When I first met Tahlia, she was a carefree uni student whose main concern was how are we going to get all of these assignments done (wasn’t that all of our main concern?). Within days Tahlia’s life completely changed – she learnt that was becoming a Mum and shortly after learning this, she finds her self single. Below, Tahlia shares the realities of being a single Mum, day in and day out…
Single Mum Life… – By Tahlia Ferre
Becoming a single mother was never something I had ever imagined myself doing, and yet here I am as single as can be, with the most beautiful little girl by my side. I didn’t plan this life, it happened to me while I was busy chasing fantasies and day dreaming of the crazy life I would lead and the adventures that I was yet to have; that’s what they say though isn’t it? Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans… This is the adventure I never dreamed of, that I now believe was intended for me.
Now although I love and adore my daughter it isn’t easy going it alone, not that in my circumstances I would have it any other way. I would never intentionally choose to expose my perfectly innocent child to the biology that helped make her existence possible, however it still doesn’t make being a single mother any easier knowing that this is the choice I’ve made for us.
Arlette depends on me and me alone to fulfil every single one of her needs no matter how small, the responsibility of sole carer for my daughter is me and that means being switched on 24/7 to cater for her every need. I make all of the decisions regarding her life, which is hard sometimes, not having anyone to back you up or agree with your choices; what if I fuck up and make the wrong choice and there is no one there to say to me ‘babe, you know what, I think this is a better idea’ or ‘maybe we should do it this way instead’. I don’t get a consult or a counsel before I make a decision, I just make the decision I think is right and I go with it… and sometimes that’s scary, and I dread the day that I really do fuck up and my decision is detrimental to Arlette’s life.
Not only is it hard in the way that it’s all me 24/7 and I have no one to give her to or help me with her or the decisions about her life, but it’s also hard not having someone for me to talk to, or lean on, for me and my sanity. I don’t have someone to crawl into bed to at the end of a long hard day of baby wrangling who will curl up with me and play with my hair, or tickle my back until I fall asleep, because I can’t sleep, because I’m totally wired from my insane day of running around making sure my 10 week old is fed, burped, changed and satisfied… In short, babies are hard work sometimes and just when I get a minute to sit down, she lets me know with a scream that could shatter souls that she’s ready for the whole charade to start again. It’s lonely sometimes when at the end of the day I crawl into bed on my own and stare blankly into the darkness, alone with my thoughts.
I love my daughter and I love our crazy life but it isn’t easy and sometimes it’s lonely when your constant companion speaks in coos, gurgles and spit bubbles and good, fulfilling conversation is hard to find. I wouldn’t change it though, not even in the hardest moments, when all I want to do is scream and collapse into a puddle of tears, when she won’t stop crying or screaming or fighting sleep when I know she’s damn well tired. I wouldn’t change a thing, because her smile in the mornings, it brightens my day and lightens my soul. It fills me with a love I’ve never felt before when she holds my hand and pulls it in close to her. It melts my heart when she looks up at me and smiles and coos.
I am filled to the brim with love, for this perfect little human being and although every day is hard, every day no matter how hard, she reminds me who I’m doing it for and how oh so worth it the hard times are.
Thank you for helping us through pregnancy, the before stages and the after stages. Thank you for always being patient with us and for loving us, even when we don’t resemble the woman you fell in love with anymore. Thank you for rubbing our backs when it aches, thank you for rubbing our belly during pregnancy and thank you for not poking too much fun at our swollen, unrecognisable feet (and thank you for massaging them too). Thank you for walking slower when we can no longer waddle very fast. Thank you for opening the car door for us, as you know getting in and out of the car can be a challenge. Thank you for holding our hair back or rubbing our back while morning sickness strikes. Thank you for the countless trips to Woolworths to satisfy the pregnancy cravings.
Thank you for supporting us in times when things are out of our control. Thank you for being so patient with our ever changing emotions and forever flowing tears. Thank you for forgiving us when we are sleep deprived and snap at you for putting the nappy on wrong, or anything else for that matter (and thank you for not making us feel too bad when we realise that you did do it right). Thank you for still hugging and kissing us when we are covered in our own breastmilk…and smell of it. Thank you for holding our hand still, even when there is a pram to push. Thank you for listening to us whinge when we get our first after-pregnancy period. Thank you for taking the baby when you get home from a long day at work.
Of course women would get through pregnancy and motherhood without men, because we are amazing. But having a supportive, patient, helpful, loving man in your life sure helps. Pregnancy and motherhood is an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, for women & for men. I was so naive to what could go wrong when you are pregnant. When you fall pregnant you never imagine that you would have a miscarriage, a premature baby, a still born baby, a baby with defects, a baby with genetic problems, a baby whose organs are growing on the outside…and the list goes on. Whilst having a baby is a blessing, it sure is not glamourous. That’s why it is super important to have a man that will love you at your best, and at your breastmilk covered, no make up wearing, black bags under your eyes (permanently), emotional, worst.
So to all of the men out there that are holding your partner’s hand through IVF treatment, a miscarriage, pregnancy problems, birth, motherhood and LIFE – you are amazing. We love you and we appreciate you (not just us, but your children love you for being a good example too).
The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their Mother.
In 2011 something happened that would change my life forever. I was single, 25 years old and working as a youth worker on the Gold Coast. That year, in early July; I lost my Dad to suicide. It was one of the hardest days I have ever had to live and an event that would shape my life, lead me on a journey of self discovery and pave a path to where I stand today.
Just two weeks after my dad passed, I found myself attending my Dad’s burial in Leongatha, a small town in Gippsland just two hours from Melbourne. A day later I met a man. He, like me; was going through a rough patch. Across a table in a mutual friends backyard we talked for hours. He spoke about his best friend Matt, a larger than life character who despite being loud, stole the hearts of all he met. He spoke about how his friend was in hospital and had been for months, how he had been put on life support and how he was scared to imagine what life would be like without him. That night we parted ways with no numbers exchanged but a feeling inside like I had never felt before.
Two days later I had a friend request on Facebook. Mr Chris Von D! Well lets just say that friend request led us on an epic journey which spanned 11 months. A few weeks later Chris had to say goodbye to his best friend and just like that, our grief bonded us together. Talking over the phone, texting, thousands of dollars in plane fares, 8 months of long distance dating and a bond created that I truly believe will never be broken.
In June 2012, I had resigned from my job, packed up my car and with the help of my friend Ekk – and drove 1300 km to start a life with Chris in Melbourne.
Chris and I shared a bedroom in a house occupied not only by us but his mum, dad and pop.. It was a mad house but we laughed, argued and cried together. We lived there for 8 months before moving to our own little rental property to begin our journey together as a happy independent couple.
3 months after our move, Chris was diagnosed with Epilepsy after having a seizure whilst driving home from the Footy. Our lives were turned upside down that day and we were taken on a journey through the world of Neurologists, anti epileptic drugs, learning the difference between seizures and everything in between. Overnight we went from happy and reasonably care free couple to a financially strained 1 income household. Team that with Chris’ pre existing back injury from years of working at the car auctions and we seemed to be in a bit of a pickle.
Fast forward through a tonne of medical appointments, me continuing to work full time, an engagement, a wedding and a hell of a lot of soul searching – we decided that we wanted to start a family. We made the decision to put off attempting to buy a home and prioritise the one thing we wanted so badly… Children ♡
After 2 years of trying to conceive (or TTC as it’s known on the pregnancy and conception online groups!!) we had our first pregnancy and miscarriage. It was early on at around 5 weeks. So by the time we found out we were pregnant we were actually in the process of losing our baby. We mourned the loss silently as we came to terms with the pregnancy and the loss in the same moment. We hadn’t had time to be excited, we hadn’t had time to think of the future or plan anything. It was a sad and lonely time for both Chris and I. But we were determined to get through it and decided that we would start trying again.
3 months later, 1 day after returning from a relaxing holiday in Tasmania, Chris and I had our first positive pregnancy test. To say we were excited was an understatement. As soon as I saw the word ‘Pregnant’ flash up on the face of the test our world changed. Chris was just as excited. It took a couple of days to ‘feel real’ but we embraced it. I started watching my coffee intake, the food I ate, was conscious of my stress levels and everything in between. We were already linked in with a private gynaecologist/obstetrician; so we booked in with her straight away.
Blood tests confirmed the pregnancy, blood tests confirmed the HCG amount was rising but blood tests also confirmed that my progesterone was on the lower side of the normal range and a phone call and script fax later, I was put on progesterone pessaries the very same day. For those women who have taken them for prolonged periods of time; whether it be pre IVF, pre pregnancy or throughout… Props to you! Gosh almighty…. twice a day.. Essential… But not fun!
In the 5 weeks we ‘knew’ we were pregnant; we laughed, we cried, we shared the news with our closest friends and family, we dreamt of what our baby would look like and playfully named him ‘ButterBean’ and we sneakily purchased a few little things. We were lucky enough to see ButterBean through the internal scans on 3 occasions and saw his heart beat on the screen. We were in love with our creation and felt extremely blessed.
At 8 and a half weeks I experienced light bleeding. I was scared at first but after a trip to the obstetrician was diagnosed with an ectropic cervix which placed an explanation for the light bleeding I was experiencing and was put at ease by seeing ButterBean and his little heart beat through an ultrasound.
That weekend we told my closest friends from high school that we were expecting whilst away in Sydney for a 30th Birthday. I sipped water most of the night and was perfectly content with where my life was at that point in time.
When we returned I began to bleed heavier, I had excruciating back and tailbone pain and the most intense cramps. Until that moment I never knew that your body went into labour during a miscarriage so early on. This continued until I passed what I now know was our little baby. By the time I got in to see the obstetrician and completed my final internal ultrasound, my uterus was empty. This was confirmed by the ultrasound technician in a room next door. And just like that.. my body had completed the miscarriage without me even 100% knowing it was happening.
In 3 days I had gone from pregnant, calm, happy, content and at ease to one of those collapse on the floor in a heap moments. Chris and I were escorted from the ultrasound room past a waiting room of pregnant women into a spare practice room to await the obstetrician. We sat there and cried. The only word coming out of my mouth on repeat was ‘sorry’. My obstetrician and her staff were wonderful that day and phoned twice that week to check in with me to see how we were going.
My hubby Chris was even more wonderful. This man was brave and strong throughout all of this. He held my hand that day in the ultrasound room, he hugged me close as I cried day and night, he rubbed my back through the back aches and pain I experienced and most importantly; he told me each and every time I blamed myself that it wasn’t my fault, that I had done everything right and that everything was going to be ok.
The road since that day in December has been a little rocky. We have both experienced our up and down moments filled with smiles, tears, anger, disappointment, laughter and that overwhelming feeling of ‘why us?’ We have been supported by our wonderful friends and family and have been reminded continually how lucky we are to have to kindest and most caring human beings imaginable in our lives.
But nothing will change the fact that although Chris and I don’t have any babies to hold from our pregnancies, we are still parents.
We will miss and mourn our babies for the rest of our lives. For you see; we aren’t just mourning what we lost last year but every year in the future we miss out on. The first b’day party, the first day at school, the naughty 16 year old, the P plater, becoming an adult and everything in-between.
We continue to grow stronger as each day passes. We do this by remaining as positive as possible (despite the bull shit that life sometimes likes to deal), putting all of our love and strength into creating an amazing future for us both as well as the babies we may have later in life and focusing on the good times we are lucky enough to experience, instead of dwelling on the bad.
As confronting as it may be. With the support of my husband, I have chosen to speak publicly about our miscarriages. Why?…because it is something so common in pregnancy. (1 in 5 women!) Because it is something that is never spoken about. (Why are we not speaking about this?!!) It’s like the first rule of miscarriage is to not talk about it! We NEED to talk about it. So that women, like myself and their partners do not feel ashamed, helpless, weak, angry or guilty. So they don’t have to scroll through literally hundreds of webpages; googling miscarriage because they feel alone.
Because even though some people may find this topic of conversation uncomfortable, this is my story, this is my truth and in this moment I know…I’m not alone.
MAS (Meconium Aspiration Syndrome) My Full-Term Nightmare – By Tahlia Ferre
My pregnancy was nothing special, I was growing a human, and as such I experienced the usual things; morning sickness, nausea, exhaustion, crazy emotions caused by the radical change in hormones and last but not least hunger, all the time… always so, so hungry. A totally “normal” textbook pregnancy, that’s the pregnancy I experienced, it was perfect, and she was perfect, in every way.
At 41 weeks exactly I went into labour, my girl had ideas of her own and took her time, at 6am on the 18th of December at 41+1 I was taken into the birth suite 4cm dilated, this was it, I was offered painkillers and ended up having an epidural, I slept for two hours and woke with the need to push. Fifteen minutes, that’s all it took and my girl was out in the world. That’s the moment my world turned upside down something was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong.
My beautiful “perfect” girl was placed on my chest, gurgled momentarily and went limp, prompting the midwife to rip her off of my chest, cut her cord in haste and call a code. Now for a first time mother who’d just given birth a code being called has to be one of the scariest things to experience, or so I thought at the time, little did I know what was in store for us. Twenty or more doctors, midwives and nurses rushed into my birth suite surrounding my limp, purple little girl and I watched as tubes were shoved down her throat and she was suctioned and resuscitated, I had no idea what had gone wrong, or what was happening to my little girl, all I knew was it wasn’t good and all I could think was ‘Please, please, let her be okay! Make her okay!’ She was resuscitated and as quickly as she’d come into the world she was wheeled out of the room, away from me. I could only lay there unable to move. The team of doctors, midwives and nurses following the lead paediatrician as he barked orders that made no sense to me as they went.
I didn’t hear anything for hours, nothing, not even a ‘She’s okay, everything will be alright.’ I understand now that they couldn’t tell me those things, because at the time she wasn’t, and everything might not have been alright. After what seemed like forever the midwife who had delivered my girl came to see how my epidural was wearing off, finally after three hours she said though not usually advised, in my circumstances I could get up, if I felt confident enough to walk, shower and go see my girl.
I got up, standing on shaky legs, still numb, showered and was wheeled into the special care nursery only to have the site I was faced with completely shatter me. There she was, my perfect little girl, hooked up to a multitude of machines, with a ventilation tube down her throat, a central line, and a glucose drip… through my haze of disbelief, I heard the word ‘TRANSFER’ all that ran through my head was, Where… Why…When?
Being told she was transferring, and I wasn’t able to go with her broke me for at least the third time that day, all I could do was melt into a puddle of tears and disbelief, my girl was leaving this hospital and going to a completely foreign to me hospital and I couldn’t go with her, ‘Why was this happening to me? Why my baby?’ I felt helpless, and lost. I was her mum, I was supposed to be there for her, I was supposed to keep her safe, but there was nothing I could do but watch as the team taking her packed her up and wheeled her away.
Lights and Sirens I was told by the team taking her, she’s a very sick girl, lights and sirens. Now I don’t know about you but when I see an ambulance with lights and sirens I worry for the poor person or people who that ambulance is racing to or transporting because I know that lights and sirens aren’t a good thing, that ambulance has people in critical condition that they’re racing to save and that day… that person in critical condition was my fresh, little, perfect baby girl. I sobbed, for what seemed like forever before I got moving, I needed to follow her, I had to go and be with her, and so I did, a transfer was arranged for me and before things were even finalised I was in the car with my friend following my baby.
She made it to The Royal NICU and was in a critical but stable condition. That night I got to hold her hand and change her first nappy, a task that I would’ve taken for granted or seen as a chore in any other circumstance, but in this moment it was something I cherished as I still wasn’t sure I’d get the chance to do again.
The news I received in the morning was more than I could manage to handle in my exhausted, postnatal state, I was sore, my whole body ached, and I was mentally, emotionally and physically numb. I cried myself to sleep my heart literally aching after being woken by a doctor at 5am with news that she’d deteriorated, there was mention of a chest drain and another transfer, not definite but on the cards… then 7am, a different doctor and a nurse; She’s being transferred to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital PICU for emergency surgery, come say goodbye.
Goodbye… More tears… More heartache… Sobbing, disbelief, anger, and would you guess, more sobbing. The drive to Lady Cilento was a blur, the whole morning was really, I was too numb to take much of anything on board. By the time that I arrived, she’d arrived, been settled and was being prepped for this all or nothing surgery, this was her only chance, and, in her state it was now or never. I gave my consent, was given a quick run-down of the procedure and off she went to be cut open and hooked up to a machine that would be her lungs for as long as she needed… Waiting, waiting, waiting… The two hours of waiting to hear that she was out of surgery were the longest two hours I’ve ever experienced, then there was another hour wait before I could see her. So. Much. Waiting.
Walking into that room, all I could see was my tiny little baby, hooked up to these giant machines that took over the entire space and made her look even smaller than she was. There in the centre of a mass of machines was this tiny body, still and silent and perfect. Still so perfect, still covered in the aftermath of her birth, with meconium coating her hair… she had so much hair… perfect, innocent, and so underserving of the hell her body was experiencing.
The next week or so was a blur of crying, holding her hand, chatting to the nurses, asking questions, watching screens; jumping every time something beeped, pumping and not sleeping; not really… I was a broken, shadow of myself, existing just enough and putting on a brave face for my baby. That week I spent Christmas in hospital, sitting by her bed.
As with most things, there were good days and bad, one day her lung collapsed, another her lung inflammation had reduced involving the change of her ventilation tube, then her chest drain fell out and had to be put back in by a surgeon due to the blood thinners coursing through her body.
There were little things that would ruin my entire day, and little things that would make it.
She was on so many drugs and medications to keep her body working, but still and unmoving, she was sedated and paralysed. There were a handful of moments where her sedation and paralysis were reduced enough for her to wake and in those moments she would look up at me, her face hidden behind tape with tubes and wires covering her body, look into my eyes and hold my finger as if to say ‘Hi mum, I’m going to be okay!’ Those moments, I treasured and still do, because at the time I didn’t know how many of them I would get.
Thankfully, she made it through, progressing in leaps and bounds much more quickly than doctors had anticipated and exactly a week after she was put on the machine, she was taken off of it. Two days after coming off of the machine and ten days after she was born I finally got to have my first cuddle with her, it took three nurses ten minutes and a lot of manoeuvring to move her and I stayed holding her there for hours, I didn’t want to put her down, I didn’t want the moment to end. It was the first time I’d held her, cuddled her, felt her against me, it was perfect and three hours just wasn’t long enough.
That wasn’t the end of our cross country journey. We were transferred back to The Royal NICU where she stayed ventilated for what seemed like forever before being put onto High-Flow oxygen through nasal prongs and at the same time she was on a methadone program to wean her off of the drugs. For me, watching her experience withdrawals and scream, cry and thrash about in her bed was one of the hardest things to have to silently observe my baby go through, she was for the first time in her short life experiencing the pain, experiencing the torture her body was enduring and it was heart wrenching.
Hours that seemed like days, days that seemed like weeks… The commute… The feeling of guilt when I’d leave her for the night… The grief of coming home to a room that was waiting for her… The exhaustion… The numbness…
We eventually “Graduated” to special care, she was no longer reliant on drugs, she’d been downgraded from high-flow oxygen to low-flow oxygen she started breastfeeding as well as being fed through her nasal gastric tube. Every day we were a step closer to home but it still seemed so far away.
I spent days in the hospital with her, talking to the other mothers there spending time with their sick or premature babies, all of us so close to home we could almost taste it but still unsure of when it would happen for us. I watched as babies and parents were transferred back to their original hospitals, one step closer to home with their little ones by their sides and longed for the day it would be our turn. Eventually it came, our final transfer, back to where it all began, the nightmare that rocked my world for exactly five weeks and one day was coming to an end.
She was transferred to the Redlands where we were reunited with the staff that saved her life. The ones who had acted so quickly on the day of her birth to rescue her and bring her back. She will never know the significant part these people played in her life but I do, I know how hard they worked on such a little human to breathe life back into her body, to make her stable enough to move in a condition that was completely unstable.
I experienced a completely normal, “textbook” pregnancy, my labour was perfect… and then, my baby was born on the brink of death and the only reason she is still here is because of the fast work and determination of the doctors, nurses and midwives that were there that day. I didn’t think this was something that could or would happen to me, I took it for granted that my baby would be born perfect, and then she wasn’t, even though up until that point everything had been. I often asked myself while experiencing this and still do sometimes ask myself as I reflect on that nightmare of a time, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why my baby?’ ‘Why did we deserve that?’ Honestly… the answer is, we didn’t, we didn’t deserve any of it, but these kinds of freak things happen, even to the least deserving of people and it’s the way that we handle the hard times that makes us the people and the parents we are meant to be.
We’ve all been there. That awkward situation where someone tells you something that involves one of your besties or is about your bestie, that you wish you never knew. Now that you have this information, what do you do with it? Do you keep it to yourself, lock it far away never to be thought of again? Do you consult with another bestie to see what they think you should do? Or do you tell your friend? The decision is never easy.
I remember when I was in this situation and I was ropeable. Furious that I had been involved. What, so now I have to be the bearer of bad news? Betray my friend to keep your secret? What makes me even more upset is when this could potentially cause a problem between me & my friend, when I am completely innocent.
Never in a million years would I ever want to be the one to break my friends heart. Telling your friend such hurtful things is never a conversation you want to have. These kind of situations have you thinking about them for ages. Is it worth it? Does it really matter? Will it matter in five years? Am I reading too much into it? Do they really need to know? Will telling your friend actually help them or just hurt them? My friendships mean the absolute world to me, my friends are my sunshine & my soul mates…I try my best to handle their feelings & emotions with care, therefore I don’t make decisions that regard their feelings lightly & I always try to make a decisions based on what I think is in their best interest.
“She is my friend. She’s my family. My insides. She will be fine because she has to be fine. That is how important she is to me” – Carrie
I was in this one particular situation and I had no idea how to handle it. I wish that I had stuck it to the hater. I had my chance, but out of shock and lack of experience, I just didn’t say anything. I felt like I had let my friend down. I was afraid that if I was rude to this person, that I would cause a problem. So even though I thought they were an asshole, I still continued to be polite to this person. Another situation was that something had gotten out about a personal journey one of my friends was on, I didn’t know how and I didn’t know who knew…I just knew that now someone I knew, knew. Did I tell my friend? No. Simply because I didn’t have enough information. What was my friend going to do about it anyway? We would not have even known where to go from here. So to save her the unnecessary drama, & worry, I kept it to myself. I felt that it was in her best interest to stay focused on her journey, not who knew about it.
I always find the line between minding my own business and being honest, blurry. What if I just think it’s a big deal? Will I be labelled a trouble maker? Am I enabling rumours to be spread? Am I giving the haters a voice or the satisfaction? Why did this person tell me this? Is it even true?
Over the years, I have learnt that each situation needs to be handled differently, depending on what your friend is like. Are they so chill that they wouldn’t care? If they are, then why tell them something that may hurt their feelings for no reason? If they are super sensitive then maybe invite them over for a coffee – don’t deliver the news in public. Have chocolate and wine waiting! One thing that we often mistake for loyalty & being a good friend, is when we feel the need to tell our friend absolutely everything you have heard that involves them, when actually – protecting them from potential untruths, not buying into other people’s bullshit & bad energy makes you a better friend. Let’s be honest, a game of Chinese whispers has shown us, from childhood, just how easily stories can change and things can be taken out of context.
Upon reflection & after many episodes of ‘Sex & The City’, I am happy with the way I handled the situations. I think deep down you always know if you really need to tell your friend. I have since learnt that this ‘asshole’ is not really an asshole, but socially awkward & says things that they think are funny, while making people uncomfortable, but not meaning any harm. When I came to this realisation, I was glad that I kept my mouth shut and made the right decision for my friend. As I have gotten older though, I have grown and feel that I would definitely speak up more & stick it to the hater. If it does end up being a misunderstanding, the hater, if they are a decent person, will understand you defending your friend. Friendships always have and always will be important to me. I truly care about my friends, therefore one thing will always stand, I will always hate being put in that situation…
“Friendships don’t magically last forty years …you have to invest in them.” – Carrie
When the time came to start Amaya on solids, I had a lot of questions. My friend Monica Hodges, who has studied nutrition (among other things…click on her name to visit her website or click here to visit her Facebook page), gave me a lot of helpful tips. I found them so useful when making good food choices for Amaya, therefore I asked Monica to write a blog so I could share this knowledge with you all….
The do’s & don’ts when it comes to nutrition- By Monica Hodges
In children, good nutrition is essential for normal growth and development. It also plays an important role in providing resistance to infection and disease. When a child is properly nourished, it means that they are being given all the essential nutrients for health and wellbeing.
Vitamins, minerals and water all regulate body functions. Fats and Carbohydrates provide energy. Proteins also provide energy, as well as build body tissue.
It’s recommended that we use the healthy eating model on the Nutrition Australia website as a guide. When feeding our children though, it is also important to be aware of the lengths food companies will go to for big profits. Products aimed and advertised directly to and for children, these are not always healthy and quite often are highly processed, containing little or no nutritional content. The supermarket aisles are full of products, which contain too much sugar, salt, food additives and preservatives.
When food shopping, check food labels for excess sugar in products like juice, cordial, fizzy drinks, cereals, cereal bars, canned fruits, hazelnut spreads, flavoured milk and dairy desserts. The proportion of sugar in foods is listed by ranking in the ingredients list, on the product packaging. If sugar is listed as a first, second, or third in the ingredients list, it is probably a good idea to avoid that particular product. Also, any more than 15g of sugars per 100g on the nutritional panel is considered too much sugar. Other names that come under the category of added sugars are: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, maple syrup, brown sugar, sucrose and raw sugar. Always buy unsweetened juices and wholegrain cereal products where sugar has not been added. And fresh unprocessed produce is always better.
Salt (which is by chemical name sodium chloride), is included in many processed foods for preservation and for flavouring. Smoked foods like ham and bacon usually have large amounts of salt added. Snack foods like chips, crackers and processed cheeses can contain a lot of salt. As well as canned fish and anchovies. Tuna in springwater is a better choice than tuna in brine. Be aware of products which have sodium sources, listed as ‘sodium’ or ‘monosodium glutamate’, ‘baking soda’ and ‘baking powder’ in ingredients lists. There is also a variety of flavoured salts which can be added into products eg. chicken salt, celery salt or onion salt. Look into reduced salt versions of products that you normally buy, for example tomato based products, pasta sauces, canned tomatoes and other canned products. Foods which have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g on the products nutritional panel are considered best.
Because of the rate at which toddlers grow, reduced fat dairy products do not contain enough nutrient content and energy for children under two years of age. It is recommended that reduced fat milk and dairy products only be given to children over 5 years of age. Reduced fat products can be offered after the age of two, as long as they are getting a range of fats from a wide variety of foods.
Which food additives to avoid:
1. Artificial sweetening substances.
These are found in drinks, sweets, chewing gum, biscuits, even some diet yoghurts. These substances are listed on product labels as ‘Aspartame’, ‘Saccharin’ and ‘Cylamate’. There has been some public concern in recent years, about the health implications with regular consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners. Reduced sugar or low calorie soft drinks often contain artificial sweeteners so please check the product label.
2. Flavour Enhancers.
The best known flavour enhancer is monosodium glutamate or 621. It is in a lot of processed foods like flavoured packet soups and noodles, canned foods and potato chips. Other enhancers used in packaged foods are ‘sodium inosinate 631’ and ‘sodium guanylate 627’. There has been some public concern regarding the effects flavour enhancers, in general, have on our health and the possible behavioural effects in children. These are not allowed to be present in infant foods so best to be avoided if possible.
3. Bleaching agents.
Try to always buy unbleached flour for baking. Unbleached flour is more yellowish in colour than bleached flour. If the bleaching is done chemically, the chemicals used in the bleaching process can be chlorine, chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide. If a flour is unbleached, it will usually be put on the front of the flour packaging.
Though not really classified as a ‘food additive’, nitrates are worth a mentioning. Based on the results of a recent study, the World Health Organisation has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans. Different preservation methods used in processing meat could result in the formation of N-nitroso compounds (Nitrates). These are considered carcinogenic – linked to cancer. ‘Processed’ meat refers to meats that have been salted, cured, fermented and smoked. Hot Dogs (frankfurters), salami, ham and kabana are all considered processed meats. The recommendation is to reduce or moderate the consumption of these types of meats. Fresh, cooked meat is considered a healthier alternative. If you would like more information please refer to the World Health Organisation website.
Nutritionists recommend to buy wholegrain, unprocessed cereals and brown rice products, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, instead of the canned options. The least amount of handling a food has had, the better. Having said this, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with using snap frozen vegetables when time is limited. Mashed avocado can be a very healthy spread for bread but if avocado isn’t available, butter is better because it is natural. Plain tasty cheese from the cold section in a supermarket, and is a better choice than processed cheese. Hummas is a healthy dip for carrot, cucumber or celery sticks. Plain natural yoghurt is far healthier than the already sweetened varieties and can be eaten with fresh fruit. When you need to use a natural sweetener, Stevia is a good alternative to sugar.
Home baking is always going to be far healthier than the store bought options (muffins, cakes, biscuits, muesli bars etc) because you always know what is in your own baking. Look at the ingredients list on the back of a cake mix, can you see all the numbers and additives? Make large batches of your own home baking and freeze if you can. The same goes for baby food…home made vegetable mashes, frozen, are far better than store bought jars of baby food. Chemical free, organic produce is the ideal, but not everyone can afford it. It’s about trying to keep yours and your child’s diet as natural as possible.
Food definitely has changed a lot in the last 100 years. Our ancestors would raise their own animals for meat, or buy meat and dairy very locally. A lot of meat was eaten, but meat had a higher nutrient value because it was grass fed meat. Fruits and vegetables were also home farmed or grown locally. Highly processed food was non-existent and breads were homemade. Next time you visit the supermarket or order your groceries, question the variety of foods available. Some would say that we are lucky to have such an abundance and variety of different foods. Unfortunately though, our great grandparents, as children, wouldn’t recognise a lot of these options as food.
When I was wheeled into the NICU, along the looooong hallway, which was filled with women who walked slumped over due to delivery via c-section, all with tired faces, I had no idea what to expect. I was about to meet my baby for the first time, over 24 hours after she was born. What would she look like? How small would she be? Would she be crying? Would she know I was there? Truth be told, she cried all day after she was born. I was in the ICU as my platelets were low and because I had been put under for the delivery. Do you know how hard that was for me to hear that she was crying? “Ahh yes, your baby is crying, in fact she has been crying all day.” I couldn’t do a damn thing about my little baby, who was still meant to be inside me, crying. Even if I could be beside her, I couldn’t hold her.
I was instructed on how to wash my hands, standing up out of that wheelchair after a c-section was almost as challenging as staring through a piece of glass that separated me from my baby. Only a NICU parent understands how much distance a pane of glass can create. After the hand washing, I was wheeled to her cot-side. I couldn’t see her face because of the the C-PAP. I was overcome with emotion but I also felt numb. This moment was not how I imagined it would be. Prior to this, I had been crying because a dear friend of mine, who I had shared a room with while I was in hospital (forever roomies!), had lost one of her wonderful little twins the morning Amaya was born. The emotional rollercoaster of the NICU had already begun (all my love to you Jodie 💙 💙)…
I stared at Amaya, fighting back the tears, covering my pain by cracking jokes and laughing with the nurses. Amaya was stable. What does that even mean? Can that change instantly? When I wasn’t cot-side, I was being taught how to express. Taking those first bags of milk down to the NICU was the first time I felt like I was helping Amaya. I would spend my days & nights going from my room where I would express, back down to the NICU where I would sit with my girl and chat to the nurses. Four days after having Amaya a midwife comes into my room & says “we are going to discharge you today, I am sorry, we can’t keep you if we don’t have a medical reason”, I almost happily packed my bags, as I was so excited to be getting out of the hospital after being in & out for two months. The nurses let Teina & I put my bags into a cupboard while we went down to say ‘see you later’ to Amaya….
Walking the hall down to her cot, Teina & I joked about who had had c-sections, as the women were all walking just like me. Slooooowly & hunched over. Teina kept talking to me as he knew if he stopped there would more likely be tears. We said see you later, told Amaya that we loved her and that we would be back the next day. As we went to collect my bags, I told Teina that I just wanted to make sure that she had enough milk. We both knew that she did, but I needed a moment alone with my girl. I stared at her through the glass, told her that I loved her & that I would be back first thing in the morning. Walking out of the room was the bravest thing I have ever done, fighting back the tears was almost impossible. You should never have to leave your baby so soon…
I was quiet the whole way home. I kept myself distracted that afternoon by hunting down an electric breast pump, I had no idea how often I would be attached to that thing. I called the NICU at least twice that night & couldn’t wait for the morning to come. The next day they removed some lines from Amaya’s tummy, my job was to hold her hands so she didn’t try to grab the lines and pull them. As I held her tiny, TINY hands I looked down at her little face. She was crying, as removing the lines is painful. Our eyes locked and the stare felt like it lasted forever. It’s like she was crying and looking at me to help her, to stop the pain. I had to look away before I burst into tears.
I spent a lot of my days sipping on coffee at the hospital cafe. I would sit there and watch the families go with their new babies, at first I would cry discreetly, but as the days went on, I didn’t care. I didn’t even try to hide it. This was one of the most difficult things to see on a daily basis. I had my moment and then I pulled myself together, cos I had to be strong for our girl.
A week went by and finally I had cuddles. Holding her for the first time was the best feeling, but it also reminded me of how small she was. Watching the nurses take her out of the isolette and Amaya coming towards me was crazy, she was so tiny. My first cuddle was for two hours, but I could have held her forever. As I sat there cuddling her, I would look around the room. There would be mother’s expressing milk and alarms going off. I had an oversupply of milk & ended up with Mastitis three flippin’ times. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. But others were not so lucky. There was this one Mum, she would express for an hour and be lucky to get 20mls. One day one of the nurses asked her if she had any more bags of milk, she told them that she had been to the Doctor’s that morning about increasing her supply. The nurse said “Ok, well your baby is now on donor milk until we get some more of yours”, the Mother’s face showed her disappointment and pain. Providing your baby with YOUR breastmilk is the only thing you can do for them. That day, was one of the many days that I cried by Amaya’s cot.
We celebrated cracking a kilo, this was a big moment for me. Now she is almost six kilos, I never thought she would be that big. We celebrated graduating rooms and we celebrated going into an open cot. This meant I could pick her up as much as I wanted. The joy this brought me is impossible to explain. When you have a baby in the NICU you are robbed of so many things – changing their first nappy, giving them their first feed and eventually giving them their first bottle. You are so overjoyed for their progress, but it is a bittersweet moment.
I was always told that the babies knew when their parents were there, many nurses told me that the babies who do the best are usually the babies whose parents visit often. I read to Amaya and I sang to her all the time. Each night Teina & I would go up there and read her a bedtime story. I wanted her to hear my voice and to know that I was there. I still remember when my sister-in-law met Amaya for the first time, as we stood around her cot chatting, my sister-in-law all of a sudden burst into tears. Puzzled, I asked why she was crying – she responded “every time you talk, Amaya looks up towards you, she knows your voice.” I spoke and looked down and there were her big brown eyes, no lashes and no eyebrows, staring up at me. Once again, I fought back those tears…
For just over seven long weeks Amaya was in the NICU & SCN. Going back & forth each day and night was exhausting, but I would do anything for Amaya. Expressing is exhausting. The day I got to carry her out of the hospital, I walked past and gave a comforting smile to the NICU Mum’s at the cafe, I prayed it would be their turn soon. As the sunlight hit her face, I told her that this was the world and it is amazing just like her. I was filled with happiness that I had never felt before.
The NICU is an unstable world, you never know what each day will bring. I would walk in through the NICU doors each day, wearing my biggest smile, in hope to bring some joy to anyone who saw me. Those hallways could tell a million stories. I saw parents crying in theses hallways, which was really hard. I cried with parents and I chatted to parents, these people understood me and exactly how I was feeling. We comforted each other, we laughed and we shared our stories. The nurses would join in and for a brief moment, I would forget where I was and my laugh would be genuine & happy. There is a lot of sadness in the NICU, but there are some wonderful people and Amaya & I have made some lifelong friends from our journey in the NICU.