Alan was born in England to Irish parents and was eventually adopted by an American couple. When his sister tracked down their birth mother, he moved to Ireland where he met his partner and her two children from a previous relationship. Together they went on to have two more children.
Life threw some curveballs their way which meant Alan had to give up work and become a stay at home dad and carer for his stepson. Here he talks about the realities of a gender role reversal and the challenges and rewards of being a carer.
Becoming a carer…
I am carer for my stepson, who has a diagnosis of Autisim, ADHD, dyspraxia, a specific learning difficulty (reading) and tics.
It was during the pregnancy of my son that a couple of things happened resulting in me becoming a Carer. My partner has epilepsy and vitamin B12 deficiency. At the time I was a supervisor on the night shift at Paddy Power. The pregnancy caused my partner to take more, and potentially harmful to the baby, seizures. I was having to leave work early and miss shifts We also got the diagnosis of Autisim, ADHD and Dyspraxia.
Paddy Power were brilliant and allowed me time off, stepping down as supervisor and onto a fixed shift pattern. Sadly this didn’t work out and we made the decision for me to leave work and become my stepson’s full-time carer.
The reactions of others…
To be honest I don’t tell people. With the exception of close friends. If I’m asked what I do for “work” I just reply Carer and they assume I work in a care home. I’m not sure if this is to avoid possible negative responses or more to do with the fact that I might still not have fully adjusted to the fact I no longer “work” for a living.
What my role as carer involves…
My role as his carer is no different than my role as his step father. With her Epilepsy and therefore Mr being able to drive it means I’m the main person who takes him to the many appointments he has. Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Behavioural Groups, Paediatrics to name a few. I will also be the main contact point for the learning support teacher at school.
The most challenging part of being a carer…
The most challenging thing is that you are on call 24 hours a day! I know this is true for all parents, but when Buddy (Alan’s biological son) goes to school there isn’t the thought “he was off form his morning, am I going to get halfway to the supermarket before I get a call that there’s been an incident and I have to turn around?”
There is also the mountain of paperwork that a child with additional needs generates. Ensuring that there is no double booking of appointments between him and anyone else in the family. Trying to fit them around the subjects he enjoys or needs extra help with and can’t afford to miss. As well as keeping on top of prescriptions, medicine for the school nurse or SNA to give him at 3pm.
The positives are that I’ve not missed a single sports event, school play, parents evening for any of the children. I’ve also seen every first. Step, tooth, word, day at pre school, Junior Infants and Secondary school. Many of which I’d have missed had I still been doing the job I was.
None whatsoever. It’s just the Mrs and I. My parents live in the US and we barely see her family, never mind get any help from them.
The thing that would make the biggest difference…
Finances. It’s a struggle making ends meet each month. My parents have seen the grandchildren a total of 4 times. They are too old to travel that far and it took 3 years of saving for us to afford to go over to see them.
My advice for other parents who are carers…
Find something that is just yours. An interest, hobby or a friend. I have twitter and my blog. I have a group of online friends that I chat to most days as well as a parenting group run by a number 1 best selling parenting book author! 😉
My partner has a couple of close friends, who also happen to have a child on the Spectrum or being assessed that she goes to for the chats and a cuppa.
Tracey Smith 36, is from Mayo and is mum to 5 children – Chloe (16), Identical twins Cian and Jamie (7) Callum (3) and Angel baby Grace, who passed away at 28 weeks in 2014.
Tracey is married to Kieran, her college sweetheart, and they’ve been together for 18 years. Early in their relationship, Tracey discovered that she was pregnant. Here she chats with me about coping with a shock pregnancy and discusses the realities of life as a teenage mum.
Meeting my partner…
We got together while we lived in our student accommodation, it was your typical college house, people up all night, no food in the fridge, doors hanging off the hinges…nothing has changed much except the people we live with are younger, smaller and make more of a mess! He is from Cavan but I have never held that against him…much! He was a builder and then when the recession hit he trained to be a chef! I work part time as a marketing manager for a pharmacy chain and I am most proud of graduating with a masters a couple of years back!
Finding out I was pregnant…
So 2 months after myself and Kieran started going out together I wasn’t getting over my hangover from that Karaoke final I was in even after a few days…eventually I went to the college nurse and the strip turned pink. I had just turned 19 and I was in first year of college…we didn’t know each other that well, so it was all well overwhelming. I had really bad morning sickness from the minute the strip turned pink. Being a poor college student didn’t help things. I told my room mate and my house mate and no one else knew.
It was April so I knew I didn’t have to go home for another month. I was in complete denial looking back. I moved back home the end of May and got a part time job, I didn’t do my exams at college and I still hadn’t told my parents.
Hiding our news…
We had made the decision to continue the pregnancy earlier on, but I concealed it until I was 6 months. I spent the whole summer getting bigger and they were none the wiser. I was quite thin so I often wonder how they never noticed. When I was over 6 months I came home from work one day and my mother had found my pregnancy bible. She asked who did it belong to and I had to admit the truth.
She didn’t speak to me for a week.
I told my dad that evening and he came up to my room and told me everything was going to be okay, I was shocked he was so accepting. That day my brothers and sister also found out, I was the youngest in the family and the first one who went to 3rd level. I had a lot of expectation on my shoulders.
How others treated me…
Kieran was supportive from the beginning whatever I wanted he was happy with. My mother was very disappointed, my dad was sad for me. The consultant and midwives definitely treated me differently because of my age.
The initial impact…
There was no immediate impact because we concealed the pregnancy for 6 months, Kieran found it hard to tell his parents even at that stage. I was about 8 months when he eventually did tell them. I had moved home as college had finished up and Kieran was doing an apprenticeship in Limerick at the time. I had planned to take the year out and return to college and repeat my first year, we had planned to go back to Letterkenny together.
I lived at home when I had Chloe. Kieran had finished his apprenticeship but was back living in Cavan. It was tough. I felt very alone. Chloe was born on 23rd December so I spent Christmas Day in hospital.
I had mam and dad but as good as they were and helped when they could, they were of the opinion Chloe was my baby and my responsibility.
Kieran travelled down at the weekends and I loved to see him arrive. We had no time on our own though as my parents home is very small terraced house, there are no spare rooms or places to escape.
The realities of being a teenage mum…
I found being a young mum worse at the weekends or during holidays when my friends came home. My Friday nights consisted of baby baths, colic and the Late Late Show with my parents, I was just 19 so I found this incredibly hard. I became to resent the freedom my friends had and the freedom I know longer had.
Comparing motherhood, first and second time around…
I actually think being a teenage first time mum was much easier than when I became a mum of the second (third) time (twins!), I was much more nervous as an older new mum. Everything scared me. The Naivety of being 19 and a first time mum made it easier to adjust to having a baby. I had a lot more energy!
Trying to juggle it all…
I went back to college when Chloe was 9 months and brought her with me, we lived on our own in an apartment. Unfortunately with full time child care and rent and being on a student grant and Kieran’s apprenticeship wage (he was in Dublin by this stage on his next placement) I found it financially too tough. I had to drop out and return home, again. That was tough, I found it very hard to pick myself up after that.
When I was 23 I returned as a mature student, Mam looked after Chloe was was 3 years old and I went on to graduate with a business degree, the same year myself and Kieran got married.
I went on to do a masters in 2015 because I still wanted to prove something…to who… I don’t know!
The parts I found the most challenging…
Looking back the most challenging part was losing my freedom, losing a little bit of myself and being a mum when I was still growing up myself.
The best thing was growing up with Chloe, she will be 17 at the end of the year and we are more like sisters than anything. We look alike, we like the same things, we kill each other but she LOVES the fact her mum is so young.
The support teenage mums need…
I think teenage mums need support for developing their skills, re-training or finishing their education. More creches in colleges, subsidise childcare for younger parents who may not be in well paid jobs etc.
Advice for other parents…
I often think about what would I do if Chloe turned around and told me she was pregnant. What I would say is, don’t yell, shout or become silent. You may want to and that’s normal, but don’t let them see this being your first reaction. Hug them, tell them its going to be okay and let it sink in. Then ask questions. Find out where their head is and if their partner is supportive.
Listen to them. Let them lead. They will need you but for now, let them talk.
If they decide they are continuing their pregnancy, remember…It is not the end of the world being a teenage mum, your life is not over. Things just take a different path, it maybe a harder, rockier path initially but it does straighten out and eventually rejoins the path that you had initially wanted to follow. Things always work out.
I started up my blog in 2016 as I was at home with the kids and writing was always something I wanted to do. I mainly write about the kids and beauty, funny and sad whatever is on my mind!
Ruth is mum to 5 year old Aidan and 3 year old Sarah. She’s from Meath, married to Galway man Mike and lives in Kildare -( practically cosmopolitan ;-)!)
Ruth was formerly the Deputy Sport Editor of the Leinster Leader but when the children came along, juggling family life a with a need to be pitchside at weekends proved an enormous challenge. She now works as an editorial designer for the Iconic Newspaper Group
Ruth suffers with anxiety and spoke to me very honestly about the realities of coping with parenthood while struggling with her mental health.
Realising there was a problem…
It’s hard to pinpoint, because I really only admitted it to myself about three years ago. I think it all started when my father died almost eight years ago. I don’t think I grieved for him properly and it all stemmed from there. In October 2016 I finally sought help and was diagnosed with a stress and anxiety disorder.
How it materialises…
When I don’t have it under control I’m an absolute mess. I stress about everything and I mean everything! I would have an idea of how a day would have to unfold in my head and if it veered off course I really couldn’t cope. I can also be quite obsessive about things at my worst, while I would have real trouble with having any sort of patience.
A lot of people think anxiety is all about being scared of being out in public, and while social anxiety is a problem for many, it’s actually not a problem I have. My problem was literally being on edge all of the time but I always put on a brave face in public and was always social.
How becoming a parent exasperated things...
The one thing a parent needs in patience! Also children rarely do what you want them to do, so that loss of control was very, very hard to deal with.
The effect on my family…
It’s fine now but before I got it under control I really don’t know how my husband put up with me. I was paranoid and always thought I had done something to upset him when I actually hadn’t. However there was plenty of times I did annoy him with my obsessiveness about keeping the house clean.
I also made life hard for the kids, particularly Aidan. I gave out to him for just doing normal kid things. I’d often freak if he spilled a drink or knocked food from the table. When I think back now, I was a nightmare. My behaviour definitely affected him but, as a family we have worked on that too and he’s a happy go-lucky five year old now, thank God.
I do worry that my stress and anxiety will become a learned behaviour for them.
How I cope…
By taking my medication!! Medication might not be for everyone but, for now, it is for me. I have ceased taking it before and did well for a while and then, out of nowhere, all my stress and anxiety returned and I just couldn’t do it all over again. Now, I don’t feel anything but normal, I just feel level. I don’t sweat the small things, I don’t worry half as much as I used to and I am able to relax.
The children’s awareness…
They can’t not notice. Obviously they are too young to know exactly what’s wrong but don’t kids always pick up on their parent’s moods?
I don’t tell them, they are too young. However if I step out of line with the giving out I will always say sorry to them. I think that’s important.
My husband first and foremost. I think if the roles were reversed I would have thrown him out years ago! He is the most patient and supportive human I know.
Being open about it…
I’m not ashamed of it. It’s part of me so why should I hide it. I wrote a blog post on it and the response I got from other women who felt the exact same way was staggering. If even one of those women sought help having read my post, it meant sharing my mental illness was worth it.
I think some people are slightly taken aback about just how open I am but for the most part, people are fine about it.
The positive it has added to my parenting journey…
I’ve learned to be calm and stop rushing all the time, which the kids love now!
When people used to tell me to calm down! It was like a red rag to a bull for me! I so desperately wanted to calm down but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t.
Advice for other parents going through similar difficulties…
Talk to someone, be it a partner,a friend or even a stranger. When you open up about how you are feeling it will all just come out of you and then you can discuss what route you want to go down in terms of getting help. And remember, it is nothing to be ashamed of.
How to support a friend who is struggling…
Take the person out of the situation that is stressing them. Take them out for dinner or drinks and chat, chat, chat and laugh! Don’t they say laughter is the best medicine!
My favourite thing about parenthood…
Hearing my two babies laugh. My son has the heartiest laugh you will ever hear. I sometimes stand back from the bathroom door when they are in the bath together. They think I am not listening and the two of them are always roaring laughing together as they splash each other. It’s the one thing that will instantly lift my mood.
Geraldine from Galway – the proud mum of three uniquely different and full of fun boys – married her husband on the TV programme, “Don’t tell the Bride”, back in 2012.
She is a writer, but life is not as simple as that – in addition to being a writer she is an advocate,doctor, dog-walker, mum and full-time carer for her eldest son Ethan who has a life limiting condition.
Here Ger talks to me about the realities of being the parent of a child with a terminal disease, how overwhelming it can be, her worries for her other children and the support that she really needs.
Realising something was wrong…
Ethan was diagnosed in March 2008 . Ethan was born in 2002 and from 2003/2004 , we knew something wasn’t quite “right” with our little man . Ethan was hitting every milestone early but suddenly at the age of 18 months he began to lose words or forget how to make his favorite jigsaw puzzle. At first we thought it could be an “off” day but then it happened more frequently and he began to get chest infections every other week . Seasons didn’t matter, he was sick with a runny nose almost the whole year round . He didn’t look like us or any family member and he was toe walking . His belly was sticking out while he didn’t seem to be able to straighten his fingers .
For every new word he learned, he lost three. He didn’t seem to be able to hear us. He’d often sit and stare out the window shouting at nothing. His hearing was the first thing doctors zoomed in on and often used his hearing loss to explain his unstable walking . The second thing was behaviour and we were told that Ethan has Sensory processing issues along with a mild learning disability and possibly Autism ; we agreed with all that but believed that there was more , something else wasn’t quite right . After years of begging the doctors to listen to us , finally in February 2008 we were heard . A wonderful doctor sat down and let me talk and talk about all my worries – that doctor had little choice but to listen as I had refused to let Ethan have another set of grommets inserted when clearly they were not helping him hear . I caused holy war and finally got the right doctor ( up until then I had only access to an ENT doctor who just thought all Ethan’s symptoms were hearing related along with my “over anxious young mother ” nerves !) Ethan was finally diagnosed with Hunter Syndrome two months shy of his 6th birthday .
Handling the news…
Well, how can any parent understand when the doctor tells you – “You won’t have him for long ,go home and love him. ” Our old world ended that second ,that minute ,that hour …
Nothing was ever going to be the same again – that is all I really understood that day.
Hunter syndrome and the prognosis…
Hunter Syndrome is a rare genetic syndrome . It is progressive. There is no cure . The body is missing or has a damaged enzyme which is in every cell of the body . This enzyme helps breaks down waste in our body (not poop , FYI !) .
Without the enzyme the waste has nowhere to go ,so it builds up and up until there’s no more places to store it . As it builds it affects every single thing in the mind and body . Then when it’s finished the person generally passes away , by then Hunters has taken everything from them …speech , ability to eat, walk , communicate … absolutely everything .
Hunter Syndrome does have a treatment which helps slow down the progression of the syndrome , but that only works for so long – you’re basically buying time .
There is a possibility of a cure and ongoing research but for our son, it is too late.
The impact on Ethan’s life so far…
Ethan now has a peg for medications . He is on a special diet of blended food. He uses thickener through his drinks . His speech is all but gone and he’s losing his ability to walk and eat .
Yet he smiles and laughs and tries his best to sing and dance still.
And the impact on ours…
It’s devastating to watch your child fade away . It’s an eye opener, a reality checker and a perspective maker. It’s changed us profoundly . It’s given me life and broken my heart a million times over.
For a long time we had sweet feck all! We did have a family support worker from 2010 for ten hours a month. This was to be taken off us in 2012 but I fought tooth and nail to keep him as he adores Ethan and is very much part of the family now.
Temple Street Children hospital have always been excellent at trying to get us supports and help here in Galway but up until 2013, we were getting no Respite and no outside help , only ten hours a month with the family support worker.
We’ve two other boys and we have to give them a childhood too , without help , that’s very difficult .
Currently we have respite , home help and Lauralynn
LauraLynn and the struggle to accept our need…
LauraLynn and much more support ( more respite ,home help and social worker, community nurse, public health nurses…) all came into the fold last year as Ethan had a rapid decline . He lost the last of his speech and became very violent .
We thought we were going to lose him. LauraLynn stepped in to offer support for Ethan and us , our family.
I was afraid of LauraLynn because the word “hospice” is attached to it . I didn’t want to go and refused the first time it was suggested. I felt it meant that I was ready to let my baby go – I’ll never be ready .
But with a bit of support from our medical teams here in Galway and Dublin we ventured up late last year.
It was surreal. It was heartbreaking . It was beautiful.The staff are amazing . We haven’t been back since due to ill health and getting the time off to go there(husband works outside of the home) but we are due back in June for a few days – this time all of us .
I’m anxious about my other two boys experience there ; I am sure that they will find it hard but also helpful , as there will be a team for them too so they can talk and play freely .
Coping with it all…
I didn’t for a long long time. I was great at locking Hunter Syndrome away in the back of my head during the early days .
But Hunter Syndrome didn’t break it’s promise to me – it did take and still does take and take from my son, so I had to face it .
I’ve had a lot of counselling and recently I have turned to mindfulness -which I have found to be brilliant for me . I have severe panic attacks and suffer with anxiety, stress and everything you’d expect a parent of a dying child to live with – but I am managing it as best I can.
I also write . I made a little dent for me and my style of writing. I have found my niche and my soul finds peace behind the computer screen while my fingers dance over the keyboard.
The highs along the way…
The people I have met .
The kindness I have been witness to.
The families that live this life along side us , whether they are in Ireland or New Zealand !
Ethan getting a courage award, a make a wish trip and his pending 16th birthday celebrations .
The funny stuff Ethan did when he was younger .
Ethan’s laugh .
Ethan’s ability to bring out the goodness in people while calling them a Ballio – let me explain that a little – when we were told Ethan would lose his speech ,we stopped correcting the curse words he used and to this day he still uses the word Ballio which is the B word .
Simply put Ethan has been the greatest high through the diagnosis.
And the lows…
Hospital machines , watching them ,praying for the stats to climb up so my son doesn’t need to be ventilated.
March 2008 – the day I really heard how deafening silence can be .
Ethan’s violent outbursts especially when he’d hurt himself. I’d take the kicks, punches , pinches over and over rather than to see him hurt himself.
Ethan being sedated for his own safety.
Coming to realise that Hunter Syndrome will win this.
The support I need…
Help for my two younger sons . I worry about their mental health. Mental health check up for us , Ethan’s parents and extended family members. When we ring regarding Ethan’s needs be it a huge thing or something small , I wish we didn’t have to go on a damn list.
Yes I’m asking for special treatment. I wish we didn’t have to reapply for medical card or for Ethan disability benefit , I really think families like ours could do without that stress . Once a child is deemed terminal everything should be automatic , I shouldn’t have to prove he’s not cured …ya know ?!
I do wish those who don’t know about Ethan’s condition wouldn’t wait to give us the supports we need until it becomes a crisis ; for example I have been asking for a home adaptation for two years now which has now hit a crisis point as Ethan is no longer able to sleep safely in his bed at night , but we still have to wait for all the paperwork and approval before they city council even think about building a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. This was the stress I was trying to avoid , I thought if I applied in plenty of time it would all be there for when Ethan needed it but alas that is not what happened due to I believe a lack of understanding of the word ‘progressive’ in Ethan’s syndrome.
My advice for parents whose child has received the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition…
My advice would be to make memories . Ask for a good social worker , an experienced one who can fill out all the forms and just get you to sign them – trust me giving up a job will be the first thing you’ll do ( I did) Know the law regarding the state’s obligation to your child.
Take a mindfulness course , give it your all , it will help .
Remember that life no matter how sad, is for living. Enjoy as much of it as you can while you can .
It is perfectly fine to shut yourself off from the world , just remember to open a window, even on a bad day.
I will leave you with a quote which really sums up what it is like living with a child who has not only special needs but is terminally ill –
“You are now in a secret world. You’ll see things you never imagined; ignorance , rudeness and discrimination …but you’ll also witness so many everyday miracles and you’ll know it. You won’t think a milestone is just a milestone , you’ll know it’s a miracle. You’ll treasure things most wouldn’t think twice about . You’ll become an advocate, an educator, a specialist and a therapist but most of all, above all this , you’ll be a parent to the most wonderful child’ –Written by me (Ger Renton)
Jenni is married to gadget and technology loving Aussie Andy (who goes by the affectionate and wholly original nickname Skippy in certain circles). Mum to drama and dance loving daughter Alana (7), and would-be astronaut son Zach (6), she loves coffee, spending time with her family and friends, travelling and watching her children play together happily.
Being a stay at home mum wasn’t something Jenni visualised for herself but as she says, you never know what “curve-balls life will throw at us”.
Jenni’s curve-ball came in the shape of a diabetes diagnosis for her daughter at just two years old. She explains the reality of life with a child who has a chronic disease, and the significant restrictions involved.
Suspecting something was up…
My husband Andy and my sister also have Type 1 diabetes so I was somewhat aware of the symptoms. It all happened quite quickly over the period of about a week. Alana had been particularly grumpy and tired leading up to that week, which I had put down to the typical “terrible twos” stage and the fact that I’d just started a new job after a year off with my babies. As the week went on she started asking for more and more water and was going to the toilet more and more frequently. When she started waking at night crying for water alarm bells really started ringing. I remember lying awake at night googling symptoms and trying to convince myself she was ok – like I hadn’t noticed a big weight loss or sweet smelling urine.
I’ll never forget THE DAY. We spent the afternoon at Brittas Bay with friends, I confided my fears to a friend that same day but again convinced myself she was ok. Then after we got home we noticed that she went to the toilet 3 times within half an hour, so we used Andy’s glucometer to do a blood glucose test on her. The result just read “HIGH”. Our fears were confirmed and we rushed straight to A&E!
Alana was sent straight to the triage nurse as soon as we arrived in A&E. The nurse did another blood test with a glucometer to check her blood glucose levels and again the result read “High”. Before treatment could begin we had to await the results of a further blood test to confirm certain antibodies were present. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease – Alana’s immune system was attacking the insulin producing beta cells in her pancreas. Without insulin glucose cannot be absorbed by your cells, so the body starts to break down fat for energy. This process causes a build up of acids in the blood called ketones, which will lead to a dangerous and life-threatening condition called “diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)” if left untreated. Because my husband is a type 1 himself, we were fully aware of this danger so the formal diagnosis couldn’t come quick enough – we knew she needed insulin and she needed it fast!
Our feelings on diagnosis…
HEARTBROKEN – although we knew in our hearts she had Type 1 diabetes as we were racing to A&E, the formal diagnosis hit us both like a tonne of bricks.
I also felt really AFRAID – how were we going to manage a 2 year old with this condition? How would we constantly prick her little fingers to do blood tests and give her daily insulin injections? What damage had already been done to her little body? Would we ever sleep again for fear she’d slip into a diabetic coma overnight?
LONELY – we realised quite quickly who our real friends were and that some people would just never understand the impact (and potential danger) of this disease no matter how much we tried to educate or explain. We received a lot of “At least she doesn’t have xyz”, or “Sure that’s fine, isn’t Andy a Type 1 so it’ll be no bother” and the classic “Sure she’s so young she’ll know no different”
Then there was the GUILT – had we done something to cause this?
The misconceptions about Type 1 Diabetes..
The main misconception is that Type 1 and Type 2 are the same thing. While they are both characterised by having higher than normal blood sugar levels, they are caused by different things and treated in different ways.
There is a lot of media attention on Type 2 diabetes and how lifestyle choices (bad diet and lack of exercise) can increase your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. Then the old diabetes jokes that if you eat 36 Mars Bars or whatever you’ll get diabetes. I feel there is such a stigma attached to the disease, that it is your own fault for getting it and easy to control or prevent!
People (including professionals) don’t always differentiate between the 2 different types of diabetes or give all the facts. Type 2 although often associated with excess body weight, can occur in people who are of a healthy weight – it can develop as a result of the effect of other medications or just purely because of your genetics! You could be extremely unhealthy and never get it too. I don’t know much about the treatment but I believe losing weight (if needed) can postpone the development of type 2 or put it into remission, then there are tablets you can take and finally you may end up on insulin therapy.
The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown. A person does need to be predisposed to the condition but for a lot of families it seems to strike from no-where. No-one had type 1 diabetes in either of our families before my sister or my husband were diagnosed. Something needs to trigger the autoimmune response that causes the beta-cells in the pancreas to be attacked. With Alana is is presumed to have been triggered by a virus. Nothing we did caused this monster to take over our child’s body!
Another misconception is that Type 1 can be controlled or “cured” with a special diet. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. It can only be managed with injections of insulin. You could of course limit the amount of insulin needed by eating less carbohydrate containing food but a child needs carbohydrates for growth and development. Also there are so many factors that affect insulin needs, not just food – the time of day, exercise, illness, growth spurts, stress, excitement, the weather to name some; I already dread the effects puberty will have on her blood glucose levels!
The symptoms of type 1 appear quite suddenly and worsen quickly. Watch out for increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, irritability and fatigue. We have heard so many stories from other parents who have experienced GPs assuming these symptoms are just a virus, and are lucky that their child is still with them today! Please ask for a blood glucose test if you feel your child shows any typical symptoms. Type 2 has similar symptoms but in contrast often develops slowly over years. Type 1 although usually diagnosed in childhood or the early teenage years can also present in adults!
And most importantly – yes Alana is allowed to eat sweets and cake! No food is off limit as long as we counter-act the amount of carbohydrate in it with insulin. Just like any other child a healthy diet with treats in moderation is encouraged.
The immediate (and continued) impact…
Alana could not be discharged from hospital until her ketone levels were safe and Andy and I were trained and capable of caring for her, so we pretty much moved into the hospital for a few days.
It was very difficult trying to cope with the emotional side whilst also learning how to basically keep her alive. Information overload is an understatement. Although Andy is also Type 1, it is very different managing a child as you cannot feel how she feels. She was also only 2 and understandably did not take too kindly to finger pricks and injections.
It did help though that it was not a completely foreign disease to us and I knew some of the basics already. She also didn’t like sugary foods or drinks – again she was only 2 so just hadn’t been introduced to them! Initially we lived in fear of her blood sugars going low as the treatment is to eat or drink fast acting sugar immediately.
The biggest change for me was taking the decision to resign from my job to care for Alana (and of course her little brother Zach). I’d only started a new contract role, which was a 50 minute commute and full-time. We were lucky that we could just about afford to do this with some cut-backs.
The first few weeks were intense as we worked closely with the hospital team to adjust her insulin levels to suit her individual requirements. This involved recording everything she ate and how many units of insulin we gave her, regular blood glucose tests throughout the night as well as during the day, hospital visits, and daily phone calls to the nurse team.
I do believe I lost a part of myself when I stopped working. It definitely affected my confidence (and still does!). I would find it very hard now though after spending the past 5 years off work as a full-time mum to go back to a full-time role and it would be hard to find someone I’d trust enough to manage Alana during all the school holidays etc. Because I spend so much time with her it is easier for me to spot trends and make background insulin adjustments for example.
We do not have to juggle work to attend hospital appointments or if either kid is ill and I love being able to attend all their school shows etc. There are pros and cons but there is no doubt that you are just as busy (in a different way) when you are a stay-at-home mum!
We are very conscious that Zach does not feel left out but the reality is that Alana’s condition requires extra attention. Type 1 diabetes is a 24/7 role – you do not get a break from it but it does eventually just become part of your daily routine.
A typical day…
As soon as Alana awakes her blood glucose level is checked. Her breakfast is weighed and the amount of carbohydrate calculated and this combined with what her blood glucose level is determines how much insulin she requires.
Alana now wears an insulin pump which we programme to do a lot of the calculations for us, so for any food she eats throughout the day we enter the amount of carbohydrate in it and the pump delivers the required dose of insulin. We have a notebook system with her school, so for her snack and lunch I write out the carbohydrate value and her SNA delivers the insulin via Alana’s insulin pump.
Throughout the day she would do at least 4 blood glucose tests – It can be more depending on what activities are happening on that day and how her blood glucose levels are running on that day. She does not go anywhere without her glucometer and treatment for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels). If her blood sugars go low she needs fast acting sugar immediately. In contrast if her blood glucose goes too high she needs more insulin. It’s all a balancing act! I never go to bed until I know she will be ok overnight (or if needed I will set an alarm to wake and check on her).
I cannot leave her with anyone who is not aware of her medical condition and knows what to do if she goes hypoglycemic (for me that is my main concern). They also need to be aware that she cannot eat carbohydrate containing food unless she is first given insulin, so for parties, camps, playdates etc I will always be there at food times to deliver insulin.
Her insulin pump is attached to her by a cannula. Every second day the insulin reservoir is changed and the cannula removed and a new set inserted. She also wears a sensor which continuously monitors her blood glucose level. This is removed and a new one inserted every 6 days or as needed. We also monitor trends in high or low blood glucose levels and amend background insulin ratios and calculations as needs be.
Our support network…
My parents were invaluable as they minded Zach whilst we were being trained and snuck into our house to leave a meal now and then or to do some laundry. My mum is one of the few people I’m comfortable to leave Alana with for an extended period of time, but even that requires refresher training and planning. Also my mother-in-law actually got the first possible flight from Australia to come and help us as soon as she heard of the diagnosis – you can’t ask for more than that! She encouraged me to get out of the house for a walk or to meet friends for coffee and just took over some of the housework.
When we picked up our first prescription from our local pharmacist, they took my number and passed it onto another mum in the area who’s boy is also a Type 1 diabetic. That mum rang me straight away and it was just so wonderful to talk to another mum in the same situation and to hear that everything would be ok!
We attend Crumlin Children’s hospital and have access to their diabetes team at any time if we have a question or need advice. Every quarter we have a hospital review with the nurses and Consultant where Alana’s HBA1C (measures Alana’s average blood glucose concentration over the past 3 months) is checked as well as her weight and height and we discuss how things are going and any needs to change her insulin doses etc. We also have access to a psychologist through the hospital who helps children and adolescents cope with the emotional impact of their diabetes. It is great to know Alana will have that access if she needs it in the future.
There are a couple of private facebook support groups for parents where you can ask advice, share tips or just rant to people that understand. Diabetes Ireland (link here) also have a kids club and they arrange outings and opportunities for Type 1 children to get together. Crumlin hospital also arrange some outings.
I feel Type 1 diabetes is an invisible disease..from the outside Alana looks like a healthy child, but a lot is going on in the background to keep her that way.
The challenges for Alana…
So far I don’t feel it has created any difficulties for Alana really. As a mum I was worried she’s be excluded from playdates and parties but thankfully this is not the case (or if it is in some cases she hasn’t noticed). I’d seen some worrying posts via the facebook support group regarding lack of support in primary schools or about SNAs just not realising the seriousness of the condition or refusing to do parts of the necessary treatment but thankfully her school have always been extremely supportive and each year she has had access to a fantastic SNA that she builds lovely relationships with and who is more than capable to care for her. She hasn’t mentioned ever been teased about her diabetes yet either.
I expect challenges to arise as the teenage years approach. We will always be there to support her but she will have to independently manage her diabetes herself. It will be important for her to have a supportive group of friends who don’t make her feel conscious or embarrassed by her conditions and that understand that if she acts “off” it could be because her blood glucose levels are too high or too low and how to manage that. We will need to watch out for “diabulimia” where people deliberately restrict insulin and run their blood glucose levels too high in order to lose weight and “diabetes burnout” when you have had enough and grow tired of managing diabetes 24/7 so you just sort of give up for a while! Not looking after your diabetes properly can result in all sorts of health complications. Again a balancing act of stepping back so she can learn to manage herself but yet keeping an eye on things to ensure she is looking after herself and not putting her health in danger.
An additional factor…
She was diagnosed with coeliac disease last November. For about a year and a half before the diagnosis she’d been complaining of bad stomach pains and feeling yucky and her health and energy were deteriorating. She started having really bad mood swings and saying she felt sad and frustrated and didn’t know why! We suspected coeliac disease but blood tests weren’t picking it up, so were pushing from all sorts of angles to find out what was going on with her or was it just what people refer to as “growing pains”. She had a biospy last November and that confirmed the coeliac disease.
It has definitely added another level of care, it is yet another thing we have to plan for and work around. I never realised that for someone with coeliac disease that something as simple as touching a piece of bread and then the gluten-free food can cause a reaction (and in her case it does!). There are so many foods that you would think are gluten free and indeed are but because of manufacturing processes there can be a risk of cross contamination with gluten, so certain brands are not deemed safe for a person with coeliac disease. The Coeliac Society publish a Food List which at the moment is our bible! It is all worth all the effort and label reading and researching foods though as she is back to her old bubbly, energetic self already!
For the first few weeks that she went gluten free we’d to monitor her diabetes more closely as her body adjusted to the gluten free diet. Her insulin requirements needed tweaking and still do as she is still recovering from the damage the disease has caused to her gut. I have heard that once her gut is healed fully that her Type 1 diabetes may become more predictable and her HBA1C results might improve. Her hospital results are usually pretty good anyway so an improvement would be an extra bonus. We are lucky in that she doesn’t react to gluten by vomiting like some people with coeliac disease do as that would be very difficult to manage with Type 1 diabetes – if you can’t keep food down you are at risk of serious hypoglycemia.
How Alana copes…
Alana has an incredible attitude – I thank Andy for his relentless optimism that she seems to have inherited! She is actually quite proud of having both Type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease and feels somewhat special and enjoys the attention. It helps that her dad and aunt both have Type 1 as she greatly admires both of them!
When she started school we were amazed and so proud of how responsible she was in telling her SNA or teacher if she wasn’t feeling quite right – she is very in touch with her feelings!
I do notice moments of worry creeping in from time to time but they pass. She might be scared to go on a playdate (this has thankfully passed) or lately she has expressed a fear that her insulin pump will break or that she’ll be stuck somewhere with no sugar and go hypoglycemic. All we can do is re-assure her. It’s hard to get the balance right between making her feel just like everyone else but ensuring she is aware of her medical condition and what to do if she doesn’t feel right.
We want her to live as normal a life as possible and to never let Type 1 diabetes hold her back and so far she seems to be doing pretty well at that
Advice for other parents…
As hard as it seems at first it will get better – just take it day by day. A nurse told us that we would go through a grieving process similar to if we had actually lost our child and that did indeed happen – we lost our “healthy” Alana. Knowing that those feelings were a normal reaction really helped me get through that period of time.
As soon as you can reach out to other parents of children with Type 1 diabetes, whether through facebook support groups or the Diabetes Association. The hospital you attend may also have support groups.
When my children were born, I thought a lot about the direction their lives might take. Could one grow up be a famous doctor who’d discover a cure for cancer or some other terrible disease? Might one prove to be a talented footballer whose goal in extra time would see Man Utd relegated after a particularly poor season? Was there a chance that I might end up attending the Oscars on the arm of one talented actor son or daughter who felt their mammy was the only person who truly deserved to be their “plus one”? Or did musical accolade await another whose fans would spend hours online trying to get tickets to their concerts that were destined to sell out in minutes?
And then the morphine wore off and I focused on the most important thing– that they would be happy.
But the world and real life seems to measure things differently. As any parent of more than one child knows, the same ingredients don’t necessarily produce the same results. Just like Bassets we have allsorts in this house – and I love that they are so different. Personalities, interests, abilities – all hugely different, and all contributing to the wonderful unique child that each one is.
And each unique child learns to measure themselves by standardised tests, sporting achievement and dramatic excellence. Hard work is valued and championed and success rightly acknowledged – but why are all things not measured equally.
Where is the value on kindness? We know that youth mental health has never been under so much pressure. We know the influence of their peers has the potential to be with them always. We know they have to find their own way in the world without us always by their side. But while it’s not a single layered issue, there is a fundamental change we could make – a change in emphasis.
We see lots of advice given on what to do if things do wrong but it’s reactionary and forgets that most important point – prevention is better than cure.
Kindness and empathy are applauded and celebrated when our children are toddlers and smallies, and though in theory, an ethos may remain once they go to school, as the years progress and the targets become more obvious it becomes apparent that excelling at kindness doesn’t feature to the same degree.
It’s probably not a deliberate omission, but how lovely it would be to see it as a deliberate inclusion, throughout the entire school cycle, recognising the different and yet same shape it can take as our children get older. A focus away from the books and the sports field. A focus on caring and compassion and thinking of others. A focus on words, actions and consequences and how to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. A focus that makes up as consistent a part of their education as their academic studies and sporting outlets.
And a focus that would surely lead to a lot more happiness.
Maybe when the morphine of achievement and competitiveness wears off….
Benny is a father of two who lives in Waterford and is married to his childhood sweetheart – or long suffering wife as he likes to call her. He has an 8 year old son, who loves technology but not football, and a 2 year daughter who is a Paw Patrol fanatic and is the boss of the house (those of us with toddlers can definitely relate!)
Benny is a stay at home dad and his son has dyspraxia DCD. He spoke to me about life as a stay-at-home dad and what having a child with dyspraxia means for his family.
Why I became a stay at home dad
My wife was returning to work after Maternity and a year off to concentrate on studies (but how she studied while being at home I’ll never know). We were right in the midst of making arrangements with crèches and after school, who’d could collect who etc when I dropped the bombshell… “What if I stayed at home?” After the initial shock of my idea we sat down and worked out the figures. Between the tax saving of only having one income, not having to pay for childcare and some tightening of our belts we decided that it could be done. We reckoned it would give us a better quality of life and this was the main thinking behind it.
The reactions from other men – and women
Most people are great. Most women have a ‘good for you’ attitude to it. Most men are like “huh, huh, you’re retired then!” But it’s all in jest. I say ‘most’ because there are people who don’t seem to grasp it, yup, you guessed it ‘the elder generation’. The ones who grew up with defined roles of ‘male breadwinner’ and ‘female home keeper’ but this attitude is dying out, literally. Us younger folk are fairly on the ball.
The best and the eh “most challenging” parts of being a stay at home dad
The best is easy, being with the kids. When I was an auctioneer I worked long hours (there was no ‘off’, my phone was constantly going outside of hours), I used to see them for a few minutes in the morning and come home stressed to land on top of the bedtime routine. It just wasn’t working for me. Now I get to watch them grow and develop and be much more involved in their lives.
The most challenging aspect, ya ready for this? Being constantly with the kids. There’s no ‘off’ as a stay at home parent either. No sick days. No going to the toilet alone for God’s sake!! But you know what, I’m delighted I made the decision. Plus it’s allowed me to start up daddypoppins.com and write both comedy and serious pieces for various newspapers and websites. I’ve always wanted to write and being a stay at home dad gives me the best of both worlds.
How we discovered our son had dyspraxia.
We knew there was issues at school but their description of our little man and how we found him to be at home were very different. He gotten on great in crèche and Montessori and they thought he’d fly at school but he just never settled. He became anxious and socially awkward and the happy boy we knew retreated into himself. As time went by he became worse and worse as we explored every avenue to help him. Unfortunately the Irish system has waiting lists of up to 2 years for assessment. In fact at the time of writing this we are still waiting. We have paid to go privately (as early intervention is key), he’s been diagnosed with Dyspraxia DCD and sensory processing disorder, we’ve had 2 separate blocks of occupational therapy and still nothing. You have to be wealthy in this country to be seen (something we aren’t, but we’re struggling in to help our kids in any way we can)
In the end it was actually a relief, for us and him. We knew what was going on and put a plan in place to try make things as easy as possible for him.
That’s the issue, it’s very difficult to describe. There’s no one sentence that sums it all up. It’s different for everyone affected by it. To me, it’s a brain-based developmental condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement (both fine and gross motor skills are affected). Dyspraxia isn’t a sign of muscle weakness or of low intelligence, in fact the Little Man is super smart. Some children with dyspraxia struggle with balance and posture. They may appear clumsy or “out of sync” with their environment. Our little man struggles with writing, organisation, emotions, breaks from routine etc. our little girl is the same, there’s definitely something happening there too but at 2 and 1/2 she’s too young to diagnose.
The difficulties dyspraxia presents for our son – and for us.
The Little man is 8 and like all 8 year olds there’s worries to be had. How much of it is down to dyspraxia and how much of it is down to him being our first kid is up for a bit of debate. You’d never really know without a control subject. Why don’t they come with manuals?
Dyspraxia has made our life hectic and full of worries about how he’ll cope with situations. It’s made me much more of a ‘helicopter parent’ than I ever thought I’d be. Everything has to be done in a specific way or there’ll be meltdowns; from laying out of clothes in a specific order for the morning and checking upon every detail as we work our way through the daily routine. It’s exhausting. He isn’t able to do what other 8 year olds can, everything needs parental supervision.
We’ve created our own support system because there’s been a total lack of support from the state. We are still waiting on public assessment. If we hadn’t gone private (much to the detriment of our finances) then I’m not sure where we’d be. The little man’s mental health and emotional wellbeing were deteriorating at an alarming rate.
It’s another reason I’m delighted I made the decision to become a stay at home dad as I know my sons routine and needs. Both myself and my amazing wife are his home support. The wonderful Hannah in Sunflower Clinic is his support and I’m glad to say that since her report the school have rolled in behind us and life has been made much easier.
I’ve become immersed in dyspraxia since the diagnosis. I attended a local meeting one night (hastily arranged by a small group of concerned parents) and it snowballed from there. It was only then that I realised how many people are affected by it. So many people don’t know a thing about it. It’s pretty invisible as a special need and has gone unnoticed in so many people in the past. Did you know that 1 in 20 people has it? I know of 7 kids in my estate of around 60 houses that have Dyspraxia DCD (to give it is full title). This meeting has spawned a group of concerned parents (all in the same boat as me) and has grown and grown and we hope to have club formed by September of this year that will provide an outlet for kids and parents going through everything that dyspraxia brings (from the initial worry, to diagnosis and acceptance, planning, engaging, techniques and tricks and the support and friendship of someone who understands your situation).
Because Dyspraxia isn’t ‘obvious’ to the naked eye it’s often dismissed or ‘tutted at’ by others and assumed to be ‘bad parenting’ or an ‘unruly or emotional child’ or something to that effect. It’s not. They don’t grow out of it. It needs to be recognized like autism or dyslexia. It’s currently being pushed to the side by our health services as regards funding.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve become the public relations officer for the Waterford Dyspraxia DCD Support group (link to page here) and currently run both their public and private Facebook pages. So I’m part of the support, but it’s a huge group effort, we have a board of 16 (who all have different skill sets, from; barristers, insurance professionals, special needs assistants and fund raisers) at this point we also have 15 fully trained couches (some of whom are young adults with Dyspraxia). So to answer your question about support, the involved parents are the support, others don’t seem to understand. But we’re working on making them.
The biggest challenge.
In a word, worry. What does the future hold for my child? How can we continue with this exhaustive routine. How can we afford to continue treating them privately? Will they ‘fit in’? Will they be able to secure work and look after themselves properly later in life? Will they be happy?
..and the positives
I’m not sure whether it’s dyspraxia or just my little ones but they are the most caring, in touch with their emotions individuals I’ve ever known. Their empathy levels are off the charts and when they find something they are interested in their concentration and knowledge of the subject is off the charts. Bottom line, they’re still the special little people they were before a label was attached.
Advice for other parents in a similar situation
Address it ASAP (and I mean both them and you) it’s a shock but it provides a roadmap to help. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know the question. The sooner you get to work on things the better the results.
I’d personally say ‘Let them know’ (although some others may not agree) it helped my little man no end to know there was a reason he wasn’t as quick at writing and found some things more difficult than his peers. It changed his attitude from one of ‘I’m useless’ to one of ‘That’s just because of ‘my difficulties’ but now I know how to get around that’.
Finally, get online and find your local support group. People have been there before and can provide a sympathetic ear and advice on who to call or what to do. You aren’t alone. If you can’t find your nearest group then give a call to Harry in Dyspraxia Ireland (link to site here). He’ll set you on the right track.
The first week of the school hols is over and high-fives all around, we survived it – relatively unscathed, well kinda. And we’ve learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share. The sort of things that it’s handy to know as we navigate our way through the remaining, approximately thirty five weeks, or thereabouts, of the school holidays.
1. Never leave the house without babywipes. It’s just asking for trouble and without them, your child’s first port of call with their snotty nose, carrot stick orange-coloured mouth and chocolatey hands will be your cream jeans – if you’re daft enough to wear them on an outing with the children.
2. Never wear your cream jeans on an outing with the children
3.“Live food” for reptiles in the pet shop is actually live. This will bring about two types of reaction in your children. Those who think it’s really cool will want to touch it. Those of a more sensitive disposition will continue their emotional meltdown well after you’ve arrived home. Steer clear of the live food for reptiles section in your pet shop.
4.Always ask your four year old what’s in his pocket before checking for yourself. Sometimes it’s a spider.
5. Small children cannot be distracted from asking relatives about their boobs. It’s best just to answer.
6. If you are trying to gauge the weather and the likelihood of rain – hang out a load of washing. Expect imminent downpour.
7. You will never have enough food in the house and they will always be hungry- always.
8. Small children don’t do “appropriate” very well. If they know they correct name for genitals they are quite likely to shout it very, VERY loudly and only mildly mispronounced, in the park with maximum audience attention. For example “Mammy I can see your dagina through my binoculars”
9. The row over who pushes the lift button can potentially see your 4 year old escape in a lift alone if you don’t wedge yourself between the door very quickly. Your four year old will not be as traumatised as you.
It’s finally arrived. A day that the last few months and weeks have all been about reaching. A day that I think my children have been looking forward to even more than me. A day that means I won’t have my head buried in the laptop at every available moment, night and day – to the same degree anyway. A day which means that I can start to join my kids at the park again, rather than over enthusiastically waving them off with their father, to the chimes of “don’t rush back” just so that I can get a chance to work in
It’s book deadline day!
A few months ago, I was given this wonderful opportunity to write a book, all about my favourite topic – parenting. In my delight, I pushed the workload to the back of my mind, and focused on the fact that I had loads of thoughts on all things parenting and plenty of inspiration in the forms of mini and not so mini-mes, who were as varied in their personalities as their views on underwear and its necessity. I just needed to get it down on paper– how hard could it be?
Very – is the answer. Life kept getting in the way and in spite of the important and significant sized project that I had undertaken, the kids insisted that I continue to look after them, feed them, bathe them, help them with their homework, attend one’s confirmation, another’s school musical, and a child had a stint in hospital for good measure.
But now, today, I HAVE FINISHED MY BOOK!!!! I have pushed the send button and the electronic copy is winging its way to my editor. As I typed those immortal words “The End” – I felt like Daddy Pig as he contemplated the muddy puddle before him. I was and am at one with the world again.
So if you’re looking for me, you will find me sitting on the couch with a celebratory glass or several of wine, eating copious amounts of chocolate to compliment it and beaming like that proverbial cat.
And who cares if tomorrow is a school day because I have finished my book – until my editor comes back to me at least.
The Easter holidays have been a very different affair this year. Normally when the children are off school, we try to go somewhere each day, just to get out the house.These trips can vary dramatically in terms and ranges of excitement, but once they know they’re going somewhere and once cabin fever isn’t allowed to set in, I tend to have more civilised children on my hands.
This Easter things had to be different. With barely any time left, until my book manuscript needs to be submitted, everything is on a very tight schedule. The sort of schedule that hyper children and snot filled babies and threenagers, don’t care much for – and that “wingers of it” , like me, struggle with.
Spotting the rising chaos and recognising the challenges in hand, I managed to convince my mother to take three of the older boys for a few days. Younger children are more content with shorter outings and with a teenage daughter still here, I knew that we could manage the resulting change to dynamics a little more easily. Everyone stood to benefit, except my teenage daughter, according to her. My undying gratitude isn’t sufficient it seems, but we’re finding that feeding her coffee slices at random and frequent intervals over the course of the week is helping to cushion the blow.
With three of the boys missing, the house has seemed so much quieter. As child number five, stepped up to the role of “biggest boy in the house”, we realised that it’s a role that he quite enjoys. It hasn’t made much of a difference to child number 6 though. He knows the power of the dark side. He remains very happy in his own personal role as “destroyer of things”and “family streaker”.
This morning as my hubby loaded the car and prepared to take the remaining troops with him, to collect their brothers, a very “peachy” smelling three year old entered the dining room. As I sat at my laptop, typing away furiously, I heard the words that every mother dreads to hear –especially from the mouth of a threenager.
“I have some good news and some bad news, mum”, he said. I looked up in a panic and could see immediately that there had been an incident.
“What’s the good news?” I asked, “Eh, eh, – oh yes, I found a charger” he replied.
“And the bad?” I followed, swallowing in fear.
“This, eh, fell on my head” he said, producing a now completely empty bottle of conditioner from behind his back, and looking at me in staged shock with his green eyes aghast.
“But I smell really, really nice” he added for consolation.
Much later than planned, my husband left to collect my other children.