Tag Archives: life

NEAW 2016 – I am an EGID Mum

Tonight I’m exhausted. Not just physically tired out, but feeling that kind of “deep-down-to-my-bones” emotional exhaustion that comes when you’ve finally and inevitably reached breaking point. That tiredness that makes every decision nearly impossible to make, from what to cook for dinner to whether to give in and go to bed and sink into sleep before the children do. That physical exhaustion that is felt in every part of my body as an unavoidable ache that is only relieved for minutes seconds at a time and returns full-force all too soon. In the last 10 years there have been many times, almost too many to remember, when I’ve felt tired out and fed up, but tonight is the first time in a long time that it doesn’t matter what I watch, or listen to, or read, or do because whatever it is, I find myself here with tears pooling in my eyes. Earlier I sobbed, uncontrollably, without regret and in isolation, not wanting the children to stumble upon the waves of deep grief I could sense rolling off me as I curled up and let those tears flow. I’ve been pushed to this point by the shock of M’s broken leg and the overwhelming sadness of an opportunity lost, but I know in my heart that really I’m grieving the loss of yet another “normal” part of my child’s life.

When we got M’s diagnosis 3 years ago, it was a relief. After years of angst and an unwavering conviction that there was something wrong, something more than the doctors were telling us, to finally have a name to put to the root cause of his problem meant that we hadn’t made it up, weren’t imagining the health struggles he had and could hope that we would start to get some answers to the questions that were battering our every waking moment. It didn’t take long for reality to kick in and we soon realised that the diagnosis of Eosinophlic Colitis (EC) would leave us dangling and asking more questions, rather than being the solution to our problem. Mike struggled with the not-knowing and needed to find out more, to fix the situation, whilst I took the hand we’d been dealt and determined to do the best we could in difficult circumstances. I’ve tried to face up to every new challenge with a positive attitude and to encourage the family to keep plodding on, even when it feels impossible to do so.

llifelived

This latest incident has shown me that even though we’ve weathered the harshest of storms and come out smiling, perhaps I haven’t allowed myself to grieve as really I’ve needed to do. I’ve not had to face the loss of my child, but I have had to survive the loss of the healthy child I thought he would be. The truth is that M will never have a life free from EGID. He will never experience a life free from pain. Neither he or G will ever regain the childhood innocence that has been taken away by chronic ill-health. He will never be medicine free and the chances are he will always have a restricted diet.

But that’s okay.

AND it’s okay for me to grieve those things.

Acknowledging those truths will help us accept them, will allow us to move on from them and will give us hope for the future; because from all those negatives have come some amazing positives, experiences and opportunities that would never have crossed our paths and a truly inspiring group of parents, now friends, who understand because of their own pain. What’s more, I’ve realised that whilst it is natural to be sad that some of my hopes and dreams for my children won’t come to fruition, it’s much more exciting to see where their lives and life experiences will take them.

Would I change the presence of EGID in our lives if I could? Of course I would. I’m a Mum and I want the best possible for my children. Life with a chronic illness is a heavy load to carry and I would do and give anything and everything to lighten that load for M and G; but I can’t. I can’t wish it away, but I can equip my children with the tools to accept and survive and do even more than just survive, but to live life to its fullest, taking every scrap of fun and joy from it that they can. My children are survivors, they are warriors and they will always be encouraged to achieve everything that they can. And along the way, we will continue to be open about EGID, about its impact on our lives and the reality of living with it day-to-day. We will raise awareness as best we can, educate the people around us and support those who find themselves facing the same battles we do because of this illness.

I am the mother of a medically complex warrior. I am an EGID Mum.

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Family Storytellers

FM-logo-new-07-15-copyDuring my judging stint at the #FFFA16 earlier this year, I got chatting to the lovely organiser of these awards, Michelle about the possibility of an ongoing working relationship between the organising body, Foodsmatter and 7Y2D. Always keen to promote my blog through any networking opportunities out there, I was as enthusiastic to explore the options as Michelle and eager to see where it might take us. One of the ideas we discussed was the introduction of a new diary looking at EC and food allergies on the Foodsmatter website and newsletter, to run alongside the well-established Coeliac and Allergy ones already there. Michelle proposed a different twist on the subject and asked if I thought G and M would like to write these regular entries to give a child’s perspective on life with food allergies. It didn’t take long for me to accept on their behalf, even without discussion, as I knew M in particular would leap at the chance to get his views out there, especially after his tube-feeding contribution to “Complete Nutrition” at the end of last year.

When I got home, M, G and I discussed at length this request and all its implications. Whilst both were as eager to agree immediately as I expected, I needed them to fully understand the commitment they were signing up to and reminded them that if they then decided to go ahead, I would be making sure that they kept to it every step of the way. I was keen to see G and M take up this fantastic opportunity for so many reasons and felt that with some focus they could really make something valuable of it. Both children are quietly fascinated by my blog and I have never hidden from them that I’m writing it or the reasons why. From time to time, one or the other will ask me to “..take a photo for your blog Mummy..” or “..will you be writing about this?..blogI know that M occasionally takes a peek at what I’ve been writing and G has expressed a passing interest in getting more involved at some point too. Writing these diary entries for the Foodsmatter newsletter would give them a voice to express and explore their own attitudes, opinions and feelings about life where EC and food allergies are ever-present.

However, I strongly believe that there is much more to be gained by them than simply sharing their experiences with a wider audience and, as important as that is, these other life lessons have great value and will teach them well for their futures. The original proposal was for them to work in collaboration to produce a monthly diary entry to be included in the newsletter. They will have to learn to work as a team, sharing ideas, taking turns to write it down and, most importantly, listen to and recognise the value in each other’s opinions. I stressed that there would be no bad or wrong ideas about what each post should be about, simply thoughts that might need discussing and refining without argument or insult. 284454_10151027743256123_703224883_nSome months their entries might be a joint effort and for others, one might end up taking the lead with little or no input from the other, The responsibility of monthly articles is theirs, and theirs alone – I will not be stepping in if they leave it too late or can’t agree on what to write.

Having committed to writing every month, G and M need to make sure that they meet their deadlines and have an article ready for me to review and send before the publishing date. This requires a level of organisation that, for the time being at least, I will be helping them achieve as well as gently nagging them if the deadline is creeping ever closer. I suggested making a list of possible subject areas they might want to cover in their diary entries and reminded them that preparing this would mean that they could, if either was so inclined, get a head start and make notes for a future piece, thus saving themselves stress and heartache when time is running short. Flexibility, of course, is key and ideas can be shelved for a future edition if something more interesting, or relevant happens that they want to comment on instead. After 3 years of writing my blog, I know well the difficulties of having little to say when I want to post a new piece and how having something simmering in the background is always a real blessing at those times.

Most excitingly for me is waiting to see just how their writing voices and styles develop over time. M, despite the challenges of his dyspraxia and dyslexia, has never struggled with his imagination and is able to dictate fascinating stories that are filled with his character and sense of humour. In comparison, G has always found literacy a difficult topic to conquer and despite her breadth of reading and extensive vocabulary, struggles to express herself in the written word. I’m hopeful that the experience of writing this diary will help them both achieve more than they ever thought possible when it comes to their writing skills. If the giggles that floated downstairs to Mike and me as they wrote their first piece together are anything to go by, they really will enjoy this opportunity and I look forward to reading more from both of them.

For a taste of their contributions so far, you can read their entries for March and April here:

The diary of Galaxygazer and Marvin

And if you enjoyed those and want to keep reading on a regular basis as well as other great articles, you can sign up to the Foodsmatter newsletter here

 

Feeding Tube Awareness Week – Day 1: Choosing to raise awareness

7beb7940ed39bc80ce6cb39710abb740If anyone was going to describe the last decade of my life, the one indisputable conclusion they’d end up reaching is that it’s been anything but boring. Thanks to a pair of children who have thrown more than their fair share of life challenges into the mix, we’ve weathered more storms than I ever believed possible and, for the most-part, we’ve come out the other side still smiling and relatively unscathed. We’ve survived a lot of challenges, met a whole host of amazing people and learned a great deal along the way; and if I had to pick just one lesson that constantly resonates, I’d have to say that we now know to never take things for granted as they can change at the drop of the proverbial hat. Two years ago I wrote about our limited experience with feeding tubes and then, less than a year later, I found myself blogging about my brand new super-tubie. Another year on and the NG-tube has gone for the time-being and the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I have no idea if or when it will make a reappearance in M’s life.

The lessons that the last 12 months have taught us all have been huge and I have come to love and hate that feeding tube in equal measure. For the first time in his life, the reality of M’s chronic illness and multiple food allergies was outwardly visible and finally people understood from a glance that there was more to him than initially met the eye. The constant presence of the NG-tube opened up more conversations and opportunities for me than ever before and I’ve been able to share experiences, offer support and educate the wider community about EGID. M and his froggie friendWe all felt the benefits of that visibility to start with and I no longer felt the underlying pressure to defend the true extent of M’s illness and food allergies whilst my outwardly healthy-looking youngster was intent on tearing around practically making a mockery of every problem and pain we said he was suffering.

Of course, the flip-side was that ever-present tube. The one that there was no escaping or avoiding, no matter the event or occasion. Christmas, birthdays, performances and holidays, the tube was M’s constant companion and he became increasingly aware and conscious of the curious glances that were thrown his way by adults and children alike. His wonderful classmates and our village took it in their stride and quickly became so accustomed to it that M was never subjected to a second glance, but the wider world could stare until he disappeared from view. As well as the tube, we had the problems of M’s face reacting to the unavoidable medical tape and it took us several attempts to find a tape that didn’t burn his cheeks. Even when we finally found the best solution for him, at times he was left with red, sore and sensitive skin that only time tube-free could heal.

Looking back, 2015 was a year unlike any other in our family’s life, but I don’t regret a single moment of it. From that difficult decision to place the NG-tube and start M on an elemental diet, we have seen tremendous growth and an improved health that exceeded all our expectations. Most of all, we now have an opportunity to help raise awareness from the standpoint of personal experience and a road well-travelled, something that, believe it or not, I wouldn’t change for the world.

More than a smile

It all started with a simple compliment that was probably given without too much thought, almost a throw-away comment, but the words, planned or not, had a profound effect months ago and still do. I had walked M and G to school after a particularly difficult night with M,  following on from a couple of really tough days and I was tired and emotional as I left the school grounds. Passing their Head at the gates, I gave a small smile, a nod of my head and a quick reply to his question about how M was feeling. His next words stopped me in my tracks and even now continue to resonate in my memory, especially when things are feeling a little more challenging or tiring than normal:

“I just wanted to say that I admire your constant smile and upbeat attitude about everything. Your positivity is reflected in the way both children deal with whatever’s thrown at them in the classroom and in life.”

My garbled response was a variation of my stock answer:

“What else can I do, but smile? If I didn’t I might end up crying, but that won’t help M or G or me; and it won’t change the way things are…” (I shrugged) “…besides, if I don’t smile and get on with things, who else will? That’s my job as Mum.”

That might be true. but I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to smile about it. They’d feel hard done by and resentful of the hand they’ve been dealt, their response would be focussed on complaining – that simply isn’t you or the children.”

I don’t know if the exhaustion of a failed food trial and a bad night’s sleep had made me more sensitive to the world around me, but his words had an impact that I felt resonating deep in my soul and gave a lightness to my step that certainly hadn’t been there 10 minutes earlier. All the way home, with unexpected tears in my eyes, 11987081_10153905230214523_3086822525667980358_nI pondered what he had said to me. After all, am I really that unusual in my response? I don’t feel particularly unique in my attitude and, believe me, I can certainly have a moan with the best of them. I suddenly had reason to reflect on how I present our situation to the outside world and why I smile, even at the most difficult of times.

I smile because, despite everything – the difficult pregnancy, the premature birth, the EGID diagnosis and the decision to tube-feed – I have a lot to celebrate. I have 2 amazing, beautiful, cheeky, intelligent children, my children with super powers, who astound me regularly with their unexpected insights into the world and make me smile. Whilst I might not be able to say truthfully that they are both “happy and healthy”, the wish of every new parent as they await the arrival of their latest addition, they are growing into young people I am proud to say are mine and fascinating individuals in their own right. They might have their struggles to manage, but they are here with me and every day with them is one more opportunity to cuddle, to kiss and to share their lives. As a family we have a lot of fun and there’s always a reason to have a giggle, laugh out loud and just smile together, even at the darkest moments.

Of course the truth is that, in many ways, my smile is also much, much more than a reflection of the joy I feel when spending time with my nearest and dearest. It is also my most effective disguise. If you look hard enough, there will be times when you might notice that the smile doesn’t quite reach my eyes or that my smile is perhaps a little bittersweet. Those are the days when it’s been hard to fight the urge to crawl back under the covers and pull the duvet over my head. The days when getting up, getting dressed and just being is a massive success.12049331_865332913546071_5149015929277272601_n The days when it’s been hard work to put one foot in front of the other and not just get started, but keep going too.

And I’m not alone. Out there in the real world are a huge number of parents who are facing the same struggles, fighting similar battles and often surviving a reality that is far harder than the one we face each day. I have been privileged to meet and get to know some of these superhero parents through our shared experiences and I see that same positive and undeniably brave approach to life reflected in each and every one of them. They are often the parents who just a tiny bit more weary at the school gates, a little more contemplative at the end of each day and a lot more determined to make the most of every moment they have because they know just how precious those minutes are. They will be the ones who will shrug off your questions about their well-being and turn the focus firmly back to you and yours. Not because they don’t want to answer, but because they know that if their emotional floodgates are opened, it will cause a tidal wave that will engulf them and make keeping their heads above water just a smidgen harder to do. And they will be the parents that tell you they don’t consider themselves particularly special or outstanding or unique because this is their life, they know they can’t change it or their children and nor would they want to. M might end up being the cause of many more grey hairs than I’m ever going to admit to, but I wouldn’t have him any other way; he wouldn’t be him any other way; and those parents’ love for their children transcends the unexpected difficulties they’ve been presented with.

I want to finish with a beautiful thought that a friend shared on FB when we were reflecting on this thought-provoking blog post and our own life experiences as special needs parents:

“That’s the thing…we weren’t given these special children because we are special, they make us that way with how amazing they are.”

superhero

A Super Tubie of my Own

Courtesy of feedingtubeawareness.com

Courtesy of feedingtubeawareness.com

This week is #feedingtubeawarenessweek, a week that our family is embracing with every ounce of our being this year.  Last year I wrote about our 2 previously brief encounters with a NG-tube, knowing that there was an ever-present chance that M might end up needing one at some as-yet-unspecified point in the future.  Just 12 months on and the state of M’s health due to his EGID means that a NG-tube is now part of our everyday family life.  The aim of the campaign this year is to dispel the myths and misconceptions that surround tube feeding and to show that adults and children can live their lives and have fun with the tube in place.  A tube is often the path to improved health and development and should be embraced as such by us all.  Their theme is “The truth about tube feeding”.

Picture1M’s friends and class-mates have accepted it as very much part of who M is and have been amazing at looking out for him at every turn without leaving him out of their games.  One friend was so intrigued by the tube and how it worked that I spotted him peering up M’s nostril to see where the tube went, just before M opened his mouth wide and pointed out that the tube could also be seen at the back of his throat – how I love the honest interest of 9-year old boys!  He was more bothered by the Year 3 children at school, who he often caught staring at his tube, but he developed his own coping mechanisms and when asked what “that” was – a question often accompanied by a finger pointing towards his nose – he started telling them it was “…nothing, but a mere figment of your imagination…”, before walking off, leaving in his wake a stream of very confused 7- and 8-year olds.

In light of all this, I was chatting to M this afternoon about his tube and people’s attitudes towards it.  I was interested to find out how he feels about strangers staring and what response he would want them to give instead.  His reply fascinated me as it expressed clearly how much more awareness is needed about tube-feeding and the impact had on those living with a tube. He didn’t mind the idea of people asking me about his tube and the reasons for it, but he isn’t yet comfortable with having to deal with those questions himself.  However, the most telling statement was this one:

“Adults should know not to stare, but sometimes they do and I don’t know why”

and that, in turn, made me think about how I feel about M and his NG-tube.  Hospital, home and support groups all exist within a protective bubble, where nothing is unusual and normal is defined by each individual and their particular needs.  It’s only when you go out into the outside world that you suddenly come up against opinion and prejudice and the harsher side of life; against people who don’t understand that this tube is bringing nutrition and healing to my child and who find themselves unable to pull their eyes away from the tube stuck to the side of his small face.

Courtesy of timemanagementninja.com

Courtesy of timemanagementninja.com

We’ve been lucky and haven’t experienced negative comments or unwanted interest.  Yes, I’ve seen the intrigued looks or double-takes as passers-by register his tube, and I’ve received the sympathetic smiles from other parents as they’ve watched me attaching his pump or silencing the alarm, but nothing more.  We’ve been fortunate to have the most amazing support from the families and friends who are part of FABED, many of whom have been in the same boat at one time or another and know how it feels to be suddenly following a slightly different path through life than the one we thought we were on.

Today, I found an article written by Traci Nagy, the founder of the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, in 2013 to discuss the importance of feeding tube awareness and thought I’d share with you this excerpt that sums up for me just why awareness matters so much to families like mine:

“It matters that people understand something about feeding tubes other than Terry Schiavo or that silly KE diet.  It matters that they know there are well over 200 medical conditions and diseases that can lead children to need extra nutritional support through tube feeding.  It matters that they realize that these conditions aren’t always visible, and that looking “normal” doesn’t mean there isn’t more going on inside.  It matters that they know that the feeding tube can be thought of like any other medical device in that it helps you do what you can’t do on your own…for now.  It matters that they understand that the benefit is that children get the nutrition and hydration they need to grow, develop and thrive.”

20150208_181917So, this week we’re the family proudly sporting the “I love a Tubie” t-shirts accompanied by the live-wire that is our very own “Super Tubie”.  Stop and say hello and don’t be afraid to ask me questions, but let M get on with whatever he’s doing.  We’re hoping to raise awareness and are happy to start in our community, after all, we know that every journey begins with a single step.