Monday, 28 January 2013

Harry's Tough Guys

As fundraisers go, I think the "Tough Guy UK" competition is one of the most extreme.

A team of six crazy guys got together and created "Harry's Tough Guys", fundraising for the Trust.

They competed (and completed) in the "Tough Guy UK" challenge on Sunday, 27th January in Wolverhampton, with 4,359 other competitors, out of which 3,650 finished. Many couldn't finish the event due to serious injuries, shock and hypothermia, one competitor even sadly lost his life at the event.

Left to right:
James Nicholls, Scotty Parker, Jamie Cunningham, JJ Maher, Keith Williams, Andy Fairbanks

Here is some more infomation about the course:

Tough Guy claims to be the world's most demanding one-day survival ordeal.
First staged in 1987, the Tough Guy Challenge is held on a 600-acre (2.42 square km) farm in Perton, Staffordshire, near Wolverhampton, England, and is organised by Billy Wilson (using the pseudonym "Mr. Mouse"). It has been widely described as "the toughest race in the world", with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year.
After 25 stagings of the winter event, Wilson still claimed nobody had ever finished the course according to his extremely demanding rules. The race, and its summer equivalent, has suffered two fatalities during its history.
Taking place at the end of January, often in freezing winter conditions, the Tough Guy race is staged over a course of between seven and eight miles (about 12 kilometres). It consists of a cross-country run followed by an assault course, claimed to be tougher than any other worldwide, featuring 25 obstacles, including a slalom run up and down a hill, ditches, jumps, freezing water pools, fire pits and so on (see detail below). The organizers claim that running the course involves risking barbed wire, cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration, hypothermia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, electric shocks, sprains, twists, joint dislocation and broken bones.
Although the course is adjusted each year, its features have included a 40-foot (12.2 metres) crawl through flooded underground tunnels, balancing planks across a fire pit, and a half-mile wade through chest-deep muddy water. Marshals dressed as commandos fire amphibious tank gun blanks and let off exploding flares and smoke bombs over the heads of competitors as they crawl under a 70-metre section of barbed wire.
Sounds horrendous. I knew when Harry's Dad signed up for it that it was going to be a difficult challenge, the more I read about the event and the more videos and pictures I looked at online, the more I began to fear for the health and the safety of the team.
The day came and I was more than a little worried about the prospect of neck deep, icy water, the running in ankle deep mud, the barbed wire, the fire and the electric shocks. But I also knew, that the Harry's Dad and his team, absolutely had the right frame of mind to get them through. Harry's Dad has a very realistic approach to life, no nonsense, no frills, no airs and graces, you know where you are with him - good or bad. I knew that he wouldn't take any passengers but I also knew that he would make sure that his team didn't wind up feeling sorry for themselves and letting them straggle behind. He had always said that they would all help each other throughout and carry each other where neccessary. It was those qualities, in Harry's Dad and also the other team members, that gave me confidence that they would all complete the course.
They certainly weren't in it to win it, but they all managed to get to the finish line in one piece, and while a few of the team looked like they might have needed treatment for hypothermia they all took care of each other and all came home with just a few sore spots and grazes.
Here are a few quotes from the team about their experience that I thought were quite touching:
[Scotty Parker] The tough guy experience was honestly the most hardest thing I have ever done physically and mentally, but the most rewarding feeling especially knowing the fight little Harry had and we were fighting for him. I was so cold in the ice lakes we swam , colder than I've ever been, even skiing in -20 conditions , the slaloms were exhausting whilst trying to fight against the people, the gradient and the wet thick mud but the most painful was the electric fence shocking my head- but I'll be doing it again next year!! ( although I didn't quite say that yesterday!!)
[JJ Maher] I am Jamie's best friend and have known him for thirteen years.We first met at bicton college.So the harry cunningham trust is very close to my heart.This was the second time I have done tough guy.The first time I did it was back in 2010.When i was younger and fitter and to prove a point that i was tough enough to complete the course.This time it was not about me.It was all about Harry,Niki,Jamie and William.Trying to raise money and awareness for the harry cunningham trust.It was tougher this time around.Don't know whether that was due to being older and abusing my body more.Also more mud and water,which seemed more extreme!I knew I had to keep going otherwise I would let down them,it was not about me this time.So through the pain and discomfort I thought of Harry and the family and there was no comparison.What i was feeling could not remotely come close to what they have been through and continue too go through.So i kept pushing myself to go harder and faster.This was my motivation throughout the race.
[Andy Fairbanks] The most painful experience of my life but there was no way I'd have quit, the cold water was at times unbearable and with 1km to go, I thought I might not make it but I did, we did and the (Harry Cunningham) Trust grows stronger with every event.
Lastly, a big thank you to Pete Moss at Woodbury Garage for very kindly allowing the team to use their mini bus for the event, and also to Steve Worth at ProServe in Exmouth for all their help with printing the shirts for the team.
And very finally, a huge well done to all of Harry's Tough Guy. I am one very proud lady today to say that a team representing my charity, not only got out there and raised a heck of a lot of cash for a worthy cause, and also a load of awareness for our efforts, but also put themselves in a world of pain and pushed themselves to the absolute limits all in the name of my little man, and for that, I am truly grateful and in awe of each one of them. Thank you for making me, and Harry, very proud xxxx

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Fear

Not the same kind of fear as sung about by Lily Allen, although she knows how I feel, wholeheartedly, being a fellow baby loss mummy going on to have further pregancies.

Last week my hyperemesis kicked off again, and after 24 hours of throwing up until there was nothing left and I was bringing up my own stomach acid, I was hospitalised, and given an IV of fluids and an anti-sickness shot. I was in for two nights while I rehydrated and got my strength back. As I am still very early on in my pregnancy (10 weeks today) I was not in the maternity section of the hospital, but the gynae section and was frankly, shocked at the treatment I received given my history.

Since losing Harry I have been given a lot of choice, about how my pregnancy is managed, who I see for my scans, which midwife I want to take care of me, etc. and the care I have received, on the whole, has been first class, and has gone some way to restore my faith in the healthcare professionals.

When I arrived at the hospital, I spoke to the receptionist and explained how my GP had referred me and the receptionist explained "they'd been expecting me". I thought "great, they have my notes, they know my history, things will be ok". No..... within minutes of being admitted, I was being asked the ever awkward question of "is this your first pregnancy?" No, this is my third. Hoping, that would prompt a little glance at my notes, the questions continued... "oh, lovely, so who has your other two children?" Really???! "Well, my mum has my eldest and my youngest sadly died shortly after he was born". "Oh right...." How odd... why aren't they reading my notes? My midwife and I spent a long time writing them, so why aren't you reading them? I know that on the front of my hospital notes is a special baby loss sticker.... why is it not being recognised??! These questions would come at least ten times a day and in the end, I got used to just answering on auto pilot, but the surprising thing for me was the lack of compassion from the nurses and doctors, when I told them my baby had died. Either they were too awkward to show any emotion, or they are so used to dealing with women who have lost their baby that this is the way they act with all bereaved parents. Either way, this is not good enough.

Sadly, having been out of hospital just about 48 hours, I discovered a bleed first thing in the morning. Absolutely panic stricken, I had no idea who to turn to. At 9 1/2 weeks pregnant, I do not come under the care of the labour ward that you would usually call in an emergency, and as it was a weekend I knew I wouldn't get hold of a community midwife.... who do I ring?  I rang the labour ward anyway and asked who I should consult. They said it wasn't them and I should try the out of hours GP... who is usually forgein and again has absolutely no compassion for the fact I have suffered the loss of my baby? She advised that I will need to be checked over and that I would need to receive an emergency scan. My worst fear confirmed. There was something to worry about. Have I lost this baby too? My heart pounding in my chest, I can barely speak and I burst into tears. "While I can't say that bleeding at this stage in pregnancy is normal, I know a lot of women do have light bleeds and go on to have perfectly healthy babies".... not normal.... is all I can hear. What have I done to deserve this God?
I don't want to speak to an unknown GP so I ring the ward I stayed in for my hyperemesis and explained. The kind nurse let me speak to their oncall Doctor and she organised an "emergency scan". Being an "emergency" you would expect some kind of rush and maybe a same day appointment. No, four days later! She booked me in for Tuesday and that seemed like a lifetime away.

Every passing hour since suffering the bleed, I was scared to go to the toilet incase I found more. Any pain, any niggle, I thought was confirming my worst fear that I was losing our rainbow. I felt hopeless. Nothing anyone could say or do would make me feel any better until I could have confirmed that our little ray of sunshine was still ok.

Anyway, I got to the hospital and somehow, the appointment had been booked for the Wednesday and immediately  I felt let down. Lucky for them, they managed to squeeze me in. After a 45 minute wait, I was shown into the screening room. There was a foreign man who looked like the gynae Doctor who had seen me during Harry's labour. I was about to make a fuss but thought I should try not to let it bother me. Anyway, the Doctor didn't want to tuck the tissue paper into my clothes as he mentioned a colleague of his had been struck off for over exposing a lady and he now doesn't do it, for fear of the same. I said "Well I do find that surprising, as there are people still practising who have done far worse than that...." well that went down like a lead balloon. My sonographer asked why I was there and I explained I'd had a bleed, her face looked like she couldn't care less. I explained I lost my last baby at term and I am, as a result, very anxious. Still, no concern. Shocked at their absolute lack of compassion, I sat back and let the scan commence. The Doctor says "ah yes, here is the little baby" ..... nothing else....Straining to see the monitor, I say "and is his heart beating??!"  "Yes, all is ok", he says. "Can you sit back and relax please?" Are you kidding me? I want to see for myself that my baby is ok.....Can I relax?? No I cannot... The sonographer thought the bleed could've been from the placenta implanting. "Is everything ok with the placenta?" She mentioned something to the Doctor but they wouldn't elaborate. "It's just my last baby had placental problems so I just want to know..." Still nothing... "Everything's fine".... I explained what happened with Harry's cord and the sonographer just said "well it is hard to see everything on a scan".... I got angry "Well actually it is hopefully going to be included at routine scanning as a result of my campaigning so you will be learning about it very soon I expect"... the arrrogant woman just told me that as she is an early pregnancy sonographer she didn't think she would. I wish I was more confident and could have told her to just bugger off.

It's a shame that after all I have been through, and all I have been promised, people in that hospital are still arrogant, still complacent and still NOT READING PATIENT'S NOTES.

At least my little jelly bean is all well, and the little bleed was nothing to be concerned about, but I honestly think this pregnancy is not going to one I can "sit back and enjoy" as every single day is an anxiety attack, as all I want is to hold my healthy baby in my arms, and until that day every single little niggle or unusual symptom is going to cause me massive concern and worry.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Anxiety & Grief

I was an anxious parent before Harry. I was an anxious parent before William was born! Every single niggle or strange pain would have me panicking.

Imagine how I felt when I was in labour with Harry and everything SEEMED to be fine, and my midwife came into the room and said "I guess it's time to have and check and see how dilated you are" four and a half hours after my waters broke. I had an epidural and catheter fitted so it was a struggle to position myself up the bed without the use of my legs. I was just in a nightie after my waters had gone as I had no use of my legs it would be near on impossible to get my knickers up and down for examinations. I whipped off the blanket covering my dignity for my midwife to see how my labour was progressing to be utterly horrified to see my legs, and the bedsheets, absolutely soaked in bright, red blood. "Oh my God" I said, wide eyed, staring at my Mum. "Look!" I was stunned. The midwife looked and said "oh I expect that is a little nick from when I catheterised you"..... wow, a little nick had bled a fair bit, I remember thinking. But she didn't seem bothered so my panic subsided. I carried on chatting with my Mum as the midwife left the room and was busying around, there seemed to be no issue about the bleed. Suddenly, a very concerned looking Matron appeared and said she wanted to examine me and see what was going on. At this time Harry's heart rate was fine. She examined me, and they disappeared. Nothing seemed to be of any real concern. My midwife appeared and explained she was going to place a clip on Harry's head to ensure his heart rate was monitored accurately. She did that, and disappeared again.
hen all of a sudden, a male doctor comes in and introduces himself and out of the blue I am being shown some emergency c section consent forms. Bewildered about what on earth was going on, I signed them. They explained that the bleed could be putting me at risk during the labour and the best thing to do was to just get baby out. I had really dreaded the thought of a c section. I think a lot of anxiety around the procedure is created in antenatal classes. They talk about the impact of the anathestic on the baby, and how the procedure can go wrong and there is a chance of maternal death. Sadly, my own mother had a dreadful experience with a c section when she had my brother, and to be frank all I could think of whilst I was wheeled away to theatre was "I hope that doesn't happen to me"... I also thought that my life was in danger but as I felt fine in myself I just said to Jamie "tell them not to worry about me, just make sure the baby is ok"... Then as we were wheeled up to the theatre I heard the tick, tick, tick, tick of Harry's steady heart rate slow down to an almost stop. I swear, the fear that pumped through my body at that moment will live with me until my dying day. I remember thinking "oh my god, that's not good, do something, someone!" and looking at the faces peering over me with the same concerned expression.
Anyway, the procedure was underway very quickly and after a lot of rummaging in my stomach (which was hideous and so uncomfortable, imagine hands fondling your organs, not nice - an epidural doesn't block the sensation, just the pain!) Harry was born and we were told it was a boy. No sound. Nothing. I remember thinking all would be ok as William was born blue with his cord around his neck and needed to be resuscitated but was soon crying and passed to us for a cuddle, once I'd been stitched up. This time we waited and waited, just being told our son was very poorly. And no real information.

This whole scenario was so horrendous and the stuff of nightmares, yet, at least once a day, I go over it. Step by step, remembering the exact feelings I felt throughout the whole experience. It has absolutely scarred me. The shock. I was not prepared for this at all. You always hear of very sad stories or hideous conditions or problems, but you ALWAYS just think that'd never happen to me, either naively or ignorantly.

The knock on effect now for me is that my parenting of William has been impacted. I am so fearful for William, any slight injury or illness and I am in a spin.
Since losing Harry I have had two memorable melt downs with William:
The first time was when William was in my bedroom, a couple of months after we'd lost Harry. I'd told him he needed a shower "cos he stinks" and had been teasing him and tickling him and being generally silly. He ran from the ensuite into the bedroom shouting "I stink! I stink!" and tripped over the door wedge holding the bedroom door back and went flying head first into the angled corner of my bed. Smack and crunch, and he bounced backwards. He didn't move. He was limp. I leaped forward and scooped him up, he wasn't responding. I freaked out. I started to feel my pulse in my head, and began to sweat and utterly lost my breath. It just so happened that days before the bloody cam belt had gone in my car so I was car-less and panic set in, in a big way. It was early in the morning, who do I call? By this time, he had cried loudly and in obvious pain but then he stopped crying and started to snuggle into me. I called my nan and said "Nan! Nan! It's William!" I remembered someone once telling me not to let someone who'd suffered a head injury to fall asleep. "Can you take me to the hospital? He's had an accident and he's not himself", Nan said to me "I've just got out the shower, I'll be right over"... How cruel of me to drag my 72 year old Nan out of her flat and with dripping went hair she rushed over to mine (thankfully just around the corner!!!). By the time Nan had got to me William had perked up a bit, and Nan felt like it would be a bit silly to take him to the hospital now. But I honestly was thinking "I can't lose another one" and just feared the worst. He was fine, just had a bit of a dent and a bruise for a few days. The second time William had a bit of a temperature, and seemed a bit warm and sweaty. I thought to myself that he was quite warm, but told myself to stop being the anxious mum and to let him get on with it. He was fine in himself so I left him. Later on, he started to get a bit clingy and cuddly. He was still quite warm on his forehead but when I put my hand on his back it was on fire! Such a lot of heat coming from such a little body! I took his temp and it was "high fever" on the thermometer, so gave him some calpol. A bit later on he started to cry a bit and suddenly went really floppy and non-responsive. I thought maybe I should take him to the doctors as the calpol wasn't making any difference at all, so called the doctors and they got me in straight away. The doctor knew all about Harry and what had happened and I said "look I am sorry if I am wasting your time with a toddler with a temperature, but I am very anxious after what happened with Harry" just as a sat down with William in my lap he was kind of dosing and acting really weird, the doctor took his temperature and said "you've done the right thing in bringing him in, we'd usually send you to hospital with a temperature like this but I think that might do you more harm than good, so just take him home and put him in front of a fan in just his nappy and if that doesn't work at bringing his temperature down then we might have to take him up to Exeter". I'd gone from being so worried in my own little ways to having my fears confirmed that things weren't looking good. My sister had a fit from overheating when she was a toddler and the doctor was asking if Wills had fitted, and that this was the kind of temperature they would expect to see fits but if he hadn't yet at this heat then he probably wouldn't. Panic, panic, panic. I was so afraid that something terrible was going to happen to my precious little man. A few hours after getting home and sat in front of a fan in just his nappy he started to cool down, and the doctors rang me that night, the following day and the day after to check on Wills. I definitely felt supported but I think perhaps I over-reacted due to my super high anxiety.

I read something a while ago about a lady who was teaching her class about bullying, and gave them a piece of paper and asked them to crumple it up into a ball, and then to try and flatten it out again, and to smooth out the creases. And said that is what it is like for someone who has been bullied, the scars may look like they have smoothed out but they never truly disappear.
A Lesson on Bullying
This is exactly what this experience has done to me. I have been crumpled and damaged to my very core, and no matter how I appear on the outside or how much I move on with my life, I will always carry the scars of Harry's death and the grief I feel for his loss with be with me forever.

Now that I am pregnant again, I have increased anxiety about this baby. I feel like getting through each day without suffering a massive bleed or cramping is a huge step. I met with my midwife this week for my "booking appointment" and I had to relive my pregnancies with Wills and Harry and I think she was amazed at how complicated my history is. While I know that I am going to receive a lot of extra attention this time around, I am also hugely aware of all the problems that can occur in pregnancy: early miscarriages, birth defects, stillbirths, prematurity issues... it's not the vasa previa that concerns me, it's everything else. I know so much now, maybe too much, but I am certainly not taking any of this pregnancy for granted. I have lost one baby and cannot bear to lose another, but will not be ignorant or naive this time around and will be informed and prepared to make the right decisions for my new little one.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Our Christmas Wish....

Firstly I would like to apologise for the lack of blogging during December. It was a very strange month for me. I was constantly being caught out by grief - my first proper milestones without Harry were hitting me hard.

We had Harry's six month "angel-versary" and that was a strange time. Reflecting on the time we have spent without Harry and what we have achieved, but also remembering our very short time together and cherishing those memories and also imagining the life that Harry, and all of his family, would have had if things worked out differently.
Grandy &William singing "Jingle Bells" for Harry - with Harry's decorations

Christmas was a strange time. I worked hard at keeping Christmas as normal as I could for William, teaching him about Santa, putting up the decorations, writing Christmas cards (which was hard in itself as I so badly wanted to include Harry, but in the end felt it wasn't right), buying gifts and wrapping gifts. There were a few things I couldn't bring myself to do which included attending my annual candle lit church carol service, as it would be my first time back in the church we held Harry's funeral, and also the words of the hymns were too much for me. And also Christmas cookery: I believe that cooking should be done with love, and my heart wasn't in it this year, so enjoyed Mum's cooking instead ;-) . On Christmas Eve, we all went up to the castle as a family and decorated the tree next to Harry's grave with beautiful decorations and Christmas messages. I put a little tree with blue jingle bells on it, on Harry's grave and some lovely "in memory" Christmas cards as well. On Christmas Day we visited Harry and at several points during the day I felt overwhelmed with sadness, thinking of what Harry was missing and how he should be enjoying his first ever Christmas with us.
William excited about putting out the mince pie and carrots, milk 
and letter to Santa on Christmas Eve

I have found it incredibly hard hearing about others getting pregnant. It seems like everyone around me is pregnant. I find it very hard to be excited for those people, as I can only worry for them. I worry that things won't go to plan, and these people will be heart broken as I was. I find it hard to hear of people getting excited about their scans, because now all I can think about with ultrasounds is that it is no longer just an opportunity to get a photo of your baby and a glimpse inside your belly, but a very serious medical appointment to ensure the health of you and your baby.

Anyway, after the disappointment of my last "monthly" and the devastation that bought me after getting my hopes up I had decided to do all I could the next month and then to put it to the back of my mind after the "fertile time" was over. I took my medication, I took my prenatals, I tried hard not to think about it too much and put ourselves under too much pressure. I prayed after Harry's angelversary that he would send us a rainbow and show us he was watching over us.

The weeks passed, and I tried hard not to think about things too much. I was late. And this time I did not want to raise my hopes like I did last time, only to shatter my dreams again, but I thought the only way to know is to take a test. I bought a test. I was scared to take it. "What if I am too early? What if I get a negative because it's too early and I let myself down again? But what if it really is a negative and I get my period again and then we will be starting all over again?" Did I really want to know? Do I really want that horrendous empty feeling all over again? I put away my groceries and left the test on the side. I made William his lunch, and sat down with him. I thought "oh bugger it, I will take the test, and it is what it is".... I took the test and the test line came up immediately but nothing in the result window. Great, another negative.
I went upstairs to get some laundry and came back to sit with William, and looked at the test again. Wait a minute, there's a line in the result window. There's a line?! There's a line! Oh my god. I can barely believe my eyes. I call Harry's Dad - he doesn't believe me, either! My mum comes over for a cuppa and as she sits down I show her "what would you do if I showed you this?" I said, putting the test infront of her. She was excited but also apprehensive. I am still in shock. "What does this mean?" I am thinking. Wow, we are having another baby... Or are we? Are we going to get excited and plan the life of a new baby, only to have it snatched away so cruelly? Our Christmas wish for a rainbow baby had come true...!

I told a few friends our news. I found it very hard, as they would all be so overjoyed for us to finally have some hope in our lives, but I was still in shock and disbelief. This is happening again? Can I allow myself to be happy? I want so badly to be happy, and to enjoy being pregnant, as I know how much we wanted this and how so many other people would give their right arm to be expecting too. I also feel overwhelmed with guilt, for Harry. He should be with us. I shouldn't have to be feeling this way as I should be enjoying him. And I am sure he will be watching over this baby, but I hope he never feels as though this baby is a replacement for him or that he will be loved any less, or thought about any less now that we are expecting again.

Today I went to the hospital, with my Dad, and had little rainbow baby's first scan. I have been given an "early pregnancy scan" at approx 8 weeks. All is well, there is a little "pregnancy sac" and a tiny little baby, just one centimetre long, with a little flickering heartbeat. He looks like a kidney bean. Bless him (or her!). I met with my consultant and we have decided that, emotionally, I won't be able to experience labour ever again, so will be having a planned c-section around 37 weeks, all being well. So we are looking at end of July, beginning of August.
Little Rainbow Baby aged 7 1/2 weeks

It is going to be a very tough old journey, and whilst I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I feel like it is so far away and I won't be able to be completely happy until I have this baby in my arms, healthy and well.