The Princess Party

On Friday afternoon it was just another ordinary school classroom. Twenty four hours later, it had been transformed into a magical grotto full of light and colour, music and balloons, a candy cart and the sweet smell of cake. A wonderland fit for a princess. My princess. It was finally time to celebrate her 21st birthday.

And celebrate we did. With plenty of music and dancing, a gorgeous cake, family and lots of lots of friends, old and new. There wasn’t even time to take many photos: we were all too busy having fun.

(Most photos have other children in them so cannot be used here)

Why a school, you might be asking? Why not a swanky hotel? Well the school is home to the Rainbow Junior Arch Club, so it is familiar to B and has everything she needs, including a Changing Places Toilet. It meant all the children from the club could easily attend, as well as many former club members who are all grown up now, just like B. And finally because the school said yes to my request and I am very grateful to them for that.

As I wrote last week, with everything else going on at home, I could not have made this happen alone. Once again I asked for help, and once again my friends responded. I won’t name them on here, but they know who they are. And I hope they know how much I appreciate everything they did, from finding my daughter’s costume to making the invitations, to decorating the room and making sure everything ran like clockwork on the day, so I could spend the time  with B, making sure she had the time of her life….

It’s an afternoon I will never forget and the best reason to be cheerful I’ve had in a long long time.

R2BC at Mummy from the Heart 

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Celebrating carers who always put others first is a dangerous message

Once again I’m seeing red at the headlines around the Carer of the Year Awards. Always putting others first is not a good long term strategy. I know women who’ve died young because they were too busy caring to get their health needs met, let alone anything else. If you’re a carer for life, as I am, you have to look after your physical, mental and emotional health in order to keep caring without burnout. But these constant media messages about selflessness put huge pressure on carers not to look for help, and relieve society of the guilt they feel about not offering it — with some exceptions, of course.

As I am totally overwhelmed right now, I am going to recycle another old article, that says a bit more on the same subject, with apologies to the organisers and to those who do enjoy these awards.

When you become a carer, everything changes. Not just your own life, but society’s expectations too. No matter what you were like before, you are immediately obliged to take on saintly qualities and become endlessly patient, loving, energetic, unselfish, undemanding and uncomplaining, with a beatific smile permanently plastered on your face. Don’t believe me? Look at the Carer of the Year Awards. Now obviously I have huge admiration for the winners, they manage the most challenging situations and care for the longest number of years. But what do these awards say to the rest of us?

Keep your head down, keep caring and if things get really tough, you might get a day out at an awards ceremony in 30 years time.

Don’t complain, don’t look for help, there’s many people who are much more deserving than you.

You made it through the day? Congratulations on “surviving”.

Having special children makes a family special (well actually it’s made me cross, fat, sick and tired).

You think your life is difficult? Well guess what, it’s going to get harder and you will still be expected to keep going.

“I’ve learned that you can keep going long after you think you can’t.” Except when you actually can’t.

Yep, these are the messages that we hear all the time. They may help carers to keep going, they may find them inspiring. I understand that, I really do. But sometimes they just make me feel like screaming…

In the words of the song, Is That All There Is?

Is getting through another day all that we have to look forward to? Well I think that carers deserve better than that. I want more, both for me and for the other carers that I know. Somewhere out there are carers whose lives do not resemble those of the award winners. I want to hear about them.

Where are the stories of carers who have made a conventional success of their lives? 
Who have careers, who set up businesses? 
Who live in nice homes, enjoy hobbies and nights out, have great respite?
Whose children are settled in quality residential care, and who don’t feel guilty about it and are not ashamed to say so as they know that they’ve made the best decision for their family.
Who go on holidays, for goodness sake? 

Yep, maybe they needed a lot of help to achieve these things. So let’s celebrate the people who helped them. The services that make a difference. Let’s tell the world that many carers need that help, very very badly. They are not bad people. Everyone has a breaking point. Congratulations if you haven’t reached yours yet. But do not judge those who have. It could be you tomorrow.

 

 

What I would tell that frightened new mum of a 26 week baby

I know you’re shocked and stunned, I know this seems completely unreal. I know you think this is a nightmare and you’re going to wake up and find that you’re still pregnant.

Preemie, #WorldPrematurityDay , 26 weeker,

You need to know. This is real.

That tiny scrap attached to tubes and monitors that ring and beep and flash. That’s your newborn baby. And yes she’s fighting for her life. But she’s going to make it.

Your life is going to change utterly, but in many ways it will be so much better, and you will change too. You will face challenges that you never expected and find strength that you never knew you had. I won’t lie to you: there will be battles ahead. With an indifferent state and an uncaring bureaucracy. But you will find help, you will find support, and most of all you will find friends, old friends who stay in your life and new friends in the same situation.

Her suffering in the hospital will end, because she will be stabilised and they will find a combination of medicines to treat her. Those bitter tears you cried with despair at not knowing how to help your daughter will be replaced with smiles of joy when she smiles at you every morning. You have the internet now, and there is lots of advice and support groups that can help. But you still might try desperate treatments. You might visit healers who live on remote mountain tops, travel abroad with a hired oxygen machine for specialist help, consult every type of therapist until you can’t take any more disappointment. You look at adults with cerebral palsy and wonder which one your daughter will resemble. Do not worry, she will look like herself.

Are you even wondering what you want for her on her 21st birthday, right now when all you want is for her to live?

To be happy?
To fulfil her potential?
To be kind and affectionate?
To be patient?
To be sociable?
To enjoy life?
To live the life of a young woman and enjoy music and dancing, shopping and friends?

She is and she will.

It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be okay.

B, all grown up, premature baby, #WorldPrematurityDay

(This is a revamped old post)

 

The girl who lived

The bad news began on the way to the labour room.

“What are my chances of a live baby?” I asked.

“About 30/70”, was the reply.

The date was October 29th, 1996, and I was 26 weeks pregnant.

After the birth she was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and life with a severely premature baby began. Problems on problems, diagnoses on diagnoses, crisis after crisis. I watched other babies go home, while she was transferred to the local children’s hospital.

It seemed that few people thought we would bring this baby home: an urgent baptism was advised, and we only received a handful of cards. But bring her home we did.

As time passed her medical problems eased, but the assessment of her physical and intellectual disabilities became devastating, and there was an assumption that she’d never be able to do anything, and residential was suggested more than once.

Of course, I assumed she’d be able to do everything – with the right interventions. I assumed she would learn to walk and talk, I put her name down for the same schools as her big sister, and I still have the bittersweet letter from her sister’s secondary school offering her a place. We were all wrong. She confounded all our expectations in her own unique way.

She may not walk unaided, but she loved using a walker as a child – no suitable adult one has been found.

She may not talk using words we can distinguish, but she is very vocal and expressive and definitely makes herself understood!

She may need nappies, but she also uses the toilet and is so proud of herself when she does.

She didn’t go to mainstream school, but she went to the best special school in North Dublin (I may be a bit biased).

She is not in paid employment, but is holding her own in a mixed ability transition programme for young disabled adults – no sitting in circles with a groups of docile non-verbal adults in wheelchairs listening to someone strumming a guitar. Not my daughter.

21 successful years.

21 years of smiles, pure love, patience, calmness and joy. Living in the now, no regrets, no malice, no grudges.

The girl who lived, and still lives, and who inspires me every day.

Happy Birthday B!

Smiley, B, 21 today

—————————–

And this is how it all began in case you missed it the first time round…

Born Too Soon

It was October 1996 and my then husband and I both had great jobs, a wonderful little girl, and another baby on the way. We has just moved into a beautiful old redbrick house near the City Centre. It needed a a lot of TLC, but we were young, we had plenty of time, didn’t we? Well, we got our answer just three days later when our whole world began to change.

I was having lunch out with a friend from the office when I began to feel that something was not quite right. Very quickly I was bundled into a taxi and packed off to the Maternity Hospital, briefcase in hand. There I was marched past the snaking lines of bottom-shuffling women, who I don’t think were too impressed, and straight in to see the doctor. After a couple of tests, I was told that I was losing my waters and was likely to go into labour within 24 hours. I was 24 weeks pregnant.

I remember crying and friends visiting and then….nothing. I did not go into labour and it was like the hospital did not know what to do with me. I was parked in the prenatal ward and left to wait. I watched other women come and go. For some everything went well and their babies were delivered safely. Other times I saw weeping families and did not dare ask why. Some women who were there when I arrived were still there when I left: some spent most of their pregnancy walking the hospital corridors. I made one very good friend who arrived on the ward during my second week there and we are still in touch today.

Meantime my hormones were in overdrive and I did weird things. For some strange reason the hospital catering staff only served tea, but there were two coffee machines. One dark morning, both were not working, and I went back to bed, pulled the curtains and refused to come out, until someone got me a mug of coffee. I missed my other daughter horribly, and very quickly decided that one hour a day visiting was not enough – so I negotiated day release! I only lived a 5 minute drive from the hospital so they agreed that I could go home in the afternoons once the baby seemed to be okay. Just in case you were wondering: I was a public patient and all the care up until I went into labour was fine: I was regularly checked, I was given the most disgusting injections ever to mature the baby’s lungs, and the staff were supportive and helpful.

On the second Friday there were signs that things were starting to happen and an infection was mentioned. For whatever reason, I don’t remember being given any medication for this. Soon after I started to feel mild pains – and so did my friend – and she kept my sanity intact as we struggled through the weekend together. On Saturday I asked to be checked again, but was told that I was not in labour, same on Sunday, same on Monday. The SHO (Senior House Officer) checked me on Monday morning and said again that nothing was happening. Pains continued and sleep became a distant memory. By Monday night I was miserably tired and almost felt abandoned when my friend was wheeled down to the labour ward by the SHO. So some pethidine was prescribed, and it made me feel a lot calmer. I just lay and listened to music with my eyes closed. Of course the staff assumed I was sleeping. But the pains continued to get stronger and about 3am I called for help. I was checked and suddenly people started running around, finally they were admitting that I was in labour.

Initially everything seemed to be going well, then things started to go wrong, you could see the worried faces, but as there is no agreement over what happened, all I can say is that the consultant was called in the middle of the night, no caesarean was performed, and the SHO apologised for what happened.

By the time my baby was born, there was a whole team of people in the room waiting to work on her. The shocking thing was the silence, there was no new born cry, my baby was just whisked away. “Is it alive?” I asked… and it seemed a long time before I got an answer.

Failure To Thrive

My baby weighed 875gms (1lb 15 ozs) and her Apgar scores were fairly good considering, but she was rushed straight to the NICU. Everyone left the delivery room. The drama was over, but I was still in shock. I went for a shower – the upside of no epidural – and then up to the ward. Seven pair of curious eyes looked at me as I walked in with no baby. I went to the bed, pulled the curtains, and prayed for sleep.

There was one person that I was very happy to see – my friend from the pre-natal ward, whose baby was also in the NICU. And so we went down together to see them. B was on an open incubator, she was so thin and tiny, not like a baby at all.  I couldn’t touch her, I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t help her in any way. I felt sooo useless, yet I knew that I totally loved this baby with everything I had and I just willed her to live.

NICU was a confusing scary place.  very time an alarm went off I would panic, thinking that my child was in danger, while the staff were more relaxed. And I soon realised that alarms sounded almost continuously – you just had to stay calm. There was a whole new language to learn: apnoea monitors, sats (as in oxygen) monitors, electrolyte levels, feeding tubes. There were procedures to get used to, visiting times and the *joys* of the milk expressing room.  One thing did stand out. On the label with all her details was the phrase ‘premature footling breech birth’. I’d never heard of this before, and it was only later that I discovered the significance.

I went home after a short sleep, and fell into a new routine of home and hospital – work long forgotten.The days passed in a blur. There was an early morning phone call when things went wrong, she had a bleed, but there was no noticeable change in her. I cried, but none of it made any real sense, even after reading all the leaflets we were given. Had I done something that could have caused this? At 3 months pregnant I’d accidentally drank some day old milk in my coffee. Could that have affected her development? Or what about the sprained ankle a month later?

My eldest daughter was in shock as well but seemed to adjust faster than her parents. She was given a colouring book for siblings of premature babies, and from the very start she made a big fuss of her little sister. In those days siblings were allowed into NICU and she would sing and talk to B – she even asked for an incubator for her dolls for Christmas. Santa did not manage to find one, but he did get her a doll-sized set of syringes and feeding tubes.

Days turned into weeks, and I watched the other babies pass out my daughter: they were promoted to a lower dependency room and my friend’s baby went home. We weren’t really told why B was still in NICU, just that she wasn’t thriving. There was only one thing obviously wrong: her right hand was twisted, but we could live with a damaged hand. We were just so glad that she was alive.

Around this time, we were called to a meeting with a neurologist. Most of what she said went straight over my head. I was just so tired and scared for my little baby. The neurologist mentioned cerebral palsy, in a very casual way as I recall. She just dropped it into the conversation. Again it made no sense. All I knew about cerebral palsy was the film My Left Foot, and surely B wasn’t like that.

In the meantime I had to plan for Christmas. It needed to be special for both of my children. Santa even found his way to B’s incubator and left a little teddy for her. I bought the smallest Christmas dress in the whole of Dublin –  it was for a 5lb baby and reached nearly to her ankles. We all visited, and took turns in holding her carefully, to avoid dislodging all the tubes and pipes: she was still so small and fragile.

Foolishly I made a pact with, well whoever is listening up there, that if B reached 3lbs by Christmas Day, then everything would be okay.  Sadly, she didn’t….

Living in the Hospital

After Christmas, everything began to look more hopeful. B was promoted from intensive care to high dependency, and began to feed and take bottles – my milk dried up after 6 weeks so breast-feeding was not an option. She still had breathing problems, heart irregularities, possible sight problems, and electrolyte imbalances, but apart from that, all seemed to be going well. Three weeks later she was moved to the Paediatric Unit, usually the last stop before home, where babies get used to a routine of sleeping and feeding. But not my daughter. New problems emerged. Spiky temperatures that did not respond to antibiotics. Wet nappies but mild dehydration. She was so small and placid that I missed these signs, I was not aware that anything was wrong. But I have to try not to think about how much she might have been suffering: she would have been dehydrating between feeds, how horrible is that for a tiny baby? It seems that the nursing staff were baffled too. It took a weekend locum to spot the symptoms of a rare and dangerous condition – diabetes insipidus – and within hours she was transferred to the local children’s hospital. I don’t know who the locum was, but she probably saved B’s life, or at least prevented her disabilities from getting worse.

And so began two years when the local children’s hospital became our second home. During that time B’s life hung in the balance many many times and we never strayed more than a 30 minute drive from the hospital. I don’t think I could say a bad word against the place. Her consultant always looked on the bright side – “just don’t let her drink too many pints of Guinness when she’s older, and she’ll be fine,” – and worked with me to bypass hospital admin: he let me type up urgent letters and faxes. He would sign and stamp them and I would get them in the post. Even now she is remembered by hospital staff and on the very rare occasion that we visited A&E in later years, someone always came down to say hello.

The ward was a narrow corridor with lots of tiny rooms, one for each child. Room for a cot, a chair, a washhand basin and little more. Utilitarian, they made me think of monk’s cells. It is the sound of the ward that I will always remember: it was never quiet. Even when the babies stopped crying, there would always be the beep beep beep of the equipment, the urgent alarms on the sats monitors*, the whoooosh of feeding and suction machines, and the low murmur of nurses’ voices.

The saddest part was that some of the babies had no visitors. Perhaps their parents found the problems facing them were too overwhelming. I never knew:  it was not spoken about.

But even with all the fear and worry, for me it was a place of hope. A place of transition. Another step on the long road home.

For two months the wonderful doctors and nurses battled to stabilise our tiny baby. Bloods were taken almost every day, until she looked like a junkie and became terrified of anyone in a white coat. She enjoyed her bottles, but problems with reflux and breathing were on-going, and I still remember the day when she choked on her milk and I screamed as she turned purple in my arms. Staff came running from all directions and whisked her off to be resuscitated. I have never been so afraid in my life and my eldest daughter had to go home with her play-school teacher that day as I was in no fit state to drive.

Yet at the end of March it was decided that we could try and manage her at home. Lots of training was provided, and a huge box of equipment and medications. Everything had to be carefully recorded and monitored, including her input (everything she drank) and output (wee and sick) and I had to weigh her every day.

I was so happy to have her at home and took her out everywhere in the pram and proudly showed her off, even though she looked a little odd, with her huge head and her tiny arms and legs. She was happy too, and she showed it: a few days after she came home I was cuddling her in the rocking chair after a feed when she looked up at me, opened her eyes wide and the most glorious smile lit up her face. I burst into tears. I had not known if she would ever smile, so it was just amazing. Once I stopped crying I picked up the phone and rang my Mum. Then I cried again!  In that moment I really believed that everything was going to to be fine….

And, of course, it was.

 

#Budget18 – Loose Change or No Change

I didn’t listen to the budget, I can’t stand the usual self congratulation on apparent economic achievements that rarely seem to improve family life here.

My disabled daughter will be better off by €5 a week, as she will benefit from an increase in the disability allowance. That will probably be swallowed up by her contribution to the household energy budget, as electricity and gas prices are forecast to increase substantially in the next few months.

Apart from the €5 loose change, there was very little in the budget for disabled adults.

To find out the details, I watched a video issued by the Irish Minister for Disability. He’s getting an extra €75 million, and his stated priorities are emergency places, respite places and ‘day care’ for school leavers with intellectual disabilities. Also the upcoming Justice Budget will apparently include enough funding for the Decision Support Service for disabled people. None of these announcements fills me with joy.

Currently my severely disabled daughter B has a great adult day programme of activities, but it is only guaranteed for another 12 months.  The Minister is promising more adult ‘day care’. Excuse me? My daughter does not need an adult crèche, Minister. That may have been a slip of the tongue, but it shows the mind set that is out there. A mind set that HAS to change if disabled people are to be valued as equal members of society.

So no change to that worry.

Emergency places are welcome, but for all the wrong reasons. They are the last resort to prevent adults with disabilities ending up on the streets if their carers die before them. Ideally there should be life time planning with a gradual transition from family home to some kind of independent living. The spectre of ’emergency’ placements means ripping people from their family homes, from everyone and everything they know and putting them in the care of strangers. I dread to think what that would do to my daughter, who would not understand why such a terrible thing was happening.

In the current situation more respite places would be welcome. But based on past policy decisions, it is unlikely that suitable places for those with complex needs like my daughter will be developed. She has had no respite for years. She needs it. She needs to feel safe sleeping away from home, and confident that others can meet her needs. For me, lack of respite means I’m missing an important disability conference next week and the first wedding on my side of the family for 30 years in early 2018. And most family carers would have similar stories to tell.

So probably no change there either.

On the decision-making service, I understand how important that is for most disabled people, but I’m not convinced that it will improve my daughter’s life given her lack of communications skills – instead I see it taking up time that could be better spent actually doing activities that she enjoys.

No positive change there either.

So excuse me if I’m not dancing with joy this morning. My daughter received a bit of loose change, but no real change for her, or for other adults with disabilities.

 

The meaning of minutes

I’m sure I read somewhere that the most powerful person at a meeting is the one who writes the minutes. Especially if the minutes are the only record of what was said and agreed.

That theory crossed my mind this week when I received a set of bland minutes from a meeting I attended on Monday night. They cover the facts given and the actions proposed, but say nothing about the words that were spoken. Are all minutes like this? It’s sad really, because the passion and inspiration from many of the speakers is completely absent: the minutes do not tell the full story.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that it was a disability rights meeting. Maybe a little surprised it involved an evening trip across the River Liffey. And perhaps amazed that instead of trying to find a sitter, I brought my two younger children with me. Including my disabled daughter B, even though I guessed that some might consider her vocal contributions disruptive. She should be heard and she should be seen, and I won’t let anything get in the way of reminding people that her needs are important too. Even when those needs may be a little different to those of the general disability population.

It was a small meeting: despite all the publicity, only about 30 people were present – out of the 300,000 or so who are affected by disability in Ireland. It just shows how tired and unsupported most disabled people and their carers feel.

But I really enjoyed it, because there was lots to inspire and digest:

A factual mini presentation about disability housing issues from David Girvan, and an impassioned plea for real change from Aisling McNiffe were among the parent and activist contributions that were preceded by some powerful words from the main speakers of the evening.

First up was Dr Tom Clonan, author, security analyst and busy advocate for his disabled son Eoghan. Here is just some of what he said:

The number of organisations agencies etc is mind numbing and little or no accountability. The situation is getting worse and worse. Disabled people becoming homeless is a policy. Levels of suffering completely unnecessary.

Meanwhile the Government has 44 media advisors. Choosing to ignore us. Because they can.

We need to make this a general election issue, and reach out to the able community.

We can make change against resistance: I know how to fight, and I will spend the next 25 years fighting.

👏👏👏👏

Graham Merrigan is a wheelchair user who lives an independent life and described his issues as mostly in relation to infrastructure, taxis, misuse of parking bays etc.

Local PBP Councillor Annette Mooney raised the issue of the still unratified UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and told the meeting her belief as to why it has not happened here, when almost every other country in the world has ratified:

They won’t ratify it because you’d be entitled to things. The main reason for not ratifying is money.

Why am I not surprised by this opinion?

Finally the gathering heard from Senator John Dolan, who is also CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland.

On the Budget and ratification of the UNCRPD:

State signs the international treaty, and it’s like getting engaged. Ratification is the day of getting married. Ratifying means your starting a progress of implementation. It doesn’t have to be right straight away.

On community living for disabled people:

Some HSE staff are getting people out of institutions , others are putting them back in. You can protect an institution, it can be seen, while cutting a home help is unseen. We’re fighting to get people living in the community but as it stands the community is a very vulnerable place to be.

👏👏👏👏

If you only read the minutes, you’d think that attending this meeting was just a boring duty. It wasn’t. It was a pleasure and it was worth it, and I came away feeling less alone, and more understood. The minutes had no meaning for me. The quotes I’ve shared here give just a taste of what the meeting was really all about.

Note: I typed copious notes throughout the meeting and I hope I have reflected its spirit here. I should also mention that People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett was the MC for the evening.

 

The new crime of infantilisation

It’s 3am. Your daughter is kicking her legs and giggling. You drag your weary ass out of bed and try to work out what she wants as she can’t explain – so you change her nappy, you offer a drink and adjust the bedding.

But your daughter is not 6 months old. She’s 20. And that’s years, not months.

So perhaps her mum can be forgiven for not always treating her like other adults.

Because I am her mum, and I do get it wrong sometimes.

“You talk to her like she’s a baby!” said my son to me a few years ago. And I realised he was right. I certainly didn’t talk to my disabled daughter B as though she were a typical teenager. But in my defence, she wasn’t, and while I’ve tried to change in deference to her age, it made me a bit sad to stop doing something she seemed to enjoy. I was reminded of that conversation again last year when I saw a tweet accusing parents of infantilising their adult disabled children, because they were opposing the closure of the campus-based homes where the adults currently live and moving them into small houses in local towns. This is Government policy in Ireland.

On further investigation I soon discovered that infantilisation is a big issue in the disability community.

Key complaints include using baby talk, over explaining concepts, talking to a carer instead of the disabled person, not listening to their opinions and over protecting them.

This kind of behaviour must be very upsetting for those with physical and sensory disabilities, and mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. And I regularly read articles by well known journalists that annoy me with the way they portray disabled people. But are all these concerns relevant for those with severe to profound disabilities?

What I’m seeing is that there is a tendency to pretend that my daughter has more abilities than (I wish) she has, and that might lead to her needs not being met, facilities not being provided, and a nod of the head being taken as agreement, when its just her weak neck muscles.

And most bittersweet of all is that although my 20 year old daughter has matured in some ways, she retains several traits and reflexes that are normally only seen in infants and young children. I was going to list them here, but perhaps that would count as infantilisation too?

I find it hard to accept that my daughter is exactly the same as all the intelligent articulate disabled people who may claim to represent her in the media, in policy making, at meetings and protests. I listen to all the policies being put in place for disabled people, and all the rights being asked for, but they don’t seem very relevant to her needs.

Disabled people do not want to be defined by their disabilities, but rather by their abilities, and that is fine by me. They don’t want to be described as vulnerable, and that is fine by me. They point out that all humans have the same needs for food, shelter and love, and that is fine by me too, but my daughter requires so much more help than they do to get her needs met.

Disability is now the preferred term for everyone who has additional needs, but the general public seem to assume that it means that someone can lead a normal life once they have a suitable wheelchair, home, personal assistant, equipment and accessible places to go.

Ratification of the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities should help with all those things, but not rights to a day service, respite, life time planning or transition to independent living, and no-one has told me how my daughter’s life will improve. Yet I’d love to know!

Take independent living. It’s being suggested that disabled people who live with their parents should be counted in the homeless statistics, because as adults, they should be living in their own home. I get that, but looking at all the options and the current policy of placing disabled people in little houses in the community, I would not be able to sleep at night. I’d rather continue sleeping in the alcove in the kitchen just yards from my daughter, so I’m there when she needs me at 3am. Or if there was ever an emergency, I can get her out quickly. I will do that for her. Would anyone else?

My daughter is also being gently eased out of the day programme she loves into ‘the community’, under another policy of the Irish State. Go to any shopping centre during a weekday and it is full of disabled people ‘in the community’. I am going to try and make it work for her, but I fear her enjoyment of life will be reduced and the improvements I’ve seen in her social skills will be lost if she ends up spending time away from her friends and familiar surroundings.

Yes trying new things is important, and both I and others in her life ensure  it happens all the time. But it has to be at a pace she is comfortable with, not one ordered by the State and its stupid one size fits all policies.

If you can read this this and object, you are very lucky. My daughter cannot read nor would she understand its complexity. Previously I would have explained that by giving you her mental age, but apparently that is no longer acceptable either! Yes she is an adult, yes she has years of experience, and a scatter of different abilities, but she also has many of the needs of a very young child, and someone has to ensure those needs are met. I’m afraid that only a mother would be willing to do all that needs to be done.

If all this adds up to infantilisation of my daughter, I make no apology. But I hope for forgiveness and understanding. All I’m doing is trying to ensure that my daughter has the best life possible.

 

 

Everyone’s disabled now, and that’s a problem

During the 20 years since B was born, she has gone from being mentally handicapped, to having special needs, to being severely disabled, to having high support needs, but now apparently she is merely ‘disabled’.

And I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s hard to discuss because it makes people very angry, as I found out this week on twitter.

Language has become an emotive issue on social media, with many people (like me) wary of some topics because we don’t know the current terms in use and the backlash can be ferocious if you get it wrong.

Some believe that changing language can change attitudes, and I agree: but the meaning of the favoured new words has to be crystal clear, especially in this area, where words affect attitudes, policies and the lives of real people.

Disabled is now the preferred term, yet someone walking with a limp can call themselves disabled, as one mother pointed out in a radio interview this week.

If that’s how the public and policy makers think of disability, then they will never consider children and adults like my daughter in their plans.

Families like mine feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned, by the state, the media, and even sometimes the disability community itself. The current public discourse simply denies the existence of severe and profound disabilities.

Worse, I’ve noticed a trend for the term ‘severe disabilities’ to be flung around like confetti at a wedding, especially for inspirational stories like the ‘severely disabled’ man who has a brownie bakery in the US. Great for him, but he bears no resemblance to my daughter. And a journalist I respect asked on twitter to speak to a severely disabled person yesterday. I’d love to see her try to get a usable answer from my non verbal daughter. The only time that severe disabilities seem to be used correctly is in the reporting of medical negligence cases.

The denial seeps through every level of state and society: Through policy, language, and by ignoring any attempt to discuss the issues.

My eyes were opened in 2001 when I was searching for a school for my daughter and all I was offered was a so-called Day Development Centre (DDC) where she would get great care, but no access to teachers. When I challenged this, the existence of DDCs was denied by the State. So we took a case to court, and it was settled in my daughter’s favour. Because children in Ireland have a constitutional right to an education, and that means access to a teacher. However that’s the only right that has helped my daughter. As an adult, she has no rights, especially as Ireland has still not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

So clarity is needed, rights are needed, and so is understanding and inclusivity.

This article has been doing the rounds, and is an explanation of why we should all use the term ‘disabled’, and I like most of it, apart from the last paragraph:

“We see, hear, speak, think, learn, process, read, write, move, and/or feel in ways that are less common than most.” 

Because, you see, my daughter and many others like her, cannot do all those things.

Once again, her existence is being denied by being called ‘disabled’.

Personally I liked the term ‘special needs’ because it sounds positive, whereas disabled sounds negative to me, but I’m happy to describe my daughter as ‘disabled’, as long as her needs and disabilities are also included in its meaning.

I also do not believe that our lives are tragic or that my daughter suffers as this article seems to suggest, even if others feel that way. Nor would I describe my 20 year old as a ‘baby’ despite her functioning level (and that’s a post for another day).

I think if more support, more positive coverage, real rights and real help was provided to the disability community and their carers, then many of these issues would go away. For now the State is happy to sit back, do little, spend less, and watch us all fight each other.

There’s a long way to go. Only yesterday a well dressed tourist whispered “God Rest Her”, as he watched B in the street. “She’s not f*ckin’ dead yet!” was the reply I wanted to give. Instead I smiled, because I’m sure he meant well, and he’d probably never seen or read about anyone like my disabled daughter before…

 

My PR career as a carer

It’s true that events management was not my favourite part of public relations. But organising my disabled daughter’s activities beats the mind numbing bum wiping and form filling parts of being a carer any day.

During the winter it’s a no brainer: there’s her adult programme during the week, and regular weekend activities for her and her brother. I’m on auto pilot preparing for them.

It’s different during the summer months: her club organises a summer project but there is still a lot of event management required from me, as the only parent of a young adult who needs a wheelchair.

So I found myself sitting at the kitchen table on Wednesday morning organising our first trip on the urban train (DART) to an out of town seaside resort (Bray) to visit the Sea Life aquarium with our friends from the Rainbow Junior Arch Club.

9am – I checked all the following:
Disabled parking at or near the station
Working lifts at both stations
How to wheel the chair from the platform onto the train
Accessibility of the aquarium
Availability of a disabled toilet (no changing places toilets, obviously as they are still a novelty in Ireland)

9.30 am – Make a packed lunch for myself and B – in case we couldn’t find anywhere that served mashed food – though I have mashed chips in an emergency. Pack buggy with every conceivable item we might need. No point in taking the wheelchair because (a) the weather, (b) no portable tray (c) not enough storage and (d) only the buggy reclines so I can fix her up after she uses the toilet (I had to lift her on and off, and my back survived this time, but MY DAUGHTER AND OTHERS NEEDS MORE CHANGING PLACES TOILETS).

10 am – Half an hour to help my daughter use the toilet (including hoisting), put on a fresh nappy, get her into her outdoor clothes, and wheel her outside and up the ramp into the car. Phew!

But it was worth it.

Collage of B, Day trip to Bray, Sea Life,

We both loved the DART – I’d never done the scenic journey from Clontarf to Bray along the coast, and I felt like I was on holiday with friends: B loved it too, and was so enthusiastically loud and we got so many glares that I resorted to getting out the Jaffa cakes to quieten things down a bit!

Sea Life kept up occupied for about an hour – the aisles are very narrow and there were occasional buggy traffic jams, but our visit also coincided with shark feeding time, and that meant we had the place for ourselves for a while, which suited my daughter better as she could see more (some exhibits do not have glass walls and those were no good for her).

Coffee and a walk followed, and then a very happy trip home.

The previous weekend involved even more planning, but at least we went to familiar places: a Saturday walk into town and a visit to a new cafe, that could become a favourite as it offered cheesecake, a roomy disabled toilet and music – but not too loud.

Sunday involved two trips, complicated by the matches at the nearby sports stadium, that involved me parking in the middle of the road to move the bins that blocked our parking space each time we came home so my daughter could use the toilet.

In the morning we went for our second run with Rabbits and Runners, and B loved it even more than the first time, if that’s possible!

The afternoon saw us dodge the showers at the Hotter than July World Music Event – and I’m sure you’ve noticed by now how much we both like live music events, even better when they’re free.

There’s a bank holiday weekend in Ireland starting tomorrow, so the event planning for my daughter has begun already.

So you could say I didn’t give up my career as a PR when I became a full time carer. I still use the same skills, but for the most important client I’ve ever had: my beautiful daughter.

And that’s my reason to be cheerful for this week. Head over to Lakes Single Mum for more.

 

Creating a good life WITH my disabled daughter

‘Ordinary lives in ordinary places’ is the buzz phrase in disability policy right now, and you’ll have seen it before on this blog.

It appears to mean providing the supports and services that disabled people need to live independently in the community. But as far as I’m aware there’s no room in this policy for those with expensive high supports needs (severe/profound disabilities). The implicit assumption is that families will provide cradle to grave care and be responsible for ensuring that their loved ones enjoy a fulfilling life too.

I think that’s very unfair on my disabled daughter B, but for now I’m going to make best of it, and try to create a good life for both of us.

And this week we made a lot of progress.

Powerchair Training

On Wednesday I went to see B learning how to use a powerchair. It’s early days, but she has the most patient person I have ever met working with her. I’m so grateful she has been given this opportunity, and while she has a lot more progress to make, it was fabulous to see her reaching for the joystick, especially as it’s currently positioned in a difficult place for her to reach, due to her limited range of movement.

A dual control powerchair would give her more freedom, and conserve some of my energy too. So I really hope she succeeds in proving she can do this. I think she can.

Bowling

B enjoys bowling, especially with friends and when it’s quiet enough so she can hear the background music. It’s also one of the few sports she can do unaided, though when we went this week with the Rainbow Junior Arch Club, she needed a bit of hand over hand assistance to remind her what to do.

But I am not a fan! Especially as bowling alleys are usually hot, dark and noisy, and the sun always seems to be shining outside, where I’d much rather be. But a good life has to mean that I must try and enjoy B’s favourite activities, as well as bringing her to things I know we both enjoy – like music festivals. My eldest daughter always tells me that I can learn to love something if I persevere with it – she said it worked for her and green tea…. Going with the Club at a quiet time meant it was much more enjoyable for me, and I will try my best to go again.

Running in the Park

I haven’t taken part in an evening race for about 20 years, but I decided to be brave and try and run a 5K race pushing B on Thursday evening. It was organised by a friend of mine in aid of Snowflakes Autism, a local charity that helped one of my other children in the past.

It was like pushing a tank: her adult buggy definitely needs a service, and I might even ask Santa for a jogging buggy to make running easier still. But it was great fun and we even had some very welcome help along the way. And our time? 35 minutes and 22 seconds. Not too shabby ☺

So those are my reasons to be cheerful for this week: head over to Mummy from the Heart for more.

R2BC at Mummy from the Heart