I put him to bed some nights and cry


Loving my son is easy, living with him is not.
Some would say he is controlling, a bully, self centred and aggressive. These would all be correct.
He is also frustrated, anxious, stressed and agitated.
No anger course, or therapy or counselling will help him.
He is 8 and can not speak. He is still in nappies. He has no sense of danger. He can scream for hours, smear, attack and demolish all in one day.
Yet he can laugh a deep laugh that is so contagious he makes everyone smile. He can flap and find utter delight in lift doors opening for hours.
He is the apple of my eye and the delight of my heart but some nights I put him to bed and cry. 
I cry for the life he is missing out on: The lack of friends, the inability to read and write, the fact I have no idea when or if he will ever be toilet trained. I cry because he is misunderstood and judged so much. I cry because he can not tell me anything like how he is feeling or what he likes. I cry because he is so vulnerable and that scares me. I cry through exhaustion having to constantly guess what he wants and why he is so upset. I cry through years of sleep deprivation, lack of support and the stress that something as simple as an open door makes him throw himself down the stairs in distress.
I put him to bed and cry because I do not want him to see my tears. I never want him to feel he disappoints me. I never want him to feel rejected or unloved. 
But I need to let the tears out. Pretending this is ok is not helping anyone.
My son has severe autism and it is very hard. My son has neurofibromatosis type 1 and that scares me. My son is vision impaired and that worries me.
His list of diagnosis and difficulties is comprehensive. He requires 24 hour care and relies on me for everything. He will need care all his life and his condition is progressive and unpredictable.
He brings me great joy but caring for him exhausts me.
Loving him is easy, living with him is not.
I love him more than words can say but I put him to bed tonight and cried.

IMG_1249

The ‘scaniexty’ I live with when my child has NF1


He was four years, three weeks and five days old when I left the hospital with a piece of paper with the words ‘neurofibromatosis type 1’ scribbled on from a doctor I had only just met.

 
The more I googled the more upset I got.

 
Would you not be anxious if your baby was diagnosed with an incurable progressive genetic condition? 

 
IMG_1043Back then my biggest worry was seizures. The cafe-au-lait marks on his little body had meant nothing at all until that day but now I read that their presence was a key marker for diagnosis. Another one we could tick was developmental delay, another large head, and still another freckles under his arms. It meant the doctor was right and as I read on about complications and tests my mind began to panic. The condition causes benign tumours to grow anywhere on the nerves of the body causing a large variety of difficulties including scoliosis, vision impairment, bone deformities, epilepsy, learning difficulties and facial deformity. 

 
As the tumours can only be seen properly by MRI my first thought was should my little brown haired boy have to have anaesthetic to have a brain and body scan?

 
This was my first taste of the form of anxiety that is common with parents whose children have NF1: SCANIETY, a form of anxiety that is associated with having scans and waiting for results. You won’t find that word in a dictionary but parents of children with NF1 understand it and struggle with it so much.

 
You may never have heard of it but we live with it none the less. 

 
Before our child ever has their first scan we still suffer with it. The ‘what-if’s’ of thinking should he/she have an MRI and if so how do we convince doctors to give them one? In some areas it is standard procedure to scan a child soon after diagnosis to have a ‘base line’ to work from but for so many others this expensive test is only given when there is a clinical need. Parental anxiety is not always recognised as a clinical need so many families find themselves fighting for a scan to find out if their child has any internal tumours and if so where.

 
My son was 7 years, six months, one week and two days old when he finally had his first MRI. From the moment I received the appointment I was anxious. It was going to be the first of many times he would require anaesthetic. How would he cope? How would I arrange care for his sibling? Would be need to stay overnight? What might they find? When will we get the results?

 

Scaniexty is scary.

 

My whole life was suddenly out of control and everything rested on the results of this scan.

 
Two weeks and five days later I had a phone call from the doctor. Could we come to the hospital the following day as a matter of urgency to discuss the results.

 
Scaniexty hit again with a vengeance. They had found something. 

 
They discovered a number of things from that first scan. My son had a serious eye condition unrelated to his NF1 which meant he had no sight in one eye. On the other eye he had something called an optic glioma which so many NF parents dread: a tumour on his optic nerve. A group of oncologists discussed my child’s case and decided, for now, no treatment was needed. We were sent home.

 
Scanxiety never left me though.

 
In six months time we would be back for another scan. My mind could not ignore that. He had a scan, they found a tumour, next time there could be more.

 
What should have been a six month wait until the next one turned into an agonising ten months before we finally had our next scan on 3rd March this year. The scaniexty of waiting for that second scan was awful. The day of the scan was awful. Waiting on the results is awful.

 
When your child has NF1 scaniexty never leaves you. 

 
This time the results showed the original tumour was stable but he also has brain lesions, one of which is large, and these are a direct result of his NF1 too.

 
We live with the constant worry he may one day need chemotherapy. We live with the worry he could go blind due to his optic glioma since he has no sight in his other eye at all. We live with the worry they may one day they could find a tumour that keeps growing.

 
I live with anxiety as a mum to a child with NF1. That anxiety is deeply connected to the fact my son needs ongoing scans for the rest of his life.

 
There is no cure for NF1 and there is no cure for the scaniexty it brings either.

gwynne-20151003-29-high

He is there

imageCompanies often have silent partners. Many businesses and charities do too. It is a highly successful strategy that brings stability, maturity, and grounding to an organisation.

Yet people are quick to judge when it seems a marriage has the same balance.

Sometimes I go to meetings for my children on my own. I send emails on my own and answer and make phone calls mostly on my own.

But that does not mean I am truly on my own. You may not see him, but my ‘silent partner’ is there. My children have a father. I have a husband.

And there is a reason why he is more ‘behind the scenes’ than some people would like.

Everyone copes differently. That does not mean that any one way is right. And we all have different strengths.

I find social situations quite enjoyable. My ‘silent partner’ does not.
Meetings rarely make me nervous or intimidated. My soul mate finds them heavy, frustrating and stressful.
I find talking openly about my children’s difficulties fairly straightforward. Communication is one of my strong points. My husband finds this difficult and draining.
I quite enjoy form filling. For my partner this is like sticking pins in himself.
I find multi-tasking comes as second nature. For my lover this is confusing and he would much rather finish one task before moving onto the next. Interruptions like unexpected phone calls, cancelled meetings and children’s illness cause him to become anxious and flustered.
It is second nature to me to put the ‘right’ jumper on the right child, make sure the food is not touching on the plate, and do up the buttons on their coat in the ‘right’ order. But the stress of ensuring things are ‘just right’ for our autistic twins can become overwhelming for my husband. The slight change of detail can throw either one of our children into a screaming meltdown that lasts all night, so his fears are both real and understandable.
Homework is a mystery for my partner. He struggled though school and finds modern ways of doing things confusing.
Dealing with a screaming child who can not speak limits my partners patience. And I totally understand that. I am far from perfect and my patience runs thin at times too.

It doesn’t help that both our children have complex needs. They both thrive on routine and have rigid ways of doing things. They are more relaxed when the same person does the same thing everyday. They need the same words used, the same voice, the same physical touch and way of doing things. So they both cling to mum as if their life depended on it. In many ways it does.

But they know, just as much as I do, that dad is still there. He may seem in the background. But he is there.image

Some of you will be saying right now that my ‘silent partner’ is just a typical man. Some may be annoyed he is leaving more to me. Some of you may even wonder if he understands it all. A few may even feel he doesn’t care.

Let me tell you something: He cares. He loves. And he sees. He is very much here.

But there is something I feel people should know about this very important ‘silent partner’ in my life: My husband has neurofibromatosis type 1. The exact same genetic tumour producing condition our son has.

Some of his struggles are due to his upbringing, his personality, his age, or his lack of support in school. But some of it is because he has NF1. That affects his way of thinking, his behaviour, and his personality. It is part of him. It makes him less confident, means he struggles more with some academic things and he may seem less social. It is all too easy to judge his ‘silence’ as lack of caring or interest. That could not be further from the truth. I never knew he had NF when I married him. But even if I had it would not have affected my love for him.

Sometimes the most amazing support comes from someone just silently holding you, listening as you pour out your heart. Often that silent partner is the one with the wisdom, insight and calmness to hold it all together. Sometimes the most powerful thing anyone can do is just be there.

He has neurofibromatosis. He isn’t as ‘in your face’ as I am. He isn’t as known to all the professionals dealing with our children as I am. He doesn’t write in the home school diary, or read the bedtime story.

But he does something very important. For me. And for his children.

He is there.

And we all love him.

image

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

imageSometimes you already know something. Your mind has already gathered all the facts and knowledge and came to its own conclusion. Circumstances have been leading up to things and you *think* you have it all worked out.

That is until someone else says what you have been thinking out loud. Then suddenly your world crumbles and you go to pieces, even though you kind of knew it anyway!

In one of our many meetings this last week a professional who has seen my children regularly for over six years voiced out loud my inner thoughts on the subject of my sons inability to speak. Isaac is now six and a half. And he still has no speech. He makes noises, he screams, he takes me by the hand to things he wants, and now he is older he sometimes just helps himself. He has only been pointing for around a year.

I swallowed hard and asked her for her honest opinion. “Will Isaac ever speak?” I *thought* I was ready for what she would say. I already know deep down that the older he gets the more unlikely it is he will talk. I live with his frustrations and anger everyday and hold him while he cries every night. I celebrate all his efforts at communication in every form yet still long to one day hear his voice. But the realist in me knows that time is passing and he still has yet to master the tiniest of words that babies less than a year say with ease. We haven’t had the ‘ta’ or ‘hiya’ or even the basic ‘goo’ and ‘gaaa’. We have no waving goodbye or clapping in glee. Eye contact and joint attention that comes naturally to the youngest of children is still a mystery to my six-year-old. I am not in denial.

Yet when she told me my boy is unlikely to ever speak to me it still broke me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

Next month marks the three-year anniversary of his first major diagnosis: Classic autism with global developmental delay and severe learning difficulties. He had only recently mastered walking at that point, had no language and was very much locked in his own world. We had been told he had autism since he was 21 months and had yet to meet any professionals who disagreed with this in any way.

Yet on the day we took him to that clinic assessment there was still a tiny part of me hoping everyone was wrong. My world fell apart when I left that appointment hearing what I already knew spoken back to me by someone else.

Isn’t it strange how hard it is to hear someone else say what you already know?

Maybe when no-one else confirms it we just try to somehow forget about it? Maybe we don’t really face our own worst thoughts? Maybe the reality of someone else saying it just makes us realise it is true after all. But then they add to the pain and harsh reality by sending it to you in writing. And we find ourselves mourning in our darkest moments all over again.

I sort of knew deep down there was more going on. He had other ‘symptoms’ children with autism didn’t really have. But I never wanted to hear someone mention that out loud. At least not to my face. Yet one day five months later we heard the doctor tell us our baby also had neurofibromatosis type 1. Combined with his other conditions (and we may yet hear more as we wait for full genetic blood results to come back) the future is not the brightest for my son.

I know he will need care throughout his life. I know it is unlikely he will ever drive, own a house, have a successful career or go to university. But am I still not quite ready for someone to voice those things to me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know? Because it means you have to finally face up to it. It means others know your worst fears and concerns. It makes you vulnerable. It brings emotions to the forefront you would rather others never got to see. It is like stealing away that tiny shred of hope you held on to for dear life.

Someone asked me how the meeting went. I told them we were just told some stuff we already knew. They looked at me in wonder as the tears ran down my face.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

Why can’t they take away his tumours?

I try not to think too much about my child’s medical condition. His classic autism I can deal with (well most of the time anyway), even the fact that at six years and six months old he has no language is just about bearable. The fact he has global delay and has the understanding of a young toddler is hard, but something that might improve. But when I talk about the fact my child has this condition called neurofibromatosis type 1 my heart still breaks, even though we have been living with it for over two years now.

This is not easy to write about but if it helps just one person then I feel I have to talk about it.

This handsome boy, full of life and energy and mischief, has a body that keeps making tumours!

imageAnd there is absolutely nothing I can do about that!

You see I know about autism. I can sit with him and work on that. He might never speak but there has been huge investment in autism and so many resources available. I can use the internet to access photographs, or even take some on his iPad that he can have instant access to. Then there is picture exchange communication that one day he may be able to understand. There is also makaton and British sign language. He can take me by the hand to things he wants and we can help his socialisation skills by taking him to a wide variety of places and hopefully in time introducing basic social stories.

I know he will always have autism. But the likelihood is he will improve, even if not by a lot.

I know about his global developmental delay. We can work on his physical skills, one day eventually we may even be able to toilet train him, and in time he may be able to use cutlery, wash himself, dress himself and learn basic life skills. Children with global developmental delay, especially to the level of Isaac, may never catch up with their peers but he will improve, even if he always needs support.

But his neurofibromatosis type 1? Well that is just another thing altogether!

I am educated and willing to learn. I know about the physical features like his large head, his skins marks (cafe au lait marks because they look like coffee stains) and his small height. I know that some of his learning difficulties is also due to his NF1 and that genetically he inherited the gene from his father. I see glimpses of how his body may look as he ages by looking at my husband. We know he will most likely get freckles under his arm pits, his cafe au lait marks will increase and grow, and he will most likely have fibromas (small tumours on his skin). Those are all things we can cope with. And I am sure Isaac will cope with them too.

imageimage imageIt’s just the unknown. The fact that when you say to people he has tumours the first thing they say is ‘does he have cancer?’, followed by the inevitable, ‘why can’t they take them away?’. That’s the hard bit. No he doesn’t have cancer, for which we are incredibly thankful. But he also can’t be cured. And should he develop certain tumours on his spine, or eyes, for example, he may one day require chemotherapy. But unlike cancer, there will never be the option of no longer having tumours.

He will always have autism. He will most likely always have global delay (although that may change to learning difficulties as he ages) and he will always have neurofibromatosis type 1. But unlike the others his NF MAY be stable, mild and not require treatment or it may throw up hurdles we don’t want to even think about. Of course we hope and pray for the former and reassure ourselves this is how it has been for my husband.

Why can’t they take away his tumours? Sadly he would just produce more. And more. And more.

Do I want a cure for autism? Sometimes when I have tough days and my son is not able to be understood and is frustrated yes. When I spend longer watching lift doors with him than I do sleeping some weeks? Maybe. Would I like a cure for his global delay? Partly, but then he is slowly achieving things and I know in his own time he will get there. Would I like a cure for neurofibromatosis? Yes I would.

But then I look into these big brown eyes and I think I couldn’t possibly love this boy any more than I do. And I know whatever the future holds…well we’ll get through it…one lift at a time!
image

Just don’t ask my neighbours!

image
Most of the time I am happy that people don’t know what really goes on behind my front door. I live in a quiet dead end street in an end terraced house with neighbours either side of me. Ordinarily that would be fine but I also have two children with additional support needs. Between them both they have diagnosis as long as my arm including autism, global developmental delay, neurofibromatosis type 1, anxiety, visual impairment, learning difficulties and a whole heap of sensory issues. One of the twins is non verbal.

Maybe one day I will tell my neighbours some of their issues. But right now I am having fun wondering what they might tell you about us.

The lady two doors down might tell you about the morning she saw me wave my daughter goodbye to nursery on the bus while she happened to look out her window just as my son was running down the street flapping wearing nothing but his red school jumper! If you are going to talk to my neighbours it may be best to avoid that one.

The previous neighbour to my right that moved out last year may not have been a good choice to talk to either. He might tell you about the time he caught my son standing at his camper van licking it clean! Thankfully he sold up and moved out a few months later so I might not hear about that one again.

Mind you the couple and their son who moved in after him may be best avoided too. They would only tell you about the screams they hear from my children most nights like they are being killed. I could tell them I am only cutting heir nails or washing their hair but somehow I doubt they would believe me.

The neighbours the other side are not the best choice either I’m afraid. They could tell you about the time they had friends over for a BBQ and turned around to find my son helping himself to the food while they were all busy chatting. Please, please avoid the wife! She was sunbathing one day and as she looked over her hedge she saw my naked son running along side the hedge with his eyes right up against the bush peering through it. I maybe should tell her he is visually impaired but unfortunately she isn’t, so she probably thinks the naked child requires more of an explanation. She hasn’t been sun bathing as much this year for some reason.

The elderly lady across the road could tell you a good few stories. Like the time she saw us manhandle our child into a taxi and wave goodbye to him and he screamed in sheer horror. One day I might explain it was a different colour car that day and he could not cope with but in the meantime it maybe best to keep your distance. She has also saw us a few time wave our hands in glee as the children left for nursery or school and I have a feeling she thinks we look too happy to see them go. There could be some truth in that some mornings.

When we moved into this street we were reliably informed that it was quiet and that there was very little movement in terms of people selling up. It was seen as sought after. We seem to have pleased the estate agents though as since moving in at least three houses on the street have changed hands. We must be a good influence I think.

I’m quite sure my neighbours wonder why my son always wears the same school jumper everyday. Or why we have so many ‘visitors’ who come for around an hour a time and then go again (Social workers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists). They are maybe suspicious of the plain white van that drops huge boxes to us once every two months (nappy delivery month), or wonder why we get our refuge collected once a week when they are on a fortnightly schedule (that’ll be those nappies to blame again!). If they knew where we were going they may wonder why we take the kids to hospital appointments so often or why if they come to the door it is always locked and the key hidden away (think back to the half naked child escaping). They may wonder why my son never talks to them or my daughter won’t look them in the eye. They may even wonder why they see me regularly carrying six year olds who are screaming and trying to bite me. They have no doubt not seen many parents hang out bedding that is half eaten before or hear a child so distraught because you dared peg an item of clothing out without the pegs matching. If they saw my weekly shop they may even judge us for buying only the same select few things every week. A balanced diet in this house means a biscuit in each hand sometimes!
image
I’m not sure my neighbours have heard of autism. But I do know they have heard my children! If you want to find out about me please talk to me and whatever you do…just don’t ask my neighbours!

When it happens to you…

_MG_6206 (2)

We all, in one way or another, feel a need to connect with others. The popularity of reality TV, soap operas, social media, autobiographies and personal stories show how we can be touched and interested in others. Even the nosy neighbour in your street is looking for a way to be connected with someone else. Millions connect with football teams, attend clubs and groups of many sorts, join organisations and long to be part of something. It seems it is human nature to not wish to be isolated. Being part of something else makes us feel less alone, gives us security and allows us to feel loved and supported. Everyone one of us needs that.

We are drawn to other people’s stories because so often in some way we can connect with them. Many of you reading this will have children with special needs, or be a parent, or know me personally, have a similar faith to me, have twins, or identify in some way with part of my story. The longer I blog, the more experiences I live through and the more my children grow, the more people will be able to connect. I appreciate every one of my followers, family and friends so much.

It is the same for me too. When I was struggling with infertility I received comfort from reading other people’s stories from people who had went through similar. When my children were diagnosed with autism I searched the internet for support groups and information and joined online and local support groups with similar families. When my son was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 I did the same again. We are drawn to like minded people. It takes away the unknown. When someone else has walked that path before you there is so much reasurrance to be had from hearing those four words “It will be ok”.

But in amongst that common ground is still the reality that every one of us is different. There is a part of everyone’s story that is unique because we are all individuals. So here is a recap on our story so far and a brief update on the latest goings on:

Image

My name is Miriam. I have been married for almost 16 years now. I have always wanted children so we started trying for a family right away. Nothing seemed to happen. So we just kept on working, living, and believing it would happen in God’s timing. Finally after 7 years of nothing I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed first with polycystic ovaries and referred to hospital to be put on a very long waiting list for IVF. Further tests at hospital changed the diagnosis from polycystic ovarian syndrome to a rare condition called late onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia. More hospial referrals and life long steroid medication followed but still no further forward in our quest for a family. As IVF was now no longer a definate we applied to adopt. We went through so many assessments and checks and finally we were assessed as suitable candidates for matching with a sibling group. We had a big enough house, we worked, I had a degree in teaching and everything was finally looking like we were heading in the right direction after 9 years.

Then came a letter in the post that we had finally came to the top of the IVF waiting list! We had been told we had been taken off the list for medical reasons but now we had a very real dilemma. Doctors gave us less than 1% chance of success with IVF due to the medcial complications I had and our long history of infertility. But during those years our faith was growing. And we knew this was something we had to at least try.

So finally in January 2008 I started a form of IVF called ICSI. A huge amount of hospital visits, scans, blood tests, more blood tests, and injections I had to give mysellf daily at home. We were facing the unknown and had to keep out faith. On Mother’s day 2008 I injected myself with my final lot of fertility drugs. I had a reaction to the anaesthetic used to put me to sleep for the operation to remove my eggs so I was kept in hospital overnight. I returned again a few days later to have 2 embryos implanted from the 15 eggs I had removed. 10 days later I was admitted to hospital again as an emergency due to hyper stimulation syndrome and I remained in hospital quite ill for a week. It was during that stay that blood tests revealed I was indeed finally pregnant.

After I was home the pregnancy went well. I suffered from the usual sickness but the excitement of being pregnant made this more than bearable. At 7 weeks pregnant we had an early scan which revealed two healthy babies! In November 2008 my twins Isaac and Naomi were born healthy. Due to my medical history I had a c-section but within 3 days I was home.

Image

The first year of having the twins was a whirlwind of feeding, changing, sleepless nights, crying, visits from the health visitor and lots of weighing of babies. I was breast feeding but Naomi wasn’t putting on weight while her brother was eating like milk was going out of fashion (5 years later not much has changed there!). The children were late to meet thier milestones and Naomi was very small but no-one seemed too concerned. It was noted Isaac had an eye squint and he wasn’t playing much But I was willing to be comforted by the words everyone seemed to say, ‘It will come, don’t worry.’

But by 18 months I was worried: Naomi wasn’t crawling, or pulling herself to stand and Isaac was crawing into doors and walls like he could not see them and showed no progress towards walking at all. This was my first rung onto the ladder of special needs parenting and it was so scary and unknown. How do you find support groups when you have no idea what is wrong? What do you type into google when you are not even sure if it is just your imagination?

At 22 months old the twins saw the community paediatrician for the first time. We now know this lady on first named terms! That day I heard the word “autism” for the very first time. I will never, ever forget that day. My world was turned upside down over night. This started the barage of home visits from professionals, the self doubt as a parent and feelings of guilt that you have done something wrong, the vulnerability of having all you do with your child open to criticism from every professionals you ever meet. That feeling of desperation.
It took almost 2 years later before Isaac was finally diagnosed formally with classic autism, global developmental delay, severe learning difficulties and pica. Finally I had plenty to google! He attended specialist nursery provision and is now in a school for children with severe and complex needs. He then started having seizures. He had several EEG’s and in December 2012 we were told he has neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumour condition that means he has brain tumours. A few months later we found out he is visually impaired too and only has the sight in one eye.

Isaac started walking at age 3. Naomi required a standing frame to help her and finally she took her first steps at 2 and a half. I never knew if it was my imagination at first, but I started to see more and more signs of autism in Naomi too. In October 2013 she was assessed and diagnosed as also having autism spectrum disorder.

One of the many people we have seem in our journey of special needs has been genetics. When asked if there were any other conditions or diseases in my family I mentioned over a year ago that there was a rare syndrome within my family. The gene for this has now been discovered (isn’t it so amazing how research can do amazing things like that) and I was recently tested. I have just recently been conformed as having Aarskog syndrome and both children have a 50% chance of having this too. So one again we face more blood tests and yet more waiting.

But in all this we still believe. My faith was, and still is, an integral part of who I am. A few months ago I made my story into a film. Sometimes it helps to see it in words and pictures and song.

What do I want people to feel when they watch this or read my story? I pray you hear a message of “Keep believing. Keep on going. And keep the faith.”
It is so much more real when it happens to you.
Thank you for following me. This is a live journey of the good, the challenging, the real life of living with special needs children and faith. It is so good to have others journeying with me…