true tales from the gates of the underworld

November 17, 2013, 11:42 am
Filed under: birth, Life, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe that birth is safe.
I believe that my baby should get to choose his or her birthday.
I believe that I am the Goddess, and I believe that you are the Goddess.

I am part of the natural world, and the natural world is part of me.
I am the leaf on the wind.
I am the wind.
I am the drop of water in the river.
I am the river.
I am the bank that contains the river.
I am the sea.
I am love.
I am patience.
I am energy.

I am one with all women, past, present and future.

I breathe and open.
My baby guides me as I guide my baby earthside.

I am trust.
I am balance.
I am time.

I do not need to wait, because I am.

Birth matters

There’s something I would like to say (while we’re being honest and all that)….
I find it really hard to read posts like “I don’t really want an induction/caesarean/sweep so I hope I give birth before” or something along those lines. Or “Next time I have a baby I HAVE to have a caesarean/induction/whatever”.
I don’t care *HOW* someone chooses to have their baby, it’s a very personal choice and it has to be right for you. I’m not going to get all sanctimonious about natural home water births with delayed clamping blah blah blah, because for some people induction is the right choice, or caesarean.
The important thing is that you all know you have a choice, and if you don’t want to go through with a procedure, nobody can make you. We live in the age of information – if you are unhappy or unsure about something, please ask! Ask here, ask in groups on facebook, ask an independent midwife or doula, contact organisations like AIMS ( for unbiased advice. Ask your doctors and midwives for evidence of why what they are telling you they would like to do is the right choice. (You may be surprised; NHS procedures are not always based on evidence.)

Use your BRAIN.
Ask the following questions:

Benefits – What are the benefits of this procedure? How will this help me/my baby/my labour?
Risks – What are the risks of this procedure? How might this negatively affect me/baby/labour?
Alternatives – Are there alternatives to this procedure? Are there other options?
Intuition – What is my gut feeling about this?
Need Time, or Nothing – Can I delay this procedure and take some time to think about it/Discuss it with my partner? What will happen if I choose to do nothing for now?

Use the answers to make your decisions. It’s not “informed choice” when the person making the decision doesn’t have all the relevant information to base that decision on. 
It’s ok to say “no, thank you.” You won’t be punished for it. Nobody has authority over your body and your decisions, other than yourself. Take ownership of your birth, however you decide it should play out. Make plans, have a voice. Be heard. 

Even if I don’t know you, I’m heartbroken for every one of you who is coerced into making a decision, sometimes even bullied (the “dead baby card” should NEVER be used by a professional to make you agree to a procedure!), and who ends up traumatised. Birth should not leave you feeling broken, coerced, bullied, degraded or abused. Regardless of the circumstances, even in medical emergencies, you can always come out of the other end feeling like the decisions you made were the right ones, that even when things didn’t go to plan you were treated respectfully, like a sentient human being who matters. Because you do. 

Meningitis – know the symptoms
March 16, 2013, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , ,

Meningitis and septicaemia can strike with little or no warning, but knowing the symptoms and acting fast can save lives.

Some of the symptoms for meningitis and septicaemia are the same, while others differ. It is important to remember that not everyone gets all of these symptoms and they can appear in any order. In the early stages of both diseases, symptoms can also often appear flu-like.


Classic symptoms:
a headache
stiff neck
dislike of bright light
Other symptoms can include:
difficulty supporting own weight
vomiting and diarrhoea
confusion and drowsiness

The symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis are the same as meningococcal meningitis.

Meningococcal septicaemia

Common symptoms:
aching limbs (particularly leg pain)
cold hands and feet
a rash which starts like pin prick spots and develops rapidly into purple bruising
Other symptoms may include:
difficulty supporting own weight
vomiting and diarrhoea
confusion and drowsiness
difficulty breathing
change in skin colour

Do the tumbler test

Important: Someone who becomes unwell rapidly should be examined particularly carefully for the meningococcal septicaemia rash. The majority of people (over 50%) with meningococcal septicaemia develop a rash of tiny ‘pink prick’ spots which can rapidly develop into purple bruising. To identify the rash, press a glass tumbler against it and if the rash does not fade, it could be meningococcal septicaemia. On dark skin, check for the rash on lighter parts of the body, eg. inner eyelids or finger tips. 

Babies and toddlers

In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, other symptoms to look out for in babies include:
blotchy skin, quite pale or turning blue
tense or bulging soft spot (fontanelle)on the baby’s head
poor feeding
high pitched cry/irritable (especially when being held)

It is particularly hard to tell when babies and toddlers are ill and what their symptoms are. Unfortunately, the symptoms in babies do not present in any particular order. In the majority of cases, with babies in particular, you will notice a rapid deterioration in their condition. It is important to trust your instincts – you know your child best. If you suspect anything is wrong, seek medical help immediately by going to your nearest GP or casualty unit.

Thank you to Meningitis UK for the above. Here is also the link to the NHS page on meningitis that also lists some other symptoms.

The M word
March 16, 2013, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , , ,

We’ve been hit hard by illnesses in recent months. Actually, thinking back, poor squidge has always been prone to catching all the bugs and the incubating them into something nasty. In November he had pneumonia, which took doctors way too long to diagnose, and which made him so poorly I wished I would never have to witness anything similar again.
All of his illnesses start the same way. A bit grumpy at bedtime, then by the time I go to bed a few hours later he is burning up. Daytime brings -some, small- relief from the fever on the first day, only to strike back in the afternoon, and by day two he is floppy, grey and lethargic.
Our last bout, a strep A infection manifesting in nasty scarlet fever that took three weeks and a hefty dose of antibiotics for ten days to get over had only been three weeks earlier.
Monday evening when I went to bed I felt his hot little hand on my arm and thought “oh, no. Not again,”
Tuesday I woke up early to the sound of his panting breath. I counted. 65. I know it’s way too fast. I sit for a little longer. I observe. No improvement. He seems ok, otherwise, but I know something is not right.
The out of hours doctor rings back within twenty minutes, tells me to take him to see our GP who is about to open. I get the first appointment of the day. GP looks in his eyes, ears and mouth, listens to his heart and chest. Counts. 68. Too fast. His temperature is only a little above 38C/100F. She says she doesn’t know why he is breathing so fast but he needs to be in hospital. Do we want an ambulance or can we drive there straight away? We drive.
In the paediatric assessment unit a nurse waves us to the seating area. He doesn’t look unwell enough for a bed yet. We sit. Wait. Squidge sits in my lap, occasionally he tries to move and I notice his arms and legs shaking when he puts weight on them. An hour later a doctor, too young, too slim, blonde, comes to see us. She tells me she doesn’t know why we are there, he seems to have a cold maybe. She counts. 48. I mention the shaking arms and legs, she tells me it must be the fever. I tell her he gets poorly quickly and spectacularly. She tells me she will get her senior consultant to look at him to put my mind at ease.
We wait some more. The shaking increases, now happens also when he is sitting still. He looks pale, subdued, but makes eye contact, even laughs. The senior consultant listens to his chest and sends him for an xray, which shows an infection in both lungs. She prescribes antibiotics and asks for a urine sample before we leave. Of course, Squidge won’t wee on command or in a cup. His temperature is still going up and he becomes slow, yet still shaking. I undress him and stand ready with the pot. His eyes glaze over, his stare vacant as he starts shaking uncontrollably. I call the nurse who says he has a fever and he is sleeping. With his eyes open? His bladder releases a stream of urine that misses the pot completely, but the consultant is satisfied that he does not have retention. He jerks, his eyes refocus.
I dress him, ready to go, and he vomits everywhere. It smells of the antibiotics he had only taken an hour ago. The consultant says it’s the fever, now 39C. Keep giving him the antibiotics and he’ll improve in a couple of days.
We arrive home, and he vomits again, and the shaking becomes stronger still. He can’t walk because his legs won’t hold him, he can’t crawl because his arms won’t support. I try giving him his dose of antibiotics before bed and some paracetamol, and he vomits again. I take him upstairs to give him some milk, and he vomits again. I call the assessment unit, where a doctor tells me to try him with a fluid challenge. 5Ml by syringe every 5 minutes. He takes it, holds it. Falls asleep, but lightly. Moaning, in discomfort. He seems stiff, and hot still. I check his skin; it’s white and blotchy but no rash. 
I daren’t leave his side, so I stay next to him. I phone the assessment unit again and the doctor tells me that I can bring him back if I feel I need to, as I am not coping with treating him at home. I am coping, I just have a voice in my head that keeps telling me something is wrong. Something is wrong. It’s about 3 am when he has the first seizure. It’s a single full body jerk, and it wakes me up. He is burning. Shaking. At 4 am he starts twitching just with one arm, one leg. Then every few seconds his entire body spasms. His eyes roll up and into the back of his head, his breathing rapid. I sit for a couple of minutes and observe. Something is wrong. I know it.
I get dressed, phone 999. Pack a bag while Daddy stays with Squidge, still jerking. The ambulance arrives at 5. I run through our story and they bundle us into the back of the ambulance, and take us to hospital. In the ambulance he still jerks from time to time but the paramedic thinks it’s him trying to fall asleep. I know it isn’t, it happens every minute or so. We go through more details, observe. There drive takes a lifetime, and by the end of it we have plied Squidge with so much anti-pyretics that he has regained a semblance of consciousness.
In the Emergency Department I feel treated like a paranoid mother with her baby who has a cold, until he vomits again. They ask me to try breastfeeding him, but he can’t coordinate his swallowing, and every time he tries it goes down the wrong way making him choke, or vomit more. They bring us rehydration solution to syringe into his mouth, which also makes him vomit. He is shaking violently. The doctor says they will admit him for observation even though he is not clinically dehydrated yet. We go to the ward, and a doctor puts an IV access in his foot. Remembering the traumatic process four weeks previously when Raptor had to have one and it took 4 people, 9 attempts over 2 hours to get it in I was dreading it, but Squidge is now so lethargic he doesn’t even twitch, let alone whimper. Fluids are put up but and we see the consultant from the phone the night before, who listens to me. For the first time I feel someone is taking in what I am saying. Something is wrong. He is shaking, he is still jerking. She calls them myoclonic seizures. She mentions meningitis, which I don’t (want to) believe, surely they are just being cautious. We go for a lumbar puncture straight away. No waiting or messing around. In fact, there has barely been any waiting that morning. Again, he doesn’t even twitch or cry. The consultant looks at him, thoughtfully.
The results do not take long. An hour, maybe a little longer. She comes back to tell me herself. Meningitis. It doesn’t sink in.
They give him steroids to protect him from brain damage, and antibiotics, a big dose. Also fluids as he hasn’t peed since the day before in the assessment unit. They ask me to sit with a pot and try to catch some, which will take five hours and a bolus of 100ml that is meant to stimulate his kidneys.
He sleeps. Shift change, and the next nurse says Of course he is sleepy. He has Meningitis. And it dawns on me; this is real. This is us. He was lucky. My inner voice knew something was wrong. It sinks in. I feel panic rising. Dread. I look at my sleeping boy, tubes and wires and plasters mad curly hair. He jerks. He will be alright, right? The next couple of days pass in a blurr of bleeping, IV fluids and medicines, examinations and sleeping. Squidge sleeps about 42 out of 48 hours, only waking for boobies and a bit of food. He doesn’t vomit anymore, the jerking only happens every few hours, and the shaking is a lot less violent. Awake time increases, and we start hoping for our own beds again. The nurses come in less frequently, steroids stop.
Fresh air, a walk with the mei tai and Squidge on my back. The cannula still flushes beautifully. Squidge polishes off a packet of Quavers while his antibiotics run through. He wants to run, climb.
Things will be ok, for us.

Are you aware of the symptoms? I didn’t know Squidge’s symptoms were that of meningitis. I didn’t even really know there didn’t have to be the rash, red and non blanching, that we are always told to look out for.
I’ll do a separate post with a list of symptoms so it doesn’t get lost in this story. Please read it, please share it. Please listen to that voice in your head that tells you something is wrong.


The white stuff
January 18, 2013, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve noticed a trend on social networking sites recently. When it comes to snow, there appear to be threw factions: one posts pictures of themselves and their children having fun in the snow. One complains about the snow (and might back this up with pictures of a few inches of snow outside), and the third complains about the people complaining about snow.
People in the third group might also belong to the first, and sometimes to the second. People in the second sometimes start out in the first, then get bored or realise how badly equipped the UK are in general when it comes to dealing with snow.

Snow Crisis

I would love some snow, the boys got very excited when it first started snowing this morning, but our proximity to the sea means we rarely get more than a couple of inches, and currently there is nothing more than a bit of semi solid water.
But by the way everyone is acting around here you would think it was snowing heavily. Shops and post office are closed, the roads deserted in the afternoon. It’s almost like the zombie apocalypse – you see the odd person walking slowly, seemingly aimlessly, sometimes muttering to themselves.
I grew up in a place in Europe where snow is the norm during wintertime, and people adjust. A bit of grit and winter tyres (I was told today by a villagers that winter tyres don’t stand a chance on a standard car here – what does he think everyone in Europe is driving??), a clearing vehicle for the main roads if the driving cars don’t solve that by themselves (mostly they do, people aren’t so easily stopped by an inch of snow), or even a spade and a plough. I’ve seen main roads covered in thick ice crusts and nobody struggled. I’ve seen snow up both sides of roads, taller than a man. And I’ve seen so much snow fall in half an hour in the middle of October that you could go from beautiful autumn to deepest winter in that time. And yet, I never had a single day off school due to snow.
One winter, temperatures were about -15 degrees Celsius during the day and we had a good foot of snow, public transport went on strike. The school made it known that any absences would be regarded as unauthorized. Not a single child was missing from our class that week.

England vs Canada

I’ve been in the UK for more than 8 years now. 8 winters where I have witnessed the chaos that comes with snow, and the never ceasing excuse “but we are just not used to it here”. Old habits die hard, but I do find it difficult to sympathise.

January 3, 2013, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , ,

While I am feeding you to sleep, I remember all the times I have hoped for you to fall asleep quickly. I remember all the times I got frustrated with your boundless energy, and your chatter when it was so clearly bedtime.
I remember the times I got annoyed with you for bouncing around the bed rather than laying next to me, quietly drinking and drifting off to sleep the way your brother used to.
I remember all of this as you plant a sloppy wet kiss on my chin, one on my cheek and another on my eye, then throw your arms around my neck and say “Awww, cuuggles”… and I realise that these are our private moments. Nobody else gets to share these with us. Not your daddy, or your brother. Not your grandparents or nursery workers. This is our time. I do not wish it away, you won’t always be small, and you won’t always want me to hold you while you play, crawl, laugh and bounce yourself to sleep.
In the moments when you rest and take a break on my chest, little hands playing with whatever they can find, I breathe in your smell and try to commit it to memory, the way I try to remember every little thing you do and say, every cheeky grin, every sloppy kiss. I realise these moments will soon be nothing more than memories.. so after you fall asleep, I spend a few minutes or a few hours every night just watching you sleep, calm for the first time of the day. I listen to your breathing, your sighs as you dream. I admire the curly brown hair on the back of your head that is so unlike your brother’s.
Sometimes I even gently stroke your back, careful not to wake you.

I don’t wish this time away, I wish I could save it forever. I wish you would stay like this forever, but I look at you and your brother, and I take pride in how you have grown and learned.
I will just have to make the most of the time that is given to us.


Duracell Bunny
December 22, 2012, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been meaning to post for a long time, but you know how it is.. Life happens.

I have come to the conclusion that Squidge must be a Duracell Bunny.
Some of you might know what I mean – a particular type of high needs baby. (ok, I know that technically he’s not a baby anymore, he’s fast approaching 20 months, walking, talking -making demands!- and occasionally even going on the toilet, but he’s my baby)
When he was born, he was well-nourished, full of all the lovely nutrients that had sapped away my vitality and patience in pregnancy. He weighed 8.6lbs, more than a whopping 2lbs more than Raptor, his 38cm head housing this always-running-at-high-speed brain. He was a solid, squishy little boy. And he refused to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, always in my arms.
Soon, we learned that he was what some people call a “scrawny screamer” – gastro-esophageal reflux disease meant more vomit than you could possibly prepare for – on average four full outfit changes including underwear for both me and him – pain, constant hunger, no sleep, a lot of screaming and pretty much static weight.
After experimenting with different medications, methods and old wives tales we settled into a rhythm that almost worked for us. I say almost because even at almost 20 months he’s little, 19lbs, and while the vomit reduced, he had problems with constipation instead, and he was still frustrated.
The biggest thing for us was the discovery that he would sleep for a couple of hours without being held laying on his front. By the time you have spent three weeks sleeping in 20 minute chunks, upright with a child on your chest, guidelines become a lot less important than actually being able to remember your name.
“tummy sleeping” introduced him to something exciting – a new perspective. Soon, all too soon, he learned that moving various muscles would influence this perspective. By 16 weeks he was crawling like a caterpillar, and this is when I first realised my baby appeared to have more energy than other babies. He was always on the move. By 20 weeks I had had numerous “oh god, where is Squidge” moments. By 25 weeks he had learned to pull himself into a standing position, even though he lacked the core muscle strength to sit unaided yet. By 7 months (last Christmas) he was accomplished at climbing and cruising around the room, often using his mouth to transport things.
Regular toys don’t interest him much, instead he likes to explore everything that adults use – be it forks, hammers, remote controls…screwdrivers appear to be a favourite.


He doesn’t stay in one spot for more than a couple of minutes, always intensely concentrated on what he is doing, reaching for things with an incredible determination.. Then moving on to something different and repeating the process. And never failing to astonish us with self-taught skills (at 12 months it was colour sorting, at 20 months he’s counting to five, knows how to turn various appliances on and make them do what he wants them to, and he can make logical decisions), he appears to learn something new every day, even when it seems like he can’t possibly be spending long enough with something to learn how it works.
Conventional methods of transport are a nightmare, Squidge is an escape artist of the highest order and wriggle out of any sort of restraint with ease. He strongly dislikes carseats and pushchairs, and only tolerates slings and carriers if he can be constantly on the move, and also have something to play with at all times as well as turn in all directions to observe. We had to give up using our stretchy wrap early on as he would lean back and attempt to backflip out of it.


Dinner with all four of us at the table is a rare affair, Squidge would rather roam about. He needs constant stimulation or he gets bored, frustrated and a bit destructive (in the sense that if we don’t provide him with stimulation he will seek it out wherever he thinks he can get it. Sometimes this involves opening and emptying my paperwork drawers or the shoe rack).


TV gets boring after a couple of minutes unless there is something interactive happening.
Sleep… Well. Sleep… I could say “what’s that?”. I can vaguely remember it… To get Squidge to sleep,you need patience, a thick skin, and make sure your hair is tied back if you intend on keeping it. We have breastfeeding acrobatics, singing, dancing, talking, running around, jumping, horsey play… And those are interspersed with little breaks of just a few seconds, that seem to re-charge his batteries endlessly. Cat-naps during the day seem to give him a new lease of life, and in the evenings he will be on his feet, and appear wide awake pretty much until the moment his eyes drop shut. and as soon as he opens them again, the fun starts all over.


Sensory stimulation seems to overload him sometimes.. At night, all the stimulation keeps him going, his hearing is incredibly sensitive, and touch sometimes drives him crazy – he seems unable, or unwilling to tolerate the touch of certain fabrics, showers reduce him to a shaking, hysterical mess, smells, vision and taste all have incredible effects on him.

Up until a couple of months ago he refused to react to social cues, and even having his name called would fail to elicit a response from him, that’s how absorbed he was in what he was doing.
Always on the move, never stopping, never resting. “Into everything” doesn’t even describe it.
It’s entertaining to watch from the outside, fascinating maybe, for family members who can only see the bright sparks for small periods at a time… But it’s utterly exhausting to live.
Maybe in future I can write some pieces though the gift of hindsight of how to deal with high-needs, high energy babies and toddlers through the gift of hindsight… Expert articles explaining WHY they are the way they are only help to the point that I at least don’t feel like there is something wrong with him, or our parenting… Until then, please get on, the ride on the Squidge Express will commence in 30 seconds. Please keep your arms and legs in at all times and don’t ever take your eyes of Squidge, then you’ll be alright.