Category Archives: second child

Stranded in paradise

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Day 23 on the island

The burned skin has long peeled off and the once bulbous and red-raw wound of Gary’s spider bite has faded into barely a freckle. “We’re going to a new holiday home today!” I say, trying to energise the words as I did so effortlessly three weeks ago. Lara just looks at me wearily. So does her baby sister. “Another one? But mummy, I want to go to SCHOOL!”

I’m not complaining. Or at least I’m trying really hard to see the bright side which is an extended holiday with my lovely family, mostly free of charge (once the travel insurance claim goes through) in the Caribbean. It’s pretty darn bright when you look at it that way. But there’s the other side to the coin where we are confined to a small apartment with Gary attempting to work remotely on a five hour time difference while I come up with increasingly screen-reliant ways to entertain two small children. At mealtimes – banished from mixing with others at the restaurant – we come up with what we can with sparse ingredients foraged from the tiny (but devastatingly expensive on the scale of £7 for a bottle of milk) onsite shop. At night the baby wakes repeatedly.

There is no end in sight.

And we’re almost out of beer.

Ok, maybe I am complaining a bit.

Day 1
We think it’s just a heat rash. Lara seems absolutely fine, chatting away and extremely excited to be on the first abroad holiday she can remember. Surely if it were chicken pox she would be poorly?

Day 2
It is most definitely not a heat rash. Blistering spots have erupted all over my porcelain daughter’s skin. “She’s got it bad,” we laugh, safe in the comfort that her temp is normal and her spirits are high. We will later come to realise that she did not, in fact, have it remotely bad.

Day 3 – 5
The spots peak and scab over and we are able to venture out to the beach, keeping a safe distance from others. Lara looks a little less leper-like and has fun splashing about in the sea. Her temperature remains normal and the only time she seems bothered by her affliction is when she wakes hot and itchy in the middle of the night.

Day 6 – 12
“I don’t expect Annabelle will get it,” my mum (a retired nurse) tells me. “After all, she’s still breastfed. Surely your immunity will pass on?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, “that’s not what I’ve read online…” But secretly I’m hopeful. The holiday rolls into its second week and we all sleep soundly through the night. A small crop of red spots on Annabelle’s arm fail to materialise into anything sinister. Sisters fly in and sisters fly out. We drink the rum punch. We laugh a lot. We relax.

Day 14
With that impending sense of quite-ready-to-go-home-now-thank-you well-being we move from our villa to an apartment. Our original holiday was to be 16 days long on the virgin islands (visiting the place where my parents first met in recognition of the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death) but due to the continued damage caused by last year’s hurricane, this fell through and resulted in us having to book an apartment for the last two nights of our holiday. That was the plan, anyway.

Annabelle is fractious and sleeps badly the first night in our new place. The original red spots have faded but she has begun itching her head, messing her hands along her hair line with an urgently perplexed look on her face.

Day 15
We are due to fly home tomorrow. There are a few unidentifiable red splotches on Annabelle’s head but as the day wears on she becomes more cranky, stops eating with her usual gusto and by the evening the unmistakable blisters have rashed their way over my baby’s soft skin. Her neck is particularly bad, and there are the beginnings of spots on her arms and face as well.

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Day 16
Annabelle is covered in spots. Covered. She looks like a poster child for chicken pox. They are in her ears, on the palms of her hands, the soles of her feet. Barely a square inch remains unblemished.

We phone our travel insurance who tells us we will need confirmation from a doctor to be sure it is the pox. We arrange for a brusque doctor to visit the apartment which she does so and, in the space of 3 minutes confirms it is chicken pox and that we can’t fly for at least a week and that we now owe her $200 USD. We then make another expensive call to the travel insurance while establishing that we are able to stay in the apartment for another week. Gary contacts work to see if he can work from here. I email Lara’s nursery. We cancel classes and ask the neighbour to carry on feeding the cats. Mum goes home without us.

Day 17 – 21

We settle into a new routine of sorts. Gary works as best he can, being five hours behind the UK. I take Lara to the pool while Annabelle naps. We have a few horrendous nights – the most memorable of which finds us up at 4am, trying to forcefeed calpol into an incandescently rageful Annabelle whose temperature has rocketed to 39. She screams as I try to dab calamine onto her spots. She screams when I try sudocrem. She won’t feed. Even a bath – the failsafe Annabelle-calming-method produces bewildered, mournful sobs. In the end she tires enough to accept the boob once again and falls into a fitful sleep as I Google all the chicken pox remedies I have no hope of laying hands on…

Day 22

The doctor arrives and we wait with bated breath, secretly convinced she will take one look at Annabelle’s much improved skin and issue the all-important ‘fit to fly’ note. We should know by now, really, not to get our hopes up.

“No,” she barks. “The scabs are not dry enough.”

“Aren’t they? They look pretty dry to me and it’s been a week now… We were really hoping to fly tomorrow…”

“No, how about Monday? I’ll do it for Monday.”

Bugger.

Day 23

More emails are sent to Gary’s work, Lara’s school and all the other commitments we have over the next working week that it never occurred to us we might miss. Our travel insurers confirm what we have suspected, that without the doctor’s note they cannot book any flights for us. Moreover, they tell us that some airlines require medical clearance which can take a further 48 hours to come through.

Meanwhile our accommodation agent finds us a new holiday home to move to and we make another trip for provisions, not knowing whether they will be for two days or 10.

Day 24

The new holiday home is lovely. It has  stunning sea views, it’s light and breezy, large enough for all of us and has a pool. But it’s not home. And, for the first time ever, I think, it occurs to me that you can be in the most beautiful, luxurious setting in the world but if you want to be home that is the only thing you will see, no matter how far you look.

Still, we make the most of it and have fun in the pool. To celebrate our last night of being unfit to fly we go to the restaurant for dinner. The children behave beautifully and Gary and I enjoy a much-anticipated pina colada.

Day 25 (Monday)

We wait with bated breath for the doctor to email. Our travel insurers, five hours ahead, remind us to send them the note as soon as we get it. And we wait some more. At 10am we phone her and she says she will get to it as soon as she can. After another chase she finally sends it at 4pm and we forward it on to the travel insurers, knowing full well that at 9pm they will have long gone home for the day.

Day 26

The travel insurers say they are looking into flight options. Lara decides to make cards for all her teachers and friends back home. She hasn’t been to nursery for over a month now and this week we are missing important meetings and introductions for next year when she will start reception. Gary tries to work. Annabelle – looking laughably healthy now – reveals a new tooth. She will turn one year old in four days and has now spent a twelfth of her life in Antigua.

And here we remain in limbo. The drinking water has run out and so we are drinking tea and milk. We’re trying to save the blisteringly hot hike to the shop until we know when we need to book our airport taxi. We are saving the last two beers for the receipt of plane tickets.

I know there are many people who would say that they’d take an extra holiday any day over the mundanity of normal life. A month ago I probably would have been one of them. But there’s extra holiday and then there’s being ready to go home and not being able to… A repetitive mantra which pounds into your head at 3am when your baby has reverted to sleeping and feeding patterns you thought were long behind you: Iwanttogohomeiwanttogohomeiwanttogohome. Knowing that saying it does nothing but make the feeling worse and yet you want it so badly you can’t not say it. Like being in the throes of labour but trying not to think about the pain.

Home. It’s such a simple thing responsible for so much mental wellbeing. Because no matter where you are there’s really, after all, no place like it. Not even paradise.

 

 

 

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The journey to innocence

Babies are fascinating. They’re such creatures of pure, unfiltered instinct. There is nothing remotely deceptive about them. They aren’t even particularly innocent, not in the same sense that an older child is. My four-year-old believes in fairies and unicorns and magic. My four-month-old will give the same baleful stare to the garden centre Santa as she gives to most objects, furry creatures and toys crossing her line of vision, no matter how eagerly they are shoved into her face proffered. The four-year-old will give us increasingly rambling, far-fetched explanations as to why she needs two puddings despite not having finished her main dinner. The four-month-old will desperately mouth anything that comes into contact with her face. It’s a crude analogy and I apologise for it, but sometimes she really does remind me of the walkers from The Walking Dead. She responds to the purest, basest instinct to feed. We even call babies’ mealtimes “giving them a feed,” like we’re dehumanising what they’re doing because it’s so unlike what it becomes – three solid meals defined by the time of day. Babies don’t eat when they’re not hungry. They don’t graze or snack. They take in exactly what their body needs when they need it. They feed. Like animals. Like zombies.

When my eldest was a baby I remember being puzzled by this sense that she didn’t seem to have this innate innocence that little children are supposed to have. I now realise that it’s because this comes later, with the rudimentary understanding of the world that toddlers develop. Babies are only innocent in the very simplest sense of the word. Nothing much has happened to them yet. They don’t know how to be naughty or manipulative or deceitful. They also don’t know how to take you at your word when you tell them that magic is real. You look at their eyes and you find yourself wondering: what do you really know? What will you lose, as you grow? When will she realise that my bare arm isn’t food, though it’s warm and made of flesh? When will she realise that people still exist even though she can’t see them? When will she bring a toy to her mouth and not suckle?

You forget how fast they grow. The four-year-old comes out with new phrases perhaps once or twice a week and you think, “Wow, where did that level of comprehension come from? How did you piece together that logic without anyone showing you the map?” But the four-month-old changes almost daily. She studies your face and waits for you to smile before she does. Everything is a new challenge to study, from a fallen leaf to the route out of the dreaded car seat, not to mention those puzzling-but-awfully-tasty starfish things at the ends of her arms. She arches and levers her body until it moves, rolling the world into something new all over again. She hears your praise and files it away. This is a good thing. I will do this again. You put her into her cot and make it dark and she remembers that this means sleep. She wakes up alone and cries. You appear and she grins because it’s you, and you exist.

The love is the purest it will ever be. She loves absolutely and unconditionally because you keep her alive; but she also needs you absolutely and unconditionally to keep her alive. When your body is broken and your head is pounding she needs you. When you haven’t slept and your brain feels like something has crawled into your ear, curled up somewhere around your thinking parts and died, she needs you. She doesn’t care about the funny or the clever things you say. She doesn’t think you’re pretty. She doesn’t think you need a break. She doesn’t care about your great personality or that you lost 2lbs this week. She just needs you.

No one will ever need you so much as your babies. No one will ever love you quite the same way. And no one will ever be quite so fascinating.


Mum of MUCUS (with the mildly helpful gadgets)

Life as a parent is all about tackling novel challenges, and last week I got to experience being a mum of Multiple Unhappy Children Unleashing Snot (or MUCUS, if you will) for the very first time. It all began when summer finally ended (yes!), Lara went back to pre-school (YES!) and promptly came home with the start-of-term lurgy (NOOOOO!) All I can say is that at least this illness didn’t involve the gastrointestinal bodily fluids of last term’s ailment. No, as colds go this one was mild, her temperature never got past the warmer side of 37.5 and, aside from an irritatingly persistent mental block against the act of blowing one’s nose, our pre-schooler emerged unscathed a few days later.

Gary didn’t catch it. I didn’t catch it. I thought, with the naïvety of only ever having cared for one small person at a time, that my super-fat breastmilk (not to toot my own horn but the child could smuggle walnuts in those cheeks of hers) would protect Annabelle from catching it. Turns out, that theory only really pans out if the feeder has the cold and the ensuing antibodies, which of course I did not. And, being a mum of the Insta-Facebook-boast generation, I’ve never discouraged those cutesy photo op moments when their heads are smooshed close together and neither one is grimacing. Of course she caught the cold.

I knew it was all too good to last. The two hour naps. The newfound ability to sleep for six or even seven hours at a time (not every night, I hasten to add). At first I thought it was a(nother) growth spurt… Then the snot began to flow in entirely disproportionate ratio to the size of the nose producing it. I had forgotten just how pitiful the mewling of a mucus-filled infant lacking the ability to breathe properly could sound. I hate it when I can’t sleep properly because my nose is stuffed up. For a baby who doesn’t yet realise she can actually breathe through her mouth as well the experience must be all kinds of scary new torture. No wonder the poor little scrap woke every hour or so in a panic. And yes, there are the mildly helpful gadgets to offer some relief – the saline drops, the humidifiers, the chest rub, the nose-sucker-outerers*. I say mildly helpful because any small comfort is almost instantly evaporated when your child breathes in, smiles for exactly one second and then sneezes, unleashing a whole new nose-full of misery. Ultimately, as with almost every hurdle one faces with small babies, the only real fix-it is time and patience.

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Yep, the red bit goes in your mouth…

The websites say it can last a week or more. Luckily we only had a handful of bad nights and, though the snot is still far more of a present feature than one would like it to be in one’s household, normal service has resumed and both children seem to be well on their way to recovery now.

That just better not be a tickle I can feel in my throat.

 

 

*What you see here is the NoseFrida, which is not, in fact, a stern respiratory nurse of vague Eastern European descent beaten down by the damn patriarchy but still ruthlessly passionate about extracting mucus from small babies, but a device for clearing tiny nostrils using an entirely disgusting-sounding-but-surprisingly-effectual-and-hygienic method. Google it. If you dare.


The night is dark and full of nappies…

Seven weeks on, and there are so many things I could say about having a second child. I’ve drafted and re-drafted this blog post over the last few weeks and every time it’s run three or four pages long… What is the most important thing to talk about? The difficulties? The exhaustion? The new struggle of getting two little ones out of the door on time in the mornings? The unprecedented joys and crushing lows? It’s all there. It’s all relevant. But, for me, I guess the most significant revelation since the big arrival of number two is how much of the following I didn’t know, realise or had simply just forgotten…

  • Labour fucking hurts. I knew this the first time around. Then when Lara got to about 18 months old those sneaky, broody hormones snuck in and slowly wiped out the memories of the screaming-bad contractions, the long hours of pain so extreme I could not bear to stay still. It wasn’t that bad, I thought, It can’t have been that bad if I’m willing to do it again… Seven and a half weeks ago it occurred to me – with crashing immediacy – just how very much I had forgotten how very bad it had been. And although my labour this time around was a lot less traumatic because it wasn’t so long and there weren’t the complications or interventions of the first time around, it still really fucking hurt.
  • On TV a woman will give birth (after about 13 seconds of pushing and not nearly enough mooing) and out pops a squeaky clean, wide-eyed, cooing six-week-old giant. Real newborns do not look like this. My firstborn looked like a small, red, angry little frog when she was born. My second-born resembled a puce, incandescently furious old man complete with nose furrow and milk spots. I say this with all the love in the world – beauty comes later. Eyelashes form, the eyes open properly and then they start to fill out in all their cute, squishy glory. It’s all a work in progress…
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. With baby one we settled into a fairly consistent routine of three hourly wakings and feedings from day one. Baby two had her days and nights the wrong way round for at least the first week, meaning she was up sometimes every 40 minutes at night. Some people can function well with as little as three or four hours of fractured sleep at night. I am not one of those people. In my working days I’d be sluggish if I got less than seven. It’s not just a case of being tired; it’s feeling that soul-sapping exhaustion that sinks through your limbs and into your core, making everything so heavy, so dull and sad that you struggle to see the good bits of the day. Fortunately, with number two I knew – know – it won’t last for long in the grand scheme of things. Just knowing that makes all the difference.
  • Having 13 months of breastfeeding experience does not a breeze feeding number two make. Sure, she got the hang of it faster than Lara did – 10 minutes after birth as opposed to two days – but the exhaustion of trying to feed any which way I could in the first few nights lead to a poor latch, which resulted in a cracked nipple. A graze on one of the body’s most sensitive parts which was then relentlessly agitated by a baby’s mouth every hour or so did not make for a quick, easy healing process. But, barring that little complication, breastfeeding has been easier, on the whole, this time around. There haven’t been any bruises or stretch-marks. Expressing is easier. Supply is better. The process is altogether much quicker far earlier on. It’s like my boobs have settled, with not so much joy as resignation, back into their former roles.

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    No one will ever stare at your boobs with the same intense adoration as a breastfeeding infant. The feeling will not be reciprocated.

  • Small babies are not always consistent. Some nights she will sleep up to 6 hours in one go and not need a nappy change at all. Other nights we’re up every 2-3, nappy bulging, smells emanating. It’s a nocturnal, foul-smelling, eye-rubbing adventure.
  • The jiggly-shuffle. It still works on the evening grumps, although now it hurts my back. This baby is slightly larger than my last one, I’m *sure* that’s all it is.
  • Times can be dark. There are some days – especially in the first week – when people say “congratulations” and a part of you thinks “why?” On the flip-side, there are other days when you want to stop life just as it is because you can’t imagine it getting any better. The lows may be unprecedented, but so are the joys. Watching my firstborn flourish into her new role as big sister. Receiving those first gummy smiles. Having my nappy changing technique described as “like those pitstop trucks in Cars.
    It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s flabby. It’s new. It’s unprecedented, in wonderful ways. It’s Annabelle. She’s here.

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