Monday, February 24

Goodbye Rug

Recently I have been terrible at blogging, leaving long gaps between posts that I need to write for my sanity. So before I start this, here is some proof we have been at least getting on with life in between:

Ikea is to Wriggles a gigantic dolls house. A whole day can be spent climbing on or off sofas with peculiar names and hiding inside show wardrobes. All in all, a marvellously cheap day out. Actual shopping with her is a nightmare still but if a stuffed mouse can be located somewhere it makes is mildly more manageable...

One big change we have made at home in finally taking the side of the cotbed off. Until recently, Wriggles still feeding tube feeding through the night and would get so tangled with the tubing that the safest thing was to thread the tube through cot bars. However once this wasn't necessary (for now), I grabbed the screwdriver and I must say it feels great to move her into a more age appropriate bed. So many things are dictated by her abilities or disabilites that normal things like a big girl bed feels just brilliant.

Wriggles LOVES water. Now she can independantly stand and do some "wobbling" (walking to you and me. She picked this term; I am not that cruel although it sure is accurate), puddles are hers for the taking. She loves stamping her feel if you her holds or hips to keep her upright. And of course, the British weather is happy to provide!

Wriggles is still a bit of a titch so can still fit comfortably on her (cheap substitute) Smart Trike. She can't always get her legs to stay on the pedals and can't pedal herself, but nevertheless, just staying upright on it is brilliant when you have cerebral palsy as your core strength is weak. Wriggles often slumps and folds like a concertina when she tires, but she managed nearly a whole mile walk of me pushing her on her trike, holding on to the handlebars and staying upright sitting on the seat herself. Even a few months ago there is no way she would have managed this distance, so it was a great reminder about the "invisible" progress that children make.  

Then this week during half term we had our 6 monthly development review. I knew it was going to be one of "those" meetings that tax the brain and merit large bottles of wine, as a few weeks ago we had our TAC (Team Around Child, ie. multidisciplinary meeting) during which several issues were flagged up by nursery which are consistent across the board and in front of the paediatrician our SALT finally admitted she can't always make head nor tail of Wriggles' speech despite telling everyone it was all 'fine with no concerns' for months. There have been things which I have put down to being 'Wriggles-isms' for ages but as she gets older they are beginning to stand out more. On the whole she is a delightful child, but there is something I can't always put my finger on that stands out. Things very much have to be on her terms beyond the remit of being stubborn or a 3 year old and she acts as if children don't exist, despite if they are standing next to her calling her name. She still hand-flaps when excited and has language issues outstanding. If you put a gun to my head, I probably couldn't tell you yet the differences or significant things which make me thing that our journey isn't over yet within the realm of SEN, but there is something. 

And it turns out our paed agrees. In fact, he was quite upfront and told me about 10 minutes in that he was mentally assessing her for austistic spectrum disorders before I had even mentioned some of my concerns, those of nursery and some of her 'quirks'. She doesn't yet fit an obvious profile but shares quite a few ASD traits. Our paed has long said she comes across unusually-there are no clear explanations for lots of her past. Her clinical notes never match up with her presentation in real life and the only concrete thing we have to fall back on for anything is prematurity. At the TAC, our paed stated that we shouldn't be surprised if there are further diagnoses along the way which came as no surprise. At that time though, I hadn't been thinking ASD might be one. I have vaguely read things in the past about it, but discounted it as Wriggles doesn't obviously match the triad of impairments. Then I was talking to somewhat about some of her unusual patterns of speech and they mentioned echolalia. Several Dr Google hits later, and someone could have been writing about my child specifically. What I also noticed was that ASD often came up in conjunction with the hits and read a bit more about atypical presentation and within girls and begun to make me think more carefully. In hindsight I am glad I read a bit as it made it much less of a shock when our paediatrician suggested it being a possibility we couldn't rule out at this stage.

The thing which complicates things and may yet be our diagnosis is good old prematurity. Whilst many babies do escape relatively unscathed, premature birth and the sensory overload that comes outside the womb can cause brains to develop unusual pathways that will go on to process information differently which will not be immediately obvious. The upshot is that many display strong traits linked with neurodevelopmental disorders, often across many, but not fully fit the profile traditionally of any of them. They are still not 'neurotypical' but don't have a 'name' to explain it away. It can be pervasive or resolve depending on the extent and individual child. Wriggles has already had an MRI which reads as normal, which as our paed says, really tells us nothing as it can't tell you the tiny pathways which must be affected or simply put she wouldn't have cerebral palsy which she obviously does.

It is all rather complicated and a bit of a muddle: it comes as no surprise, but yet it is always a blow to hear a professional say "there is something else" even when you wholeheartedly agree. Until those black and white words are uttered there is that thread of hope called 'so -called normality' and the idea that maybe, you have just gone neurotic. Obviously to have escaped this conversation until past 3 years old, things are on the mild end for which I am truly grateful. Of course whatever end of any spectrum, Wriggles would still be Wriggles and I would love her with a ferocity and fight for her corner and what I see as her needs whatever. But some days all the mild things stack up and feel overwhelming. Much, I imagine, like how Wriggles' brain probably views the world incoming. Which when I stop and think gives me great sympathy for her and explains a lot. It also makes me feel very tired when I think what we have to achieve yet. Every time I rearrange the metaphorical rug of life under our feet, someone gives it another yank. 

I am going to have to find some metaphorical superglue.

Sunday, February 9

Feeding Tube Awareness Week: day one, our story

Our first experience of tube feeding was like most preemies, in NICU. We had to wait weeks for Wriggles to be at the gestational age whereby she could suck, swallow and breathe at once and even then it took weeks to build up her oral feeding, ml by ml as she tired easily. We graduated without the tube though and settled down to a turbulent first year of life with the added bonus of frequent and projectile reflux. After her first foray into PICU (Paediatric Intensive Care) shortly after weaning had commenced with relative success, Wriggles lost interest in solids. She didn't just loose interest in it, she went berserk. At around 8 months old, I could not offer her food to eat, touch or play with, I could not put either empty or full utensils near her and I could not eat near her myself as she would scream and scream as if in terror. I was loosing my mind with worrying-my only consolation was that our childminder reported the same difficulties in trying to feed her also, so even on the darkest days I rationally knew it was probably not entirely me doing something wrong. By her first birthday, Wriggles would very occasionally and with much reluctance take small amounts of yogurt off a spoon and her bottles. Her coordination was still off to self-feed and at this point she was still not sitting which didn't help brilliantly either. "Fuss pot" didn't even begin to describe her attitude towards bottles either and she self-weaned off using a pacifiers as dummies began to make her gag and subsequently vomit. During the times we were home between hospital admissions, my flat was a homage to washing vomit out of every conceivable item of clothing or furnishing and when she went to bed I would sit and cry. Shortly after she turned one, we had a fairly serious hospital admission. It was agreed her feeding difficulties were getting out of hand and there seemed to be a very viable link to her repeated chest infections. She would go home with an NG tube.

We stayed in hospital for nearly 3 weeks whilst they ran some tests, she kicked the infection (and required oxygen) and I was trained how to tube feed. On the last day, a consultant decided to scrap the plan and re-try forcing the issue with oral feeding, different formula and a new course of medication aimed at controlling the reflux which was still at large. We were promised community help and sent home with instructions to keep stuffing her as much as she would take. The "help" was patchy and it continued to be a struggle. We tried several formulas to try and get on top of weight gain and got the reflux to a manageable level. Solids however were another issue. Over the next 9 months I tried so many things to move things along. They didn't budge. She would drink nothing except from milk out of a bottle with a specific teat and gradually she began to drop the levels she was drinking. Whilst I never had fears about hydration, her weight was another story and it became obvious that whilst the milk might be nutritionally complete, she just couldn't or wouldn't take enough of it to satisfy her body.

Looking back through photographs, I do sometimes wonder if I have got our story quite right. So many pictures are Wriggles with food; Wriggles painting herself or the chair with food; Wriggles in a cafe... The reality of course is that these relatively happier or chilled out times were SUCH high points that of course I whipped the camera out. Each time I had no idea if it was a fluke and if it would be months or ever that the time in question was to be repeated and I wanted hard evidence it could happen to help me on the darker days when I felt like I had failed my baby and wonder if we would ever get the "normal" experiences that are associated with feeding.

A (very rare) eureka moment:

This isn't a great picture, but Wriggles was getting skinner and skinnier. Prior to getting the tube for good, she began falling gradually then speedily through the centiles on the all hallowed growth chart. Even allowing for corrected age and periods of illness, she had gone from being your average 50th centile kiddo to sitting at the bottom and not looking like she was going to pick up any time soon. You could see her ribs and her arms were like twiglets. The last time we saw her dietitian before the admission, when she picked her up you could see her face fall. She said there and then "uh-oh"; I later found out she immediately had emailed our paediatrician and advised at the very least NG top ups. Fate, or rather Wriggles and her preemie lungs had other ideas though and we soon were on an NHS mini break again for most of August 2012.

 Then this happened:

Wriggles was not happy about being NG fed. I was not happy about her being NG fed. The community nurses who had to quite literally sit on her to re-pass the NG tubes she refluxed up daily were not happy about her being NG fed. But goodness was I relieved we at last had a plan. I knew instantly that tube feeding was the right thing to do, because when the consultant told me that we would be going home with one and that this was going to be our new normal for the time being at least, all I felt was sheer relief washing over me. I might not have jumped for joy but I knew we were at the end of the line: we had tried, god almighty had we tried, but things were not getting better and we were getting into riskier and riskier territory playing Russian roulette with Wriggles' health and that is not on. Tube feeding is not an easy option, it is a last resort. But when you get to that place, having a tube is like being in Monopoly and getting an out of jail card.

Luckily everyone decided that an NG was not a long-term solution and so we got slotted into surgery pretty quickly for a PEG (G tube)...

...which made things much easier! Whilst surgery is never easy and I found the initial week a struggle, it was the best thing all round. When Wriggles was first in recovery coming round after the anaesthetic and screaming the place down (whilst the nurse was reeling off all the pain relief she had already had which was not touching the sides...) and I saw the PEG dangling out of her beautiful previously unblemished stomach, I felt sick at what I had consented to have done. However, once the pain had settled down for her it was obvious that the new chapter we had started was a good 'un. Like NG feeding, we had to settle down into a pattern of working out what was the best rate for her. At first she did not tolerate bolus (quick) feeds well and for quite a while we relied on the pump., Her volume tolerance, even now at 3 years old, has always been on the low side and I still have to rely on gut (ha!) instinct, common sense and a quick assessment to avoid my carpet getting covered in regurgitated feed.

Last summer we swapped the PEG for an AMT mini button which I now love. Wriggles calls the extension her "tail" and most of the time is pretty nonplussed about being tube fed. The truth is, she probably can't recall any other way. She never ate enough solids, if any at all, for them to provide even a contribution to calories and nutrition to fill her up and her drinking was tailing off and warning signs of aspiration into her lungs were sounding like a klaxon so there was not a great deal of choice. We still have a long way to go with introducing consistent feeding and upping volume anywhere beyond "tasters" and have only just begun to reintroduce fluids. But she is healthy and the main thing is that she is getting the nutrition she needs, and also the medications she requires. Since we began tube feeding we have ditched the complete high calorie formula she was fed round the clock and switched to a blenderized diet. Given her lack of eating, I wasn't 100% about how her body would handle solids but after a very gradual changeover she has been fine with just about everything as long as the volume isn't too much and it isn't overly fatty. She how has 3-4 boluses of pureed food down the button at conventional meal times and fluid boluses in between; anything orally is a bonus and she will eat crumbs of cheese scones, toast, Pringles (my nemesis, I detest them now), the arms and legs of gingerbread men and nibbles of sausages. I still can't tell you exactly why she didn't before and still doesn't like eating or why we still get into cycles of all out refusal. The tube is as much here to stay as it was when it was first placed, but that isn't to say it will be forever.

This week is Feeding Tube Awareness Week, with the brilliant theme of "nothing will hold us back". Getting a tube can initially throw a proverbial spanner in the works, but once you find your groove it seeps into your routine until it is another way of feeding. We might still be too new to add the "just another way of feeding"; it is after all a very emotive and physically obvious difference. But feeding tubes are necessary for a huge variety of reasons. They may not look like it, but for many children and adults are not just life saving or nutrition related devices, but are compassionate. Getting a feeding tube has allowed my Wriggles to become to self-assured, mischievous and energetic little person she is today and that is why I am passionate about this week.

Saturday, February 1

Anxiety Returns

When Wriggles was very sick (one of the many times) at around 21 months old and ended up going home tube feeding, I remember our consultant sitting down with us at some ungodly hour in the morning as he was working through the night after his shift had ended trying to keep us out of PICU, which he succeeded in by the skin of his teeth. 
"This will rock your confidence as a parent," he told me softly. 
He was full of empathy-as a senior specialist consultant he had seen our situation too many times before, held the hands of so many parents and was so well practised in delivering news, good, bad and wait-and-see. He might not know what it was like to be on our side, but he did see us parents pale and aghast in our pyjamas, he saw us hysterical, terrified and for us lucky ones he would see us dancing on air when discharge finally rolled around, albeit sometimes going home with more equipment than we had gone in with. He knew stories like ours only too well and whilst he was the first to admit magic answers are few and far between he did have better knowledge and instincts than some.

He was right, in a way. It did shake me, but the truth was that life goes on. I had to get to grips with tube feeding very quickly which was rather consuming and for the next few months that took over our lives. Wriggles recovered from her umpteenth respiratory infection and went back to cruising the furniture as if none of it had happened. We came and went to Outpatients and had a few more admissions after she began struggling with an unspecified virus but nothing like on that occasion or the times before.

What neither I or our consultant could have foreseen was that she would get that ill again, and not just that ill, but far worse and wind back up in PICU aged 3 years old. November 2013 passed by in a daze and when we got home, I was too full of adrenaline to even begin to process it and too consumed with caring for a little girl still very weak from being so poorly. We got caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas and I began to think maybe I was just that good at getting on with life that I had moved on from the admission and that my rational brain knew that now we were out of hospital and back to full strength, that was all that mattered.

Of course, that is what matters. But life, and the human brain, is not that simple. Bad memories do not just neatly file themselves away and sit there locked in a box unless told otherwise. At the end of January, Wriggles started to cough. She started to become ill. I nervously clocked up the increasing frequency we were using inhalers and took her temperature hourly, loading as much Calpol as I could down her tube. As I rocked her daily whilst she tried to catch her breath between coughing, I was consumed with an onslaught of memories of the amount of times we had been in this position before. Uncalled for memories flashed in front of my eyes, ambulances, resus, nebulisers, feeling sick with fear, pacing hospital corridors, midnight dashes to a&e, medical jargon, drugs, more drugs, mounting terror that my baby was ill... No matter how many times I told myself that she wasn't a baby anymore, that this was just a cold, that things change, things are different, I just couldn't shake off that feeling of fear that something was wrong; that we had seen this too many times before. The moments I wasn't looking after her or feeling dreadful myself were spent trying to battle through what felt like an indefinite fog of flashbacks to fraught days and nights. The past, it appears, is never really too far away.

And it is now that I think of his words, first said to me over eighteen months ago. So much has happened, good and bad, but it feels like they are coming home to roost. The anxiety I once felt and thought I had conquered is looming in the corner of the room like a grotesque spectre. I question things I do; things I don't do. When I think of the present and future I feel overwhelmed at the uncertainty then instantly selfish when others cope with far more. Where as a few weeks ago, I accepted them blithely saying that our recent PICU was just "bad luck, one of those things", at this moment I can't trust that. The rational part of my brain is trying to be pragmatic and reasonable but feels like it is getting shouted down. Even as the cold is subsiding, the comfort I get when I hold Wriggles close is tarred by the faint wheeze my ears catch. 

Lets just get back to normal, rational brain says, it will be easier then.
And a voice echoes, but who knows what normal ever is?


Wednesday, January 8

Back on her feet

After PICU, Wriggles made what appears to be a full respiratory recovery (that is, as well as she was pre-RSV as opposed to amazing lungs) but the impact of being unconscious and ventilated and then bedridden really took its toll on her body and even without the snakes and ladders world that is cerebral palsy, she really took some back steps. When we were discharged she was still having to re-learn just how to sit. Slowly over the coming weeks she rebuilt her strength, but my it was frustrating. For me, but so for her. Her brand new skill of independent walking was so new and so hard-won it really wound her up that suddenly she couldn't do it anyway and to add insult to injury, she didn't always have the coordination to crawl. Although her behaviour wasn't terrible, she was definitely much harder to manage in the weeks leading up until Christmas and she put a lot of her energy into shouting. Loudly.

Although I told everyone I was sure she'd be walking again by Christmas, as the days ticked by and she wobbled through them I begun to wonder if I was perhaps getting ahead of myself. After all, no one imagined she could get so sick so quick, so it was not entirely ridiculous to imagine taking a more semi-permanent back step as a consequence.

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And then, just days before Christmas she did it. Again.

I couldn't quite believe it. Just a few very uncertain steps to me in the bathroom ('helping' hang washing...) but they were there.

Then the next day she did them again and again. And that was that. Again.

It is funny how quickly you forget the anguish, the mind numbing crawl of time as each day ticks by with no miracle, the churning of your stomach, the heaviness of your heart when a dream is realised.

I could not have asked for a better Christmas present if I'd tried. And judging by the beam on her face throughout the festive period, neither could she. It really did make Christmas, which went really quite smoothly given the turmoil of the previous month and the uncertainty of the weeks leading up. I am resigned to the fact that thanks to her cerebral palsy, though mild, will always exaggerate bad patches and make her little body work harder than it should have to. It just makes you savour the good bits and the developmental leaps inbetween when they do finally come around.

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This week she has finally restarted nursery sessions again. The first day she was happy to go in but rather clung to her 1:1 worker. On day 2, she toddled in cheerfully with a gigantic knitted crocodile stuffed under one arm trilling "bye bye mummy!". Although it stung a tiny bit, it mainly made me feel so proud I could burst that she was such a confident little person given everything she has been through. The progress she has made in just six months is astounding. Of course we've still got hurdles to leap, things to work on, things that are uncertain. But for now, I'm not thinking of that. For now, I'm just enjoying the moments while they are here.

Sunday, January 5


As a teenager, I grew up swiping my mum's Bridget Jones books and reading them, half hoping they were purely works of fiction (as a somewhat scatty hapless seventeen-or-so year old myself) and half hoping there really would be a woolly jumpered Mark Darcy out there as well as a mildly amusing job and good Urban Singleton friends to while away adulthood with. One of the bits that made me laugh was a scene describing Bridget being 'smug-married' at a party by her goddaughter. "Bridget, why haven't you got a boyfriend?" asks the little girl.

Today, Wriggles and I were having a rather nice time at a third birthday party for a fellow special care friend. I was on my turn child-watching in the thick of soft play, when one of Wriggles' fellow comrades turned to me, frowning. She looked over at the table where her baby brother was napping and the area for small people where very-wobbly littlest people were hanging out.
"Amy," she said. "Why haven't you got another baby?"
Oh dear, I thought.
It is bad enough when adults ask; number one reason is because I haven't got a partner. However, I suspected her parents would not thank me for an early induction into the complexities of life, reality and a sampling of biology classes to come. Wildly, I looked around for back up. Where is your own daughter when you need her?
"Shall we have another go on the slide?" I asked brightly.
Thankfully, she shot up the ramp like shouting at me to follow. So I did. You can't ask too many more awkward questions whilst screaming "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!". And so that was that.

It did make me think though. Really, it was more funny than anything else. Although Wriggles' language is a little delayed still, her peers we know are at the stage where asking "but WHHHHY?" is their favourite past time and for all of them, it is obvious they are watching the world carefully and piecing together information to form the basis of assumptions, beliefs and security. I know she only asked me, because I was there at the time. Although most of the mums and dads I met when Wriggles was small are adding to their families, we were by no means the only one-child family at the party and certainly not within a social circle. I'm pretty sure I was the only single parent there, but that is a whole other ball game and I am secretly quite glad Wriggles has not yet got the words or inclination to ask why she doesn't have a live-in daddy like her friends do. I have no doubt it will happen, probably far sooner than I want or think, but for now I can pass off playground equipment as distractions and pull silly faces as answers. Damn this development thing.

I remember shortly after Wriggles was born, someone well-meaningly pointing out that by embarking on the ultimately probably terribly fufilling path of single parenthood, I was possibly sacrificing things further down the line, or would at least have a lot more obstacles than I might do otherwise. Of course, I don't regret it. I didn't know then and I don't know now how things might have turned out if I hadn't had a child then. Would I have ever had one? Statistically, it is very possible I would. But maybe I wouldn't; and faced with the reality of a small, wriggling bundle of half my genes I wasn't willing to take that risk. I had that chance now and it was unconventional and far from how I imagined, but who knows how life will really turn out? In many ways it hasn't been easy but I cannot imagine life without a child; my child. I suppose now she is reaching the point where equally things medically are settling down and life is becoming more relaxing (that is, more relaxing from a developmental point of view, not actually relaxing because she is a mad as a box of frogs) and also because this is the age where many people around us are having babies, and whether you are in that position or not, it does make you think about how your life is turning out and what it may do in the future: or not. When Wriggles started preschool back in September, there seemed to be babies everywhere and for a while it really hit home that there were very much just two of us and that that was not changing any time soon.

Quite aside from being a single parent, there is also the small question of her prematurity, the effects that have shaped the last 3 years and how that might come into play even if I was in a position to think about having a different family unit. Talking with friends who are contemplating providing a sibling, they are arguing out finances, bedroom quotas, having the patience for dusting out rattles and teething toys-understandably huge decisions after you get used to having one little whirlwind and all the practicalities and emotions they bring with them. When I think hypothetically, quite aside from all of that, I would want the blessing of a very good obstetrician to hold my hand and promise me I would never have to walk into a neonatal unit again, never have a terrible birth, never swim through the fog of skewed mental health, never have to visit and re-visit children's wards, outpatients and think about disability, however small. 

Also, Mr Darcy has not yet put in a permanent appearance.

I never imagined I would have one child on my own. I never imagined until I had that one child, that loving her so much would make me wish for another. I never imagined, as a teenager back then reading fictitious books that life could get really very complicated and that things that look so simple-finding someone you care for and managing a relationship-could be so fraught.

I'll let Wriggles and her friend discover that in their own time. Preschoolers birthday parties are neither the time nor the place. Particularly when there is a Hello Kitty cake to be eaten.

Saturday, December 7

Freedom: proof

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Such ordinary pictures, days of nothing special, and yet for my 3 year old each one is a momentous occasion. I took for granted that walking comes naturally to children, babies even, until I had a premature baby who was later diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. 

Since the days turned into weeks and then months when allotted milestones came and went, un-met we have done a lot of physio, used gaiters, AFOs, a Kaye walker and a daily muscle relaxant medicine in aid of walking. We have swam, bounced, sung, pleaded over steps and supported, held up and wiped tears when things wobbled. I have cried into my pillow and Wriggles has cried into me (or hit me with a stuffed tiger). But we are getting there. Each step of freedom makes my heart sing louder and if that what it does to me, I can only imagine what it does to an already perfectly confident child like Wriggles, whom quite regularly refers to herself as both "brave" and "clever".

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Each step is so hard won: the cruelty of cerebral palsy is that even for those more mildly affected, the tiniest of set backs can prove huge. Each achievement can be crushed by the simplest of things. Growth spurts wreak havoc as muscles and bones grow at different times and rates and the signals in the brain get mixed up. Small viruses sap strength that takes weeks to get back to baseline. In an instant, core strength is halved. Which makes these memories and pictures all the more special. We got there. Wriggles got there.

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At the moment, we are still suffering the after effects of Wriggles' recent intensive care admission. She has been out of hospital for two weeks, out of intensive care on sedation for three weeks, but still can only crawl or sit up. Her hard won steps have once again slipped away from her. I know she will win them back again and these weeks of frustration as she yells "I WAAAAAAAAAAAAAALK!" only to fall down because she can't stand up will melt away. It has just been a reminder that the battle is won, but not over. For now.

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Friday, December 6

Missing Gaps

Before I jump in with life post-intensive care #2, I'll back track. Wriggles recovered from her tonsillectomy after a tense fortnight of religious administration of Calpol and ibuprofen and by the end of July you would not have been able to tell that weeks ago she had had surgery. Her breathing pattern whilst asleep improved-if anything it unnerved me how quiet she was! I was so used to sleeping next to someone who sounded as if they had tumbled out of the pub after downing their body weight in pints, that to have the serenity of near-silence needed some getting used to. Where as at the turn of the year, I would have to regularly check her colour with a torch in the middle of the night (she had obstructive sleep apnoea caused by the large tonsils and adenoids and a great fear of mine was that she would pause in breathing and just not start again. Her breathing was really quiet noisy and so the moments when she did apnoea were almost deafening in their quietness) I was now prodding her every now and then to check she actually was breathing, such was the change in noise levels! Once we had got through the recommended 10-14 days of rest, there was no stopping her. Especially as we had our first real holiday in the first week of August!

We flew down to the south west coast to spend a week with my parents and godparents in a holiday cottage by the sea. My parents go annually, and have since they met, to a folk festival on the coast and we took full advantage of there being a spare room in a picturesque seaside town with nearby playground! It was wonderful: we spent 7 days surrounded by friends and family, with sunshine, swings and company on our doorsteps. We also got to meet fellow preemie mum and blogger Diary of a Premmy Mum and the delightful Smidge, which was very special to finally meet someone you connect with 'virtually' who knows so much both about your life, but more importantly understands what you have been through and what it means to come out the other side. We slowly made our way back north, but via two more friends to stay with for a few days each that we rarely get to see due to the distance. The last friend we stayed with was one of my closest university friends, now herself a single parent with a beautiful little baby boy and it just rounded off a perfect holiday with someone I adore and who knows all too well the bringing up of a small person alone.

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And then, at the end of August and beginning of October, something amazing happened.

Wriggles took her first independent steps. At just shy of 3 years old, she stumbled across to a toy, beaming from ear to ear. I hadn't known she would be able to so soon; I and the physios and doctors had wondered that it might take months or even years longer. But she showed her silly muscles and cerebral palsy just who was boss: her. Not just that, but suddenly she started putting words together, words that just kept tumbling out her mouth. Words I knew were there but for months and months she had been unable to speak and words we couldn't find signing for. And as she let loose the conversational floodgates, with practise her speech began to sound clearer so that other people could understand her too. I always knew she would get there in her own time and I knew it would be very emotional after the pure fight she has had to put up, but it just floored me. To see what she could achieve but above all how pleased she was. You assume they get frustrated, but if they haven't had a skill can they miss it? Judging by her little face every time, she was as happy as I was that she was getting there, if more so. It made the hours of therapy, the tears of heartache and the sleepless nights of anxiety worth it in a second. Of course I would have loved to re-write history and erase the premature birth and magic away the cerebral palsy and development delay, but in this world you can't change the past-but you can make some enormous strides forwards!

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Wriggles turned 3 in September: it was bittersweet as usual with sharp memories of the day she was born and the terror of her delivery and subsequent hours not knowing if she were still alive, but fresh with her new skills of walking and talking, it made me proud to bursting point of how far she had come over time and the limitless possibilities she could yet achieve. Disabilities aside, she is a massively stubborn child with a keen streak of independence and knows exactly what she does and does not want, which many a time can cause friction but at the same time can really pay off in making big progress. At the end of the month she started preschool. The idea of preschool had plagued me with so much anxiety, not least because there were a few weeks whereby it appeared that the professionals who support us all appeared to be on completely different pages as to how we would manage preschool and what support may or may not be in place. Luckily it was resolved and after a good bit of prodding, we won funding for a 1:1 support worker for Wriggles. By the time preschool came around, we were both totally ready. The difference in the 10 weeks since we signed the paperwork and when Wriggles' first day was was astounding. I think she would have coped if she hadn't been taking some independent steps and been able to verbally communicate but there is no denying that achieving both those things made the transitional much easier for everyone involved. I wasn't surprised at how easily she settled and familiarised to the new routine and with both excitement and some sadness, accepted just how quickly my little girl who once fitted in my hand, was growing up.

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On one hand, I was and am, very excited for this next chapter in our lives as Wriggles is thriving and growing up. And on the other, as silly or selfish as it may sound it just floors me. The last years have been a struggle. There have been some truly special moments and I would not trade any of it as every day has been with Wriggles who has changed my life upside down, but there is no covering up that even on the really good days: life has not been a bed of roses. I hadn't been prepared for parenthood 3 years ago and I was definitely not prepared for single parenthood. When I previously used to think about the future, bringing up a family of one, two or more on my own just did not even get a look in as even an outside possibility. Sometimes though, life has other plans and you either get on with it or you don't. And with some hindsight, it has been non-stop. Hospital admissions, my own mental health battles, health scares, lifestyle changes and the huge unknown that is a child's development when they have problems to contend leaves you running on adrenaline just day to day. Because often if you stop and think, really think about it then you can tip over and fall into a big black hole. But if you keep running, keep savouring those moments of pride, those small steps, those little snippets of ordinary that you treasure for years to come; then that enables the days to keep changing, the world to keep turning and suddenly you get to a point and think, but in a really good way, "how the bloody hell did we get here?". I certainly would not have seen this point when we came home from NICU or even a year ago or less. And that is where I found myself as Wriggles happily settled into preschool and I suddenly could think and open my eyes a little wider. It threw me: for some reason it really rammed home this line we have been straddling, this balance of needs and wants, of what is expected and what happens. Things I haven't allowed myself to think about or miss because I had a very big priority who needed a high level of care all the time. And while that hadn't all just gone away, the world had shifted a bit and the path we have been walking on seems to have gotten wider as there are more possibilities now. As the health and development side of things have became less intense, I find myself floundering a little. I can't wait to enjoy it but a part of me is almost afraid to. Now I can stand and watch Wriggles fly across my vision, giddy with the feeling of being carried by her own two feet, holding herself up tall and proud. It reminds me that that is what I have to keep doing: if anyone can make sure I too put one foot in front of the other and keep going with a smile on my face, it will be her. 

Saturday, November 16

World Prematurity Day

Of the last few months, my blogging status has been utterly AWOL. Life and lack of inspiration got in the way, but with the impending World Prematurity Day I knew I meant to restart recording our story and especially on 17th November to join in sharing awareness with thousands of people about prematurity and the effects of it and how important it is to increase both neonatal and antenatal care. There is a common misconception that prematurity just means small, that is is an event which you leave behind and that children born preterm easily catch up.

Then 12 days ago our life took another rocking which has sharply brought into focus just how important this whole question of prematurity is, even in a medically advanced and developed country. Wriggles was born just under 28 weeks and is now 3 years old. She has lasting effects of prematurity but nothing severe especially compared to some children.

Two weeks ago she caught a cold and became rather snuffly. Nothing out of the ordinary, small children in this season are riddled with colds up and down the country. However it soon became apparent that as with previous times, Wriggles' below average lungs were not holding up brilliantly. We trundled into the hospital where we have open access, sat around for a few hours to be observed and left in time for the fireworks clutching antibiotics just in case. Through the night I grew more uneasy and by morning she was sucking in under her ribs to breathe. I rang the ward again to say we were coming in as I was concerned and so off we went again. On admission it was determined her oxygen levels were dangerously low and we were swiftly transferred to a side room for emergency treatment. Unfortunately she continued to deteriorate despite huge amounts of oxygen and other treatments and by dinner time we were transferred up to Intensive Care and she was put on a ventilator the following morning which she stayed on for 7 days. We stayed in intensive care for 11 days and are currently still in hospital, newly transferred to a specialist respiratory ward still on high pressure humidified oxygen. The isolated virus, RSV is notoriously nasty for premature children. It can be bad news for any young children, particularly babies but for those of us with premature children with chronic lung disease it can be very dangerous. As we found out. As a higher risk baby and one who had required home oxygen for a time, Wriggles received monthly vaccinations against the virus for her first two winters and for protection we cut down heavily on socialising during the season to avoid catching infections. This year, the respiratory team were delighted with her health and having grown to the grand age of 3, the risk factor was considerably lower than previously. Except of course, it wasn't. Because 3 years on, my beautiful daughter has still not recovered strength to effectively fight off such infections and instead had to fight for her life.

During the period we were on intensive care, an alarming percentage of the inpatients were those born prematurely. Some still tiny babies and some like us, who had hoped to have put our prematurity largely behind us. From fleeting visits to those who are longer term inpatients, it was a very stark reminder that prematurity is not just confined to special care units and baby days but is a very real and very scary condition that can impact throughout childhood and for some, into adulthood. It is easy to read the numbers and statistics but faced with a room full of desperate parents keeping vigil by their critically ill children it is hard for it to sink in why healthcare is not finding answers to preterm birth quick enough.

Saturday, July 20


For the second time in few weeks, we have waved goodbye to hospital and thankfully shut the front door and collapsed on the sofa back home (in front of Maisy Mouse: I now know most episodes off by heart).

We are now around 72 hours post-op and things seem to be getting better. So far we are infection free and she is still willing to eat small amounts of Quavers. Right up until this morning, Wriggles was still so groggy, tired and weak that she couldn't sit up by herself but today she has been regaining her strength and much more like "my" Wriggles. Just like last year when she had her operation to place the feeding tube and run tests, once she came around she would scream if she was anywhere but my lap. I think I had one bathroom break in 12 hours which was a quick dash to a screaming chorus in the background. It doesn't get easier seeing her in so much distress. As they put her to sleep with the gas, she was still screaming "BACK! GONE! BACK BACK BACK!" as her eyes rolled back and she gave in to the anaesthetic. It must be so horrid to not be able to fully understand a situation and be subjected to strangers doing horrible things to you, even if it is to ultimately help you. Thankfully they got me very promptly as soon as she was in recovery and I was able to hold her close not long after-and not let go for hours!

This time was probably the first time I've felt a bit let down by the hospital. Normally I think our hospital and the trust is the bees knees: it's not perfect and there have been several incidents that has annoyed me, but compared to many other people, the Great North Children's Hospital is pretty damn alright. The first thing was that in recovery they didn't have the equipment to attach a syringe to a feeding tube to give pain relief (you need either a certain type of syringe to screw on the cap and sometimes, an extension set). Whilst she had had some level of pain relief in theatre, she was clearly in a lot of pain still and had been written up for further medicine. Unfortunately, she couldn't have it because there was nothing to give it to her and her swallow isn't safe enough to take it orally (which is in her notes and I had told them before she went in. Several times). The second thing was that despite staying overnight and for the best part of the day afterwards, we never actually so much saw let alone spoke to a doctor after the operation. There were plenty about, but as the hospital is split up into lots of departments and specialities, everyone claimed she wasn't "their" patient so wouldn't add to their ward rounds or check in. As it was, she seemed ok, but I would really have appreciated even a junior doctor checking in, doing a quick once over to confirm she was ready for home. I, and nurse in charge, suspected that as strictly speaking we were there under ENT, who operate from the sister hospital on the other side of the city, the fact was no one could be bothered or had time to come back across to do the necessary checks that healing was underway. After 24 hours, Wriggles was struggling to hold down much in the way of food or drink but mainly because she was so distressed by the constant observations the nurses had to carry out. Once she started crying, she couldn't stop before being sick again. In the end, the nurse agreed to discharge us on the basis that we were covered by community nursing and would come back in if things deteriorated. At the point we went home, we should really have stayed in longer but luckily the nurses agreed that seeing if Wriggles calmed down at home to at least keep more feeds (and medication!) down would be better for her and thankfully that was the right choice.

Every time without fail I forget how temperamental her stomach and digestive system is to any change, let alone anaesthesia, so we are still struggling to reintroduce feeds and get them to stay down long enough to start digesting. I keep telling myself that the most important thing is fluids as if we didn't have the tube, it is entirely likely she may not be wanting to eat much at all anyway so it is drinks, drinks, drinks. I thought I'd cracked it last night with a decent overnight feed, and woke up to find the extension to the new feeding button had somehow come off, thus feeding mainly the mattress with formula and not my daughter. That rather set the tone for a fraught morning not helped by the fact the after being royally fiddled about with, Wriggles does not want anyone doing anything to her. Unfortunately as we have changed feeding tubes, the new ones needs an extension clipping on to administer things and Wriggles does not have the understanding that if she is to feel slightly less rubbish, I need to do about 5 seconds of fiddling in order to administer pain relief and a drink so she doesn't dehydrate (side note: thanks a bunch, heatwave for making sure I need to be even more diligent about shoving as much liquids into my child that she doesn't not want to absorb). As understanding and patient and empathetic as I am trying to be, I had a moment where I slightly lost the plot this morning. Leaving Cbeebies to babysit while I had a shower and fired off a pathetically sad email to my best friend helped as did eating an entire pack of chocolate biscuits (it was a very small pack. Ish) and me feeling a bit more human and maternal by the afternoon.

Poorly children are draining. On top of that, I am absolutely terrified about post operative bleeding, which would merit a 999 call and almost certainly a second operation, and every time Wriggles is sick, starts screaming or coughing a lot I am on knife-edge. One big positive (I think) it that her breathing at night is so much quieter; the immediate downside to this is that it is so quiet I find it hard to relax and sleep myself, safe in the knowledge she is still breathing correctly. Nearly 3 years of a child who sleeps like the sound of a very fidgety hedgehog with a blocked nose has made me very reassured by noise and I am not quite used to this new silent model. What didn't help was that in recovery, the surgeons requested 24 hours of apnoea monitoring before discharge. On the ward, the apnoea monitor kept playing up and going off every 5 minutes so everyone got very fed up and turned it off, deciding to rely on the oxygen saturation/heart rate levels instead. I think my mental state would have definitely benefited from the requested apnoea monitoring to give me some reassurance. Even when she was a baby on oxygen, I never seriously thought about having an oxygen or apnoea sensor at home as I thought it would drive me barmy and fuel my anxiety, but for the first time I am wondering the merits. 

Onwards and upwards. As I keep saying every half hour to myself!