My daughter got chicken pox just a month before her 2nd birthday. All her friends had had it, I wasn’t concerned. I lathered her in calamine lotion, took silly selfies and she seemed fine. On day 3, she woke up with a chicken spot in her eye. It seemed quite red and irritated. I wasn’t really sure what to do, but not wanting to take an infectious child to the Doctors, I called our GP for some over the phone advice. The GP decided to see her on the safe side.
Quite concerned it could cause vision issues, she sent us to the Eye Specialists at our local hospital. They gave us some eye ointment and antibiotics to help with the infection and sent us on our way.
Once we got home, my daughter became quite distressed. Her temperature would not come down. We tried to put the ointment in her eye but she would not calm down. I handed her to my husband so I could get a better angle, and when I saw her face, I shouted to stop.
Her face had ballooned, and she could barely see out of one eye.
We immediately rushed back to A&E. Her chicken pox had become severely infected and needed treating immediately. They administered IV antibiotics and she had to stay in for a few days. They had to use the veins in her feet, as the veins in her hands were so small. Each dose of antibiotic caused a lot of pain. I had a lot of expressed milk, so my husband went home with the baby whilst I stayed in with my daughter.
My heart ached to see her in pain. I wanted to stop them, even though I knew they were doing their best for her. I was glad to be able to comfort her, just a bit, by breastfeeding her during each infusion and throughout the night.
By the third night, we had run out of expressed breast milk so I had to go home with the baby and leave my daughter with my husband.
I was so angry.
I didn’t want to leave my little girl, she needed me.
But so did my son.
I battled with myself over the possibility of using formula. I wanted to do it. But neither myself nor my husband knew what product to get or how it would affect our son who had not had anything but breast milk. I will be honest in saying, I didn’t really care about using the formula. I was more concerned what people would think of me, a breastfeeding peer supporter, giving my son anything other than breast milk.
My Mom took the baby and I to her house. She suggested we have a bath together, to try and bond whilst I was away from my daughter. I tried but he just annoyed me. He climbed all over me, hit me and bit me. I knew it was because he was frustrated from not feeding for so long, but I didn’t care.
We climbed into bed and I fed my son. Again, I was tense and painful pins and needles rushed through my arms and legs. I flicked through pictures of my daughter on my phone to calm myself, sobbing as he fell asleep. I had a restless night, just waiting until morning, when I could be reunited with my daughter.
Luckily she had improved massively overnight, and we were allowed to take her home that evening.
Two weeks past, just as we thought we were in the clear, my son became pickled in spots. I was anxious that he would suffer in the same way that my daughter did. And I was right to worry.
He constantly wanted to feed and I was drained. Just like my daughter, by Day 3, his temperature soared and we made a visit to the GP. My Mom came with me this time whilst a friend looked after our daughter. My son screamed in his Grandma’s arms, she had tears in her eyes as she explained to the doctor that he was never like this. I sat by the doctor whilst explaining his symptoms.
I was emotionless.
I could see my son in pain, and of course I felt bad for him. But I didn’t want to comfort him.
We were again rushed to hospital and placed in the same room as my daughter had been in just a few weeks before. As I sat on one side of the bed and my Mom on the other, she asked me how I was feeling. I explained that I was still struggling, that I still didn’t feel a connection to my son. She questioned this.
How could I not love my child, as he lay in bed with an IV in his hand, moaning in his sleep?
It wasn’t something I could control. I just didn’t.
He too recovered, but I struggled.
I started becoming a bit reclusive. I wouldn’t go out as often. I felt people were looking at me and judging me more than ever. For both of my children to get so sick from simple chicken pox. Maybe it was my fault? Maybe it was because I didn’t care for them properly? Maybe it was punishment for not being good enough?
I refused to attend the weekly breastfeeding support group, the antenatal classes. I made continuous excuses to not meet up with friends. I spent a lot of summer inside, sticking the children in front of the telly whilst I dozed on the sofa.
When my son was 8 months old. My therapist finally convinced me to start antidepressants (you can read more about that here). I attended a craft therapy group and met a friend that I used to see at the breastfeeding group. We connected and started to share lifts to the group and she convinced me to start going back to the breastfeeding group. It turned out we were taking the same medication, which helped make me feel more normal in a time that was very scary.
I look back on those times, on those first 8 months. And other than the parts I have described in this series, I don’t remember anything. I see the photos on my Instagram and Facebook, I see the smiling faces of my little family looking back at me. But I don’t remember being there. I obviously was there, I can see I was there. Either in the photo or encouraging those smiles from behind the camera.
But I wasn’t there.
My mind wasn’t focusing on the present. And I still struggle to focus, even now.