As I write this, I’m coming out of a month’s fog of broken sleep, anxiety, aching wrists and hospital visits. Winter has struck Scotland and has brought the usual round of bugs and illnesses which seem to target the most vulnerable amongst us .
Early December, Charlotte picked up a tummy bug which resulted in a week long episode of runny nappies that over spilled onto vests and outer clothing and resulted in a very sore red raw little bottom. How she screamed when I changed her nappy and no matter how gentle the process was carried out she would look at me pleading and screaming, ‘Ma’, in horror as I wiped her peeling skin. I troweled on the nappy cream thickly to protect her skin but there was nothing else I could do but let the bug take its course. Which it did. So far so good.
As she was getting better and her little system was returning to normal I noticed she had a sniffle and a little cough. Then one night at about 3 am she awoke with a huge cough choking back phlegm. This went on for the rest of the night and by the morning had a full blown chesty cough. I probably got about 2 hours sleep. I administered the usual paracetemol concoction for a few days but she went off her food and wanted lifted all the time. In fact, she didn’t want to sleep in any other position other than in the arms of my husband and I. For a quiet life, we submitted to the will of this little, mucus filled cherub, My right wrist which has been painfully sore from carrying her throughout both 9hr flights to Orlando and back in October, and in the lines for the rides, now was screaming at me! However to alleviate the pain I was now using my left hand to support her weight as I comforted her several times throughout the night. No beauty sleep for me. My left wrist is now tender and aching too. Great, both wrists are painful. Must see the doctor about this!
I had taken her to the doctor who examined her chest, throat and ears but there was nothing significant so we were asked to keep her drinking fluids and come back if her condition deteriorates.
After a week Charlotte seemed to improve and her sleep patterns returned although she now would only fall asleep in the arms of one of us before we gently laid he in her cot. A habit we have not broken since! Her runny tummy returned for a few days and went away .
Over the Christmas week she was not quite her cheery self, being very clingy and whimpering continuously if my husband and I vacated the room leaving her with other members of the family. On Christmas Day, we had a lovely family dinner at one of my sister’s who live in the seaside town of Troon , famous for it’s golf course and in spitting distance of Trump’s Turnberry Estate. Charlotte wanted to be lifted and hugged all the time.
In the meantime, my Aunt Babs, 88 yrs, my late mother’s oldest sister, had grown frailer over recent months. She was viewed by all my mother’s side of the family as the familial matriarch. She still lived and managed (just!) on her own in her flat in Dumbarton. To cheer her up I would have taken the kids to visit her over the holidays but she had developed breathing difficulties over a number of weeks and was struggling to hold a conversation. She had begun to lose her appetite. She resisted the idea of going into hospital but the doctor insisted she needed to be treated for a chest infection which was debilitating her, so she relented and was admitted to the Vale of Leven Hospital a week before Christmas. I visited her, as did many family members, and she seemed resigned to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks until she was strong enough to return home. I was relieved as she now had round-the-clock care. However, a few days later, weak and still frail, she discharged herself despite doctors’ advice!
She preferred the comfort and familiarity of her own home. Family started to check on her but she fell on two occasions in her home and could not get up and eventually resigned to being re-admitted to hospital. I would describe Babs as stubborn, stoic, very much her own women, but also very generous, kind and extremely family-orientated. She had never married nor had a family of her own but was very much part of all our lives.
It was important to let her know that we cared about her so immediate family, including us nieces and nephews, visited her in hospital from near and far. With Charlotte being poorly, I felt guilty for not seeing her more often but Babs appreciated every visit and always asked after the children.
Between Christmas and New Year, we did take Charlotte with us to a Pantomime with the other children and she was very well behaved, sitting on our knees in turn, in awe of the colourful goings-on, silly antics and loud music on the theatre stage. She is much better I thought!
Then on Hogmanay she wouldn’t sleep, playing around on the floor and being very lively to almost 1.30 am! We wouldn’t let the other kids stay up for the ‘bells’ to welcome in the New Year, and here was our 9 month old insisting on playing whilst we wanted to get to bed!
This is it, I thought. This is why babies are usually a younger person’s domain. No regrets, obviously, but we were exhausted. Three weeks of continuous broken sleep now – Charlotte was waking 3-5 times a night -but at times could not be comforted easily. Her sleep pattern was all out of sync.
We got her to sleep after 1.30 am New Years Day and she awoke at 3.30 am with the same chesty choking cough she’d had a week or so before. The mucas and wheezy cough started again. This time she went right off her food and refused to eat for a few days, taking only her bottles. So back to the Medical Practice and saw a doctor (a different one this time) who examined her and couldn’t find anything wrong .
By Sat I’d had enough. She wasn’t getting any better and her fluid intake had reduced. She hadn’t eaten for 6 days. I called NHS 24 and explained her symptoms. I was advised to go to my nearest out of hours clinic with her, at the local hospital, which I did at 11pm. Two hours later, we emerged with penicillin for her – a chest infection. It was -4C outside as I bundled her back into the car.
A week later she is so much better, although the medication gave her cramps and diarrhoea which woke her several times (again!) during the night and was painful for her. During one of her cramping episodes, as she screamed and writhed in pain, I paced the floor of our converted garage as it was the furthest away room from our sleeping kids (and one husband doing his best to fall back to sleep!) between 3.30 and 6am.
Told you, this baby thing is suited for the youthful, resilient and/ or those who need little sleep!
The next morning I drove down to visit Babs in hospital, some 40 mins away, in the bright chilly sunlight but felt drunk on the lack of sleep. Spaced out.
Now, at last, normality seems to have returned to Charlotte’s world – and our own. She is back eating three meals a day – although now and again prefers to wear her food! But that’s OK. Her wee smiley personality has returned and she is happy once again exploring her toys on the floor without crying to be lifted.
After Babs was re-admitted to hospital she gradually got worse. Her breathing never improved and she was sipping only the smallest amounts of fluid in the end which could hardly sustain her tiny frame. I sat with her for one hour the day before she passed away and I talked about the family and my plans for getting back into work. I told her Charlotte was much better and she smiled in-between brief bouts of sleepiness and made attempts to speak. We await her funeral details which her only surviving sibling, my Aunt Trish, is currently organising. Her only brother, my fabulous Uncle Gerard died from cancer on the day Charlotte was born.
In the meantime I thank Babs for her generosity over the years both to myself and my children. I thank her for the interest she showed in my growing family, and above all for the total acceptance of my first pregnancy at fifty years old and the support and love she showed to me thanking God for the miracle of little Charlotte’s life.