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Being Mom

This is the post excerpt.

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My name is Candice and someone calls me mum-mum. I have a gorgeous baby daughter, pushing 10 months. I have recently been admitted to a…erm…I’m not sure what to call it?! Ok, well I have been diagnosed with depression (post-natal depression) to be exact. 

I’ve decided to start blogging about my experiences. I intend to be raw and bare my soul in a bid to aid my recovery. 

The title? Well, I’m a journalist at the public broadcaster in South Africa. I mainly cover the Constitutional Court (the highest court in the land). And momster is kind of a play on monster (read mother) in-law (more about that hyper complex relationship later). I guess I feel like a momster: afraid and misunderstood.

For a long time, my career WAS my identity. But, as a new mom, I am having to relearn Candice. Thank you for walking with me and I hope you gain as much value as I intend to impart in taking up this blogging project.

I’m a complete novice. Haven’t written anything (aside from news) in a long time. maybe forever. This is my first blog.

Cheers 😁

I went to the enemy’s camp

I am under attack at work. My very livelihood is being threatened over petty nonsense. Perhaps this post will further their cause. Clutching at straws. But I will overcome. I will not be intimidated and I will not be silenced.

A new day has dawned.

I just received a healthy dose of perspective from an unexpected quarter. Just come from physio. Baby has made a full recovery. It’s like the stroke never happened. Completely healed.

We are so grateful. Words cannot express. I do not believe in luck. But I do believe that there was a lesson in this for me, for us as a family unit and for society at large. We emerged from the fire stronger and prepared for the road ahead.

All my workplace issues fade into insignificance.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Right arm can do it!

Everybody knows almost doesn’t count. These are the words to a song I used to sing along to, mindlessly, in my youth.

One of my personal heroes was blinded after contracting meningitis as a 16 month old. A Hafiz, he went on to become a South African struggle lawyer and later a Constitutional Court Justice.

The results of my baby’s MRI are out. It confirms what we already knew. She too suffered a stroke as a result of the meningitis. The pathogen remains anonymous.

Her case is striking. Bacterial meningitis is known to cause stroke. Having ruled that out early on, although she was placed on antibiotics, the tests indicated a viral picture.

We know that similar cases were reported during the same time period. Are we dealing with a new strain of a known virus that also causes stroke?!

I bet the scientists are studying her blood work. Perhaps she will get featured in a scientific journal.

All the ifs and buts aside, all indications are that she will make a 100% recovery. She faced death. We faced the unthinkable. She was almost disabled. Almost most certainly counts.

I told her about the results. She smiled. I told her the doctor said her arm is going to get better. The other day she pushed that arm through the sleeve with minimal assistance. “High five, right hand!”, I said. She raised her hand to meet mine, one inch more. Almost most certainly counts.

I don’t know what the future holds for her. She will, however, be made to be fully aware of her brush with death. How her amazing body fought back. And how we all emerged stronger after the trial of fire.

Say cheeeeeeese!

Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRI. “They are going to take photos of your brain!”, I tell her, excitedly. I’ve been trying to prepare my 17 month old for a procedure, typically suited to adults, after her brain was starved of oxygen during a life and death battle with an anonymous pathogen.

I draw her a picture of her brain and tell it to “say cheeeeeeeese!” as I take a photo. She just looks at me. I told her she is going to the hospital, she mimics and it sounds like she is saying “help a me” 🤔

I showed her a cartoon of a kid going for an MRI. She loved it. Laughed when they compared the headgear to a football helmet 🤣 I told her that a doctor was going to make her sleep so that she’d lie really still while the machine took pictures.

And I told her to drink all her milk up as there would be no more milk until after the procedure. I hope she is prepared.

I believe she suffered some trauma from her hospital stay. I also believe she saw the light and was confronted with her own mortality. Heavy issues for a 17 month old. I hope I have done enough to prepare her for the MRI.

On the plus, she is supposed to forget all of this by age 5 👌🏾 In the meanwhile her teddy, Pooh bear has become her confidante.

“Where’s your brains?”, says Pooh bear. She reaches as far as she can with her right finger (the side affected by the stroke) and bends her head to meet it half way. Sometimes, playfully, she will wriggle her nose first. “That’s your nose, silly”, Pooh would retort, and she’d smile and point to her head.

Meltdown

So, it turns out that baby’s brave battle with micro-organisms coincides perfectly with the temper tantrum stage of development. To add to her frustration, mom has this annoying habit of forcing her to use her right arm when lefty is perfectly capable of planting the sticky (stickers). Like AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!! in decibels that would cause tsunamis in the sound wave. Hello, buzzing in my left ear (she is always within millimeters of my ear drum when she emits these piercing screeches!)

What’s that?! Try not to scream back, you say?! But how will I be sure she hears me over the din in my ear?! 🤯 Jokes. I handle it like a pro: lower my voice, so she is forced to stop screeching to hear what I am saying (ha ha ha); try to verbalize how she might be feeling “are you feeling abit frustrated?! (Nah, I’m just hangry) That’s ok. But you don’t need to scream at mummy. Use your words (stole that last one from the big sistah)”

Of course it doesn’t work. She persists with her mind numbing screeches, designed to wake the dead and piss off the neighbours. And the ringing never subsides. But it’s hard. The guilt. What if I am pushing her too hard? Maybe I should allow more freeplay? What do I know about physiotherapy anyway?

And then there are the night terrors. Mine and hers. She cries in her sleep. Started doing that in hospital. I would jump up and check on her each time and she would be fast asleep. What if the fevered hallucinations are now haunting the mostly blank canvass of her dreams.

“Man gone.”, she remarked matter-of-factly in the isolation ward one day. The previous day, she had gestured to the corner above my head and babbled something in a frantic sounding voice. 😳

I try to counsel her about what happened. I draw her pictures of viruses and life saving drips. She likes the picture of the one eyed meanie bug. 🤨 maybe I should do a art class!

“Hopisal”, she mimics when I talk about what happened. I am not sure if she understands. Perhaps we shall see when we return to hospital for the MRI next week.

I hope I am doing enough.

Overwhelmed

A full 360. 360 days in two weeks. 360 degrees Fahrenheit in the blast-furnace to steel nascent parents. 360 degrees in a circle where the two ends can never fully meet.

We made it to hell and back (Tell Pope Frankly it really does exist). And if I could go back and do it all again, the only thing I would do differently is to stock up on Calmettes and Rescue Drops (those things were what the doctor should have ordered for the outpatient parents).

Baby Sesame has been highly traumatised. It disrupted her routine. Forced her to face her own mortality. Created trust issues. We had a day pass yesterday and spent the day with the grandparents. She woke up in hospital. I will never forget her piercing cry.

It is good to be home. We will revel. We will heal.

I know it sounds weird, but I am grateful for having been in that furnace. I discovered myself. I am capable. I am mother. Initially, I baulked. I didn’t want to know what I didn’t know. I didn’t want my inadequacy established as fact. Now, I look back on that person with patient sympathy. Her insecurities are foreign to me now. If Lailah were to get sick again, I would know. And more importantly, I would know what to do. No more fanciful flights to ER at sunset. No more frantic calls to my mother. No more pretending to sleep, hoping hubby will sort it out when she cries at night.

I am so grateful to everyone for their understanding, their thoughts, their prayers, their offers to hold my hand through it all. A special shout out to baby sesame’s big cousin (he is 3 months older than her). They have always had such a remarkable bond. In her darkest hours she called out to him. Thank you especially for the videos (which had to be played on repeat)!

To my husband. My rock. You have shown your mettle. First, at her birth – when I began to unravel. For picking up the slack, for learning her so that you could be there for her when I couldn’t be there for myself. It was he who forced me to see what I was to scared to see. That our daughter was gravely ill. He picked up on her cues, spending many sleepless nights, constantly on guard.

If not for him, we would have been discharged on Sunday last week. The damage could have been so much worse. You are an amazing husband, a courageous father and my everyday hero.

To my parents. I know this was hard for you. My mom, the nurse, who always had the answers quite possibly blames herself for not seeing what hubby saw. When I was melting away in the furnace, mom tended baby on her sick bed. She will never know how much she helped me. Her child. With her loving touch and encouraging words. When I fell apart, my mother stood in the gap. And for that I remain truly grateful. Pa was the only one, beside myself and hubby, that baby would tolerate in her wakeful moments. She called out for him in her sleep. And later, as she recovered, she seemed convinced that pa was calling her – with every ring of the ward telephone 🤪

To nana. Thank you. Your diligence and wisdom picked up her illness in the nick of time. We are so grateful to have a nanny who not only cares for her physical needs, but who loves her with the love of a grandmother. You will always be my sounding board.

To my sisters. What a thing to face. Having no words to say. Thanks for listening. Thank you for praying. Thank you for carrying me. I am so grateful for your support. I hope that one day you will understand why I pushed you away when things got dark. No, scratch that. I pray you do not.

To the primordial soup. You guys are amazing. I am so proud of you. Your empathy, prayers, love, tears, thoughts, bedtime tales, travelled across deserts and oceans, crossed the mighty Limpopo and landed right on the doorstep of our hearts.

To our God family. Thank you. I wish I could take away the hurt you felt seeing her so sick, my brother. I pray that God will steel your heart and that your eyes will be opened to the miracle unfolding before you. Wes and Zee, thank you for the delectable chicken curry (I heard tell that it was the right stuff *side eyes* hubby who conveniently finished it all). Thanks for listening to my rambling tales. Thanks most of all for the beautiful family you are raising. My god-daughter always makes my heart smile. Love you guys.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you to my warrior princess. You keep living up to your name. You have changed my life in so many ways. Finally, I realise why I seem to have this way with little people; a knack at understanding them; coming down to their level. It’s because God was preparing me for you. For this. Together we will journey to recovery and continue to fight the odds.

The doctor said you nearly died. I believe it. Your daddy begged you to come back. You did. And I believe. Your amazing body fought off three viruses (that we know of), one of which has doctors believing they are seeing a new strain of a known virus that causes stroke. Stroke. That’s something that happens to old people. You granny had a close shave with one a few months ago. Your body is so amazing that your brain is able to reboot itself and repair cells that were choked by the virus/bacteria/thing.

Everyday you have amazed us. With small things. Simple things. Walking. Crawling. Squatting to pick up a toy and standing back up. Climbing into the ball bath. Reaching with your damaged arm to plant a sticker on the cot. Reciting the alphabet in the car on our way home. You are my heart. My joy. My happiness.

I love you, baby sesame!

Neani

We have just lived a lifetime in two weeks. It all started two Saturdays ago, when she banged her lip after falling on the tiles. There was blood everywhere. We both freaked out. We had never seen her blood before. The other parents of boys giggled at the hapless couple, who were eager to rush to ER.

On Sunday she was fine, climbing up couches, her normal tricks. And then the game changer Monday. Extra clingy. Refusing to eat or drink. GP visit. Throat infection. Antibiotics. Fevers. Calling Nana to come over. Vinegar baths.

Two weeks later, following a battery of tests, Doctors still can’t say conclusively what caused the meningitis. There was no evidence of a bacteria in her spinal fluid, but the symptoms (stroke) were consistent with bacterial meningitis.

Then we heard about two kids at a public hospital who presented with similar symptoms: stroke, entero virus in the throat swab but not in spinal fluid. So now they think we may be dealing with a super bug virus 😳 Doctors need to quit practicing and start performing! We want facts not conjecture!

We want answers. We leave the hospital with more questions. But at least we have our baby back! She plays all her favourite make believe games. She laughs. She cries. She asks for daddy at night. She throws tantrums. Plays to her audience. She is more strong willed than ever, but she is going to need that tenacity to get herself through to recovery.

She is able to bend the bad arm at the elbow. Its like she is slowly regaining strength from the wrist up. She is walking normally but still has some trouble with balance.

She is severely traumatized by the whole experience: fevers, listlessness, hallucinations, pain, headaches, hospitals, ambulance, drips (she has had one in her right hand at admission: dislodged, causing swelling; re-sited to left elbow with a splint: swelling again; re-sited to right foot, bandage got wet in the bath; finally re-sited to left foot), vitals checks at all hours, medication, examination, screaming babies!

And horror of horrors: nurses and anybody with a stethescope 😱 She is petrified. They removed the drip in anticipation of discharge, she got to leave her room for the first time, but at the mere sight of a nurse she hid behind my legs, in tears, I had to carry her back to the room. She is even scared of the hostess (with the mostest) who brings us food!

Only one nurse, Neani (a Venda name meaning “to give”) was able to give baby medication orally. I could sit and watch for a change. We never saw Nurse Neani again 🧐

But finally we get to take our baby home and shower her with love, comfort, empathy, understanding. I have a plan to help her deal with her nosocomephobia. I want her to realise the miracles that are being performed in her life. To come to terms with her fears (the things she saw when she was hallucinating) and overcome them.

This experience has brought us closer as a family. But more importantly, it helped me learn my baby, and overcome my own fears of inadequacy. I can administer medication. Handle nappy rash and a squirmy pain stricken toddler. Comfort her when the nurses come. I know when she is in pain. I know when she is sleepy. I am like Santa Mummy. We are in tune with each other. I am mummy. Mummy is me. I am her mummy. I am what she needed. I am enough.

But first, I need to go home and crash. We all do. Its hectic living a lifetime in two weeks!

Tenacity

I praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works and that my soul knoweth right well ~ Psalm 139:14

I have seen God twice. First, when I gave birth (and I was convinced I was knockin’ on heaven’s door). And second, when our baby was close to death.

The neurologist says there was nothing we could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. And that the pediatrician probably saved her life.

The head doctor paints a grim picture. Bacterial meningitis, undetectable, perhaps, because of that first course of antibiotics. They were prescribed for what we thought was a sore throat.

Stroke. She says when you look at all the test results holistically, it seems to indicate that her brain was deprived of oxygen, affecting the right side of her body.

And then the good news: 80% recovery rate. Due to her age, her brain is able to heal itself and with a little physio, she should make a full recovery.

But in 24 hours, our hope was renewed. The physio came again today. She says she will have to rewrite her report after seeing all the improvements baby has been making.

An example, I allow her to feed herself (especially now that she has to relearn all those fine motor skills). She dipped her right finger in some yoghurt, grabbed that wrist with the left and guided her finger into her mouth.

And then she drew. Sitting up, she held the crayon with her right hand a drew the most beautiful black squiggly lines I have ever seen. I just stood there crying.

I said to my husband, it feels like we squeezed a lifetime into one week. Our baby fought off three viruses and a possible bacterial meningitis. She survived a stroke (although the MRI would tell us more). We will never know exactly what she went though, but that she was more than equal to the task cannot be gainsaid.

I gave birth to a miracle. It continues to unfold before our very eyes.