Giving Me The PIP. The Politics of Disability

Politics.It’s everywhere.You wait around for a General Election and then two come along in quick succession.

So how do you vote? Follow your family, stick with your tribe? is anything that goes on in Westminster relevant to the daily grind anyway?

Yesterday I was minding my own business, parenting and such like, when politics came up and slapped me hard across the face. I took my son to an assessment to see if he qualifies for PIP.

I’ll explain.Once there was a boy who was little eccentric and rather old fashioned. He muddled along with friends in the school system until Secondary School, or “living hell” as he preferred to call it. Becoming extremely angry with violent outbursts in school, he would tear his clothes swear at teachers and have to be physically restrained.My boy became suicidal, self harming and desperately,desperately sad. Eventually he was removed from school, provided with a tutor for 18 months, and placed in a Special School for children with autistic spectrum disorders.

The boy had secretly been harbouring Asperger’s, and his otherwise remarkable (and modest) mother simply hadn’t noticed it.

The care needs at the time, related to the Asperger’s and his depression,were significant. As a result we received Disability Living Allowance. This was easy to apply for (hollow laugh) and only required the filling in of a colossal form with appended information from all his healthcare team and his educational statement.

When politicians get a bit bored, they look around for something to fix.When they want to impress the voters, they like to show you they are saving you money

For this reason (Insert Fanfare) The PIP or Personal Independence Payment was born! See how it removes the word ‘disability’ from its title replacing it with the hipper “independence’. Marvel as all the disabled people who we all know are ruthlessly draining the countries finances (unlike for example, large coffee chains or internet delivery warehouses) are sorted into “properly disabled” and “scroungers”

Anybody needing assessment will now be assessed by form, frequently followed by a one to one assessment in person, carried out by ATOS. At 16 all current recipients of DLA are also reassessed.

I find myself then, far from home with a young adult on the autistic spectrum, who fears change, gets stressed about meeting new people and has significant sensory issues, related to noise,crowded areas and being assessed.

I have never been anywhere quite like this centre. It is large and clean, and that is truly the only positive thing I can give you.

The chairs are in rows in front of a screen displaying colourful, friendly logos about what the assessment will contain. Despite all this there is the same smell of fear and despair you find in a vets waiting room.

Periodically someone comes and calls out a name, very quietly from the back of the room. It is packed with people waiting with ‘companions’ and we wait for 45 minutes for our turn, at which point we are taken upstairs to a room. There is a stairlift, but we are told that we need to be able to get down the stairs independently in case of fire.

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Access wise so far then, we have the difficulty of getting there, the strain of hearing or understanding your name, and the inaccessibility of fire exits. Forgive me if that seems a little peculiar for a place likely to be assessing people with needs, but it is what it is.

Upstairs we meet a perfectly pleasant Health Professional. I do not know what her specialism is, but I suspect it has something to do with form filling and typing. In 45 minutes she questions Aspie boy who is by now, in an extremely agitated state, takes most questions literally and looks more distressed than I have seen him in some time. I have to discuss in front of my mentally fragile young person, the suicidal ideation he suffered, the lack of school support, the Psychiatric input, my locking away of knives and drugs. All this to a stranger we had just met. This does not appear to aid his mental state.

The assessor is supportive and impressed with how far he has come, but has no idea if he will be eligible, having to send the report to the DWP to use as an assessment tool. We have leave to appeal if it doesn’t go our way.

You may glean that I have some problems with this process, how astute of you!

I absolutely believe that governments should be held accountable for how tax payers money is spent. I do think we should minimise fraudulent claims, and encourage independence as far as possible.I suspect that there may be better ways of doing this.

For example, what if the DWP used medical information provided by medics who know the person well? How about school or Psychiatric reports? Does reinventing the wheel and adding another layer of assessment really save money? How much do the centres cost to run, clean, heat staff and light?Is this money offset against the colossal savings made by removing the fraudulent claimsters? Should centres be accessible? Do the Authorities realise that being disabled is not a choice? It does not discriminate. It could be YOU!

I found the whole situation shocking. It felt like a processing plant. It was dehumanising, to see people coming in with crutches and walking frames ready to be assessed to see if they really needed them. It infantilises people, and discredits the existing medical and social care professionals. It breeds the idea of disabled scroungers living off the stage in the public mind, and discourages inclusion as a result.

I want to believe this was not the intention of Government when it was introduced.I truly want to believe that everyone in our society is valued equally. I strongly advice you not to become sick or carelessly acquire a disability.

Please consider this when you vote, but most of all, please vote!

 

 

Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

In which a change is as good as a rest.

Going on holiday with my gang of miscreants is not an easy task. A friend of mine with small children describes her holiday experiences as “same sh** different location”In an effort to avoid this we have tried a number of things.

Air travel is currently out.Father of Pearl is properly afraid of flying.Valium helps.
Pearl doesn’t do queuing and waiting, the idea of wrangling her and a 6′ 4” gibbering drugged up wreck through an airport and onto a plane is less than appealing. The Glory flies off to extraordinary places with Guiding.The Gambia and Copenhagen have both been on the list-I’m hoping if I stay on her good side we can go away together in the future.

Rab shows a typical, non typical, resistance to change.He can do holidays if he knows where we are going, how long the journey will take,what time we’ll leave, when we’ll arrive  what his room will be like and a rough itinary of the break.He doesn’t like them and is usually desperate to get home.Both teens (and F o P) NEED wi fi.Obvs. I’m a dinosaur and just need lots of books.

We also require flat access, downstairs bedroom for Pearl if at all possible and a flat outside space.

This leaves us with the following options.

Stay at home. Forever. No surprises. No changes of routine, and the real possibility of infanticide.

Choose the same, or similar places. And this brings us to the reason for this blog,a short, non sponsored paen to the place that everyone in the family loves and a big thank you to those who work there.

We have just come back from Center Parcs. We love the place. It is not a cheap holiday alternative, but what it offers us is perfect for everyone.For reasons I cannot begin to explain(and nor can he) Rab loves it.It’s familiar, the villas are the same. We did, it’s true, have a slight wobble, when he realised this time our villa was “the wrong way round”but as he’s 16 and was aware it was the autism speaking he bravely overcame having the living area the wrong side of the kitchen.

In the car on the way to Sherwood Forest the 18 and 16 year olds regressed to being about 10,hitting each other shrieking and laughing, they say this was to amuse Pearl, (it did) but it’s actually the effect of going to Center Parcs that causes it.

If you have never experienced this place I’ll explain. It is a large,managaged forest.There is a variety of accommodation, close together, but orientated so that you have clear views of your surroundings and aren’t at all overlooked.There is an amazing huge swimming pool, sorry, “Sub tropical Swimming Paradise”, with flumes, wave machines shallow pools, this is all included in your stay. There are a massive amount of bookable activities that you pay extra for and can take or leave at your leisure. In the past we have done aerial wires, roller blading,flown hawks, watched owls, a nature walk, scuba dived, Bollywood danced, tried archery,hired bikes and played badminton.

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Years ago on a previous stay,The Glory learnt to ride without stabilisers there for the first time. That’s the other thing, when you have unpacked your car, all cars return to the car park and the site is vehicle free.It is possible to be mown down by a middle aged person unused to cycling, but on the whole it’s safe and easy to navigate,and fairly flat so Pearl can walk a bit.

This last weekend came with an ensuite swan.On opening the blinds in the morning he knocked incessantly on the window in the hope of food.I’d like to say that the teens didn’t give him my cereal, but I’m not entirely sure.This,and the gaggle of geese who appeared plus the squirrels, rabbits and moorhens made me feel like Snow White without the dwarves.Pearl was utterly enchanted and ready to feed them Doritos (she doesn’t like them) but was restrained.

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All human life can be seen at the pool, all ages, sizes,races and abilities.This makes holidaying with someone small and special easier, as you are absolutely not the only one.There are decent changing facilities with benches, and when the small person with you resists getting out of the pool and changing ,while screaming blue murder, you are sympathised with, and nobody calls Social Services, which is a bonus.

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“If I just climb into the wheelchair maybe they’ll take the hint and take me swimming?”

The staff really seem to enjoy their jobs, and most waiting on staff gamely took Pearl’s orders made with the help of her PODD book and came when she looked over her shoulder and shouted “haro”while jabbing at the food and drink page.

There are a handful of fully accessible villas, with wet rooms and hoists.We don’t presently need this, and knowing all the other villas were one storey, did book  a villa two stays ago, only to find it was up a steep flight of steps.Within 20 minutes we’d been reallocated something more appropriate.The moral is, an organised parent phones to book and mentions needs rather than doing it online. (I’m sure you all would have done that anyway).

This stay Pearl managed more in the way of walking and of climbing on soft play. We also allowed her an ill advised go on a steep slide in the pool-I went down to the landing area to fish her out, only to realise there were almost vertical steps to get out of the water. We did it once more (she loved the slide) before finally admitting defeat.

However the best thing by far was the World of Spa. Having taken advantage of the fact that Pearl was shattered by all the activity and can’t tell the time, we put her to bed at 5.30 (yes we did pay for it with an early morning) left the 18 year old in charge and floated, bubbled, steamed and relaxed our way around the spa for two and a half hours.It was awesome and I was so relaxed I went to bed as soon as we got back at 9.Which was just as well when Pearl woke up full of beans at 3.Maybe she can tell the time after all?

So Center Parcs,I know you are a large organisation, and our family are only a tiny handful of your yearly visitors, but a HUGE thank you from us for being, inclusive, fun, friendly and good at what you do.

Have you and your family enjoyed and inclusive accessible holiday with great service? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

*STOP PRESS* We have been nominated for an award! The BAPs awards is a new award for bloggers writing about additional needs parenting.The Wrong Kind of Snow is a finalist in the Promoting Positive Perceptions category.You can vote here,  and do take a look at all the other awesome finalists too! Thank you.

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Zen and the Art of Extreme Parenting.

In which I wake up crying, and try to put it into words.

As you have been graciously following the inane ramblings of a parent carer, I thought you may like to join me on the next stage – how to stay calm while dealing with extreme  pressure to parent fully and effectively.

I have recently become interested in extreme sports and have been considering amazing feats of daring-do and endurance. Maybe this is an age thing (46 as our local paper was keen to pointlessly share) or maybe it’s a growing awareness that life is short.

I suspect it is more to do with the fact that jumping off the side of a bridge attached to an elastic seems a great deal easier than parenting my three children.

Before I start, can I just say that parenting is difficult. All parenting is difficult. Childcare is difficult. It can be tricky, keeping small people safe let alone moulding them into useful and delightful members of society. It can be boring. Anybody who has watched  a friend who is a party loving wild child turn into an exhausted zombie, unable to stay awake after 7.30pm, will know what a baby can do to a person.

My personal view is that if you get to the end of a day, haven’t killed,maimed or lost anyone and  you’ve all been fed, you are a successful parent. If the house is clean and tidy that’s a bonus. If you have completed an improving craft activity with child/children you deserve a medal. If you have managed to arrange some lemons in a ceramic dish, photograph it and put it on Instagram, you probably need professional help.

Let me tell you what parenting in extremis looks like. In my case, qualifying as an extreme parent, includes a preexisting tendency to depression, which is largely managed with careful monitoring. Add a lack of sleep, and constant physical exertion, so that you no longer have the mental resources to carry that monitoring out.

You will be responsible for a small non verbal person, with physical and some health and behavioural issues. (Let’s call her Pearl) She will be prepubescent and in thrall to hormones that she cannot understand or explain. As well as this you will have a filing cabinet (or two) of information on her to keep up to date and in order. Somehow you will also have the role of coordinating all her care, and communicating across disciplines.You may have a Family Support Worker who has roles that don’t appear to match her title, and both she and you are not certain of what they are. Social care ‘support’ will make you want to cry. You will have to travel across counties and sometimes at short notice to a vast array of appointments. You will absolutely not be able to keep up your professional role, and end up doing your husbands admin with a very bad grace.

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You will also be responsible for a 15 year old male of the species. He will cleverly have been harbouring Asperger’s Syndrome until the age of 11. There will have been many signs of this scattered liberally through his life, but as you are busy  extreme parenting the small person, you haven’t noticed. You will continue not noticing until he becomes suicidal at the age of 11, and is advised to leave school at the age of thirteen. You will be expected to deal with having a very sad stressed person at home for 18 months while receiving minimal support. You will lock up all the knives and medication,and live in a state of hypervigilism, realising that the one thing you want for your children, that they would be happy, is not under your control. You,my friend will have to deal with an extraordinarily unhelpful and overstretched CAMHS department, find a new school and ask for  one of the first EHC in the LA (and country). You will learn about autism, watch him become well adjusted and in tune with himself, and try to hold your nerve while he wants to move back into the very mainstream setting which caused him pain, for his A levels.

You now have to guide an 18 year old female, who has taken it upon herself to be The Glory of the clan, through extreme social anxiety, watch as she refuses all help and begins to spiral downwards into depression. At this stage base jumping looks like a walk in the park. Offering support while also giving her room to make her own choices, pushing her academically while recognising that her mental health being stable is so much more important, will be the most difficult balancing act you have embarked on. Her school will be limited in the support it can offer, counselling will be in short supply and variable, and CAMHS, well you have seen the help they offer already.

When you wake up in the morning wanting to cry, out of touch with your own needs and feeling that you, and you alone have caused this myriad of difficulties take heart. In your dreams you may have been a more, Little House on the Prairie type parent. Remember Laura Ingalls running through a sunny field? Do you also remember the lack of running water, decent sanitation and washing machine?

I see you, fellow extreme parents. I see you and weep for you, for your situation, and for the poor and patchy support you are receiving in your taxing, thankless dirty, painful jobs. I have had coffee with some of you, and railed against the system and your situations. I have lost sleep over a country that prioritises academic achievement over the good mental health of its children, and who makes accessing support so difficult that some of you just give up asking.

An older woman of my aquaintance told me that love covers everything, and smooths out any parenting mistakes you may make. I hope she’s right.

So, if you like me have accidentally become an extreme parent what do you do? I expect you are waiting for the Zen moment? I’ll let you know.In the meantime I’ll try to practice Pearlfulness TM and be grateful for Gilmour Girls on Netflix.

 

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If like me you are struggling with extreme parenting take a look at this graphic from Carer’s UK.

 

Exchange

When I was at school it was common to have a few foreign exchange students join us for a week or two. They seemed so exotic. Their clothes were brighter, speech eccentric, even their mannerisms seemed strange and new.

I was never lucky enough to host one of these fascinating creatures, but recently have been enjoying a cultural exchange of my own.

Imagine being air-dropped in a foreign country. Totally fluent, you just fall out of the sky one day. You’re articulate, the locals treat you as one of their own. They assume you understand everything, not just the language but also cultural jokes and idioms. Facial expressions seem strange and don’t always equate to those you saw back home. Gestures you knew to mean particular things make little sense.

The initially friendly residents of this new state become short tempered with you, assuming you are ignoring them, or being rude and difficult. As well as this, all colours seem much brighter, and the volume of everything has been turned up to the very edge of bearable. Textures seem more pronounced, clothes rougher, trees pricklier and worst of all – smells are much smellier.

This is the closest I can come to imagining the world my bright, witty 15-year-old son with Asperger syndrome inhabits. I can tell you now that if I was living with that every day I would be crankier, more tired and have meltdowns on a regular basis. Wouldn’t anyone?

The family he was airdropped into was noisy, opinionated and busy. Oh, and blessed with a permanently sarcastic mother.

I had limited experience with classic autism through my work as a speech therapist – so never suspected my son could be on the spectrum. He was caring, cuddly and very verbal, fond of long complex words; this was not what autism looked like. Being busy with two other children, one of whom had significant special needs, I was quite short-tempered. This boy who didn’t listen properly, willfully misunderstood obvious situations and took everything literally.

I’m known for being perceptive, caring and empathetic (modest too!). In moments of glorious parenting these graces were not extended to the boy.

I could not believe he could not follow simple commands. ‘Your ears are big enough, use them.’ He used multisyllabic words in conversation, but would then ask for explanations of simpler words. ‘Of course you understand it,’ said the ever-loving mother. As for the ‘tantrums’ we thought he was putting them on.

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The day I saw him practicing facial expressions, I began to wonder. My guide into this new country was Tony Atwood. As I read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome the scales fell from my eyes (metaphorically speaking). It became my anthropological guide. Chapter after chapter, another apology to my poor boy.

Attempting to understand his autism has included unpicking everything I perceived and understood to be normal. Things I assumed were right are just cultural or societal, not inherently correct.

I’ll give you an example. Someone recently told me that a member of their church was autistic and non-verbal. The church was very accepting of him even though ‘he always wears a hat, won’t take it off – and of course you can’t wear hats in church.’

I nearly choked on my tea. Who or what decided that wearing a hat in church was wrong? GOD?! This, my friends, is a cultural, not ‘normal’ expectation.

Presumably, our culture has this ‘normal’ expectation too, which allows us to happily go about our lives feeling comfortable and reassured. Now, like it or not, my son is going to have to learn some of these rules to ease his way into society, but actually as a society perhaps it’s us that need to make some adjustments of our own.

Look at our own culture. We live on a small island with a rich literary history. Fond of quotes and metaphors, big on small talk and oblique passive aggressive hints. How would anybody on cultural exchange be expected to know that the correct answer to, ‘does anybody want this last potato?’ will always be ‘no’? Why would anybody peel their eyes and if they did, how would that help them to see better? If somebody looks affronted but says they are ’just fine’, why are they angry if you switch topics?

The English place a high value on social conformity, and are just waiting to be embarrassed, hard if you are wearing the wrong clothes, tapping, flapping or smelling the items in shops.

The boy was reluctant to wear coats. I have taken ages to get my head around this. I am a chilly mortal, and have worn gloves in June before now. He, however, is not me. Also, he has sensory processing disorder. I was astonished to learn that this is really common in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). So, perhaps I needed to look at the fact that he would happily wear a hoodie. A hoodie is, after all, a coat by another name.

Wasn’t he grateful when I bought him two pairs of new jeans as he’d asked? ‘One just the same and one a different colour and cut, just to make a change,’ I assured him. ‘The horror in his eyes as I realised – rookie mistake on my part – that for many people with ASD, a change will NEVER be as good as a rest.

So, as I prepare my boy for transitioning into the wider world, where going shoeless and wearing a 4-year-old hoodie, which only reaches his elbows is frowned on, he also shows me that so many things I thought were important, are really just part of my culture. It is, indeed, possible to wear a duvet outside to keep you warm. Do this in public and the locals will stare at you. Is the staring more uncomfortable than wearing an extra layer? That’s your choice.

I’ve learnt to hold clothes to my cheek before buying, and laugh at idioms. We journey through together, picking through social etiquette, deciphering the most important rules to save, to keep the peace, while trying to keep it real.

 

First published on My Family our Needs as “Unpicking Everything That’s Normal”

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Balance.

I had perceptions of special needs parents before I became one.  So strong, so calm.

Genetically programmed to be fairly pragmatic about life, I generally trot along on an even keel with the help of Citalopram and HRT (no I’m not that old, yes it was early).

Apart from having a constant obsession with Pearl’s bowel habits (possibly tmi-let’s just say for her own dignity that chronic constipation is a thing for girls like Pearl and it’s horrible) it’s fair to say our life has rebalanced to a new abnormal, normal.

True, The Glory asks me 100 times a day if her hair is alright, but she is 17.

Also Rab told me he saw a man walking a tortoise on the way to school yesterday, and although I wondered if I was dreaming, I am prepared to believe him.  He is on the spectrum and honesty is kind of his thing.

When Rab was out of school for 11 months having meltdowns and suicidal ideation (more of this in a future blog) our abnormal normal was shaken quite badly. We found the right school, he settled in, we picked ourselves, dusted ourselves off and…well started all over again.

During a regular appointment The Orthopaedic Surgeon blithely mentioned “keeping Pearl on her feet for as long as possible”.  I didn’t actually realise growth and development may lead to a future decrease in mobility.  I was thrown off course but again recalibrated.

Parents and carers of children with physical, medical and learning difficulties are among the most emotionally resilient people I know. Have to be.  We live in the moment, we really do not know what tomorrow may bring.  I took part in a Study  by the local University run by the lovely Dr Katherine Runswick Cole.  Investigating how parents of children with additional needs developed emotional resilience in their offspring, it was very interesting.  First question, “what helps you as parent maintain a sense of yourself when parenting a child with additional needs?”.  Deep thought on my part, “Having my hair cut at Toni & Guy”.  Truly.  Bless Katherine.  As we chatted over coffee later it transpired that she too had a child with additional needs.  What did she do to maintain her sense of self?  Went to Uni got a degree and followed it with a Doctorate.  Hmm.  Hidden shallows-that’s me.

Emotional reliance is essential to us as a family and I feel is an absolute prerequisite for children to develop good mental health.  Pearl has it in spades-she came with it.  The other two, have had to develop it as well.

Thus far frankly, a long preamble about the thing that nearly broke me.

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My washing machine.

Pearl drools, constantly.  She is doubly incontinent.  Hate that phrase.  Prefer “working towards continence”.  As a result I do a LOT of washing.  Three loads a day at least, sometimes six.  Care for the Family suggests that bringing up a disabled child costs significantly more than bringing up a ‘typical’ one.  In our family that money goes on washing machines. (Oh and the Toni & Guy bill).  We average a new one every two years.

Fortunately we have a wonderful local family firm who fix and sell machines.  Bob has come out on many an occasion to fix an ailing washer and before now to “just get me any model and plumb it in before this evening please”

Gentle Reader, I can endure bad medical news, I can fight local authorities, I can speak to MPs, I can even leave the house looking like a reasonable approximation of a human being, but remove my washing machine and I am a broken woman. I wish I was joking.

Last week I was working on some admin when the washer started making an odd noise.  An error code appeared.  I googled and fixed and ran another programme . It worked.  Then it didn’t work, then it locked itself with 8kg of wet washing inside.  I may have cried.  Bob arrived  (I have him on speed dial) it worked.  Bob left  .It stopped working.  It carried on glitching for two days and then, as I was about to phone the manufacturer, spontaneously healed itself.  Clearly a software issue, said Mr PJ, Bob agreed.  I suspect it was possessed.

I began to loose all sense of reason.  The feelings I usually bat away “I can’t do this””I’m a rubbish mother/wife/human being”, “I’ll just run away and join the circus” (my back up plan incidentally, along with two friends,we have names and acts already chosen). Feelings which would more reasonably be linked to having two children with individual needs and one sitting AS levels, all became attached to the washing machine. It is ridiculous, I know it’s ridiculous.

Did you know when the ravens leave the Tower of London it will fall down?  True Story.  In our house when the washing machine breaks down the family crumbles.  More accurately I go under and try to drag everyone down with me.  I am considering having a plumbed in back up washing machine.  We may have to build an extension, but it would be worth it surely?

I remind myself that before the advent of Pearl I had a life, skills, a degree, a Profession for goodness sake.

It has all come down to this. My good mental health depends on good hair and a working washing machine.

Hidden shallows, my friends, hidden shallows.

PS. If I’m alone in this, keep it to yourselves or the next blog will be from the Big Top.

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On a scale of one to ten…..

It’s time to step away from the unfolding story of a wobbly girl and her mildly eccentric brother and talk a bit about feelings.

I am a literary snob and have always hated greeting cards poems. Unfortunately what your midwife fails to tell you is that when you become a mother, they replace the rational part of your brain with mush.

I had already spent my pre-Pearl motherhood opening trite birthday cards, reading the previously despised verses holding them to my tender bosom, while sobbing “so true” If these emotions run riot when you have a “typical” child all I can say to you Extra Special Parents embarking on this journey is “if you have tears prepare to shed them now”

Three years into our journey, during a very low period which  characteristically involved a fight with the authorities to give our daughter equality of opportunity with her peers, you find me,  sitting quietly on the sofa,  having put down the phone on the latest argument. Shaking slightly and near to tears I hear an awful raw keening sound.  This sounds like an animal, caught in a trap, in pain, who had given up hope of rescue. As I begin to rock gently I realise the noise is me.I have honestly never heard a sound like it and as I sit, completely and horribly in the moment, I take apart every single fight, and pain, and triumph and struggle that my precious small girl and I had endured. Clearly I had been fighting for her so hard, and working so tirelessly to remain positive that I had squashed all this excruciating emotion down, down, down and there it all suddenly was.

As experiences go this is most definitely not one I would recommend- and why on earth would I want to share it with you? I have experienced emotions while embracing our new normal (or as a friend and I always say “living the dream”) which are dark,disturbing and hard to admit to. If on your parenting journey you have experienced some of these, please know you are not alone.

Pearl was our ‘extra’. Mr PJ has always wanted a huge family, but then to be fair he doesn’t have to give birth. We had fun practicing making Pearl, but after a year nothing had happened and a more permanent job prospect was looming. I was just about to suggest we stopped trying and I went back to work when I fell pregnant.

When Pearl arrived and it became clear she was entirely herself, along with the fear and panic, I had a few questions. Why did we have her?  We had two children already, I could have worked-what were we thinking?  What was Mr PJ thinking?

I was a Christian, was this my destiny? Would Pearl be healed?  Did God mean this to happen?  Were we being taught something?  Was there a God, or was everything totally random?

I was embarrassed. Embarrassed to have ‘failed’ by giving birth to something that wasn’t ‘perfect’.

I was worried about the future. What would people say?  How would they treat Pearl? Would she talk, walk, feed herself, be toilet trained?

I was uncomfortable, I did not want to be a Special Needs mum. I wasn’t the type. I was the helper, not the helped.

I was regularly hit by waves of despair so intense I felt they would surely wash me away.

Mainly I felt guilty, guilty for feeling all these feelings. Guilty for making this child who was finding the simplest things so difficult, and guilty for changing the family dynamic so dramatically (oh how I underestimated my wonderful family)

I was completely awash with emotion.

 

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At this point nobody asked Mr PJ and myself how we were feeling.

No professionals checked,they were too busy diagnosing.

No friends asked , I think they were worried they wouldn’t cope with the answer.

Several people told us how we felt.

“What a good job you’re a Speech Therapist, you’ll know what to do’

“God only gives special children to special people.”

“Consider it pure joy brothers when you face trials of any kind” Pure joy!  Thanks St. Paul-I’ll give it my best shot.

An older woman of my acquaintance  said “But you don’t regret having her do you?” Never, NEVER ask a parent struggling in the early days with therapists, appointments, tests, NEVER ask them this question.  You don’t want to know the answer and actually neither do they.

“I expect you’re grieving the child you didn’t have?”  No actually, I was grieving the difficulties my beautiful beloved Pearl was facing to do the simplest of things, and the amount of horrid appointments and needles and knives she was facing.

So you discover me overwhelmed by feelings of every kind, bombarded by the opinions of the well meaning, and exhausted by sleepless nights and fights with the authorities. Unable to share these emotions with my amazing best friend/husband/partner in crime- they were too dark and dreadful- and fighting smilingly on. And that is how I came to find a keening animal inside me, and that is when I realised,that I had to be honest, with myself at least, about the trials of those dark days.

With the benefit of nearly a decades hindsight, I can tell you these feelings come and go. Some disappear altogether to be replaced by something else. Life becomes more usual, and positive happy feelings come creeping back. From time to time, a form you fill in, or a look someone gives you, or another family sadness will surprise you into re-experiencing them all again.  When this happens people I have some advice. Don’t listen to the people who think you should have got over all that by now. Don’t try to do too much. Be kind to yourself. Remember, coffee, cake, wine , chocolate,comedy.  Whatever it takes.  Pick yourself up dust yourself off and…well you know the rest.

When Pearl and I are curled upon my bed at story time, or on the sofa with a biscuit; I often say “shall I tell you a story about you?” This child has the highest level of self esteem in the whole family. Of course she wants to hear this story-who wouldn’t?

Once upon a time there was a Mummy and a Daddy and The Glory and a Rab. Daddy looked around and said-“I just don’t think our family is finished yet” and then Mummy found out there was a baby growing in her tummy. One day Mummy said-I think this baby is going to be born, and went down stairs to the playroom-and what do you think happened next?Pearl was born and she was so beautiful, and we looked at her and we knew our family was complete. Pearl was what we had been waiting for.

And dear reader,we lived emotionally ever after.

As far as anybody knows we are a normal family….

In which everybody’s anxiety becomes overwhelming and some of us become guinea pigs.

In case you (or I) had forgotten there are two other children in my family.

The Eldest who I refer to as “The Glory Of the Clan” and Rab. While I worried, drove Pearl to appointments and physio’d the living daylights out of her, they were at school doing schoolie things.

You know how some children are “eccentric” “An Old Head on Young Shoulders” or “Have Been Here Before”? That was Rab. On leaving nursery for ‘big school’  he declared to the teacher ” Mrs B when I leave here I will hold you in my heart forever” (he was 4). Mrs B was charmed and asked if that was how my husband talked to me at home. It wasn’t.

For all of you wonderful and observant readers who already able to diagnose him, I would like to point out that all children are different and some are more sensitive than others. So there.  Dubbed “Victorian Rab” by a friend we rather liked it.

The sensitivity was definitely intensified by a game devised by The Glory of the Clan called  ‘Baby Goes to School’. The Glory was the Teacher and Rab was baby. Baby did NOTHING right and was constantly berated by the miserable teacher, apparently a close relation of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull.

At real school Rab was becoming very, VERY anxious about failure. At 6. He was finding completing work challenging mainly because his ideas for topics and work were so unrealistic. If the subject was transport while other people wanted to draw a train, Rab  decided he wanted to design a car. A working car. And build it. When he couldn’t he became very angry with himself and frustrated, because of course all  the rest of the class could finish their work properly,and he just couldn’t, and he couldn’t adjust his expectations and he found it pretty difficult to move onto the next task before completing the first. Rab felt he was so stupid that one day at home having failed in a self imposed quest he charged down the stairs , crying and saying he wanted to kill himself. At times of stress this would change to the even more distressing “kill me Mummy”

At home Rab was concerned about death, us dying, something happening to Pearl, flood, war. So far so tender hearted, but he was also becoming angry. This built up and shortly before Pearl’s first birthday he was having massive,violent temper tantrums which included throwing things and wilful destruction of property. Rab also had some odd anxious looking behaviours. In the car he would pluck at his face and then put his fingers in his mouth and make to swallow. He did this repeatedly. When asked about it he said people were shooting arrows at him and he had to catch them and get rid of them.He was very imaginative. Rab also had to touch everything ,and if you told him to leave something alone he had to touch it once more, again, before obeying .He loved being outside and playing ,but hated getting his clothes  or hands dirty. If a fire engine went past (and his school was opposite a fire station) he put his fingers in his ears , closed his eyes and screamed.

I see you people- sit on your hands and keep your opinions to yourself- he was obviously just sensitive, tender hearted and picking up on the worry about Pearl that was battering our household in tumultuous waves.

In between these outbursts Rab was a happy, cheerful, loving and empathetic child.He was popular had a handful of good friends,and was well liked by the teachers.

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Luckily at this point I spotted an advert, from a local  University Psychology department,in the local press that said “Anxious Child?” Screaming “yes!” I phoned the number, Rab was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and became part of a double blind clinical trial. He was, fortunately, chosen to receive remote CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). The parents  (me, as Mr.Pearlie J had to stay home and hold the fort) attended a group, learnt CBT strategies and went home with homework to apply them to the unsuspecting anxious child. It was interesting, it was effective Rab was fixed!

Baby Goes to school was discouraged, Rab was given one to one support from  fabulous and effective parents,  Pearl continued to be strung up in towels and rolled over Physio balls, The Glory was glorious, and, again I had it nailed. I had accessed services, provided treatment and fixed the problem.  I was Superwoman.

“Don’t thank me that’s what I do” (Captain Adorable)