Category Archives: children

How ‘attachment parenting’ helped me with my chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Soon I’ll be back to London for my next round of tests and physiotherapy. The smallies will also be seeing their paediatric physio in the Hypermobility Unit in London. Going abroad with small children can be so stressful and takes up so many of your spoons. I remember with Alex, everywhere we went, even for a short trip to the city we had a truck load of things to bring with us. This time with Olivia it is so much easier because my parenting technique is so different.

Attachment Parenting&Chronic Illness

So what is “Attachment Parenting”?

Well, for me I just call it parenting, it’s the biological norm to raise a child so I hate putting a label on it.

According to parenting science.com:

“Attachment parenting” is an approach to child-rearing intended to forge strong, secure attachments between parents and children.”

Attachment Parenting is often referred to as AP.

But how does AP differ from any other type of parenting?

AP is associated with a number of practices, including:

Baby-carrying or “baby-wearing”
Breastfeeding on cue
Nurturing touch (including skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for infants)
Being responsive to a baby’s cries
Being sensitive and responsive to a child’s emotions (e.g., by helping her cope with nighttime fears)
Co-sleeping

In addition, attachment parenting advocates often promote “positive parenting,” an approach to discipline that attempts to guide children by emotion coaching, reasoning, and constructive problem solving.

However, proponents of AP–like William and Martha Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting”–note that there is no checklist of rules that parents must follow to qualify as “attachment parents” (Sears and Sears 2001).

Family circumstances may prevent parents from carrying out every AP practice. What’s really important, argues these authors, is sensitive, responsive parenting-— understanding and addressing your child’s needs in an affectionate way.

Similarly, the founders of Attachment Parenting International argue that that attachment parenting is really about adapting a few general principles–like providing kids with a consistent, loving, primary caregiver–to the particular needs of your family.

This is not the same as being overly-protective. By definition, securely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them (Mercer 2006).

So how has AP practices helped me with my chronic illness?

Babywearing

When I was pregnant my Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome wreaked havoc on my body. I was wheelchair bound by 5 weeks into my pregnancy because I developed severe Symphysis Pubis Disorder (SPD)  and my Autonomic System was all over the place.

I knew that there was a pretty good chance that I would still be affected with the SPD post partum and I was right. Two years on and I still suffer with it. How was I going to push a buggy while in a wheelchair?

Babywearing was my answer. Even on days where I couldn’t wear Ollie for whatever reason, Daddy wore her. It was a lovely way for them to bond. While I liked my ring sling, he was more into the wrap type slings. My coordination couldn’t handle the wrapping at all.

Three months after her birth, I didn’t need the wheelchair as frequently but I still carried her. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to manage lifting and opening up a heavy buggy so just popping my sling into my bag was the easiest option. After the ring sling I opted for the Rock n Rolla Fidella buckle carrier it was badass. Then I switched to a beautiful pink Fidella Mei Tai before going back to a buckle carrier (Nova) as my shoulder became to sore for wrapping. The Nova hasn’t had much use as Ollie likes to walk but I do use it for when I need walk to collect Alex from school or when we are in London. We brought a stroller on holiday once and it went unused, plus it is a pain having to bring it along with the other luggage.

Me sling

In retrospect, I wish I had gone along to a babywearing group to try things out before I bought the Mei Tai. It was only after I rented a Nova from the group that I realised it was exactly what I needed, lightweight, breathable and tidy enough to go in my bag. I would absolutely recommend people to try before they buy.

Babywearing allows you to be hands free as well and baby sleeps contently snuggled into their parents chest.

Marty fence BW

It really is a win/win situation. Baby is happy therefore Mommy is happy.

I can imagine people who are unfamiliar with babywearing wondering how I possibly managed to carry extra weight with weak joints/muscles and pain.

If you’re wearing your baby correctly, you should be well supported and you shouldn’t feel the extra weight bearing down on you.

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Interestingly, I was sent a link to a blog called Babywearing with Disabilities recently. Until I began writing this post, I hadn’t opened it. Imagine my surprise to find out the woman who wrote the blog actually has hEDS too! She offers some very good advice about how to babywear when you’re disabled. Really worth a read. Further reading about the general benefits of babywearing for parent and baby can be found here.

Slings come in so many gorgeous prints and designs. Say goodbye to your shoe/handbag addiction and say hello to telling your other half “Oh I won that on a dip.”

Marty Ollie

Breastfeeding on demand

Sadly due to poor support and advice, Alex was only breastfed for just over two weeks. He had an undiagnosed tongue tie which caused me to be in a lot of pain when feeding him. Yet no healthcare professional said anything bar “it happens”. No. Breastfeeding should not hurt. That’s a different story that you can read about here.

Anyway, I remember being so exhausted when we switched to formula. Having to make up bottles in the middle of the night, dealing with reflux and constipation, the usual drama with formula was just so much hassle. Even with two of us taking turns to get up. I was also pretty annoyed that the weight that had been falling off me for the first two weeks stopped melting off me.

Luckily, armed with evidence based information and a fantastic network of breastfeeding mothers, I was determined that this time it would work out. It’s crazy the amount of misinformation being spread not just by ill informed loved ones but by actual health care professionals too. I actually interviewed one of Ireland’s leading IBCLCs and the world renowned, Dr Jack Newman about breastfeeding myths.

Anyway, unlucky for us, Ollie was also born with a tongue and lip tie. But, this time I was determined to get it sorted as quickly as possible so that we could continue our breastfeeding journey. After exclusively pumping for 3 weeks and then pumping while also    learning the skill of breastfeeding, we were on our way. Ollie is just two weeks shy of two and honestly, feeding her has been one of my greatest achievements as a parent. Breastfeeding is the biological norm but in Ireland where just 2% of babies are fed by 1 year, it’s a pretty big deal to even get to two years.

Breastfeeding forced me to relax and properly recover after the birth which in itself was pretty traumatic. I had to give birth early as my waters had broken. I ended up loosing half of my blood but the consultant managed to stop the bleeding just as they were calling for blood bags. I was very weak and ill after the birth so lying on the couch for the first 2 months while Ollie built up my supply was ideal. I didn’t have to get up in the night to make bottles and the lovely hormones released during feeding time helped me feel content and loved up. Plus with the extra hand it meant Alex could join in on the cuddles.

BF OA

Breastfeeding also meant that I didn’t have to bring a huge bag filled with bottles and powder everywhere we went. You literally just have your breasts and you grab a nappy and off you go. Babywearing while breastfeeding also meant that I could get on with whatever I needed to do while baby was getting everything she desired; being close to mama and her milk. Best part is that my meds are all compatible with breastfeeding as 99% of medications are, again unfortunately that is another piece of information that isn’t well known amongst a lot of healthcare professionals and new mothers.

You can read more about breastfeeding while being chronically ill here.

Cosleeping/Bedsharing

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We intended to have Ollie sleep in a cosleep cot that Daddy made following this hack. FYI total cost was 65 Euro in comparison to the phenomenal amount of money you spend on a store bought cosleeper crib! The new mattress was the most expensive part.

Anyway, so we had the cosleeper cot attached to our bed and by the looks of it, Ollie would fit into it until she was at least four! Well, nope, this happened:

cosleeper

You know what? It worked out for the best because having her closer to me meant she could feed as I drifted back to sleep and it became a place to keep all her clothes and cloth nappies! Now she is able to undress me and help herself while I stay asleep! Research shows that parents who bed share and breastfeed get more sleep than those who don’t.

Once you practice the safety guidelines, there is virtually no risk in bed sharing, in fact a lot of research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed and bed share with their mothers are actually less likely to die from SIDS. You only have to look at every other species of mammal to see that the dyad sleeping together is a natural part of child rearing. Hey, the Gruffalos cosleep too!

997034-the-gruffalos-child

You can find some evidence based articles about infant sleep and bed sharing here.

As stated before, AP doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can formula feed and babywear, you can breastfeed and use a buggy. I just know from my own experience that following my mammalian instincts has helped me to cope with parenting while having a chronic illness a whole lot easier.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

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

x

 

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:

foto friday-012

or this one

infographic-bfing-toddler

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.

bpg02k

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.

giphy1

Household Gadgets for Spoonies-Part 1

What’s a “spoonie”? A spoonie is a person who suffers from a Chronic Illness. It is derived from Spoon Theory. When you are ill every. single. day, you need to decide what’s important. Do I shower or clean the bathroom? Although it might be a no brainer that you obviously choose the shower, for many of us, we have to forgo the shower otherwise the house will look something like this:

hoarder-barbie-dreamhouse-4

Laundry-

When it comes to actually doing the laundry, it can actually be quite tough on the body with all the bending down to grab clothes out of the machine and reaching up to hang them on the washing line. To stop me bending down so much I bought a laundry basket with folding legs. I also bought a device that helps me fold clothes beautifully. I suffer from DCD like symptoms as does my son due to our EDS.

Top tip: Mountains of clothes stacked on chairs around the house? Everytime you do a load of laundry check the sizes, condition and try to remember the last time you wore it. Is it too big or too small? Put it in a bag to pass along to a friend or charity shop. Does it have holes in it? In all honesty, are you going to repair it? Bin it. Have you worn it in the last 6-12 months? If the answer is no, put it in the pass along pile. This will save you doing “the big clear out”.

Cleaning-

This is something everybody hates doing so can you imagine what it’s like for someone who may end up in bed for a week by doing simple cleaning tasks?

Hoovering and mopping the floors is a massive task for spoonies and can often lead to injury. Lugging around hoovers and buckets of water for the mop can often mean I dislocate or pull something. Hence why I don’t do the floors often! We did invest in a steam mop that can also be used to clean surfaces. I do the find the X5 to be a bit heavy so if anyone knows of a lighter model, let me know in the comments! What I particularly like about the steam mop is that you can clean without the use of chemicals.

I haven’t bought one yet but I’m dying to get a cordless hoover from Dyson or a one of those rob hoover/mops. Other spoonies have recommended them to me. Come on, how awesome is this?!

 

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Top tip: Fill one of these guys with 1 part dish soap and 1 part white vinegar. Keep it in the shower and wash down surfaces before you get out of the shower or while you are conditioning your hair. Simples!

If your shower or bath has mould growing around the rubber edges you can soak some cotton pads in bleach and place it on the mouldy areas. Leave them there for a few hours and then wipe clean. The rubber areas will be white again!

Tidying up-

If you have kids and are chronically ill, keeping the house tidy can be a full time job. We live in a two storey house which makes things that bit more difficult. Recently, I bought two little blue baskets. When I am tidying up I go to each room and put things in the basket that don’t belong in that room. Then, as I go from room to room I put the things where they belong. If you have visitors coming around and you need to tidy quickly-just fill up the baskets and leave them to sort later.

Top tip: This one is particularly handy for the little ones. Buy a timer. Each day set it for 5 or 10 minutes-whatever you can manage and for those few minutes do a little cleaning or tidying. It’s amazing what you can get done in such a small amount of time!

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Some other gadgets for cleaning and tidying:

 

Messy in the kitchen? Invest in some stove top protectors 

Dog hair everywhere? Dyson have an attachment you can use to hoover your pet

Slipper mops allow you to clean the floors while you walk to the fridge-or to bed.

A keyboard with storage is handy for extra wires, notes and pens.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you. Have any tips/gadgets you want to share? Hit me up in the comments and I’ll add them to Part 2.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

 

Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

There has been a lot of misinformation spread around lately in the press regarding breastfeeding. Unfortunately, celebrities have a lot of influence over society and those influences can be pretty detrimental to people’s health. Don’t believe me? Just look at the role former Playboy bunny, Jenny McCarthy had in the “anti vaxx” movement. This woman, with zero qualifications in anything, managed to convince millions of people that vaccines were responsible for autism. Even though Dr Wakefield, the man who was responsible for these falsified reports had his license revoked. There are still millions of people across the world that believe vaccines give children autism. Even though scientific studies are now showing that the condition is in fact, a consequence of genetics. So when celebrities such as Amanda Brunker spread false information like “watery breast milk”, what she is doing, whether she means to or not, is solidifying the doubt in some woman’s mind that she may not actually be “good enough.” Women are generally so hard on themselves and unsurprisingly really, with magazines and products telling them they are not enough, that they need to change themselves beyond recognition. We are a culture obsessed with having it all and being it all.

Celebrities have a huge responsibility when they speak in public. They should be informed on the subject matter they are talking about. Amanda’s recent column just goes to show women are not educated about breastfeeding at all. We all hear the “breast is best” mantra but what the majority of people don’t know is that breast is just the biological norm, it doesn’t have this long list of advantages, it’s just that formula has it’s disadvantages. We are barely educated about infant feeding, never mind feeding past infancy. It’s funny, if you want to get married you have to jump through so many hoops, like doing a pre marriage course but, when it comes to children we have a very “ah sure it’ll be grand” sort of attitude. In some respects, it is best to have a laid back attitude but, all choices regarding our children, especially when it comes to their health, should be evidence based and researched. And by researched I mean using official sites such as who.int, not some “truth” website.

If people did go and actually educate themselves about breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, they would learn that in the second year of life 448mls of breast milk contains:

29% of energy requirements

43% of protein requirements

36% of calcium requirements

75% of vitamin A requirements

76% of folate requirements

94% of B12 requirements

60% of vitamin C requirements

Of course the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protection she builds against illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, feeding for three years or more can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by 94% That is huge! Yet society begrudges the women who do feed beyond the year mark-some even believe a child should be weaned earlier.

It was recently reported in the Irish Times that our low breastfeeding rate is costing the state €800 million a year. Nestlé recently announced they made a profit of nearly €80 million from Ireland alone in 2014. Formula is big business. Many I’m sure would be shocked to know that just €100,000 is spent promoting breastfeeding while maternity hospitals such as CUMH and UHL spend between €30,000 to €40,000 of tax payer’s money on formula every year, and that’s excluding the teats. So why do we have such poor breastfeeding rates?

If you ask me, and yes I know, nobody has, it’s because of misinformation. Pure and simple. So, with that in mind, I spoke with two experts about some of the most common myths surrounding breastfeeding.

Jack Newman, MD is a Canadian physician specialising in breastfeeding support and advocacy. He is also the co-author of ‘Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breast Feeding.’

Jack and baby

Based in Cork, Midwife and Breastfeeding Consultant Clare Boyle has been working in Ireland for the past 10 years. Clare teaches antenatal classes, breastfeeding preparation classes and provides breastfeeding support. See breastfeedingconsultant.ie for more information.

clare-new

Myth: Many women cannot physically breast feed or don’t produce enough breast milk.    

Dr Newman: This is not true.   There are a very few women who truly cannot produce all the milk the baby needs, but that doesn’t mean they cannot breastfeed.  They can supplement the baby at the breast with a lactation aid. In the vast majority of cases, mothers could have produced enough milk, but poor advice and poor ‘help’ undermined their breastfeeding.

Myth: Breastfeeding is supposed to hurt.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is actually meant to be a pleasure and joy to do and pain is not normal. Think of it from a biological point of view; would our foremothers continued with breastfeeding if was painful and difficult to do continue?   No, they would have given up and we, as a species, wouldn’t be here!   When a baby is latched on correctly there should be nothing more than a gentle tugging sensation and then the hormones we produce with breastfeeding – oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins – all help the mum bond and fall in love with her baby making it a pleasure and joy to do.

Myth: You can’t take medicines and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding.   The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula?   Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.

Myth: You can’t work and continue to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: I routinely help mums at around the six-month stage to co-ordinate breastfeeding and work requirements.   It takes a little organisation and planning but in the vast majority of cases, it can be done quite straightforwardly and it is lovely for both of you to connect through breastfeeding after being separated for the day.

Myth: You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: The amount of alcohol that gets into the milk is tiny.   If you have 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood, your milk will contain 0.05 per cent alcohol.   A baby could drink this all day and all night and not be harmed.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed a baby with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.  

Clare Boyle: Any baby with a disability can benefit hugely from breastfeeding.   The act of breastfeeding can help with neurological development and can help the baby mature and reach their full potential.

Myth: Premature babies must be ‘topped up’ with formula.  

Dr Newman: The majority of premature babies are not tiny, but born at 32 or more weeks gestation.   If the mother gets the help she needs for such a baby, there is no reason the baby cannot breastfeed exclusively.   For the very small premature babies, they can get to exclusive breastfeeding, again with good help, which unfortunately is rarely available in countries outside of Scandinavia.

Myth: It is easier to formula feed than it is to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for most women it takes about two to four weeks to get the hang of it.   Feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about it in the early days is completely normal.   Once a mum has mastered breastfeeding, it just gets easier and easier.   It is important to remember that you will be feeding your child for many years to come and with breastfeeding it will never ever be so easy to feed your child the best food there is. There is no shopping, no sterilising, no mixing, and no cleaning up. Just pop baby on anywhere, anytime.

Myth: Formula is just as good as breast milk.  

Dr Newman: Not according to thousands of studies.   In fact, breast milk is so different from formula; you cannot consider them even similar, except that both are white.   Breast milk contains dozens of immune factors, not just antibodies, growth factors that help the brain, the gut, the immune system, the hematological system to develop stem cells, none of which are present in formula.   Human beings are very adaptable, that’s why many babies do OK on formula.   But they don’t, as a group, do as well as breastfed babies.

Myth: It is selfish to breastfeed because Dad can’t bond with baby.  

Dr Newman: This is the formula company line.  Every ‘information’ brochure I have seen that comes from a formula company mentions giving ‘dad a chance to feed the baby’. They know that bottles interfere with breastfeeding and that one bottle often becomes two bottles and then three and then the mother can’t keep up with pumping and so they end up giving formula and then eventually the baby stops breastfeeding.  But who said that feeding the baby is the only way a father can bond with his baby? Most mothers would be extremely grateful if the father helped out in other ways.  Walking, talking, holding the baby, changing the baby’s diaper, singing to the baby, bathing the baby.

Myth: Feeding a child past infancy is weird and unnecessary.

Dr Newman: The reason breastfeeding beyond infancy is “unsettling” is that many people, even health professionals who should know better, think it is and thus mothers are shamed because they are breastfeeding toddlers, they are told they are causing their children harm, and this without any basis in fact.  The WHO/UNICEF state, as do paediatric societies in most countries of the world, that baby should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and then breastfeeding should continue to two years and beyond.  There is no distinction made for “advanced countries” and “less advanced countries”.Furthermore, one reason that breastfeeding a toddler is consider unnecessary is that people look only at the nutritional aspects of breast milk.  Sure, if a child is a wide variety of foods in ample amounts, does he need the protein from breast milk?  No.  But breast milk is more than just protein, fat and carbohydrate.  Breast milk is also immunity, and that continues as long as the child is breastfeeding.  We have good evidence that children in daycare, for example, who are breastfed are much less frequently affected by the epidemics of infectious diseases that sweep through daycare and if the breastfed infant or child does get sick, s/he is usually much less severely ill than their mates who are not breastfed.  In addition, breast milk contains growth factors that stimulate the development of the brain, the gut, the immune system itself.  Indeed, every system of the body.And finally, breastfeeding is much more than breast milk.  Breastfeeding is a relationship, a close, intimate relationship between two people who are usually in love with each other.  We should all have been so lucky as to have had such a relationship.

So there you have it, straight from the experts.

Till next time,

ZM

 

Me, the Zebra

Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania
Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania

I was asked to start a blog by a few fellow zebras to share my experiences of being a mom with a chronic illness. Well, here I am. Before I get into all that though, it is important that you know my backstory, how I got to this point. I’m sure many of you can relate to my story, my journey to diagnosis.

In 2012, I was interning at the Cork Independent newspaper. During my time there I happened to take a liking to writing the health section of the paper. My parents were both nurses and my sister, also worked in healthcare so while I didn’t strictly follow the family tradition, I still had a keen interest in health. That year I decided I was going to enter the European Health Journalism Awards. The theme I chose was rare diseases. So, I contacted the Genetic and Rare Diseases Organisation (GRDO) and asked to be put in touch with a rare disease sufferer. Later that week I interviewed a woman about her disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Little did I know that the answers I has been searching for about my own illness had landed right on my lap.

There is an old saying within the medical profession: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras’. Dr Woodward, an American professor at the University of Maryland would instruct his medical interns to practice as the phrase suggests. You see, horses are common in Maryland, while zebras would have been relatively rare during the 1940s. So, one would assume that, upon hearing the sound of trotting hooves, that a horse would be the most likely explanation. I however, am a zebra.

My symptoms started as a child but got really bad by the time I was 14. Gradually, my knees began to hurt, especially when it was cold. By 16, it was unbearable. A few years later, the pain spread to my hips and ankles. The joints began to make popping and clicking noises. Frustratingly, blood tests for arthritis and x-rays all came up clear. Then I began to have problems with my stomach and experiencing fatigue. In college, I was vomiting almost everyday for a year and napped frequently. The fatigue hasn’t stopped to this day. A colonoscopy and endoscopy came up clear but my GP said it was irritable bowel syndrome. Some days, my abdomen swells so much, that I look pregnant. After my son was born five years ago, I had no choice but to fight the fatigue. I am not anemic, but as the months have turned into years, the tiredness has become overwhelming. The smallest of chores around the house are exhausting for me. Some days, I don’t even have the energy to get dressed and face the world. People commented on this and called me lazy. Without a diagnosis, I couldn’t give them a credible answer as to why I was sitting in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.

I was living in constant pain for years, feeling exhausted every single day and life on a day to day basis was unbearable. I felt as though I was going crazy. All tests, scans and x-rays were coming back negative and my doctors came to the conclusion that I was depressed, that my physical pain was a manifestation of something that was purely emotional.

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Yes, pain and sleep disturbances can be symptoms of depression. Of course by that point, I became depressed. These doctors were the experts and who was I to argue? I was put on nearly every single anti depressant available on the Irish market at one point or another. Still, the pain and fatigue continued, so after eight years taking these pills, day after day, I was numb, floating through life. I felt useless as a mother, wife and friend.

Of course, I did have my good days, especially during the summer when the weather was warm and my joints didn’t hurt as much. For the past two years, the joint pain has spread to affect my hands and wrists, my back and neck too. If I move a certain way, a joint may slide out and back in again. But things changed for me in 2012 when I interviewed that girl. For the purpose of anonymity, we will call her Anna.

Anna has a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a Connective Tissue Disorder. People with the condition produce faulty collagen, which is the glue that holds the body together. In EDS, this ‘glue’ is more like chewing gum and causes the joints to be loose, often resulting in dislocations. However, collagen is present throughout all areas of the body and therefore EDS is a multi-systemic condition with secondary conditions present in most cases. When Anna explained her symptoms, I wondered did I have something similar? I was so touched by her story and felt connected to this young woman that we kept in touch. In the meantime I was put on a public waiting list to see a rheumatologist. But then, in late 2013, I was speaking on the phone and then everything started to go black; I felt hot, my heart was racing, I felt weak. I ran to the bathroom to lie down on the cool floor. This gave me such a fright that I decided I wasn’t prepared to wait two years to see a public consultant. I had to know what was wrong with me. I was going to get answers.

I organised a private appointment with a physiotherapist who confirmed that I was hypermobile. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Then I arranged an appointment with a rheumatologist in Cork, with an interest in EDS and Hypermobility Syndrome. Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed that I had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I cried with relief that finally I could put a name to what I had. After a decade of tests and scans I had taken the reins myself and finally got my diagnosis with just two appointments. The majority of doctors in Ireland are unfamiliar with EDS and there are no specialists available here in Ireland. If there were more awareness and training, I may have been diagnosed much earlier in my life.

After my diagnosis, I began weaning off the anti depressants. That was two and a half years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

I was on a high the day I got my diagnosis, but the next I had to face the harsh reality that I have a rare, lifelong and progressive disease. Luckily, my EDS is quite mild compared to some of my friends and hopefully more awareness will mean better treatment for me, and my fellow zebras in years to come. The biggest help for me through all of this has been Facebook and speaking to other people with EDS. They are enormously supportive and there is a real air of solidarity. Everybody is supportive and no matter how trivial I thought my problems were in comparison, the support has been immense. Hopefully, together, we can raise awareness about this debilitating disease and bring about an improvement in the services available especially for our children.

My son AJ is six years old. In 2014 he was diagnosed with Hypermobility EDS. I had him seen by the Rheumatologist that diagnosed me. AJ bruises very easily and I worried that teachers might question whether he was being abused. Sadly, this is not an uncommon fear amongst the EDS community. Children have been known to be removed from the family home as their parents are suspected of abuse. Thankfully, his school has been extremely supportive, even helping us organise an SNA for him. AJs’ EDS is extremely mild at the moment. But, he struggles in school, especially with concentration and writing. This is common with EDS kids. He has sensory issues, which makes it extra hard for him. His pelvis is also unstable so sitting for long periods is impossible for him. A care plan has been put in place for him in school next year. Alex is a happy child though and has never had a severe injury, as of yet, for this, I am thankful.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Orthostatic Intolerance and Vasovagal Syncope. I still have a long list of referrals to attend to investigate the array of health issues. There is a question mark over MS, Chiari Malformation, Gastroparesis, to name but a few.

The latest addition to our family is our little Olliepop, our 9 month old daughter. Obviously, she hasn’t received any diagnosis yet. But, deep down, I know she has EDS. Her sclera are extremely blue, a sign of EDS. The Public Health Nurse also noticed how flexible Ollie is, so much so, that she has been referred to physiotherapy. She suffered her first dislocation at just 7 months old. I fear for my little girl and what may happen to her. But, having a parent with the same condition will work to her advantage. She will be believed. She will not go decades wondering what the matter is.

Until next time,

Z.M

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.

 

 

 

5 must haves for an EDS pregnancy

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This blog post is sort of the reason I started this project in the first place. I was approached by a few EDSers who are thinking of starting a family or expanding their brood. They asked me to share my experience with them. There is some research out there about EDS and pregnancy but not a whole pile.

Firstly, before you begin trying to conceive, talk to your doctor.

Contrary to what many people believe, EDSers suffering from the hypermobility can experience very normal pregnancies. There are cases of course where labour may spontaneously start before the estimated birth date. It is the vascular type of EDS that causes the real concern amongst doctors. In my case, I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction (spd) very early on in my pregnancy which up until 12 weeks ago, put me in a wheelchair and caused me to use my smart crutches. SPD is fairly common in pregnancies in the general population but because of laxity in the joints already, EDS may produce a severe case.

Anyway, my pregnancy was quite difficult purely because of the pain. The baby and myself were generally in good health up until the day I was induced, but I’ll explain that another time.

So here are the main things that got me through my pregnancy and what I would also suggest to anyone planning on starting a family

1.Get as fit and healthy as possible

We had been trying to conceive for about 6 months when I fell pregnant. During that time I was actively loosing weight. I had put on lots of weight in the previous 8 years, and to take some pressure off my joints, I decided enough was enough. I lost almost 2 stone and I really think that made a huge difference to my fertility. I had also been getting more active, making the effort not to throw myself into bed at the first sign of pain and fatigue. Research also shows that the fitter you are in pregnancy, the easier your labour will be, should you have a straightforward vaginal birth.

2.Support, support and support.

The first and last trimester is tough for a lot of women, never mind anyone with additional issues such as gastroparesis or dysautonomia. It is vital you have a good support system in place, especially if this is a subsequent pregnancy and you have other children to care for. Luckily, my husband is at home full time so I could rest when I needed to. I know not everyone can afford a situation like ours.
If you have family or friends who are willing to help out by cooking, cleaning or looking after other children, take their help. Grab any offers with both hands and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Make sure you have support from your health care professionals too. Both your GP and obstetrician should be made aware of your conditions and any meds you might be on. You should also talk to your GP about Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy to help you cope during pregnancy if you don’t already have therapists in place.

It’s funny, some women with EDS greatly improve during pregnancy while others’ symptoms get worse. Pregnancy can increase laxity and therefore the incidence of injury may increase. Investing in some supports or mobility aids can make day to day life a little easier. It can often mean the difference between getting out of the house or looking at the same four walls for days on end. My smart crutches and wheelchair were a Godsend. I also had a belt to support my pelvis, it made the area feel more stable.

3. Relaxation and rest

Pregnancy is hard on the body, fatigue has been one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from other women with EDS. The tiniest chore may mean spending the rest of the day in bed. While it is important to stay active as much as possible, it is also important, particularly for EDSers to get plenty of rest. Listen to your body! Cleaning the kitchen cupboards might sound like a great idea to a nesting mom but will it be worth spending the next few days in bed? Save your spoons for your doctors appointment or lunch with your friends.

Your friends might want to throw you a baby shower but if you’re having a particularly bad episode of fatigue or a pain flare up, being the centre of attention may not be your thing. Suggest a chill out girly day at home, binging on Netflix and sweets or a spa day. My Dad’s girlfriend took me to a spa during my pregnancy. It was my first time having a massage (I’m 28) so you can imagine how much I looked forward to it. Although it was very relaxing, it did require spoons. I slept a lot the next day.

4. Creature comforts

Pyjamas, Netflix subscription, a good book. There will be bed days, it’s inevitable, so be prepared. I have the Netflix app on my tablet and my phone so entertainment was always at hand. Of course no bed day is complete without a pair of super comfy pyjamas. I don’t know if it is an EDS thing, but all my clothes, including my PJs always feel tight come the end of the day. No-I have not put on 3 lbs during the day, it just happens. So when I was pregnant I always bought jammies a size too big – for maximum comfort. Don’t buy anything fleecy! If your in bed all day, you’ll just end up feeling hot and bothered – and not in the good way!

5.Have faith

As I write this piece I am nursing my little girl. Every time I look at her, I think how she was worth every second of pain, every hip pop, every day stuck in bed, the scary situation were in just before and after birth was worth having her in my life. During the pregnancy, there were days I panicked and thought, this is a mistake, why did I do this? But having Ollie pop here with us has made life so much better! I feel better too, I’m out and about so much more now. I’ve kicked my physio up a notch – her birth gave me an extra push to work hard to make myself as well as possible.

I wish you health and happiness.

Z.M