one day, and I will be there by your side with every step you take towards greatness.

I love you, Peanut. 

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The World keeps Turning

What’s in a date? According to the dictionary, a date is “the day of the month or year as specified by a number.” It’s that simple.  And yet dates mean so much to so many people.  Every day of every year marks something significant in somebody’s life; a birth, a death, a wedding, a break-up, the anniversary of good and bad events that have occurred in a lifetime.

For us, today brings mixed emotions.  It would have been almost impossible not to face today with some sadness at the memories of this day last year when we watched our 7-week old daughter slip away from us with the fear that we may not ever get her back.  It is the day she became critically ill, and marks the beginning of our journey with Kawasaki Disease; Freya’s Story.   It feels somewhat surreal to be sat here today, putting the washing on, clearing up the aftermath of the children’s lunch, normal everyday things that a parent has to get on with.  A year ago today our lives were changed forever.  Changed in so many ways, some bad some good.  How did last year change me for the worse? Well, for one it altered my perspective on this thing we call life.  We all believe we have the right to live our lives how we choose, and rarely stop to consider the consequences of the actions that we take.  Being faced with the possibility that your child might actually die turns your entire belief system on it’s head.  I had never considered my own mortality before then – why would you? You just coast through this life taking it for granted that it is yours for as long as you want it.  But there are much stronger forces at work than any of us are able to prepare ourselves for, or protect ourselves against.  People get sick.  Kids get sick.  This world is full of illnesses and diseases that affect everyone else, and we read stories about them in the News or on Social Media, and think “poor them”, but we rarely stop to consider that the trials we see other people facing from a distance may land themselves on our own doorsteps one day.

I had never felt so much anxiety about the brevity and uncertainty of life before the events of last year.  Now I find myself living a confused life, where on the one hand I wish to grasp it with everything I have whilst I have it – make memories, move mountains – and on the other hand I face it with a fear of the unknown, and a desire to stop time so that we might be able to let go of that fear, just for one day.  Wherever I walk I see beauty in everything, magnified like I’m seeing through the wondrous eyes of a child, but out of the corner of my eye I can always see a shadow lurking and I imagine that the Grim Reaper is sharing every moment with us.  I am reminded of that movie, Final Destination; you can’t cheat death, can you?

But, the 31st May is just a date.  It doesn’t really matter what the date was, Freya got sick.  It doesn’t matter what date we got our diagnosis, Freya had Kawasaki Disease.  It doesn’t matter what date they told us her heart was damaged, Freya’s heart suffered.  Even so, it is hard not to see these dates as milestones, those first hurdles you have to get over after any loss.  And I know I should be grateful that we didn’t have to suffer true loss, but this is still part of a grieving process, and I do grieve for the loss of that perfectly healthy, normal little girl that I was holding in my arms on the 30th May 2015 and all of the 50 days before it.  Some would say I am ungrateful, that I should get over it already.  I don’t blame them if they haven’t been through something like this.  And it isn’t like I don’t want to let it go.  Of course I do – that’s why I see a counsellor every week to help me with the trauma of the last year (as well as a few other troublesome things).  If anyone thinks that I want to be stuck in this perpetual limbo between sadness and joy, that I get any gratification from feeling tears prick at my eyes every time my youngest daughter shows me just how special she is, is mistaken.  I want to be able to move forward, forget the last year, make plans for the wonderful future that I promised myself for my family.  But KD doesn’t let you do that.  It doesn’t just leave, like a cold, or a sore throat; KD leaves permanent scars, physically and metaphorically.

I will allow myself to feel what I feel on these dates, these first milestones.  The day of her diagnosis (12th June) is likely to bring up a lot of the same emotions.  Hopefully I will be better prepared and can plan to do something that will change the memory of that day.  I had hoped to do something today that would give me a new memory of the 31st May, but the awful weather and the restrictions I place upon Freya’s indoor activities (I don’t want her in an indoor play area, during half term, in chicken pox season!) put a stop to that notion. So instead I have tried to distract myself with the children and the chores.  But I sat for a moment and watched the raindrops run down the window, an image that my eyes immediately chose to mimic, and it has left me feeling wretched.  Out there new memories are being made and new anniversaries created and the world just keeps on turning.  And I keep breathing in and out, and whispering to my heart, “It will get better one day.”

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Stealing Joy

A year ago, on this very Saturday (though it was the 30th May), we had our last day of ‘normal’.  My parents had visited from Kent to see their new granddaughter.  Freya was 7 weeks old and we went on our first family day out since Freya was born, to a local farm.  The sun was shining; it was a glorious day that told us that summer was on the horizon.  The unexpected baby we had thought would ruin everything was proving to be our best ‘mishap’ to date. We were smugly happy with our perfect little life. We watched our older children play in the sunshine, whilst their baby sister slept in her pram, and it was like we had our own little slice of heaven right there.

That evening my husband and I went out for dinner with my parents, and my mother-in-law sat home with the children.  It was a pleasant evening, and when we returned home there was nothing to report, other than the fact that Freya hadn’t wanted all of her bedtime bottle.  It was unusual, but not exactly a serious situation; perhaps she was too tired, too full, or maybe there were some teeth on the way.

The next morning Freya would wake for her morning feed, around 6am.  Except she was so snuffly and bunged up that she just couldn’t take the bottle and gave up pretty quickly.  I was concerned, because she had gone for so long without a feed through the night (I remember celebrating our first proper night’s sleep), but I put it down to the fact that her nose was just too blocked up to let her feed.  At around 9am, I made another bottle and tried again, but just as before she couldn’t manage to take the feed, and fell asleep in my arms from the effort.  “She’ll feed when she’s hungry,” I told myself, and put her down in her bouncy chair.  A couple of hours passed, and I began to get quite fretful that she hadn’t fed since the previous day, so I decided to wake her and try again.   It was about 11am.  When I went to get her out of the chair, I noticed how hot she felt and so I took her temperature with a digital thermometer.  38.3F.  She had a fever.  I remained calm, I mean kids do get sick, and she has an older brother and sister who come into contact with all kinds of germs at school.  She had been snuffly for a couple of days; she had probably picked up a bit of a cold.  So I sent my husband to Mothercare to buy a medicine dispensing dummy (if you haven’t seen these, they are fantastic for getting medicine into a little baby).  Meanwhile I hunted out the Calpol. From 2 months.  That’s what it says on the front of the box.  Many would have given the medicine; I mean, she was only a week away from 2 months, what harm could it do? But for some reason, I felt like I couldn’t take that chance.  Unsure what to do, I called the out of hours GP service (it was a Sunday, remember).

The doctor called us back pretty quickly, and asked me to explain what symptoms Freya had.  She wasn’t feeding.  She was sleepy (but she was a newborn baby, and sleep was pretty much all she did).  She had a fever.  And come to think of it, her little tummy was moving up and down quite a bit – she was working hard at breathing.  The doctor said we should take her to A&E, as it was unusual for such a young baby to have a fever for no reason.  And that is what we did.

I’m guessing it was around 3pm in the afternoon by the time we were seen at the local hospital.   I don’t remember what was said by the nurse/doctor that checked Freya over.  I remember telling them that I had tested positive for Group B Strep during the pregnancy, and that although I was treated with IV antibiotics during labour, it was pretty tight timing wise.  I was on high alert for late onset GBS infection in Freya, and I knew that if she had contracted GBS during labour, there was a chance that she could develop meningitis.  They did too.  So they sent us up to the children’s observation unit with a view to keeping her in overnight for observation.

That part is all a bit of a blur too.  I remember sitting in the waiting area, Freya, burning up, lying across my knee.  She was laid on some paper towels whilst my husband and I attempted to catch a wee in a kidney dish. We went into a small room, and a doctor came to check her over.  I can’t remember what he said, or why he felt she should be admitted to the Children’s Ward.  I don’t remember when they put the IV antibiotics in.  I just remember that’s what happened.  We were admitted to a private room, and my husband went home to our older kids.  I sat in a chair in the corner of the room with Freya sleeping in my arms.  She was connected by the IV to a machine that dispensed the medicine, and every time I moved the machine would set off alarming, and the nurses would come in.  I think I stayed there until the medicine had all been delivered to Freya’s tiny, hot little body, and then I decided we both needed to get some proper sleep.  By this time, it was quite late.  It may even have been the early hours of the morning.  The nurses came in every hour to complete their observations, and then I put Freya in the cot so she might be cooler, and I might manage some sleep in the chair.

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As I laid her down, I noticed that all familiar smell – she had a dirty nappy.  “The poor thing just needs to sleep, I’ll not disturb her” I told myself,  and I went back to my chair in the corner.  I’m not sure how long I sat there trying to get to sleep before my conscience got the better of me and I decided that I could not leave her in a dirty nappy. Disturb her or not, I needed to change her.  And it was as I lifted her vest that I noticed a pin-prick rash over her torso that I could just make out in the dim light.  I think it was about 5am, because it was starting to get light outside and I could hear the birds singing outside of our window.  Were my eyes playing tricks on me in the half light?  I was so tired.  I turned on the light and went to get a better look, but still in the fluorescent lights I couldn’t work out what I was seeing.  I walked over to the window and opened the curtains, and in that light I could see that this wasn’t an illusion.  Freya was covered in a rash.  I called the nurse who came to have a look, and we both spent so much time scrutinising that rash that I can’t remember to this day if it blanched under a glass or not.  The nurse called the on duty doctor, and by the time he arrived (which wasn’t long at all) the rash had spread down Freya’s legs and across her arms.

It was in that moment, watching the doctor silently complete his review of my baby, that I noticed the atmosphere change.  They called a consultant who joined the doctor in his silent inspection. It was very calm, but the air felt thick. I thought Freya was sleeping.  In fact she was unresponsive.  I remember hearing words like “shutting down”, and the doctors started to wheel Freya in her cot into another room.  It was the High Dependency Unit (HDU).  They delivered fluid boluses to Freya by stealth.  At 6am I called my husband “Gavin, I think you need to come quick.”

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If you’ve followed Freya’s Story, you will know what happened next.  You’ll know that she became stable, but did not get any better for the next week, despite numerous antibiotics.  Her fever would not come down with antipyretics, and when her fever spiked (above 40 at times), so her heart rate would soar, and her oxygen levels would plummet.  She was very sick, yet it would take 13 days, lots of medication and countless tests before a diagnosis of atypical Kawasaki Disease would be reached.  Three hospitals would be responsible for her care during a six week incarceration (!) which began on the 31st May 2015.

I want to allow myself to believe all the motivational cliches about things happening for a reason, about how far we have come, about how lucky we are to have Freya here in our lives and how we should count our blessings.  But today that all feels like bullshit.  Today I find myself in mourning for normal.  I want to go back to that day at Cannon Hall Farm, where everything was blissful and beautiful and picture-book perfect, and somehow re-write history.  Today marks the anniversary of the last day we knew what normal was.  I wish that day were Groundhog Day and we could live it over and over and over so that the 31st May would never come.

I don’t want to wallow in the misery of the last year, believe me.  I want to be thankful for what we have, and cherish every moment.  I want to believe that this happened to us for a reason, that we will all be better people for it, that I will look back on all this one day and laugh at how wrapped up I was.  I will allow that to come, I’m sure (and the counsellor will give me a good kick up the arse if I don’t!), but for now I am allowing myself some wallow-time.  I have every right to feel sorrow, and to mourn the loss of the life I planned to have.  I have every right to feel angry that Kawasaki Disease came into my daughter’s life and robbed her of her health so soon after she arrived in this world.  I have every right to feel angry that the world keeps turning, and that people are moving on even though I seem to be stuck in this perpetual Kawahell.  Today, I hate Kawasaki Disease.  It broke my baby’s heart, and it broke mine too.

Most of all, I hate that this disease took away some of the joy that I ought to feel from moments like this…

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The Gift that Keeps on Giving…

“Mum, remember when you thought you might not get to see me grow up? Bet you feel silly now?!”

They say that you shouldn’t wish for your children to grow up, that you should will them to slow down because in the blink of an eye your once tiny baby is all big and independent and doing things you never thought possible.  Well, in a way Peanut that is true.  But as bad as it may sound, there’s a huge part of me wanting you to hurry up! Hurry up and talk, hurry up and walk, hurry up and grow big and strong so that I can be sure to have had the chance to see it all in case it is taken away from me.  I’m scared.  Scared that I won’t get the chance to know you like I should. Scared that Kawasaki Disease has not finished with you just yet.

Today we took you to the hospital for your cardiology follow-up appointment.  You were last seen three months ago, where the cardiologist remarked that the speed of which your coronary arteries have been remodelling is concerning, and they would like to carry out an angiogram to take a closer look.  I knew she was referring to possible stenosis; that the reduction in the internal diameter of your coronaries might not be healthy, and is more likely to be the result of a build up of scar tissue or layered blood clots that have effected  the change.  But I have read that stenosis can take decades to cause any ill effects, and as such I felt it would be prudent to give you more time.  More time to grow, so that less invasive procedures might tell them what they want to know.  Apparently an MRI or CT scan isn’t as effective in giving a true picture in such a young child, and an angiogram is the only option that will show them what is really going on in that little heart of yours.  I asked the opinion of 3 experts, all of whom concurred with my view that there would be no harm in waiting, perhaps even up to a year, and carrying out a less invasive procedure.  I put that question to your cardiologist, but she seemed pretty keen on pushing forward and continued to voice a preference for carrying out an angiogram a year post-diagnosis; June.

I decided to wait until your next appointment to understand more fully why the consultant was so eager to press on.  That appointment was today.

We arrived at the hospital just in time for your appointment, and were sent straight down the corridor for an ECG.  It took the cardiographer 20 minutes to get a reading from your heart because you were wriggling so much! We had to bribe you with ‘sweets’ (little fruit things that we call sweets because they’re as close as we will let you get to confectionary at your young age!) to get you to sit still for long enough! You’re not as easy a patient as you were last year, this time pulling off the electrodes and yanking on the wires, but he got there in the end!  Nothing was said about the result, and I am guessing that means that, as usual, the ECG showed normal heart function.  Next it was time to weigh and measure you (you weigh 8.46kg and are 74cm in height), and then you were called into the examination room.

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It wasn’t your cardiologist that called us in; it was a registrar.  She introduced herself and asked if we had any concerns since the last appointment.  We had none.  She then asked us to take you over to the bed so she could perform an echocardiogram, and I asked if we were going to see your doctor today.  She said that we would, and that she was just with another patient.  I guess they were helping each other out so they might all finish the day at a reasonable time.

Surprisingly, you laid quite still for the echo.  Okay, so you had to be given a probe of your own because you do like to take matters into your own hands, but she got there (with the help of a bottle of milk!).  She didn’t say much, but as usual I clocked the numbers appearing on the bottom of the screen and was able to catch that your LCA (left coronary artery – the one that has caused the biggest worry on this journey so far) measured 2.8mm.  Was that bigger than the last time? I seem to remember it being closer to 2mm, but what’s a fraction of a mm between friends, eh?  Your consultant then entered the room, and continued the appointment with the registrar present.

She looked at the screen, and remarked that your RCA (right coronary artery) looked almost normal.  She seemed happy with function and blood flow.  It seemed that she was about to suggest a routine follow-up appointment and gave the impression that it would be a longer period next time, but the registrar mentioned that an angiogram was mentioned at the last appointment. Ah yes, remarked the consultant. I reminded her that she was considering the procedure because she was concerned about the extensive remodelling that your arteries have undergone in such a short space of time.  Ah yes, she remarked, and commented that at worst, the diameter had measured 8mm.  I corrected her.  Unless I missed something along the way, the largest measurement was 5.2mm.  Whilst small in comparison to some children affected by this disease, they were more than 5 times normal size and in a baby as young as you were was considered significant and cause for serious concern.

I told the consultant that I had a few questions, and pulled out my notebook (I know! I do like to make notes!)  The first question I asked was why she felt it so important to carry out a risky, invasive procedure now? What benefit could it have? What was her thought process, and what were her concerns?  I had thought that she might concede with a “perhaps we ought to wait” kind of statement.  But instead she told me that she thinks it is highly likely that the remodelling has come about as a result of stenosis – anything other than that would be nothing short of a miracle.  I asked if there wasn’t a chance that the remodelling has come about as a result of the aggressive treatment you received to stop the disease in it’s tracks (you received steroids and a dose of Infliximab when two doses of IVIG proved ineffective).  She agreed that was possible, but didn’t seem convinced.  An MRI/CT would be effective in providing a better picture of aneurysms, but in a child as young as you they would not be as effective in showing stenosis.  I asked what would be gained by doing it now? Stenosis can take decades to develop before the arteries might close enough to prevent blood flow.  And if the angiogram did show evidence of stenosis, how would that change the treatment plan? And then she used words that I had not considered would be used in your lifetime. Stent.  Bypass surgery.

I guess I knew what her concerns were before I asked them.  I mean, she isn’t likely to put you through an unnecessary procedure, is she! I told her that I would prefer to wait, but that if she felt that waiting would put you at risk I would trust her judgement.  She said that she would really like to get a look, and it dawned on me that you are quite the case of interest.  One of the youngest cases to be handled, aggressively treated, showing almost too-good-to-be-true recovery.  Yes, of course they would like to get a look.  I said I appreciated the medical interest in understanding what has been happening with your heart, but that you are not a specimen, you are my baby.  She reluctantly agreed to see you again in three months, and noted that whilst there was a great deal to be learned from you, that she would not consider the procedure for medical knowledge alone.   She agreed to discuss your case with at the next MDT meeting (multi-disciplinary team) with a view to negotiating with me further then.  She has already discussed your case with the surgeon, and they too believe it would be prudent to do an angiogram sooner rather than later.  That said, she still agreed to give us another 3 months (which will end up being more if the waiting list is as long as I expect), on the strict proviso that if we see any evidence of angina we are to contact her.

Let me take a moment to tell you about the symptoms of angina;

  • Chest pain or discomfort (not sure how you will tell me about that!)
  • Pain in your arms, neck, shoulder or back accompanying chest pain (ditto!)
  • Nausea (won’t generally know that one until you actually throw up!)
  • Fatigue (hmm, should I be concerned that you sleep through the night?)
  • Shortness of breath (you don’t get above a fast crawl yet, and I’ve not seen you panting!)
  • Sweating (nope)
  • Dizziness (again, how would I know?)

So apparently the only way I might be able to tell if you are suffering with angina would be if you are playing one minute, and then go quiet, and maybe glaze over for a moment.  This could be interesting:/

It would seem we are not yet out of the woods, my darling.  Just when I thought that there could be a future where KD becomes nothing but a distant memory, here it is threatening to place a dark cloud over the years to come.  The only thing I can hold onto is hope, but that is so hard when I feel like I am fighting a losing battle with this disease.  I have no control over it, none.  It came, it messed you up real bad, and it just won’t leave us alone.  I know there is a chance that they could do the angiogram and discover that you are indeed the miracle I had started to believe in.  But I also fear the worst.  And I know that there are far more complicated procedures happening to very sick babies, with huge success, every single minute of every single day.  But they are not happening to my baby.  And I so want to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend that this isn’t our life, that this isn’t your life.  Today for the very first time I saw ahead of me just how complicated your life might be, and it has made me incredibly sad.

And because with this disease the hits just seem to keep on coming, I returned home to a voicemail from your GP.  We were given the green light to crack on with catching you up on the routine immunisations, and also later given the go ahead to give you the MMR vaccine.  It was unclear, however, what timing/order the Immunologist felt these should be given in.  You’ve had the 8 and 12 week immunisations now, and I was hoping that we might be able to intersperse them with the MMR, Chicken Pox and Flu vaccines rather than wait any longer than necessary.  This family needs a holiday far, far away from here.

Sadly, the advice was more disappointing than I had anticipated.  The instruction has been to wait until after the final routine vaccinations have been given (around June).  Because you are a unique case, they are not comfortable in progressing to the remaining vaccines until 3 months after that.  So at best, you will get the MMR in September.  No mention has been made of the Chicken Pox or Flu vaccines, but I can only guess they will want to wait longer for those too.  I just wanted us to do some normal stuff, Freya.  Mix with other kids, in places where normal kids go.  Jump on a plane to somewhere warm where we can forget all about this for a time.  I am sick of being restricted by my fear, but I cannot knowingly expose you to illnesses that have the ability to take more from you than KD already has.  I’m talking about Reye’s.  And yes, I know it’s rare, and it hasn’t yet been linked to low doses of aspirin, but it’s a risk I cannot bring myself to take.  What were the odds of you getting KD at 7 weeks old?? Exactly.

I’m sorry, my tone is getting quite unpleasant isn’t it? And I am sorry for burdening you with this worry.  Almost a year ago I asked a God I don’t believe in to prove the doctors wrong.  If he’s listening, this is his chance to show me what he can do.  I can only hope that if you are reading this, it means that you have already proven yourself to be the miracle that we all hope you will be.  I don’t want to live in a world without you in it.

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A Family Affair

Yesterday it was the annual UK National Kawasaki Syndrome Support Group (KSSG) Family Day; an event put on by the founders of the Group to provide the opportunity for families to come together to share the one thing that we all have in common; our lives have been touched (more like whacked) by Kawasaki Disease.

Freya and I, and my eldest daughter Eliza, travelled down to Coventry to attend the event; our first since Freya’s diagnosis.  When the last event took place, Freya was just 22 days old and we were blissfully unaware of what would unfold a few weeks after that.  At that point, we hadn’t even heard of the disease with the bizarre name that, whilst considered rare, is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children in the developed world.  And why would I have needed to know about it anyway? That kind of stuff didn’t happen to us; it happened to other people.  It happened to the people that were at that family day whilst I sat at home gazing into the eyes of my beautiful, healthy, newborn baby.  Wasn’t I lucky…

Who knew that one day, a little over a year after Freya was born, I would be attending an event with families affected by this little known disease.

Freya was diagnosed on Friday 12th June 2015.  She was 63 days old.  On a Friday 9 weeks prior, Freya was born in our local hospital.  At 7 weeks, she developed symptoms of meningitis and went into septic shock.  13 days later an echocardiogram would secure a diagnosis of atypical Kawasaki Disease, after 2-weeks of drugs, tests and invasive procedures failed to provide any answers.  Once we got the diagnosis for Freya – after the initial “Oh thank God it’s that! Never heard of that so it can’t be that bad!” – we took to the internet, and the mystery of Kawasaki Disease began to unravel, along with an understanding of the severity of the disease and it’s impact on the affected child.  Even when they told us that Freya’s coronary arteries (the ones that supply blood to and from the heart) were severely dilated, I still didn’t appreciate the long term effect that this would have.  I thought it was a side effect of the disease, that they would give her medicine, and that it would all go back to normal in a few days once the meds had their chance to work…

Luckily, this is true for the majority of children.  Approximately 75% of children diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease will manage to escape any coronary involvement (although evidence is suggesting that these children do not escape all potential lasting effects from this disease).  With fast treatment, the risk of prolonged damage to the heart is reduced from 25% of cases to around 6%.  Freya received the treatment, but the damage to her heart continued to worsen.  A second dose of the treatment didn’t stop the inflammation caused by the disease either, and so she was prescribed an infusion of a product called Infliximab made from the antibodies of mice that seemed to do the trick.  Combined with the other treatment – the previously administered IVIG doses, high dose aspirin and intravenous steroids – the disease appeared to be stopped in its tracks, and it was time to focus on maintaining her condition.  The rest has been documented in my blog posts along the way, and to cut a long story short, suffice it to say that Freya’s coronaries have started to remodel to within normal range.  She continues to take aspirin daily for it’s anti-platelet effects, and she will undergo a procedure later (possibly June this year) to ascertain the cause of the remodelling (healthy or otherwise).  But back to the main point of this blog post today…

The Family Day

I don’t know how many families attended, but the room was buzzing with the chatter of the families who did attend from the moment I arrived.  I was greeted by one of the founders of the Group, Sue, who came and gave me a big hug and couldn’t wait to get a cuddle from Freya – they had met some months before and I joked that Sue was like a ‘baby whisperer’ as I hadn’t seen Freya quite so happy to have a cuddle before!

I took my eldest daughter too (my middle child, Finlay, decided that his friend’s laser birthday party was too good an opportunity to miss so he stated at home!)  Looking around the room, I saw faces that were familiar from the profile pictures that you see popping up in the Support Group Facebook pages from time to time.  I’m not going to name individuals because I don’t have their permission to do so, but it was lovely to chat to people who I’ve communicated with on different KSSG Facebook threads, as well as meet new people too.  Some of the families had been to previous family days, for others it was there first time like me.  Talking to the parents around the room, you got a real sense that this is something that sticks with you for a long time.  Diagnosis dates ranged from months ago to years ago.  I spoke to one gentleman who had to face this disease with his child 15 years ago.  That’s before the internet had become as useful and saturated with information as it is now (and that’s saying something, because even now there is a dearth of useful information about the disease).  We all shared our stories, all different but with some similarities.  It felt good not to know that we are not alone.

As well as the informal chatter amongst parents, and the new friendships being formed amongst the children, some useful information was shared in relation to genetic research, and some developments about future projects to change the face of Kawasaki Disease in our country (also not for me to share here, but I am sure things will begin to unfold soon).  The day seemed to whizz by in a flash.

The people who have been supported by the KSSG will have joined the Group at varying stages of their journey with Kawasaki Disease.  Some have been members for years, others recently joined, like me.  And everyone’s circumstances are different; some will have needed a lot of support from the Group, for others just the knowledge that there is someone there if they need them is enough.  Those that have been dealing with KD for a number of years will have seen the group evolve over the last 20 years, will perhaps have seen new developments in the world of KD.  For people like me, joining less than a year ago, much of those developments will already have happened before our time, and so we only know what we know now.  And I’m sure there is so much more available to us now than there has been in previous years, but I think one thing that all of us in the Kawasaki family agree on is that there is still so much more that needs to be done to put Kawasaki Disease on the radar of medical professionals and ordinary people like you and me.  There is most definitely an appetite for change, and there are plenty of people who are willing to support that change too.  I imagine most, if not all of us, left yesterday feeling pretty optimistic about the future of the disease.

One thing that was noted was that looking around the room, you could not tell who was a sufferer and who wasn’t.  Eliza (my eldest) spent a lot of the day chatting with a couple of lads around her age.  I believe both boys have suffered with Kawasaki Disease and deal with the after effects of that illness today, but Eliza didn’t know it.  They didn’t talk about it; they talked about ‘normal’ stuff – music and school and what they like to get up to in their spare time.  Children with multiple giant coronary aneurysms ran around that Rugby Club alongside children that had never had a day’s illness in their lives.  These kids are remarkable.  They face regular medical check-ups, uncertainty about what lies ahead, some have had to stop doing things that they loved to do before all of this happened to them.  And yet you wouldn’t know it to look at them; they’re made of strong stuff.

And Freya? Well, she crawled around happy as a pig in muck all day! And she was clearly inspired by the other children, as today she decided that she would take her first unaided steps and prove that she too was made of the same strong stuff as those other kids who share something in common with our little girl.  Not Kawasaki Disease.  That’s a given.  They share the fact that they are extraordinary, in more ways than one.

Thank you to the KSSG for putting on the event, and to those that helped them to pull it all together.  I didn’t take many pictures during the day as I was too busy talking (there’s a shock, lol!), so here is one of my daughter Eliza with the face paint that she did not want to take off!

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Memories of another you

The other day I awoke to a Facebook memory; a picture of you from the same day a year ago.  You were 4 days old, we were home, and you were in your bouncy chair staring at me.  At first I smiled at the memory; that little face full of wonder at a new world that you could barely see through eyes so new.  But then, like a lengthening shadow, sadness crept in.

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Those days we had with you were so few before Kawasaki Disease pushed its way into our lives and stole you from us.  The you we knew. The you I gave birth to.  The you that wasn’t broken.  I don’t think I will ever learn how to come to terms with what this disease did to you. You were born healthy, and perfect and pure.  For 7 weeks we got to know each other at home, barely going out, because I wanted to be sure I gave myself the chance to drink you in.  We cuddled on the sofa for hours, and I fed you from my breast because I wanted you to have the best start in this world.  I know now how important those moments were, and I am thankful that I cherished you and didn’t feel any pressure to share you with the outside.  It’s like I knew.

But I didn’t know.  I had no idea that things would change for you, for us, overnight.  You were so perfect, so well.  We had no concerns at all about your development or your health.  You were nothing short of perfection, and I was smitten from the moment I looked down at you from my position on that labour bed.

I guess these memories are going to act as triggers for a while.  Seven weeks of memories of the you we had will be replaced by memories of the worst days of my life.  At least I came away from Facebook for a while just before you became sick; that I can be thankful for.  But then, I don’t need Facebook memories to remind me of those days; those days are forever etched on my mind.  I can’t accept the cruelty of it all.  To have struggled so much with the concept of finding myself pregnant again but come through it having battled some old demons and actually looking forward to this new adventure, only to see it come crashing down around my feet was cruel indeed.  We didn’t deserve this.  You didn’t.

I try to tell myself that I should be thankful you are here with us.  Things could have been very different.  In that first week in the hospital I was convinced I would be going home without you, you were so sick.  And when they told us that your little heart was damaged I prepared myself for the worst.  The psychologist told me that what I was experiencing was anticipatory grief; I had been presented with the possibility that you might be taken from us, and my mind had already begun to process that notion.  I could see a certain photograph of you on an easel at the top of a church aisle; that photograph haunts me still, and was the catalyst for my thoughts and feelings on those eyes of yours.  I told myself that if I accepted that this disease would kill you, that I might not take you for granted for the time that you are here.  I guess, even though it’s a little morbid, it’s not a bad way of thinking about it.  I mean, if the worst is that you have a life full of wonder until you are 90 then we won’t have lost anything will we? It’s a good rule to live by, and there are hundreds of cliches I could quote about living life to the full that would fit right in here. We were lucky that your heart began to show signs of improvement, and that we haven’t had to live with that feeling forever – others do.

Using the word ‘lucky’ to describe you makes me flinch, and the bully in my head says “Watch it! You’re not out of the woods yet! Don’t be counting those chickens already…!”

I hate Kawasaki Disease.  I hate it for stealing my memories and turning them into reasons to be sad and full of regret.  I hate that I can’t look at a picture of my tiny baby without feeling sorrow for the short time we had before our lives became filled with fear and drama.  I hate  that I can’t hold another baby without feeling like I’ve missed out on so much.  I held you for seven weeks, and it would be weeks before I could properly hold you again.  I could have held you, but your temperature soared relentlessly for a fortnight and I was scared that I would make you even hotter than you already were.  And I hated the tubes and the wires and the needles; the slightest movement would set the monitors off screaming and the nurses running.  I hated the look in your eyes; you were too young to be afraid.  I wish I knew how you felt when you were lying there in that cot with a vacant stare.

I hate it for making me look at the world through different eyes.  I am wary of the world now.  I know first hand that it has the power to take away everything that you love and I  approach every day with caution, even when I try to find joy.  Sometimes I think I have seen something out of the corner of my eye.  It’s like I see Death waiting in the shadows.  Kawasaki Disease sucks.

75% of children who have this disease will walk away without any heart complications.  They are the lucky ones, but that doesn’t take away the terror of the experience for the child or the parent.  But why did you have to be one of the 25%? Why couldn’t it have just left your tiny heart alone? Could it have been prevented? The doctors ruled out their suspicion that it could be KD on day 9, and yet it was lurking and continued to do it’s damage whilst their backs were turned.  4 days later it became clear that it had been Kawasaki Disease all along. I wonder how the doctors felt when the echo showed them that awful truth…

None of that matters now, I guess.  It’s done isn’t it, and there is nothing we can do to change it.  I have to learn to accept that we live in a world where uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.  Death and taxes.  This world is full of beauty, but it is also home to a lot of hurt.  And as if there wasn’t already enough sadness to deal with in this life, there are people who see fit to cause others pain.  Why do people do that? It is beyond me.

Anyway, enough of this morose talk.  What ever will you think of your mother when you read this stuff?!  It’s hard though Peanut, it really is.  The emotions I have to deal with every time I look at you are a bit too big for me sometimes; sadness, regret, guilt, anger, fear…love.  I just need to get myself back on track with our plans to turn this whole sorry mess into something positive.  You’ve raised a lot of money – £7,000 in just one month of fundraising for one event!  And you’ve even appeared on ITV News (http://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2016-04-13/mothers-plea-for-early-diagnosis-of-rare-kawasaki-disease/).  We will do what we can together to raise awareness of the disease, so that the next time a child presents the symptoms, their parent might just ask the question, “You don’t think it could be Kawasaki Disease do you?”

 

What a Difference a Day Makes

We did it Freya! We did what we set out to do, and marked your very first milestone with an event to remember.  I hope when you read this, you will forgive me and Daddy for sacrificing your 1st Birthday for Kawasaki Disease Research, and we hope that you will look  back and feel proud of the legacy that we created in your name.  Your first birthday was important to us in more ways than you could ever imagine.  It has been exactly 10 months today since you received a diagnosis of Kawasaki Disease when an echocardiogram (heart scan) showed us the damage to your heart.  Back then I was so afraid for you that I couldn’t see a future that spanned days, let alone months.  Celebrating your 1st birthday never occurred to me – I was focussing on what was happening right there and then and it didn’t look good sweetheart, it really didn’t.  I don’t think I gave up on you, but I did start to allow myself to believe that we might lose you to this disease because of the damage that it did to your heart.

On the 25th January 2016 I sent out an invite to an event on Facebook; Freya’s 1st Birthday Fundraiser for Kawasaki Disease Research.  It would be a birthday party with a twist. First of all, you have very few friends (to protect you from some nasty childhood bugs until you have been immunised against them, we’ve lived in quite a closed circle for the last year).  Instead I had to find you some friends, and so I invited all of my Facebook friends that have children, and a few without.  I intended to have a number of stalls at the party that would provide an opportunity for us to raise some funds for research into the disease, but also needed to make sure that it was a great party for you, and that everyone would enjoy it.  And we wanted to do a raffle too, so I set about contacting local (and not so local) businesses to ask if they would donate a raffle prize to support us.  Some didn’t reply, a few were unable to help, but lots of people were happy to provide some brilliant things for your raffle, and we ended up with a list of 82 amazing prizes with an iPad Air donated by Daddy’s work as the top prize!  I was overwhelmed by the support for the cause, and interest in the raffle was soon peaked.

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We hit a small stumbling block when a friend informed us that we had to obtain a license in order to sell raffle tickets before the event, but I leapt into action right away and made the application to the Local Authority who (with a little help from the Mayoress’ office) turned the application around quickly and our license was granted.  It delayed the process by about 4 weeks, but the license was received on my birthday, 26th February.  We then had to have special tickets printed, and we were very lucky that Hayselden Volkswagen, Doncaster, stepped up to offer the printing as their donation to our cause.  We received the raffle tickets in the middle of March – we had one month to sell as many as we could, and we needed to sell enough to do justice to the value of the prizes we had received.

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We needed to make sure the party was something for everyone to enjoy, so we engaged a local children’s entertainment business, Bumblezzz, to do balloon modelling, face painting, a magic show and party dances.  The husband and wife entertainers sadly lost a daughter to cancer, so it felt like they were the right people to use for your party; people who could empathise with our situation.

Your nanny offered to run a jewellery stall where children could make a bracelet to take home as a keepsake from your special day.  She also made some things to represent Kawasaki Disease awareness, including little crystal ‘Kawa-angels’ and sun-catchers in orange and red.  Her stall was a huge success and she raised over £120 on the day.

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People from the local area, and other people that we know, donated lots of things for a tombola.  We even had bottles of champagne, so it was a very posh one! We had so many things that we did one for the children, and one for the adults.  Both tables were absolutely full of things, and almost everything had gone in the first hour of the party!  Your cousins, Tegan and Amber and their friends took charge of the adult tombola, and our friend Louise and her daughter Izzy manned the kiddies one.  In total the tombola tables made over £250, which is amazing!

Some of our friends made cakes to sell at your party.  Jo and Lisa (and their family) made some beautiful cakes and scones.  The stars of the show were Linda and Tracey who made absolutely loads of beautiful things, and made the cake stall look fit for a princess!  They made over £165 selling the things that they donated, and I even got to try a scone with some jam and cream.

The local nursery donated a bear, but he didn’t have a name so the children needed to try and guess it.  He was eventually named “Harley” and raised nearly £40 towards our total.  Our friends Alison and Jo manned the stalls with a little help (well a lot actually) from Jake, who added another £20 to the total with the Guess the Sweets in the Jar competition.  Bonbon Delights donated their Sweet Cart laden with sweets which they sold, making over £20 to add to the total raised at your event too.

Your Granny, Auntie Catherine and Vicky did a sterling job in the kitchen making tea and coffee and soft drinks for everyone, and your Auntie Hayley sold over £230 worth of raffle tickets.  We even had an impromptu visit from an Air Ambulance medic who taught the children to perform CPR using his dummies; that was fantastic!

I’m not sure how many people came to your party, but it was very busy!  Nearly 100 people accepted the invite on Facebook, and they brought family and friends and their children too.  Your Granny and Auntie Nicola bought you a car for your present, which you loved zooming around in, and you even got to meet Queen Elsa (Millie’s Magical Parties) who came along for free to support the event.

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We had an awareness table where I shared a photo story of your journey from the day you were born up to now.  We asked people not to buy you birthday cards, but a lot did anyway and we have a dining room table covered with them!  But we did ask people to write a wish or a message on a paper heart which I will be putting into a scrap book for you with memories of the event.

Mummy’s work (Capita) held a bake sale at work where they raised over £185, and the local wine bar, Otto, sold cupcakes on Rare Disease Day, making a massive £120 in one day! They presented us with the cheque on Monday, and you even got a birthday cake from them to mark the occasion.

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I am overwhelmed by the love and support that we felt on Sunday.  It was one of the most special days I have had with you since you were born, and certainly since everything changed when KD entered our lives.  I cannot think of a better way to turn something so terrible into something good, and the awareness and money we raised at the event will hopefully go a long way to helping the researchers to uncover the mystery of this disease, even if we can’t change anything for you.

All of these things, along with the direct donations made by people who have been touched by your story (not including the huge £75,000 donation received by COSMIC in your honour), add up to a total of over £6500! Because everything we raised is being matched by the Macklin Foundation in America, that is worth £13,000 to the research effort.  And if we can be cheeky enough to add the donation from ‘a cool Italian Dad who lives in Hong Kong, you alone have inspired a total donation worth over £163,000 to research.  I am bursting with pride.  You have achieved more in your little life than most achieve in a lifetime, and I will be eternally in awe of your ability to touch hearts and to give Kawasaki Disease a voice that has been silent long enough.

Together we can move mountains.

 

 

I have this noisy baby…

She likes to scream!  And I mean, SCREAM!  A high-pitched, piercing scream that drives right through to your bones.  It makes me wince, and is a source of anxiety for me.  It has me a bit stumped if I’m honest.  Up to now, I’ve been able to communicate verbally and non-verbally with my 11-month old (she knows sign language for ‘milk’, and has made up her own signs for most other things).  When she was a tiny baby, I even worked out the language of her cries, and I could tell the difference between the sound she made when she cried for food to any other cry she made.  But I haven’t quite managed to tune into the scream, perhaps because I am trying too hard to tune out..?

I might be getting close though.  It is somewhere in between frustration and attention-seeking I think.  It happens mostly when she is restricted; car seat, pram, highchair.  Add any of those situations to occasions when she doesn’t have my full, undivided attention, and you can multiply the decibels tenfold.  So, you can imagine how I feel if I’ve driven into town (car seat), walked to a coffee shop (pram) and sat down (highchair) for coffee with a friend (divided attention)!  I am living off my nerves!  That said, I keep telling myself that this is temporary.  She will soon learn to communicate more effectively, and the need to scream will lessen.  And as she starts to settle down in this new and amazing world she has discovered at speed as she commando-crawls across my wooden floors, I will be able to allow her more freedom.  Soon she might be allowed to sit on a normal chair, stand, walk a little, so as not to feel imprisoned by a 3-point harness.  Until then, I have to accept it, and perhaps try and work out how to help her break the habit. That’s the hard part.

Although, saying that, it’s not the hardest part.  Oh no, the hardest part is trying to deal with the noise that my child has decided best fits to articulate her thoughts when surrounded by selfish, insensitive, intolerant human beings who either never had children of their own, had perfect children, or who can’t remember what having small children is like.  Yes, that is the hardest part.

I’d like to address the above described human beings, if I may be so bold.  Perhaps you will need to share this blog post on social media to make sure it reaches the right audience; if you’re reading my blog I am most sure you would not be one of those people.  So here goes…

Dear Intolerant,

I know my daughter’s screaming is loud, and intrusive, and downright irritating.  I feel it too.  Except I feel it in a way that you will never come close to, because she is mine.  I carried her in my body for 9 months, and I went through 3-days of induced labour hell to bring her into this world.  When I beheld that little face staring up at me from the hospital bed (yes, I was on all fours like some kind of wild beast!), I had no idea that she would develop this rather annoying habit.  I could do without it too.  Don’t you think I would prefer to have one of those babies who just sits in their pram without making a sound so that I can engage in good old fashioned chatter with one of my girlfriends over a caramel latte?  Of course I do! Don’t you think that I don’t wish I wasn’t such a prig about dummies (not that my babies have ever been able to take to one when I’ve tried)?    

Do you think I can’t hear it? That every screech doesn’t churn me up so much that inside I too am screaming? Do you know the embarrassment I feel every time that sound leaves her tiny lips, or how I squirm in my seat at the thought that she is spoiling the experience for everyone else?  Well, trust me, I hear it. And I feel it.  And it makes me want to run.  But let me tell you this; seeing the looks on your faces, watching you put your fingers to your ears, seeing your shoulders scrunch up with tension with each shrill squeak, feeling your head snap in our direction and hearing you mutter “Oh for goodness sake!”, or “What a naughty thing!” to your friends not only makes me want to run, but makes me want to run and hide and never come out again.  

When you look at me with irritation, and not compassion.  When you say cruel things about my baby, without understanding.  Those things hurt me to my core.  I can’t expect you to love my little girl like I do, but know how much it hurts to think that others are thinking ill of her because she has learned to vocalise her frustration.  She is an 11-month old baby. She loves to crawl.  She loves to sit surrounded by bright and noisy plastic things that make her smile. She loves the challenge of that piece of furniture that looms like Everest, yet she can conquer it in one pull on those little arms of hers; the pride in her face when she makes it to the summit is something us grown ups have long since forgotten how to show.  She doesn’t particularly like being cooped up in a pram, strapped in because the floor isn’t safe or clean enough for her to roam.  I hear your unuttered thoughts, “Take her to a baby group then, and not our [insert favourite venue]” Oh, how I would love the normalcy of a playgroup right now. Where I could sip a cup of tea with likeminded mums whilst our children play happily in the soft play area.  Except I can’t.  I can’t because my child takes a drug that puts her at risk of serious illness (perhaps even death) if she comes into contact with certain childhood illnesses, so until her immune system is able to accept the relevant vaccines, a play area is the last place you will find us.  

“So, stay at home then, if that’s where she is happy.” Yes! Yes! That’s the answer. You’re quite right of course – she is happiest when at home with her toys and her freedom.  But what about me?  What about my needs?  Most days I do exactly that; stay home and entertain my little girl, or stay close by while she entertains herself.  It’s lonely.  Days go by when the only adult interaction I have had has been via Facebook.  So when that invite for a coffee comes in, with the opportunity to get out in the fresh air and meet another human being and talk, of course I am going to take it.  It is th antidote to my depression.

“Plan your time better! Go out when she naps!” Oh yes, another brilliant suggestion.  Except that I have this clockwork baby, that since spending 6 weeks laid on her back in a hospital cot has slept from 6pm to 8am without a murmur.  The trade off being that she is awake and switched on for pretty much all of the daytime hours.  Once there was a chance that she wouldn’t be here at all, so I’m happy to take the trade.

You see, this baby who looks like butter wouldn’t melt and screams like a fiend, has been through more in her little life than I have had to contend with in my 41 years.  And she has achieved more than most of us will in a lifetime.  She is an inspiration, and she is my little miracle.  And me?  Well, I suffer with anxiety on account of having been through the trauma of seeing my 7-week old baby get sicker and sicker until eventually a broken heart confirmed she had been struck by a rare disease with a penchant for the coronaries.  I haven’t dealt with that yet; these things take time.  But I am dealing with it, and for all you know that coffee I am drinking is the first I’ve had all day because that morning I went to my PTSD counselling straight after dropping the older kids at school.  

I remember the silence of the first few weeks of my daughter’s illness.  It’s a silence that will haunt me forever.  When I feel irritation at that scream, I feel ashamed for disliking a single bit of my little girl.  Sadly, the anxiety is making it difficult for me to see through the scream to the child, to understand what she needs.  But I cannot hide us away from the world.  She is bright as a button.  She has got things worked out that a child her age shouldn’t be able to figure just yet! So of course she is going to scream when I try to stifle her need to move, explore, discover and learn.  

I am not asking you not to feel annoyed; I have no control over that.  I’m just asking that you search deep inside for some compassion.  You have no idea what journey a person has been on.  You have no idea what a person is struggling with right now.  I have no idea what you might be struggling with right now either, which is why I will always look at you with kindness and a smile.  If you knew that I go home and cry after an encounter with someone like you, would you act differently next time…?

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Sometimes I talk too much…

Well, I guess if I didn’t there’d be no blog would there! So in some ways my ability to always find something to talk (or write) about, and find plenty of words to say what I want to say is a good thing.  I’ll take that.

But, I have a lot of anxiety about whether I say too much, be that too many words, or just the wrong ones.  When I meet someone, either personally or professionally, I always leave with a sense of embarrassment and shame that I did it again.  I went on too much. Again.  And then I wonder what the person was thinking, both during the engagement and after.  And I wonder whether they will avoid me the next time they see me, lest they attract more of the same.

I’m not sure where the anxiety comes from, or when it began.  I remember some of my family telling me that I was annoying when I was a little kid.  Was that because I talked too much? I’m not sure.  Perhaps I was just generally annoying.  I don’t remember all my school reports, but I do remember one, or at least a bit of one.  “Talks copiously.”  Those were the teacher’s words; words I have never forgotten.  And I’ve been teased about it throughout my career too.  So perhaps the anxiety has grown from years of people making me feel self-conscious about how much I go on, to the point that I am now that aware of myself when I am speaking that the actual act of speaking itself brings on more anxiety. Jeez, I feel anxious just writing about it!

Before a meeting…

I don’t generally feel anxious about going to meet someone.  It could be the first time I’ve met them, a business meeting, a medical appointment, a presentation I have to deliver, anything really, and I approach each with eager anticipation and excitement.  Ok, so maybe there are a few nerves there, but only ‘normal’ ones.  The sort of nerves you might feel (unless of course you are reading this because you too suffer with anxiety, in which case, you’ve probably got a thing or two you could say about it yourself).  Actually, I look forward to meeting people.  I am a sociable person, and I thrive when I am in company.  Perhaps because it is an opportunity for me to talk….

During the meeting…

But whilst I am in the middle of the engagement, no matter who it is with or what the occasion might be, there’s a little part of my brain (perhaps it’s ‘Ant’) that keeps chipping in, “You’re going on a bit”, “You just interrupted them”, “You’ve already said that”, “That was the wrong word, idiot!”  Stuff like that.  So sometimes it’s actually quite exhausting having a conversation with people; because between the real listening, the gap listening, and the speaking, all the time I have this little voice up there telling me to shut up! I remember locking horns with a work colleague (not something that happened often at all, might I add) because they insisted that I never listened to them, always spoke over them and was not interested in anything they had to say.  I think it’s his voice I hear up there, you know.

After the meeting…

Ah, now that depends on what kind of meeting it was or who it was with.  So if it was a business meeting, say, I would agonise afterwards about what the audience thought of my input, my ideas.  If I was chairing the meeting, was I an effective chair? Did I listen to everyone’s views?  Did I encourage everyone to participate? Were they engaged? Were they inspired or just plain bored? What will they say about it when they’ve left the room?  I am a genuine believer that feedback is a gift, and I kind of wish that every meeting could be followed up with some feedback form so I could answer all those questions, quit worrying, and move on!  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like that after every meeting.  I do know where my strengths lie, and am generally quite intuitive about people.  But it happened often, when I allowed self-doubt to creep in.

If it was an appointment, a medical one perhaps, I would leave worrying about what the Doctor thought.  Did they think I was a know-it-all?  Did they think I was stupid? Are they groaning when they see the family name pop up on the screen? Do they think I’m an over-cautious, over-protective, hypochondriac mother? For the record, I don’t think I am.  I know from my time in the hospital with Freya that the Drs gained a lot of respect for me because I showed a deep interest in Freya’s condition and the treatment, medication, etc that went with it.  If they mentioned the immune system one day, I’d have a pretty good grasp on it by the next (thanks Google!).  I still think I annoy the hell out of them with my lists of questions and copies of medical papers that I have gathered during my research! Oh well, keeps them on their toes😉.

And what of a casual meet up for coffee with a friend? Surely that can’t bring any anxiety with it, can it?  That’s a nice meeting.  One without any expectation other than that the coffee and the conversation will flow.  But actually, these kinds of get togethers are the ones that cause me the most anxiety of all.  Perhaps because it’s me I’m putting out there isn’t it? It causes me anxiety because it matters to me that the other person enjoyed my company.  And I want them to ask me again!  I worry if I said too much, if I didn’t say enough in response to their own concerns, did they leave feeling like I didn’t care about what was going on in their world?  Was I boring? Did they leave thinking “All she ever talks about is…”? Did I let them speak? What was it they said about…was I listening? Did they really want to leave an hour ago but were too polite to say?  Will they get home and think of all the other things they could have been doing instead of getting their ear metaphorically chewed off by me?  Sometimes it makes me sad.  And I cry real tears whilst the disapproving voice in my head says, “You did it again, didn’t you McBride..”

Ok, so I’ve probably just committed social suicide! (See how I’m now going to stress about what I’ve just written!) If you were thinking about inviting me for a cuppa, please don’t change your mind through fear of transforming me into a blithering wreck by the end! That isn’t the case most times.  Sometimes it’s extreme worry, and I’ve not quite worked out if there’s any reason or pattern.  I’ll probably always wonder what you think of me, whether I was good enough…

And I think that’s where the answer lies.  The annoying kid, the student who talked too much, the colleague who didn’t listen…throughout my life people have made me ashamed of how much I have to say.  Why does talking too much have such a negative connotation?  When is talking a lot, talking too much? Will I ever learn to embrace this part of my character, in spite of what everyone else wants to make me believe?  Well I am going to try, and to make a start I am going to make a list of all the reasons why my incessant prattle is a good thing…

  1. I might be able to say things others cannot
  2. I am not afraid to say the things others will not
  3. Talking makes conversation easier (or even possible, lol!)
  4. I can talk away my troubles
  5. I can express myself through words – blogging, writing poetry, chatting…
  6. I can make someone feel better
  7. I can make someone laugh
  8. Awareness was never raised with silence
  9. Words inspire people
  10. British Telecom said so (“It’s Good to Talk”)

Alright, so I know I am going to have to do better than that if I want to truly buy into the notion that my copious chatter is a good thing, but it’s a start.  Perhaps one day I might even believe some of it…

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Me, probably post-coffee catch-up, thinking…