Friday, 27 June 2014

Digger's laughter - Children’s laughter as a clear demarcation of self

Is there anything more delightful that children’s laughter? It’s right on top of the feel good scale. Digger’s husky belly laughter is an obvious favourite in this household. It’s good for all of us. Scientist will have us know that it releases serotonin, and makes us feel close. Laughter is an amazing social glue.

I have been watching Digger closely when he laughs. Trying to hone in on what he finds funny. The first time Digger laughed out loud at something on TV was at Pingu. That little mischievous penguin, the Bart Simpson in the World of Claymation. What’s not to like and laugh about? I completely follow.

As Digger's language is coming along, so too is his sense of humour. For most children it is a learned behaviour, says Louis Franzini who wrote his phd on the subject, much of it published in Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor. Having a sense of humour plays an important role in developing self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills, he states. Digger appears to have a keen and good sense of humour, yet more signs of his sunny personality and of his ever-growing cognitive development. In all honesty I am not sure how much we have to do with it. It seems to be who he is. Most days he is a cheeky cheerful monkey who tries to makes us laugh. And he does cracks us up! Frequently. I bet it feels good to him when we too are in stitches. Especially if it is over something he meant for us to find funny.

Digger laughs at jokes he can’t possible understand. He is simply joining in. Like when I told him an old family favourite: the one about the goalkeeper who didn’t have any children because he couldn’t score.

Laughter has so many terrific nuances. A sound and sight of beauty in everyone. We all giggle, gurgle, chortle, chuckle, guwfaw, cackle, snigger, snort. Well, I snort if I really get going. Perhaps not so beautiful come to think of it… Anyway, those involuntary spasms are yet another dimension of layered communication. And a key into somewhere deep and very personal. Or a wall to keep us from getting hurt. Laughter, as giggles, can be an incredible effective form of defence and release, no less so than many tears.

When I called to tell my mum that my first boyfriend and I had split up – SHE LAUGHED!! Say whaaaaa….???!! I was stunned and nearly dropped the receiver. Was she high?! I called her to be a sympathetic ear... My husband says I too laugh at moments that can definitely be taken as inappropriate if not insensitive. He says it is a family weakness. Geez. That is not at all embarrassing… He he. Only good thing to say about it is that is sometimes … sometimes … can break the ice - like at those tense and yet intensely boring management meetings.

Recently, I have been learning a bit about Theraplay. At a course last week, arranged by PAC, Annie Kiermaier gave some wonderful advice, and showed us many new games to play with our children in which laughter plays an important role. I did exactly that when I stepped through our front door later that afternoon. I put down my bag and started playing, and have kept at it since. Kiermaier showed us a short video in which she pretended to be blown over by a child. So now Digger and I do the same. We sit facing each other on the carpet, then lean towards each other, and when he blows in my face I make a big noisy fuss, and roll over. Feet in the air, all the way up and over on to my shoulders. ‘Mummy bum!’ he exclaims with delight.  If he can talk or move from laughing so hard.

Tickling can be fantastic, tantalisingly soothing even, but it has to be done with great care. As mentioned in an earlier blog on touch I have profound memories of being tickled too hard for too long by my father. Tickling has such a strong potential of being too overwhelming and uncomfortable, and so it can be misuse of power. 

‘Is this good tickling or bad tickling?’ Kiermaier suggested we ask, if we can tell when we are tickling our minions. Just adding little pressure will activate other nerve ends than those that respond to soft touch, she added.

True laughter is the best medicine. Studies are now showing it too. It lifts depression and makes sick people feel better. I always knew that things were going the wrong way for me, when I lost my ability to laugh. That is a serious wake up call, inviting me actively to seek and find it. And it always helps.

Grown ups being silly is the best! It is such an indication that they are genuinely engaged. Emotionally it is the real deal. And that is what children need and go for like heat seeking missiles.

It is also worth being aware of the perhaps less obvious sides of laughter. Say a child laughs inappropriately, when you tell them off. That it is a clear indication that you have overstepped their boundaries, and you need to step back.  They are trying to diffuse the situation and their stress – in an effectual manner. And this we can help channel more effectively for us both when we respond more playfully, with loving warmth and presence. Those qualities are key, and will help me any situation if I can tap into them. Laughter then springs naturally.

I am glad someone pointed this darker side of laughter out to me. Because I have seen and felt it as a demarcation with Digger. I did tell him off too harshly, and he did use laughter to push me away rather than draw me in. Outch. He is such a little adult pleaser, so I feel I must take extra care to notice these other ways of him expressing discomfort. And help him shed it.

I can also recommend HandinHandParenting on their view on laughter:

And Larry Cohen:

Friday, 20 June 2014

Looking back at the barren years

This post is written in support of Mumsnet’s focus on Miscarriage Care. It was inspired by a post on My Life With Katie, where Gem, an adoptive mother, told of her heartache on the road to becoming a mum. Her story is very similar to mine.

I don’t really look back at these years anymore. I have moved on. My life is very full. But this campaign did make be revisit those barren years of mine.

The TICK TOCK got louder as I approached 40, and deafening as I passed it. Childless. It was punctuated by amazing hope and unspeakable sadness.

With the arrival of Digger that tick tock has all but stopped. Now I forget my age. Something I would have thought impossible.

I have also always known the exact ages of the children I had lost. Probably because I had to repeat it so often. To doctors, to the specialist clinics and during the adoption process.

Yet… I did become a mother in the end. 

Parenthood is everything I hoped it would be. And so much much more. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn't hard work. Because it is. And it is not a bed of roses. Neither was the road towards it.

There were 23 years between the first time I fell pregnant til I held Digger in my arms. Over two decades of virtual and actual pregnancy.

In the early years the spontaneous abortions, aka miscarriages, didn’t worry me too much. I took pride in falling pregnant easily, and brushed off the early pregnancy losses, because I knew I could get pregnant again. 

But after the fifth one I was no longer at that juvenile ease. I was in my mid 20s, married, with my studies behind me. I told the doctors about my previous miscarriages, and they did some additional testing, but could find nothing wrong.

The earliest miscarriages had been spontaneous, all around 10 or 12 week, and I had one them fully one my own. The hospitals, and gynaecologist were all reassuring and helpful. No need for evacuations. But from my mid 20s they became what is termed ‘missed abortions’. The foetus had died within me. I went into the third trimester. And everyone around us knew we were pregnant (friends and family can do much by spreading the word that you are no longer pregnant, as that is such a hard thing to have to tell people.)

The last three were girls.

The doctors encouraged me to wait for my body to expel the foetus, as I had been able to do earlier – probably very soon after the foetus had died. But now I was waiting weeks. After 2 or even 3 weeks, I begged the doctors to do an evacuation. They eventually consented after 2 days of heavy bleeding. They admitted a certain risk for my life if the bleeding wouldn’t stop.

The best part of the miscarriage evacuations were the count downs in the anaesthetics. That blissful surrender.

I have never heard a heart beat of anyone of these children. Doctors have been trying to find it. But I always knew when they had died. Usually because I was feeling fine again. No morning sickness, no sleepiness, not tightness in my bosom.

What people often neglect to tell you is just how long it takes to get back on your feet - physically, emotionally and hormonally - after a miscarriage. In my earlier years it was quick – a couple of weeks. Later, in my late 20s and early 30s, it took months. I cannot recommend that part either. 
This is the lonely bit.

A friend of mine had an ectopic pregnancy that had to be removed. She nearly lost her life. She called me the morning after, from the hospital bed. 

‘I never understood why you were sad about the pregnancies you lost. Now I do.
People say, ‘Oh well ... never mind. You’ll soon fall pregnant again.’ But I wanted THAT CHILD. Not the next one. Nor the one after that.’ I think she summed it up perfectly.

‘How many times has this happened to you?’ a kind woman asked when I had my last miscarriage. On hearing my answer, she referred my straight onto a specialist clinic. And that clinic was not a great experience. Sigh. We were made to feel like naughty school children. I felt so nervous I know I did not give half the useful information I should have, because I just wanted to get out of there. I went there in the hope that I could help science, and eventually other women in the future. The very thought that my blood and story might be useful to others drove me on for months of testing, waiting, testing and waiting. And for the insults. I was told there were thousands like me. In reality, I have only ever met one woman, the mother of a good friend in Norway, who had suffered the same number.

I cannot express just how devastating it was to learn that I was perimenopausal. Early menopause is a very lonely place to be. I couldn’t share with my peers, and strangely, older friend often wouldn’t really believe me, as if it was their perrogative. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit the relief I felt when I was told I did not qualify for IVF. Phew. At least I didn't have to make that decision. I did however qualify for surrogacy. On the NHS?! Thanks, but no thanks. Surrogacy and egg donation was not for me. I really. Really. Really. Did not need to go through another miscarriage again. Not even the risk of it.

Egg donation is for me adoption on an embryotic scale. Why not go for a child, already born in need of a home? I have seen families made in very many different ways, and they are all just that: families.
The way my husband and I have formed our little family has been through adoption. And the choice for that particular road was straight-forward for us both. That it took us years to get to the family bit is another story – swings and roundabout... And tons more waiting. Mainly on adopting from abroad as that – at the time we began – seemed the most expedient. Well, that is if you can’t make your own. We’ve ended up full circle in adoption: our boy was born only 1 ½ mile away from where we live. He needed a home. And we dreamt of sharing our home with a child. We have always loved children and the number 1 motivation for becoming a family was not so much to become parents as it was to live with a child. If that makes sense.

And here we are… It is definitely a dream come true. And one worth waiting for. Despite the heartache and decades of dreaming and waiting and aching and longing.

The last paragraph on this post must be dedicated to my husband. He very nearly wept when a friend of ours turn her focus onto him after our last miscarriage. He didn’t stop talking for a long while. She asked him very simply how he was. I am so grateful she did. He had a lot of say. And his pain was as acute as mine. Just different. The fathers are all to often overlooked in the infertility. Interestingly before we adopted our son, we had had our eyes on another little boy. For reasons beyond our control the match fell through. We still often think about this boy and hope he has found a family. That he is well care for, and above all else: loved. Pierre said that when we were told that he could not be ours, the loss felt like that of a miscarriage.

I have one wish for this campaign, and that in all it’s simplicity is that miscarrying women and their partners are shown respect not just by the professionals, but by people all around.

My specific plea for #miscarriagecare is that younger women are taken more seriously. I have wondered what would have happened if I had been taken seriously when aged 25 - after my 4th miscarriage - I asked if things perhaps wasn’t as they should have been…? I think I may have arrived at parenthood a whole decade earlier if they hadn't told me ‘I wouldn’t worry yet, you are still young.’ 

Please don't talk down to us.