Friday, March 25, 2011

Pins and Needles

First I have to apologise for being quite slack in the blogging department lately, but once you read this post, you'll hopefully understand why.

I've mentioned on and off that I haven't been feeling great since J was born. Lack of sleep has had a lot to do with it, but I've also had some weird symptoms that have been getting progressively worse, and causing me a great deal of stress. I haven't really talked about this stuff with many people, so I'm sorry to those of you who are going to be thinking "I had no idea, why didn't you tell me?" It started out as numbness in my feet and pain in my hands while I was pregnant. My GP put it down to the fact that I had suddenly evolved into a camel and was retaining enough water to last me several months in the desert. She told me it would probably go away when I got back to my normal weight. Only, it didn't... It got worse, and pretty soon I was numb and tingling down the whole left side of my body. And pretty freaked out as you can imagine. I went to see a neurologist who put me through MRI's, blood tests and a whole lot of nerve tests, while I left my then 8-week-old baby at home and thought the worst. The more I worried about it, the worse the symptoms became, and by the end of the week I was a wreck! But the test results were all normal, and the doc put it all down to stress. Hearing that was enough to put me at ease and I was so relieved that I instantly felt much better.

But the symptoms didn't go away completely and after our trip to Bali in January I felt pretty lousy again. I figured if I felt so bad after the most relaxing week I'd had all year, how could it possibly be stress-related? My GP, who clearly thinks I'm a huge hypochondriac by now, sent me to another neurologist. He read the first doctor's report, and without doing any tests of his own or examining me in any way, prescribed what he called a "nerve relaxant." Now, when you get medication here, 9 times out of 10, it comes in a plastic bag, without any information, warnings, or ingredient lists. So I googled this particular medication, wanting to know what I was taking, and it turned out to be an antidepressant/antipsychotic combination... Frequent side effects (according to Dr Wikipedia) were things like drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, anxiety...! There are so many things wrong with that scenario that I don't know where to start. The fact that I was given something so potent (and inappropriate) and expected to take it without question, is so typical of the medical profession here, and quite concerning. I was also disappointed that I was given something that would cause such extreme side-effects, without warning, and despite the doctor knowing that I was responsible for a small child.  You'll be pleased to know I didn't take it, and I haven't been back to that doctor since. I also checked with a doctor in Aus, and he agreed that it wasn't something I should have been prescribed.

Unfortunately I was still left with these bizarre, uncomfortable symptoms, and no explanation or fix for them. I went back to my GP yet again and she basically told me that since they'd ruled out everything serious, I'd just have to live with it. At 32, with hopefully years ahead of me, that wasn't the response I was looking for. For the last couple of weeks I've been feeling completely wiped out, cold, numb, aching and quietly very worried. I'm ashamed to admit that the other night I was so worked up about it all that I had a panic attack. That, of course, made me feel even worse and it has been a battle ever since to keep myself calm. I just keep thinking about how I might feel in 10, 20 or 30 years, if I feel like this now. And if one pregnancy did this to my body, what will another one do? It could just be stress, and that would be great, oddly enough, but there's always that niggling voice in the back of my mind saying "what if it's not and they've missed something?"

I decided I had to be proactive, and not just accept that this is how I'm going to feel for the rest of my life. So I did what anyone living in HK who's been let down by Western medicine would do, I turned herbal. I had my first ever acupuncture treatment yesterday and I came home with a bag full of potions and supplements. I spent over half an hour just talking about my symptoms, with a lovely woman who seemed genuinely interested in my health. Then I got to lie on a bed in a warm room for another half an hour while she inserted the needles and let them do their work. I didn't feel instantly better afterwards, I didn't expect to, but I did feel incredibly relaxed and balanced. The first thing I noticed when I got down off the bed was that I could feel the carpet under my feet, a foreign sensation after all this time with numb feet. And I still feel quite serene and light. The Chinese medicinal potion I have to drink twice a day is foul, but I'll persist with it, and I can't wait to go back next week for my next acupuncture treatment. Who knows whether or not any of it is necessary, or if it will help, but I feel better knowing that I'm at least trying to help myself.

We experienced the same degree of frustration with the medical profession here when we were trying to find someone to fix J's crooked head (see Head Case) but we were lucky enough to eventually find, after much disappointment, someone who took our concerns seriously and who has helped more than we expected. The culture here seems to be to blindly trust and do what your doctors tell you to do. If I had done that I would've ended up taking something normally reserved for manic depressives and schizophrenics, and who knows how it would have affected me and my ability to look after my son. I'm not a firm believer in traditional Chinese medicine yet, but it has been around for so long that I figure it's worth a try. I'm also going to start a regular yoga class and treat myself to a foot massage once a week. I'm tired of feeling like my body is staging its own Jasmine Revolution, and I'm hoping that if I take better care of it I won't be forced into exile anytime soon. I will keep you all posted.

On another note, I want to say how truly sad I am to see the devastation in Japan, and to appeal for help. Hong Kong based readers please check out this site Hk Mama With Love, and donate if you can. They are a local group of mums collecting baby gear, food and clothes and sending it over to Japan. I saw on the news this morning that it has started snowing in the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, and with hundreds of thousands of people living in shelters, in freezing conditions, they need all the aid they can get. The Red Cross will take financial donations too. Have a good weekend everyone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Forward Thinking

I've hit the books once again. I know I swore off reading any more how-to-parent books but that was before I found myself surrogate mummy to a two year old. I decided that dealing with such an important (and challenging) period in a child's life is not something I want to learn about on the job, I need to be forewarned and as prepared as I can be, even if it frightens the living daylights out of me. So I turned to my good friend Robin Barker once again, as she guided me through every aspect of J's first year so brilliantly (with the exception of teething, as she is so totally wrong about that!).

Robin talks a lot about outcomes-based parenting, and what she says, with more than a hint of disdain, has really got me thinking. So many of us are focused on doing things a certain way now because we want to ensure a good outcome in the future. Or we want to avoid certain scenarios later on. There's nothing wrong with that, according to Robin, but at times we bend ourselves over backwards trying to achieve something when it really would be easier to just think about what we all need right now. I've been hellbent on getting J to eat a variety of really healthy, tasty foods, and I struggle when all he wants is toast and bananas. I thought I was instilling good eating habits, for the future, when in reality, he'll probably end up spending a good portion of his early adulthood eating cold pizza and beer. I haven't really considered whether or not he actually wants to eat vegetables at the time that I'm sitting down to force-feed them to him. I also get really frustrated when he doesn't eat very much, and I want him to finish his meal, mostly because I don't want him to be hungry later, but also because I was always made to finish everything on my plate when I was a kid. It had nothing to do with whether or not I was actually hungry anymore, and I can't believe I'm doing the same thing to my son, without even questioning why.

Sleep is another of those areas where we want good outcomes, because it's so crucial for everyone's sanity. But the way in which we achieve that is different for everyone. My niece has slept with her parents since she was seven months old, and most nights goes to bed when they do. I've insisted that J goes to bed every night at 7.30 and sleeps alone. Both very different methods but each has its own merits and works for those involved. I was worried that if we let him sleep in our bed there'd come a time when we'd want him out of there and that would be fairly traumatic for all of us. But I think the truth is that most kids who do sleep with their parents (as standard practice rather than as an emergency, out of sheer desperation, arrangement) just accept that it's time to move on at some point. A lot of Asian families all sleep in the same bed, or the same room at least, and it's very European for the kids to stay up as late as the adults. I'm willing to bet that anyone who practices either or both of these sleep habits doesn't think twice about what it might mean in the future. Now we're at a point where J can't sleep in our bed. He gets very excited and wants to play, even if it's 3am. Sometimes in emergencies, out of sheer desperation, I have brought him into our bed, and after playing with my eyelashes and sticking his finger up my nose for twenty minutes, he usually ends up falling asleep as soon as I return him to his cot.

School is another aspect of our children's lives that we agonise and torture ourselves over, because we worry about the outcome. I blame the fact that schools now have waiting lists a mile long, and there's intense pressure to choose a good high school and send off your application as the obstetrician is cutting the cord; even then it's too late sometimes. Here in HK there are so many different options for schooling that a number of parents I know have lost sleep over where to send their children for Kindergarten. You have to consider not only the curriculum, teaching styles, class sizes etc, but things like whether or not they offer Mandarin, which primary schools they feed to, if they offer a bus service and how long the daily commute will be. Last week I also learned that some of the local schools may not even have a Kindy class some years if they don't have enough kids enrolled - just one more thing to plan for. The scary thing is that these decisions have to be made for two-year-olds! Imagine what it's like when they get to high school! J's only 15 months old and we're already talking about it at length, worrying that the wrong decision at this stage will have a great impact on his academic future. When I take a step back and really think about it, I've realised we really can't go wrong when it comes to choosing a kindergarten. I don't want to diminish any of the agony our friends have been through in making this decision; those early years of school are important, but they're mostly about having fun, making new friends, and getting into the habit of going to school and being away from Mummy and Daddy for a few hours every day. If we pick the "wrong" kindy or J doesn't get into a good primary school, we'll move, or we'll do better next time. It's not like a bad kindergarten is going to set him up for a lifetime of failure. What's important is that we are involved and caring parents, and when I get some more sleep that's exactly what I'll be. I hope one day, J will get into a good high school and be a great student, but I'm resolving to worry about that later.

I'll admit that I have been an outcomes-obsessed parent until now, and it's a tough habit to break. Every day we do things with the future in mind. From buying a shoebox in the backwaters of Hong Kong so one day we can afford our dream home in Aus, to bringing in the washing because it might rain later, we think about the future, short-term and long, all the time, sometimes without a good reason for it. I know it's important, when you have kids, to plan ahead and consider the consequences of your actions and parenting decisions, but sometimes I think I'm making mistakes and missing out on what's happening now. And it changes so, so quickly. I'm going to start trying to focus more on the day-to-day stuff and what's right for J, and us, right now - with a little bit of consideration for further down the track. I'm going to start with dinner tonight: Vegemite on toast all round!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Word About Sleep

Today, if I can muster the energy, I want to talk about sleep. I'm so sleep deprived and delirious at the moment that it's the number one thing on my mind. Sleep, and lack of it, seems to be the biggest preoccupation of most parents. I've written about it a few times (see here), usually when I've been desperately tired, but always with the hope that one day soon, things would get better. Now I'm starting to think that I'm going to have to wait several years before I get enough consecutive nights of sleep to feel remotely human again. After 15 months I'm worn out, strung out and feeling at least 10 years older than I am.

Before J was born I had read somewhere that almost immediately after birth, most babies fall into a deep, sound sleep for several hours. I went into labour late at night, about 10 minutes after getting into bed after a long day. I was awake for almost 24 hours when J finally arrived so I was looking forward to this extended nap. It didn't happen and if anything, he seemed energised by the whole experience, and didn't sleep properly for several weeks. Sleep, and how to get more of it, became an obsession for me. There are so many books on the subject and everyone seems to have a different opinion; from hardcore teach-to-sleep from day one to attachment/baby lead, "no routine is the best routine" regimes, I researched it all. I read dozens of books and spoke to everyone we knew who had kids that seemed to sleep well, but most of the techniques just didn't fit. J had colic and reflux and would go from being sleepy to overtired and unable to sleep in a heartbeat. He hated being put down, and only ever napped in our arms. I knew we had to do something but struggled to find a way to make it work for all of us, and sometimes under exceptional circumstances I found myself doing things I never thought I would. I've never been comfortable with the idea of controlled crying, but there were nights when I was beside myself with fatigue and nothing could soothe my little man, that I had to leave him in the cot and spend 5 minutes outside.

In trying to establish a routine that worked for all of us we made some mistakes and battled a baby who simply didn't want to rest when we wanted him to. Teaching him to go to bed at the same time every night and put himself to sleep, in the gentlest way possible, when he was six months old made a world of difference, but it certainly wasn't the end to our problems. The biggest lesson we've learned over the last 15 months is that every time we thought we had it figured it out, it was always very short-lived, and things would inevitably change again. We'd have a few good nights and then he'd get sick, or start teething, or wet the bed; there was always something.

When J cut back to one nap a day and was for the most part "sleeping through" we really did think we had it figured out once and for all. This week proved just how very wrong we were. Lately we've had enough decent nights of sleep to realise what a difference they can make to our general wellbeing. On the other hand we've also become quite attached to staying in bed all night, and reverting back to bad nights has come as a bit of a shock. After 4 or 5 wake up calls on Friday night, which ended at 6am with J and I in the cot together, we were hoping for a better night on Saturday night. It wasn't to be... He howled every time I left the room and fought sleep for about an hour. At 8pm I gave up and came downstairs, leaving him shouting in protest. That lasted about 15 minutes and after he finally passed out exhausted, so did I. The rest of the night followed a similar pattern to the night before, except Sunday started at 5am and he didn't go back to sleep. When I dragged myself out of bed for the seventeenth time I thought to myself how much it felt like the days when we had a newborn, only now I don't have hormones pushing me through each day, and somehow staying in my pyjamas till 4pm and napping in the middle of the day feels less appropriate than it did 15 months ago.

We had a couple of good nights earlier in the week but daytime naps were then the issue. He either refused to go down without a fight or only slept for a short time. I was worried, and still am a little, that this was going to be the end of naps during the day. Thankfully, by exhausting him in the mornings, I got the naps back to normal but the last two nights he's had me up half a dozen times! I have a mental checklist I go through each time he gets up: dummy, nappy, temperature, position in the bed; and if all of those are fine, I leave him to it. But I still have to get up and check far too often every night! I can't wait for D to get back on Tuesday and take over for a night or two.

On the upside, when he is awake during the day, J is a lot of fun to be around. And the poor sleep hasn't affected his sense of humour or sweetness, as much as it's affected mine. I think a combination of four new teeth and separation anxiety are the culprits behind the disrupted sleep this week, but if this carries on much longer I may need to resort to drugging one or both of us to restore some form of sanity to the household...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

You Know What Really Drives Me Mad...

I started this post ages ago but felt like I should be spreading the love, not using the blog as a forum for venting my frustrations. BUT, having been introduced to a new concept through the world of blogging, Listography, and seeing a bunch of others out there doing just that, I thought I'd finish it and post it. So here goes...

I try to be polite and diplomatic when I'm posting but lately I've been feeling the strain of holding back. I need to get a few things off my chest. The following list is in no particular order and does not refer to specific genders or nationalities, but you may notice some of the items are unique to Hong Kong (not always sins committed by locals however...). My top 5 pet hates are:

1. People who smoke in places where people are eating (especially when there are children around). I don't care if it's legal in many countries, it's quite simply bad manners! I hate smoking in general (filthy habit) but breathing in cigarette smoke while I'm eating makes me really cross. When we were in Bali recently a couple sat a few tables away from us chain-smoking during lunch and I wanted to go over and ask them politely to refrain (i.e. punch both of them). One of the girls had a leopard-print tattoo all the way up her arm, and looked a little scary, so I sulked in silence, from a safe distance. Why anyone would smoke at all is beyond me, but if you must do it, have the decency to ostracise yourself and do it far away from me.

2. Bad manners. On this sub-list I include things like: not saying please, thank you, excuse me, beg your pardon etc; not giving up your seat for an elderly/infirm/pregnant lady anywhere in public (high school students plugged into PSP's at the MTR station, this means you!); people who push past you to get onto the MTR, ignoring the instruction to "please let passengers exit first."; and people who pretend not to notice you as you struggle to open a door and push a stroller through it while juggling shopping bags. Public displays of bodily functions (snorting, spitting, throat clearing, nail-clipping, nose hair plucking, wiping the sweat from your forehead onto the seat in front of you on the ferry) are not cool under any circumstances. Save them for home, not the daily commute.

3. The current "fashion" trend of wearing big black plastic spec frames without any lenses in them. As someone who has worn glasses, real ones, for nearly 20 years I find it offensive. And I think it looks absolutely ridiculous! It drives me so crazy I just want to walk up to these people and poke them in the eyes.

4. Domestic blindness. Yes, I am referring to the man who claims to hate clutter but seems strangely oblivious to the clean clothes on the bed/toys on the floor/cereal box still on the kitchen counter at midday/pile of bills with his name on them gathering dust on the dining table etcetera, etcetera. If you need to step over something to get where you're going you should probably pick it up and put it away, darling.

5. Unsolicited opinions/criticisms/helpful suggestions about my parenting. I take my job as a mummy very seriously and I criticise myself more than enough. Anyone making the slightest suggestion that I should perhaps do something differently, unless I've asked for advice, is going to be permanently struck from my Christmas card list (or run down the next time I'm out and about in the VW and see them crossing the street - no I haven't given it much thought at all!). This goes for friends, family members, neighbours I run into on the street and little old ladies on the ferry; I know when J is tired, hungry, cold, impatient, ready to be toilet trained/weaned from his dummy/taught to use a spoon, and do not need to be told. Chances are if I'm not doing something I "should" be it's because I'm comfortable with the way things are, and don't have the time or the patience to clean spaghetti off the walls every night. I take particular issue with others who are openly critical about the parenting choices of others, when their own kids are far from perfect... unlike mine. If you want to be helpful, tell me how adorable my son is and how much he looks like me.

I know I said there were only going to be 5 things on my list but I have to add a few extras; when people forget that they've met me several times before and reintroduce themselves; when people I know well misspell my name (Dad...); junk mail; jackhammers; spending a fortune on a haircut and hating it; leaf blowers (seriously, what's wrong with a rake?); selfish drivers who take up two car parking spots; when I have lipstick and/or food in my teeth, or panda eyes, a button or zip undone, and no one tells me; people who've lived in HK for several years and have made no effort to learn the language or engage in the local culture in any way but feel they have the right to complain about the place; and finally, I hate the fact that it was so easy to come up with a list of things I hate. I may not be spreading much love with this one, but I feel so much better now! Feel free to send me your own lists x