Tag Archives: children

The fault in our genes and the guilt that goes with it

When you’re child is seriously hurt you can feel so helpless. You might feel guilty for not having a sharp eye on your little one when they injure themselves. If you have a faulty genes and a genetic condition that you’ve passed on to your child, there’s an added guilt.

Last Saturday two year old Ollie Pops N’ Clicks was playing happily with her Dad. We had a lovely day up till then, hubby and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary. My Dad cooked us a beautiful lamb dinner and after we retired into the sitting room in front of the stove. Despite having a pain flare, I was content. That is until Ollie started screaming.

She was pulling on her Daddy’s clothes and then all of a sudden her arm was hurting. Nobody could touch it and if we tried to move it she cried. Hubby knew immediately that we were faced with something that happened in 2015. Ollie was just seven months old then. Her elbow was dislocated. She was behaving the same way she did that cold night in November of 2015.

Ollie 7 months
Ollie the morning after she dislocated her elbow the first time

So, we had to leave Bendy Boy with his Granddad for the night as we sped up to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) of the University Hospital. She fell asleep before we even made it out of town. I thought maybe she was OK now but when I touched her arm she woke up screaming.

What is a 45-minute journey felt like hours. We arrived into A&E and we were surprised to see how quiet it was for a Saturday evening. Then again, it was still pretty early. The drunks and those involved in fights wouldn’t be in for another few hours yet.

At the hospital

After we checked in, we sat in the waiting area. Looking around I saw a teenager with their arms in a sling, an old man with bandages around his head and another man with a black eye. I was worried that this scene would upset my already frightened two year old. You could tell exactly what was wrong with these people. All you could see when you looked at Ollie was a little girl with a sourpuss face protecting her little arm.

Just like before, the Triage nurse saw us fairly quickly, when we explained what we think had happened and that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This is a result of my faulty collagen genes. We were taken into the ward.

The last time Ollie was seen in A&E at just seven months old, she had to have an X-Ray. It was torture for us both. I had to move her tiny little arm around in different positions. She cried, I cried. This time however, there was no need to X-Ray because of her history.

When I told the on call doctor that I had EDS, he asked could he have a look at my hands. He bent my fingers back and pulled on my skin. He nodded and turned to little Ollie who was finishing off her second ever dose of painkillers. In two years she’s never been ill enough to need any type of medication. The only time she’s had Calpol is the first time she dislocated her elbow.

Like a punch to the stomach

me and kids
You do what you can to protect them

Anyway, he attempted to take Ollie’s hand but she was petrified. He did eventually manage to get it and within seconds. He confirmed it was dislocated and he said it’s pretty safe to say that my beautiful daughter has EDS. She has inherited my faulty genes. It was like a punch to the stomach.

We knew this since pregnancy but every time I hear a doctor say it again, the guilt gets to me. Ollie is not officially diagnosed with EDS. We hope to rectify that soon just in case social services do get involved during a future trip to A&E.

Like nothing ever happened

Within forty minutes of arriving at A&E we were out the door. Ollie was back to her old self again and I’m pretty sure she was on a sugar buzz after that medicine. She kept talking about how the doctor fixed her and that she was all better now. We arrived home and the three of us sat on the couch to unwind after a stressful couple of hours.

Ollie climbed on me and fed until she was ready for sleep. She then sat up and threw herself on to the couch. I watched her sleep for awhile. She looked so peaceful and you’d have never had known she was in agony just an hour before. We carried her into her new room and didn’t see her till morning. It really is amazing how resilient kids are and that does make it a lot easier to live with a condition like EDS.

Ollie after hospital
Like nothing happened

I know I cannot control my genetics and that I shouldn’t blame myself for Bendy Boy’s diagnosis and Ollie’s inevitable diagnosis. But, I can’t help it; this illness comes from me. If Ollie is dislocating this early on in life it doesn’t bare thinking what will happen, as she gets older.

What does the future hold?

When she starts playschool, when she’s old enough to play outside with friends, when she climbs a tree for the first time. Then there’s puberty. The majority of girls with EDS experience an increase in symptoms when they reach puberty. This is because the hormone, progesterone wreaks havoc on our bodies. Progesterone makes us lax. It’s why girls and women suffer more during their periods and in pregnancy.

How many more times is she going to be in hospital with an injury? Is she ever going to work or have a normal life? These questions whiz around my head. I try to say to myself what I would say to anybody in this situation; cross that bridge when you come to it.

Overcoming the guilt of faulty genes

But, I will eventually overcome this guilt. How? Because I know I am the best person to get my children through what they will face later down the line. I know what they need, who they need to see and where I can take them to make all this happen. The fight for access for appropriate medical care of which there is none in this country will be my biggest challenge. I will take them to the doctor or hospital as many times as they need and I will do it with empathy.

They will be believed when they tell me they are in pain, because I know what it’s like not to be believed. Not being believed by my parents, by friends and by doctors affected me greatly and I still carry that pain around with me. That pain can be just as great as the physical pain my genes have caused me. An old friend once said that she would rather face a pack of rabid Rottweiler than a parent who wants to protect and fight for their children. If you mess with my kids and their health, I’ll go through you for a shortcut.

Be your child’s champion

The Fault in our genes

Having EDS myself makes me the best advocate for my children. Any patient with a rare disease becomes his or her own expert. I will now be the expert for my children too. From how their genes work to the treatment they need, I will be their champion.

It is a great comfort knowing that they will always have each other to lean on for support. Even when I am not there anymore to fight for them, they can fight together.

So, for anyone out there who is feeling guilty for passing on their crappy genes, know this; it is not your fault. I know more than anybody that it’s hard not to. Take a leaf out of my book; take that guilt and turn it into something positive. Raise awareness of the condition, fight for proper treatment, do everything in your power to make your child’s experience with their condition better than what you experienced.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

 

Back to school guide for parents with chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

It’s that time of year again, folks! Yep, the summer is well and truly over. We did it! We made it through but now, a new challenge begins.

While getting the kids back to school means our routines will settle again, it also means early mornings, arguments, searching for school books, shoes, lunch boxes, pencils etc etc. Mornings in our house are well, stressful. A symphony consisting of whining, shouting, shrieking and wailing.

In addition to the energy we spend getting ready for the school run each morning, stress can also really take it out of us and even cause our spoons to dwindle before the day has even begun.

This year I am determined in making a change, not just for me and my illness but for the entire family’s mental health. Stress first thing in the morning puts everyone in a fowl mood for the day. I am trying my very best not to sweat the small things in an effort to chill out and ease stress related symptoms.

I know I am not alone when it comes to the stress of the morning rush. Millions of families across the world go through the same thing. We all wish for the same routine, to wake up refreshed, have our breakfast and coffee as a family, to all get ready individually and walk out the door on time and kiss each other goodbye as we all go our separate ways. It may seem like a scene from The Brady Brunch or The Waltons but there are some small tricks I’ve learned over the past few weeks in preparation for the coming school year.

If my chaotic morning routine sings to you, why not join me in my attempt to be more of a Zen like zebra on a Monday morning.

Sunday night, everybody dreads it. You feel you’re wasting a perfectly good day off doing laundry, sorting homework, lunches and looking for books and hearing excuses like “I didn’t have time to do x y and z”.

Below was the trigger for my Sunday night dread. The moment that theme song came on, it was time for bed and began my anxiety, fearing Monday morning.

Not exactly an ominous tune is it? To me it might as well have been the Imperial March or ‘Jaws’ music.

Uniforms

This year, I am going to encourage my 8 year old to help me with the laundry on Friday afternoon. As soon as he comes straight home from school, he is to get changed. This is when his uniforms will be washed. He is well able to use the coffee machine for when Daddy needs his morning pick me up so he is well able to turn on the washing machine.

I know this will serve him well when he is older. I have met so many men (and women for that matter) over the years that didn’t have a clue how to use a washing machine once they cut the apron strings and flew the nest from their mammy.

During the week, my son will get changed straight away and put his uniform away while I prepare a snack for him. If the uniform gets dirty during the week, I usually just do a spot clean. If it gets particularly dirty, a quick wash will usually do the trick.

Homework

For now, my son does not get homework for the weekend. But during the week he can spend quite awhile doing homework due to his sensory issues and poor writing skills. Luckily his Occupational Therapist is going to recommend a laptop this year so hopefully that’ll speed things up. Bendy Boy usually does his homework in the kitchen. He is so easily distracted so we will set up a designated homework space for him this year. After he gets home from school, I usually let him have an hour of rest before we begin homework and physiotherapy. Then he must do his homework and physio if he wants to go out and play with his friends or watch some TV. This has worked for us for the most part in the past but when the days are sunny (almost a rarity in Ireland), I much prefer him to spend time outdoors in the fresh air and socialise with friends. Unfortunately we have had issues getting him to do his homework after play. “I’m too tired. I don’t want to etc etc”, there is nothing to look forward to now.

stressful homework

Lunches

It’s Sunday night. Sugar! No bread! No lunch meat! No fruit! This is also a regular occurrence and sometimes it even happens on Monday morning. Jesus, we really sound like the most unorganised family, don’t we?! If you have a chronic illness though, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from. Brain fog…am I right? Anyway, this year all lunch box items will be organised on a Friday and rationed for the week.

Lunches can be so stressful, especially when you have a child that’s fussy or has sensory issues. One day they’ll eat sandwiches, the next day you’ll find them squished at the bottom of the bag (I was guilty of this). I am gagging at the very thought of bread in my teeth at the moment! We can’t all be like Martha Stewart or Bree Van de Camp and cook up uber healthy three course gourmet lunches (regardless of health, who has the time?!).

Give them what they like. It’s that simple. No use sending in kale and cucumber sandwiches if you’re just going to find them buried in the bottom of the school bag.

Bendy Boy gets hangry and I mean hangry. Don’t know what hangry is? Let me enlighten you. You know that feeling you get when every little thing bugs you? Someone’s breathing, chewing or you know…their very existence? Then you eat something and everything is alright again. That’s hangry. Think of the Snickers ad. Well, that’s Bendy Boy. When he’s hungry he’s in no fit state to be in school.

Obviously send in nutritious food but make sure it’s something they enjoy! Looking for some lunch box ideas? Check out this blog by awesome sister and nutritionist, Fiona.

As noted in Fiona’s blog, getting the kids involved with lunch packing the night before can take the stress out of what should be a pretty stress free job.

Like Fiona, for me, nothing could be touching and nothing could be soggy. Our poor, poor mother.

Make sure each day that you or your child empty the lunch box and clean it when they get home from school.

Monday-Friday

I refuse to have a screaming match every weekday this year. Nope. It’s not happening. If we sleep in, we sleep in, if we are late, we are late. It’s school. The world isn’t going to end. I am not going to give myself a migraine by stressing out. I’m not going to dislocate a hip running up the stairs like a crazy woman.

Between Friday and Saturday we are going to get everything ready so that we don’t suffer from Sunday night fear and we can enjoy the day relaxing or going on a family outing. So uniform will be ready on Friday and books will be sitting in his bag and by the door waiting.

On Sunday we will prep lunch and make sure coat, hat, scarf and shoes are waiting on the coat hook and shoe rail (right next to the front door).

One of the major causes of arguments in the morning with Bendy Boy is his distraction and forgetfulness. He goes and plays with toys instead of getting dressed and washed, he spends time singing instead of brushing his teeth (if he even remembers to do it). Half the time we have to remind him to do the next thing (now get your shoes on etc). So we have come up with a plan. He will have a chart in his room that will help him get ready on time in the morning. These are available all over the internet like this one . We are going to make one ourselves from card paper (spoon friendly activity) and write each task for the morning.

  1. Make bed
  2. Get dressed
  3. Eat breakfast
  4. Put dishes in dishwasher
  5. Brush teeth
  6. Wash face
  7. Brush hair
  8. Put on your shoes, coat and schoolbag.

Your job

Because kids have the attention spans of well, children. We can’t rely on them to be responsible for all school prep. So have your own chart on the fridge to check off over the weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly.

  1. Uniforms
  2. Lunches
  3. Check homework
  4. Check for notes in bag about school trips or events
  5. Make sure books and pencil case are in the bag
  6. Have your own clothes ready for the morning
  7. Keys ready by the front door
  8. Check forecast. If the weather is particularly cold make sure to get up earlier to defrost your windscreen and in case traffic or road conditions are difficult to get around.
  9. Set your alarm.
  10. If your kids are getting off school early set a reminder in your phone to pick up or organise someone to pick up in case you have an appointment or other engagement.

One final thing, make sure you try and get a decent night and wake up before the kids and take your meds so you’ll feel more equipped to deal with what lies ahead.

walking to school.jpeg

Do you have any tips or tricks to help save time in the morning? Let me know in the comments below!

As my Dad always taught me; fail to prepare and prepare to fail!

Until next time,

Z.M

x

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The Zebra Mom in the News

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So this week’s blog is coming a little early because we are flying off to London tomorrow. This week has been very tough on me because my legs have become so weak that I can not stand up without help. I am on day two of a migraine and nausea too. So driving 3 hours up to Dublin and flying to the UK is going to be very hard on me. This will my third trip in a year going over to London for treatment and testing.

This trip I am having autonomic testing and physiotherapy. The children are also going to see their physio on this trip.

The last couple of weeks have been mental though. We have been on three newspapers, another on the way and I have been on the radio too talking about the lack of care in Ireland for patients with EDS. I am also lobbying for medical cannabis to be granted for those with chronic pain. I found out just yesterday that one of the newspaper articles below was read out in the Dail (Irish Government building) during a presentation about medical cannabis. Apparently my story of just wanting to be better for my children moved a lot of people. Medical cannabis could make that a reality.

The Zebra Mom in the News

Article from The Southern Star by Kieran O’Mahony

‘I’m left helpless to ease their pain’ says Clon dad in bid to get UK treatment

Echo photo

A CLONAKILTY man who says it pains him to see his wife and two young children suffer from a cureless condition, has set up a funding page to help them access treatment abroad.

Martin Nevin set up a GoFundMe page for his wife Evie (30) and their two children Alexander (7) and Olivia (2) who suffer from Hypermobile Ehlers Danloe Syndrome (EDS) and Dysautonomia.

The chronic, multi-systemic conditions have left his wife and children susceptible to joint dislocations and chronic pain and fatigue, as well as many other issues which can severely affect their standard of living.

In a poignant post on the page, Martin outlined why he set it up.

‘It pains me to see these three fantastic people suffer, to watch a woman with so much talent restricted from sharing it with the world, to see a boy with the will to climb a mountain withdraw from fatigue and to see the sweetest and the happiest little girl ever cry with agony due to dislocated joints.’

‘I can do nothing but watch their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless to ease them and that is why I’ve set this page up so my family can get the treatment they need,’ said Martin.

Although the condition is slowly being recognised here, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help sufferers, leaving the Nevins with no choice but to seek treatment abroad.

‘The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes are a group of connective tissue disorders which cause the body to produce faulty collagen and collagen is the glue that holds our bodies together. We are also affected by Dysautonomia, which means out autonomic systems don’t work properly. While Alexander and Olivia are not very affected by this condition, it does affect me and it can cause me to faint by simply cooking dinner,’ Evie told The Southern Star.

Evie and Martin have been told by the HSE that there are no plans to help patients with EDS in Ireland, so they are looking to London for treatment. ‘It’s a little too late for me now, as my body was neglected for almost 30 years, but the children are lucky to have been diagnosed so early,’ explained Evie. ‘So with help in the UK, we hope that they won’t become as affected as me.’

Evie said she is almost house-bound seven days a week, and she has been unable to work for several years due to her condition.

‘We want to give our children the best possible chance at a normal life and it’s really only now that I am getting tests and treatments for myself.

‘While we look to getting treatment abroad, we’ve been told that the Treatment Abroad Scheme won’t cover the costs to the UK, because our doctors are private consultants and the Cross Border Directive won’t cover our tests because they need to also be available in Ireland, which they are not.’

Evie and Martin also received another big blow with the recent announcement that chronic pain won’t fall under the Medicinal Cannabis Bill.

‘Medicinal Cannabis is often recommended for EDS patients in the US because patients are often resistant to pain medications, particularly opiate-based pain killers,’ added Evie.

Evie herself has been working tirelessly to get this condition recognised in Ireland and has written extensively on this for many newspapers and journals, as well as spearheading a campaign for all EDS sufferers.

The family recently attended the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London where they met with professors who specialise in EDS and Autonomic Dysfunctions.

‘We have had to break up the trips over to London which is more expensive, so every time we go back they add on other tests and consultancies, so we are going to be fundraising for the foreseeable future.’

The family have set up a Go Fund Me page to raise the vital funds to avail of the treatment in London and they and their friends have already been fundraising by holding events in Clonakilty.

See www.gofundme.com/2befu24c or see ‘The Nevin Family Treatment Fund’ on Facebook.

Interview on C103’s Today show

Play from 56:20 to hear my interview below

 

Article on The Irish Examiner by Sarah Slater

Cork family pleads for help to battle rare illness

A young mother and her two children are battling an illness that is consuming all of their short lives.

Nevin Family

Evie Nevin, aged 30, her son Alexander, 7, and daughter Olivia, 2, have the rare and debilitating condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

Although EDS is slowly becoming more widely known in Ireland, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help people with this condition.

There is no cure for EDS, but with careful management and specialised physiotherapy the quality of living for someone with EDS can be improved.

Most Irish EDS sufferers are referred to Rodney Grahame, consultant rheumatologist at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, London, who has said: “No other disease in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in such a way as EDS.”

Members of the EDS community have campaigned for specialist treatment here, to no avail. They recently learned that there are no plans by the Government or health services to implement any.

Evie, from Clonakilty, Co Cork, is prone to hip and wrist dislocations on almost a weekly basis. She is extremely effected by changes to pressure and can be left bed-ridden with pain from something as small as a rain shower.

I went from getting up at 6.30am and getting home at 9pm working as a journalist in 2012 to being someone just existing in 2013,” she explains.

“I remember being very self-conscious all the time because I rarely had the energy to get dressed and people only really saw me in my pyjamas. I got called lazy a lot. That hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew it wasn’t laziness.

“When Alex was diagnosed my heart broke. I felt so guilty. My genes did this to him but, thankfully, I’ve moved past that now because what’s the point in feeling guilty? He’s lucky that he has been diagnosed so young and that he has an excellent school who support him by providing resource hours, an SNA and movement breaks.

“It was confirmed for me before Olivia was born. I felt her skin and saw the hint of blue in the whites of her eyes when she was born.

“My heart goes out to Martin. He didn’t ask for this at all. When we first met I was still relatively ‘normal’.”

Evie’s husband Martin, 29, has thrown himself into fundraising to get his family the specialist treatment they need, as well as being a videographer. He’s also determined to keep their spirits up.

“I feel like such a burden to him, but he never makes me feel like that,” says Evie. “Even on days when I’m in agony and not so pleasant in my manner, he doesn’t complain. He has never once made me feel bad for being sick or for the kids inheriting my genes. It’s all down to me and my issues.

“He took his ‘in sickness and in health’ vow very seriously! He’s a brilliant dad and husband and treats us when he can so we have things to look forward to. When you’re stuck at home six days out of the week, most weeks, looking at the same four walls, you need something to keep you looking forward.”

For now, the focus is on fundraising, but the Nevins are facing the fact that they may have to emigrate to properly deal with the condition. They have been told they cannot access either the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS) or the Cross-Border Directive (CBD).

“The TAS only covers treatments available on the NHS,” says Evie.

“The Hypermobility Unit in St John’s and St Elizabeth’s in London is a private hospital so our consultancies and treatments won’t be covered.

“The CBD will only cover medical issues that are also available here in Ireland and the tests and scans I must have in London are not available in Ireland.”

In a statement, the HSE said: “EDS is treated across Europe by multidisciplinary teams, often led by physiotherapists, with extreme cases being sent to orthopaedic for corrective surgery. EDS is readily treated in Ireland by physiotherapists. There is no specialist centre in Europe or the UK.”

Evie refutes this: “There is no treatment available here, no matter what they say. The people in charge will say rehab in Harold’s Cross is an option, but they are in no way experts and the reviews from my community haven’t filled me with any confidence that they could take care of me and my complex conditions.

“Right now, we are aiming to move abroad somewhere where there is better care and where the air pressures are more stable than Ireland. The kids are becoming affected by the pressure changes too. Both of them wake in pain when we have particularly nasty weather.

“Obviously I can’t blame the Government for the weather, but I do blame them for not setting up a clinic for people with connective tissue disorders.

“We need somewhere with a multi-disciplinary team like in London. We need consultants that communicate with each other. Things slip through the cracks because of the lack of communication and a holistic approach.”

One development that could make a huge difference to the family’s lives is medicinal cannabis. Those with EDS are often resistant to pain medications and they find it difficult to manage their pain. Medical cannabis is recommended for EDS patients in the US.

There is an increasing call by medical support organisations for greater access to medicinal cannabis for patients with debilitating conditions.

A Health Products Regulatory Authority report published last month advised that, if a policy decision is taken to permit cannabis under an access programme, it should be for the treatment of patients with three conditions — spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.

“When health minister Simon Harris announced that only three conditions would be approved, none of which are related to chronic pain, I was devastated,” says Evie. “I had been hopeful and excited at the idea of having some normality back in my life.

“Medical cannabis could be seriously life-changing for my family and me. In the US, EDS experts highly recommend cannabis as a form of pain relief as many patients are resistant to painkillers, specifically opiate-based pain medications.

“I have changed pain medications so many times because I’ve become resistant pretty quickly to them. This is now starting to happen with my current medication, Tramadol.

“I’d rather have medical cannabis over my Tramadol because taking 5,000 painkillers a year can have serious repercussions on my body. If I can access cannabis safely and with help from the HSE, I may not develop symptoms of long-term opiate use such as depression, hormonal dysfunction, and respiratory depression, to name just a few.

“I have used cannabis-based products to manage my symptoms. I use a MediPen, which has been helpful for my chronic fatigue, but not for my pain. I have smoked cannabis and I find that, on days when my Tramadol isn’t working, it’s the only thing that helps manage the pain.

“I also find it good for my appetite because I don’t eat a lot when I’m in a lot of pain. I’m so nauseas and I find Tramadol suppresses my appetite sometimes. There are days I’d be lucky to get 800 calories into me. I would like to be able to access cannabis legally so that I can function a bit better in my day-to-day life and be a better mother and wife to my family.”

For now, another round of tests and physiotherapy for Evie, Alexander, and Olivia at St John’s and St Elizabeth hospital in London, as well as flights, accommodation, and private medical consultations in Ireland, mean the young family need to raise in the region of €10,000 for the first trip.

Martin says: “It pains me to see my family suffer. I can do nothing but watch when their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless.

“So I’m asking the public for their help, as a father and as a husband, to send my family to get the treatment they need. Anything you can spare, even a few euro, will make a massive difference.”

You can find out more on their GoFundMe page, or on Facebook.

The symptoms

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects the joints, skin, and blood vessel walls.

Sufferers usually have overly flexible joints and stretchy, fragile skin. This can become a problem if a wound requires stitches.

There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes and symptoms vary.

Overly flexible joints can result in dislocations and early-onset arthritis. Fragile skin may develop prominent scarring. Those with the vascular disorder are at risk of often-fatal ruptures of major blood vessels. Some organs, such as the uterus and intestines, may also rupture. Pregnancy can increase these risks.

In other forms of the disorder, fainting and low blood pressure occurs because blood vessels stretch. Stomach wall lining is fragile and bowel ruptures can occur. Constipation and other motility (movement) disorders feature, as does gastroparesis (paralysis of stomach; inability to process food).

Excessively loose joints are the hallmark of hypermobility disorder as suffered by Evie, Alexander, and Olivia. Large joints and small joints are affected. Partial and total joint dislocations are common. Many experience chronic limb and joint pain.

ENDS

It has been a crazy couple of weeks and thanks to these journalists, we have reached our first goal of 10,000 Euro! When the Irish Examiner piece came out over 2,000 was raised in that day alone. I am truly blown away by stranger’s generosity and kindness.

Another good thing that came out of all of this is that I have had parents from all over the country ring me to ask for advice regarding their children. Sadly, and also not surprisingly, many families are given diagnosis but then offered no support or solutions. In Ireland we have to fight for every support we get. This is no country for disabled people. The entire health system is lacking in every sector.

Standing up and speaking out does work. You just got to keep chipping away at the block. I truly believe my story has made a difference in regards to awareness and lobbying for medicinal cannabis.

Next on our press list is an article with the Evening Echo. We hope that some more newspapers, radio stations and TV stations get in touch. Not so that we can fundraise, but to raise awareness and give chronic pain patients a voice.

Until next week,

Z.M

 

 

10 things to do with your children when you’re stuck in bed

Hi there, hi there, ho there!

It’s Mother’s Day here in Ireland. While most moms enjoy having a day to relax, those of us with chronic illnesses would love nothing more than to actually get out and about and do something fun. However, no matter how much we want to, sometimes it just isn’t possible to move from our bed, let alone leave the house.

As a Spoonie, days where I have a random burst of energy come far and few between. When I do feel good I take advantage and go on a spoon spending splurge with my children. Our favourite activities are going to the beach for a walk, going for lunch/dinner or searching for fairies in the woods. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen very often as my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia wreaks havoc on my body. There are days where I can’t move from my bed never mind actually leaving the house. My illness not only affects me, but my entire family. The children have to endure many days stuck inside because mummy is unwell. So, for those days we try and do things together from the comfort of my own bed. Here are some of the things we do together. I hope it helps another Spoonie parent who may be at a loss with their children on the days they’re stuck in bed.

10 Things to do with the kids when you're bed bound

Read books

One of my favourite things to do as a child was to read with my Father. Going to bed when I was little wasn’t the big fight it turned out to be as a got too old for bedtime stories. His voice even to this day is so soothing. His Anglo-Irish accent is so pleasant to listen to that I could quite happily listen to him read the dictionary to me. Quite often I did! If I didn’t know what I word meant I was sent to his study to fetch the dictionary. There was no Google back then! My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

The_Magic_Faraway_Tree

Considering the first edition was published in 1943, I’m sure the everyday lives of those children brought back some fond memories of my father’s own childhood during the 1940s. When we finished one chapter of that, Dad used to make up stories about a mischievous little girl called Yvette (hmmm I wonder where he got the inspiration for the name) who used to get up to all sorts of mischief. When her parents found out what she did the story always ended there with her parents shouting “Yeeevette!” A few years back I dug out my copy of The Magic Faraway Tree and gave it to my son Alexander when he was about 4 with a note:

“Dear Alex,

I hope this book brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

All my love,

Mum.”

I love reading The Gruffalo with the kids too. Sometimes Alex and I turn it into a song. Alexander will beat box while I rap the story. It’s great fun! Every now and then during the summer when my pain isn’t too bad, you might hear us in the woods reciting the story aloud by heart while we stroll through the rows of beautiful green trees and bunches of bluebells and daisies. Recently we started putting on the torch and getting under the duvet to read. It gets a bit stuffy though.

Watch movies

For as long as I can remember TV and movies has been a massive part of my life. Most things I know about life I’ve learned from television! I try to limit my own kids TV limit but sometimes when you can’t do anything but lie there, TV is a Godsend. I do love the days where I snuggle up with the children and show them the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. I get such a warm feeling watching their little faces in wonder at the magic of Mary Poppins or the original Doctor Doolittle. Of course the old school Disney films like Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin are a must. Movies bring me hope and joy, watching others overcome their struggles sometimes give me a boost or inspire me and that’s what I want for my own children.

Watch funny videos

Sometimes looking up fail or funny animals videos on YouTube is just the thing to cheer you up. Laughter is a great medicine and the children get such a kick out of watching them. Of course do make sure that you are supervising the children when giving them access to the Internet!

Art

Art is a great therapy for everyone, young and old. Grab some crayons/markers/pencils and   a few blank sheets of paper or a colouring book. Art is proven to be beneficial for mental health, something many chronically ill patients suffer from, unfortunately. Creating art relieves stress, it encourages creative thinking, boosts self esteem and a sense of self-accomplishment, increases brain activity and so much more! Make art work a hobby if you enjoy it, it’s a great way to forget about your illness for a while. Creating art can help you work through the feelings you have about your illness.

family art.jpeg

Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are not just for rainy days; they’re great for bed days too. If you have a tray a table that you’d usually use for breakfast in bed, you can use that to make your puzzle on. A duvet is no good as one movement and the whole thing will fall apart. Soul destroying!

Play games

Board games are a great way to pass the time and are so much fun. I personally like playing Guess Who with my son because it teaches him to use his descriptive words, improve his concentration and his observational skills. Operation is another great option for fine motor skills, which many children with EDS have difficulty with. Travel sized games are perfect for playing in bed. Sometimes we forego the board games and play I Spy or Simon Says.

board game.jpeg

Creative writing

Creative writing can be very therapeutic for people suffering from mental and physical disorders. Using your own experiences can help you gain perspective and work through emotions and obstacles in your life. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. Sometimes it can just be funny to take turns making up sentences of a story. So for example if I said, “there was once a unicorn,” My son, Alexander might continue with “who had rainbow coloured poo,” or something as equally juvenile and silly.

Put on a show

Shadow puppets, actual puppets or just themselves a lot of kids like to entertain their parents and show off a song/poem/dance they’ve learned in school. I just love when my children sing and dance for me. It reminds me of when I was a child and my cousin and I would put on shows for our parents at Christmas time. There is a really cringey video of us doing our own version of Father Ted, a comedic show about three Irish priests. Our parents laughed a lot but I’m guessing it was the combination of alcohol and their 10-year-old children saying the iconic lines “Drink, Feck, Arse!” or “That money was just resting in my account.” The two of us really loved being the centre of attention, I can see that in my own children now.

child play.jpeg

 Have a sing song/listen to music

I have to say it but the majority of modern music pales in comparison to the music of “my day”. I grew up listening to Nirvana, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, ABBA (I know), The Police and Fleetwood Mac. Now I am partial to a bit of Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Rag N’ Bone Man a few other singer songwriters. But I feel that music isn’t as big on the story telling anymore. Stick on iTunes or a CD player (whatever you have) and introduce your kids to the tunes from your childhood. Take turns with your child and let them introduce you to the music they like. Again, my Dad’s influence comes in here. Driving to/from school or to a hospital appointment used to be my time to have Dad up to date with “new music”. As a teenager I was a big fan of Avril Lavigne and Dad was a fan too. We used to bond with music a lot. Sitting down on a Sunday morning listening to classical music is still a time in my life I look so fondly back on. Sometimes I put on some classical music like The Four Seasons and my son and I close our eyes and talk about what we imagine when we hear the music.

Knitting/crocheting etc

 Learning to knit/sew or crochet is a skill that will always be useful and also enjoyable. The sound of the clicking needles in a rhythm has always been comforting to me. Sadly, knitting isn’t an option for me any more since I began dislocating my wrist. Knitting was dying out for a while but it has gained popularity again when many celebs said it has helped relieve their stress. Teaching a child to sew a button is a skill that they’ll always have as they grow up. These practices are also a good way to improve motor skills.

child knitting.jpeg

Pick something to learn about

My kids love learning and my son’s choice of book is more often than not, an encyclopedia or history book of some kind. His thirst for knowledge is contagious; I love to learn with him. Even as adults there is still so much about the world we have still to discover and learning about it with your children is so, so rewarding. If my son asks me about how something works and I don’t know, we will try and find a book, or if we don’t have time (or I’m ill) we will Google it. This probably stems from my childhood. Whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, my Dad used to send me to his den to get the dictionary and look it up. This led to me knowing the longest word in the English dictionary by the time I was six (it’s floccinaucinihilipilification in case you’re wondering). Interestingly, this word never came to use in my days as a journalist! YouTube has some great educational videos produced for children. Netflix also has a brilliant selection of kid friendly documentaries. Our favourite are the dinosaur themed documentaries.

 Have a conversation

Every now and then I’ll ask my son questions like “What’s your favourite book?” “What’s your favourite colour?” Anything I can think of I’ll ask him. It makes him feel important to talk about what he likes and that mom is taking a real interest. Every time I ask his answer changes, it’s the nature of children, I guess. Ask them about their friends and school or what they want to be when they grow up. You could plan a nice day out for when you’re feeling better.

mom and child talking.jpeg

“Feeling guilty often comes part and parcel of being a Spoonie parent. But remember; you can only do your best and you won’t help anyone, including yourself if you run yourself into the ground. All our children want is to know they are loved and have some quality time with their parents.”

Until next time,

Z.M

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A Simple Guide to The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

UPDATE: On March 15 2017, criteria and classifications of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes were updated for the first time in 20 years. In light of this, I will update my guide (with the new information made available) to highlight new diagnostic criteria and classifications. You can read more about the changes here.

Because there are now 13 types of EDS, I have only covered Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (vEDS) and Classical Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (cEDS). If you would like me to do another guide to the rarer types, please comment below or email me. I would be more than happy to oblige!

“You’re suffering from Fibromyalgia!” “You’re depressed!” “You’re imagining it!”

“You’re malingering!” “You’re attention seeking!-”

“No I’m not – I have an Ehlers Danlos Syndrome!”

 The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a group of conditions that are poorly understood, even by many in the medical professions. It is essentially a defect in the production of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue.

Many articles about EDS contain medical terminology that can be difficult to understand. The purpose of this guide is to put the medical terminology in plain language and help non-affected family and friends understand exactly how EDS affects people and their day-to-day lives. The medical terminology is included in italics. Links to web pages are included throughout the article if you want to conduct your own research.

Why are they called The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS)?

The name of the condition itself is quite a mouthful! Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Eylerz-Dan loss Sin-drome) is named after the two physicians, Dr Ehlers and Dr Danlos, who first described this group of connective tissue disorders.

What is EDS?

People with a type of EDS will produce faulty collagen. Collagen is essential for healthy connective tissue, which is found throughout the body supporting and connecting the different types of tissues and organs, including tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs, bones, the blood and skin.

Imagine a healthy person’s connective tissue as being like regular household glue. People with EDS have collagen that is more like chewing gum; stretchy and not very good at keeping things in place.

What causes EDS?

There are a number of different genes responsible for making collagen and connective tissue, so there are different types of EDS depending on which genes are faulty. There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

How did I get a faulty gene?

It is possible that the faulty gene may have been inherited from one parent, or both parents, or not inherited at all. It may be that the defect has occurred in that person for the first time. This happens in 25% of cases.

 How I explained it to my 7-year old son.

A carpenter makes a wooden chair. Instead of using wood glue to place the joints of the chair together, he uses chewing gum. Once finished, the chair looks fine. But, as time goes by and the chair is used, the chewing gum doesn’t work very well at keeping the joints together. Without proper glue the chair can begin to get wobbly. I went on to explain that with proper exercise he could help to strengthen his muscles so that they acted like binding around the joints to help support them.

What does EDS feel like?

Having an EDS feels different from person to person, depending on their type, but many describe it as having a lifelong flu. Have you ever had the flu? Do you remember how painful it was having those aches and pains in the joints and muscles? Do you remember how tired and run down you felt? That’s what it’s like for people with EDS only worse and it never goes away. In addition to the daily aches and pains people with EDS also have to deal with very painful headaches, gut issues and then of course there’s the issue of dislocation. Many EDSers can’t go a day without a joint popping out. It can happen simply by stepping off a footpath or picking up a pot when cooking. A lot of people with EDS are also affected by the weather. When it is damp or when the air pressure changes their pain can increase.

How does EDS affect people?

Because collagen is everywhere in the body, there are hundreds of ways EDS can affect people. Any two people with EDS may have very different signs and symptoms, this includes people with the same type. In som,e the condition is quite mild. For others it can be disabling. Some of the rare severe types can be life-threatening.

One of the problems with diagnosing EDS is that many diseases share the same symptoms. As a result, EDS can be easily confused with other conditions and it may be difficult for doctors to recognise. But there are ways to tell if someone may be affected by EDS and need more thorough investigation. Some of the investigations available are listed later.

The most common symptoms of EDS (hEDS and cEDS) are:

  • “Double jointed” – Hypermobility: joints that are more flexible than normal.
  • Loose, unstable joints that dislocate easily.
  • Clicking joints.
  • Joint and muscle pain

In addition there may be

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness).
  • Injuring easily.
  • Fragile skin that bruises and tears easily. The skin may also be stretchy.
  • Digestive problems
  • Dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply POTS for short)
  • Incontinence of urine in women

Digestion.

If food in the stomach doesn’t move through the body to make its way out it may just sits in the intestines and can cause a feeling of fullness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, to name just a few symptoms. This condition is known as Gastroparesis. (gas-tro par-eesis).

Nervous System

Another condition than often affects people with EDS is a fault with that part of the nervous system controlling the “automatic” functions of the body; things like blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, digestion, how hot or cold you feel and the way your organs work and so on. This is called the Autonomic Nervous System. When it doesn’t operate as it should the conditions is called Dysautonomia (Dis-auto-no-me-a). Common symptoms of this are trouble with digestion, dizziness and fainting.

Dysautonomia affecting the heart.

The most common type of Dysautonomia causes dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. This condition is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply, POTS for short.

Some sufferers have fairly mild symptoms and can continue with normal work, school, social and recreational activities. For others, symptoms may be so severe that normal life things like bathing, housework, eating, sitting upright, walking or standing can be very difficult. They may feel dizzy or even faint from doing these things.

What are the symptoms for POTS?

People with POTS experience fatigue (extreme tiredness), headaches, lightheadedness (feeling dizzy), heart palpitations (when their heart beats so hard you can hear and feel it), exercise intolerance (feel ill when exercising), nausea (feeling sick), diminished concentration (hard to concentrate), tremulousness (shaking), syncope (fainting), coldness or pain in the arms, legs, fingers and toes, chest pain and shortness of breath. People with POTS can develop a reddish purple colour in the legs when standing; this is believed to be caused by blood falling down in the body because of weak veins. The colour change subsides upon returning to sitting or lying position.

Can you tell someone has EDS just by looking at them?

The short answer is no. Some may have typically blue sclera (whites of the eyes), they may have translucent skin (see through) and you may even notice how bendy they are. But some people may have some of these things and not have EDS.

Many people with the type of EDS that affects blood vessels (Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or simply, vEDS) do have some facial characteristics. Notice in the picture below that the people have big eyes, thin nose and lips.

veds_type_poster3_2

Can EDS kill people?

Some people think it can’t but actually, EDS has led to the untimely death of people all over the world. vEDS is considered the most serious form of EDS due to the possibility of the heart or organs tearing.

Many EDSers live a life of constant pain. This pain and misunderstanding from their medical teams, families and friends can make a person feel very sad and alone which can lead to depression and even suicide.

What treatments are available for people with EDS?

Because EDS is considered “rare” there are not many doctors willing to learn about it. Types such as hEDS and cEDS can be somewhat managed through specialised physiotherapy. Joints with weak connective tissue are more likely to dislocate. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around a joint can help stabilize the joint. Your physical therapist might also recommend specific braces to help prevent joint dislocations. Occupational therapy is also useful to help manage everyday life. Pain relief is very important for people with EDS.

EDSers should also be under the care of a Rheumatologist (a doctor who looks after bones and joints), a Cardiologist (heart doctor). There may also be a need for more specialised doctors such as Neurologists (doctors who look after the nervous system) or all of the above plus many, many more. Sometimes operations are required to repair joints that have dislocated frequently and haven’t healed properly.

Do all people with EDS need wheelchairs?

Not everyone will experience EDS the same way, some people can live normal lives and manage very well with physiotherapy and pain relief. Others may need to use wheelchairs or walking sticks to help them get around. Some people with EDS also have Gastroparesis which we discussed earlier and may need to be fed using a tube. Others may only have mild tummy problems. Some people with EDS may have to go to hospital a lot while some may only go to their GP every few months. But, just because one person can live their lives fairly normally, it doesn’t mean they don’t have EDS or that their pain shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Can you catch EDS, POTS or Gastroparesis?

No. EDS and other sub conditions are not contagious. If you know somebody with EDS, don’t be afraid, you’re not going to catch anything from them. So, if you’re avoiding someone with EDS, go make friends with them.

 How can I help someone with EDS?

Be there to listen if they want to talk about it. Some people are afraid to tell you how they feel because they think friends and family don’t want to hear them complain. Ask them how they are and if you can do anything to help them. Doing shopping or household chores can be a huge help and it would be most appreciated. If you’re friend or family member has EDS and can’t access appropriate treatment like here in Ireland, write to your local representatives to tell them about EDS and the lack of care that is available. Help raise awareness in the public by sharing articles or pictures about EDS. Experts believe that EDS is not rare, just rarely diagnosed.

I will update the Diagnostic Criteria for cEDS, hEDS and vEDS in the coming days.

*Special thanks to my Dad who helped me edit this guide.*

Do you think anything else about EDS needs to be explained? Let me know in the comments!

Z.M

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Teaching our children about consent should start in early childhood

The topic of consent is everywhere at the moment, it is an important social issue that affects each and every person, male or female, no matter their age. While I welcome mandatory consent classes on college campuses, I can’t help but wonder whether we are leaving it too late to begin introducing the topic of consent to the young people of Ireland? Let’s face it; the majority of first year college students are already sexually active. Should these mandatory classes be apart of the secondary curriculum? Absolutely. But as parents I feel it is our responsibility to plant the seed much earlier on in life.

I recently watched Louise O’Neill’s documentary Asking for It? If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. After it’s airing, I began scrolling through comment sections on social media to suss out what the Irish public thought of rape culture and the issue of consent.

Sadly, I was unsurprised to see so many people claim that Ireland does not have a rape culture. People were either too fixated on the word “culture” or almost literally sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming to avoid dealing with this very real issue. It’s such an Irish thing to do, to sweep it under the carpet, no need to make anyone uncomfortable. We have a rich history of turning our backs on painful subjects. Just look at the Magdalene Laundry scandal, for instance. Modern day Ireland is repulsed with how women up until very recently were treated by the Church. We are also disgusted that as a society we kept quiet. This attitude reflects what we are seeing today with women being perceived within a Madonna-whore complex. No, “rape culture” does not mean that as a nation we condone rape. Not. At. All. Of course the vast majority of people believe that rape is a heinous crime and those who carry out such acts should be punished to the fullest extent. Consent is consent and using excuses means we will never tackle the real issue head on.

We have a tendency to victim blame, not just about rape but also in many other situations. Just look at Kim Kardashian’s ordeal in Paris, for example. The narrative wasn’t about this traumatic event a human being went through but rather, blaming Kim for showing off her very expensive jewellery on social media. That she was “asking for it to happen.” The same thing happens to victims of sexual assault.

“Well if she’s going out dressed like that…”

“She shouldn’t have walked home alone”.

“How much did she have to drink?”

“Sure wasn’t she mauling the face off him earlier on in the night? What did she expect?”

Excusing a man’s (or woman’s) actions because they were drunk and saying “he/she would never do that normally.”

Every time these words are uttered we undermine the actual issue.

Growing up in Ireland, I could not go with friends for a night out without the following lecture chanted at me like some sort of protection spell:

“Stay with the crowd, don’t wonder off alone. Watch your drink. If someone is buying you a drink, go to the bar with them.”

As a young teenage girl, I had never been exposed to rape. It was something I only knew about from obsessively watching Law and Order: SVU. It was something that happened in far away lands, not here in little ole Ireland. Then again, I did live a fairly sheltered life.

But, as I began going out more, I started to understand why my mother gave me the same speech over and over again, each and every single night out. Even today at 29, a mother of two children, I am still reminded by my mother to do all of those things. Years ago I would have rolled my eyes at mum followed by a “yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, Mum.” Now?  I make sure I don’t walk home alone on the rare night I do go out. Or if I can’t get someone to walk home with me, I call my husband for the 7-minute walk home. A lot can happen in 7 minutes.

I recently had a discussion with an older relative about rape culture and particularly, victim blaming. The conversation went something like this:

“Women have a level of responsibility to protect themselves,” the relative said.

In a perfect world, it would be great for women to feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night. It has been drilled into our heads so much that we shouldn’t put ourselves in dangerous situations but how about we start telling young men before they go out to respect any girl they potentially hook up with. That no means no and not try a little harder to swoon her into submission.

Sexual abuse is rarely ever about sex, it’s about power. Assault can happen anytime, anywhere and the attacker more often than not is someone familiar to the victim. 93% of perpetrators are familiar to their victims.

I responded to this relative with a question.

“If a man is mugged in the street at night. Do you blame the man or the thugs that mugged him?”

This made my relative stop and think.

A few days later we went to the woods for a stroll and some foraging. We separated for a few minutes. I noticed a white van with no windows pull up near me. I looked around to see how many people were around me and checked the laces on my runners were tied properly. My male relative didn’t acknowledge the van, as in he didn’t think twice about it. Women all over the world are on edge. We always have our defenses up. Will that guy cat calling follow me home? Will I arrive home safely in this taxi?

When scrolling through the comments section under Jennifer Hough’s article about rape culture in Cork one comment stuck out for me.

It went something like this:

There have been no reports of rape over the weekend so I question the author’s claim that she saw this happening.

One in four Irish women have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One. In. Four. That’s almost as common as cancer and yet, why don’t we see it in the media more? Victims of assault fear the trauma of reliving their experience during an investigation or fear of being accused of leading the perpetrator on; that they did something to ask for the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Centre Network of Ireland’s (RCC) 2014 statistics 33% of survivors contacted the police about their assault. According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI), only one in ten sexual crimes are reported in Ireland. Of that one in ten, only 7% secures a conviction. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crime in Ireland get justice.

So, just because we don’t see it in the media everyday, it doesn’t it’s not happening.

Consent is a hot topic and Louise O’Neill’s documentary resulted in the subject being discussed everywhere-amongst friends, on social media and in the news. The end message is we need to teach young men about consent just as we teach women to protect themselves. We are now seeing mandatory classes in collages being taught about consent but should we wait until most young people are already sexually active before we introduce the idea of consent to them?

Just the other day my 7-year-old son was trying to get his 19-month-old sister to give him hugs and kisses. She was shouting no but my son kept trying. At that age of course there was no malice in his actions but something clicked. This is where it begins. I told my son there and then that if his sister didn’t want hugs and kisses and she is shouting no that it meant no and to stop. I want him to understand that now, not when he’s a teenage boy. No means no. We see it all the time, relatives practically forcing children to show them affection. Why are we so pushy for physical affection? Children are not property. We have no right to hit them so why should we force them to hug and kiss us? It is their body. It is their choice. Their feelings about their personal space matter as much as any adult’s.

It all starts in childhood. We need to teach our children that our bodies are our own and nobody, not our parents or siblings have a right to invade our personal space or have forced affection brought on them. Parents often tell their children to let them know if anyone touches them inappropriately. Abuse often starts with uninvited touching, hugging or stroking. If we force affection on a child who clearly doesn’t want it, it can be confusing for them to know when something is inappropriate. Forced affection doesn’t show children we love them, it shows them that we can do as we please with their bodies.

If you don’t believe the idea of consent should be introduced to children just take a look at the figures from the 2014 RCC report:

52% of survivors aged 13 to 17 were subjected to rape

15% of perpetrators were under 18

9% of survivors attending crisis centres in Ireland were children.

Waiting until our children become young adults to discuss consent is too late and the figures reflect this.

Although parents or relatives have no intention of harming a child, nor do they think they are doing anything inappropriate; we are teaching our children that an adult or other person’s want for physical affection is more important than their own comfort and safety. It starts as early as toddlerhood; we are laying the groundwork for behaviours that continue into adult life. Teaching our children that no means no could potentially save them from assault later in life. It could also empower young people to have sex only when they’re ready to.

We don’t see physical interaction amongst children as a problem until it’s too late. They tickle, they force hugs and rarely they mean any harm. But every parent has experienced an occasion where their child has either been subjected to touching they didn’t want or have been the ones to force the affection or tickles. So how can we introduce consent to children without going into too much detail about sexual abuse?

We need to teach our children to ask for permission to touch another person. “Is it okay if I hug you? Or “Can I have a hug?”

This teaches our children to ask for permission and it also teaches them to think about their actions before they do them.

We need to teach our children that consent can be taken away too.

Adults know all too well, especially parents that we have days where we feel “touched out.” Kids have those days too. They may have been very affectionate and willing to accept affection the day before but they are well in their rights to tell someone that they don’t want to be touched today. This maybe confusing for other children so it is vital that we show them that it’s OK to change your mind.

A child should never be forced to show affection to another person.

It is a common occurrence that children are told, “go give Nana a hug” or “give Aunty a kiss”. Children are eager to please so they may oblige but that shouldn’t be the case. No matter how familiar your child is with someone, he/she should feel comfortable enough to say no. Given that 93% of cases involve a person the victim is familiar with, it is important that we validate our children’s feelings and respect their decision. Under no circumstances should you guilt a child into giving you affection. Don’t pretend to cry or be sad. So many of us are guilty of this. I know my husband and I have been guilty of this. Humans need touch, we are social creatures but it isn’t really affection if you force or guilt a child into it is it?

Not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

As discussed, children are eager to please so they may do something they don’t really want to do to please a friend, teacher or family member. You may think your own child has no problem saying no but they may not be so forthcoming with someone other than you. Our children must also learn just because they don’t hear a resounding no that it means they can go ahead with that hug or kiss.

Practice what you preach.

Lead by example. Children imitate what they see in their day-to-day lives. If they see Daddy (or Mommy) force affection on to one another, the idea that it’s OK to do that is solidified. Many couples will force a hug or a kiss a form of tomfoolery and no there is no ill intent but still, it is important for us to show our children that we should respect everyone’s boundaries.

Further reading and helplines:

http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-National-Stats-2014.pdf

Rape Crisis Centre helpline:

1800 778888

or see the website www.rapecrisishelp.ie.

Until next time,

Z.M.

 

You know you’re breastfeeding a toddler when..

It’s National Breastfeeding Week! I love this time of year because my Facebook timeline is filled with beautiful pictures of children having milky cuddles with their mummies. Of course this week also means there will be heated debates under articles, such as this one. This week is not about debate though, it’s about celebrating and promoting breastfeeding. And boy, do we need to promote the sugar out of breastfeeding. In Ireland just 1-2% of one year olds are breastfed. The low breastfeeding rates is costing our Government approximately 800 million Euro each year. The HSE and World Health Organisation recommends all infants are exclusively breastfed and then fed along with solids until at least two years old.

Breastfeeding a toddler is so much fun! Nursing can be challenging at times but things change once your little baby becomes a toddler, breastmilk is no longer just about nutrition but immunity, comfort and so, so much more. Scientific studies show that the natural weaning age is anywhere from 4-7 years of age. The average weaning age world wide is 4 years old.

You know you’re breastfeeding a toddler when..

1. Your child finds new and interesting positions to nurse in. 

Before now, you had your go to position, whether it was laid back or a rugby hold, you had that position down. Long gone are the days when you felt so awkward, perfecting the latch and then meeting your baby’s eyes with a loving gaze.

Now? Feet in your face, feet in your mouth, feet in their mouth. Nursing has become a yoga extravaganza. You wonder to yourself “HOW THE HELL CAN YOU BEND LIKE THAT?!” In breastfeeding circles we call this act ‘Gymnurstics’. If only it was an Olympic sport.

gymnurstics

2. Your child thanks you.

Especially when you don’t ever expect them to. The fact that they know it’s something they love and appreciate, innately astounds you.

3. You feel less like a mum and more like a buffet table.

With child hopping from “dis side” to “dis side” every ten seconds, you start to wonder if your boobs provide different flavours! Chocolate and vanilla perhaps?

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4.You’re nursing two toddlers and

They argue about who is getting which boob and agree on a compromise.

5. You post this infographic every time someone says there are no benefits to breastmilk after 12 months:

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or this one

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It’s actually crazy how many health care professionals tell mothers that nursing passed 12 months is only for them and there are no benefits to the child. As you can tell from the graphics above, there is an abundance of benefits in full term nursing. There is also amazing benefits for mom too. Check it them out below:

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6. Your toddler has their own word for your milk.

My little girl asks for “boob” at 17 months but I have heard the cutest ways toddlers ask for milk like “bainne”, “mama milk” and”milkies”, to name just a few.

7. Nipple twiddling becomes a game.

No matter how many people think it’s “weird”, “gross” or “wrong”, there is a biological purpose for nipple twiddling. Children twiddle nipples or slap mother’s breasts to stimulate the let down of the milk. However, many toddlers turn this into a game by seeing just how far mommy’s nipples can stretch out. It’s hilarious until you realise you haven’t trimmed their nails in awhile or you get sprayed in the face with your own milk. Hey, at least you’ll have some awesome skin!

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8. You’re so amused when people find out you’re still nursing and they recoil in horror.

It’s very amusing to hear people criticise “extended” breastfeeding, especially when their own toddlers are sitting across the way from you with a dummy or bottle in their mouths. We are the only mammals that don’t let their young self wean and we are the only mammals that drink the milk of other species. It’s ironic really that mothers of breastfeeding toddlers are criticised yet full grown adults drink the growth fluid of calfs. Many people are under the impression that breastfed toddlers and older children are only being fed breastmilk. While yes, it is an amazing source of nutrition, children over a year do need to have a healthy diet of solid food in addition to their mummy’s milk. A lot of people also believe (without any basis for their thoughts) that breastfed toddlers will be “clingy” and will have psychological problems when they’re older. This is not the case at all. Studies show that breastfed children are protected against mental health problems and addictions.They tend to be higher in intelligence and more emotionally secure than children who were not breastfed.

Following on from that

9. When you’re asked how long you’re going to continue to nurse for.

When somebody is being rude asking me that question, I’ll usually answer with something sarcastic like “We will probably wrap it up when she starts college.” For anyone who is genuinely asking I tell them that we will stop when we are both ready. It’s a two way relationship. Feeding a toddler makes life so much easier. I’m not sure how we would deal with tantrums and illness without breastfeeding. It really is the answer to so many problems.

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10. When they learn how to unclip your bra and help themselves.

This aspect of feeding a toddler is simply brilliant, especially at night. If you’re cosleeping and breastfeeding your child will eventually learn how to get your top open/up and latch on while you’re still sleeping. Studies show that mothers who breastfeed and co sleep get more sleep than mothers who don’t. Who doesn’t love extra sleep?

11. Your toddler feeds their dolls/teddies/toy trains and even cats.

There is nothing sweeter than seeing your toddler pretending to be mommy and lifting their top to nourish their baby dolls. It’s amazing to see natural instincts kick in when their babies are “crying”. My own daughter recently chased the cat around the house with her top up screaming “nummy nummy num”.

If your toddler isn’t feeding their toy, they’re getting you to feed them. Lying down with your toddler latched on one boob and some inanimate object resting on the other.

12. Your toddler learns that other people have nipples too.

Recently my daughter realised Daddy had nipples too. She stared at them for a few minutes. Daddy and I waited to see what would happen. Of course I was trying to convince her that Daddy has milk too while he was trying to tell her he didn’t. After a couple of minutes, she opened her mouth (very reluctantly) and went for a taste. She was immediately put off my the hair that surrounds Daddy’s nipples.

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and finally

13. Your toddler and your husband have a lot in common.

The sight of bare boobies makes your toddler giggle, squeal and clap. Motor boating is also a favourite past time.

A final word..

Feeding a toddler brings so much joy but quite often comments made on social media or from friends and family can be really off putting. Women are called pedophiles and weirdos just for simply following their biological instincts and doing what is best for them and their child. It’s a sad reality that breasts are used to sell everything from cars to food but should a woman use them for their biological purpose, they are abused. Breastfeeding is in no way sexual and anyone who thinks so should take a class in Biology. Would you scoff at a dog feeding her 8 week old puppies? In human years, that would equal to a toddler. Even cows, when left alone will feed from their mothers for up to four years. We don’t respect our mammalian instincts anymore.

We rarely see full term breastfeeding in our everyday lives. Where we see it most is in films or TV shows and the characters are usually portrayed as really radical hippies or weirdos. Take Game of Thrones, for example.  The feeding of a 10 year old is pretty unrealistic. Children loose the ability to correctly latch at around aged 7. Ever wondered why they are called milk teeth? When a child looses their milk teeth, this is right about the age where they would naturally wean. Hence the natural weaning age is between 4 and 7. Portraying full term breastfeeding in a negative way does nothing but hinder the acceptance or normalisation of the act.

It is really only in the West that we have such a problem with breastfeeding.

“In Mongolia, there’s an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years – a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport.”Read more about this here.

There is no reason you need to stop feeding your baby once they hit 12 months, unless you want to. If it feels right for you and your baby, go for it and feck the begrudgers.

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A letter to my children

 

To my little darlings,

I am here watching you both sleep. It’s 5.06am and I’m awake because I’m in pain. It’s peaceful here with only the sound of you breathing, the cat purring at your feet and the tapping of my fragile fingers on the keyboard.  As I watch over you both, I think of all the things I wish and hope for you and your futures.

I wish that medical professionals will believe you when you tell them there is something wrong. I wish that when you tell your teachers you’re not feeling well, that you will be believed. I wish that when you tell me and your Daddy that you need help, that we can do that and to the best of our ability.

I hope that as you grow up, that we can do everything in our power to prevent you from experiencing the type of pain and anguish that I go through almost every day. I hope that I can be a good enough mom for you both. Most of all, I hope that you won’t grow up to hate me because I was too sick to play or get up out of bed. I hope that you will understand that I didn’t get up out of bed because I was saving my energy to do something fun with you another day.

I pray that you will grow up and live a normal life. I pray you will get the best education, in life and in academia. I pray you will find a job you love but never feel like it is work. I pray you find love, with man or woman and they will accept you with all your flaws and imperfections. I pray that you appreciate them, as I have appreciated your father for loving me, despite the difficult days. I pray they treat you the way your father has so graciously treated me.

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I know that should you experience any of the obstacles that I have faced, you will be far more equipped to deal with them than I ever was. I know you will be strong and determined as you have been in everything you do so far. I know that you will have days where life is just too damn hard, that there seems to be no end to the uphill battle but you will continue on. I know that when you should decide to become parents yourselves that you will know this guilt that I feel now, knowing that it was you who passed on these faulty genes. But, please remember; this is not your fault. You cannot control your genes as I could not control mine.

You begin to stir next to me now. No doubt you are looking for what you affectionately call “mama” as you nuzzle at my chest. And you, my love, at the end of the bed sighing in your sleep as if your dreams are giving you relief.

I want you to know that I love you, deeply and unconditionally. I hope that you know that I’m trying everyday to be the best mom I can and I pray that you will live a healthy, happy life.

All my love,

Mum.