Am I not Pretty and powerful enough?

Prep for Pretty and Powerful

Our amazing powerlifting gym Valhalla strength run a fantastic novice competition every year for women, aptly named ‘Pretty and Powerful’. It’s an event where women just starting out in the sport, get in and have a crack. My coach Josh Tait from Eastside Barbell had me training hard, months in advance. It was so great to have a positive focus again after the half marathon in July and definitely assisted in boosting my post half marathon blues. I’ve said it before, you can’t fake powerlifting. You have to work bloody hard to make the smallest of gains. You have to focus on your training and nutrition and you have a coach, not only to ensure you stay on track, but to also ensure your technique is safe and building strength in the areas you need, to avoid injury.

I love exercising but I must admit 2016 was the first time I purchased a gym membership and actually went 3-4 times a week. Isn’t that insane? Probably not. Many of you are probably direct debiting hard earned cash to a gym and not attending as we speak. So why did this work now, when I’d failed before? The answer is simple. I had a firm goal, a great coach and the powerlifting community are so close and genuinely welcoming, it was really easy to get up every day and just go. Valhalla strength are also really family friendly, so if I had Piper, I’d take her with me. She’d sit safely in her pram eating snacks and cheering me on.

img_5783

Training days at Valhalla strength with my baby

Testing the gym membership at Valhalla Strength 

As you well know fatigue is a massive issue for me. I sleep a full night, but then require a 2-3 hour nap during the middle of the day to function. Most powerlifting competitions run all day but as luck would have it, this year Valhalla decided to break the flights into two and so I was competing all three lifts after 1pm. I was so thankful because in reality if it had been a full day I wouldn’t have been able to compete.

I was SO nervous on the day and it so happened that Sam was competing in a triathlon in Hervey Bay, so he was away. I was on my own attempting something very new. Something so outside my comfort zone and I was just terrified of making a fool of myself in front of so many people. Sam’s mum, Virginia came and watched the kids, and I drove off towards the  Gateway bridge, to Northgate more nervous than I’d been in years. I kept thinking to myself “why would you choose to feel like this?” I hadn’t felt this nervous since presenting at conferences years before in front of hundreds of people. I was so shaky I nearly had a crash on the way and felt like vomiting when I arrived. But then I walked in. The  Queensland weather hadn’t failed us, it was stinking hot. But that didn’t stop the buzz, the electricity in the sweaty gym. It was palpable. I was just so glad I had been talked into competing.I was placed in the first group of lifters, which initially was daunting, but became such a relief because it meant I could just get on with it and stop worrying.

I was really shocked by how much support there was from experienced lifters. The familiar bad arse faces I saw each time I was at the gym, the ones whose names were on the board for the heaviest of lifts were there. Volunteering as referees, providing support to women getting wrapped and prepped out the back in the warm up area and generally just cheering everyone on. This genuine support has been the main shock to me ever since I started power lifting.

15073561_10153973832496016_1128252045600701978_n

Suzie Maude my Family daycare Mama, friend and kick arse Powerlifter!

As mentioned, I’ve had many gym memberships in the past and after a while I just stopped going and the reason was because I felt sick with anxiety walking into the weights area being made to feel small with judgemental looks and general negativity from men. There were never any women in there! These men would look in the mirrors as they visually masturbated over their bulging muscles and I was irked and intimidated. I quit gyms because other than weights, I ran. I learned very quickly you can run in the park for free! Funny now, because I’m now very aware that many of these gym strangers from years gone by, weren’tstrong as such, well not in the way that I view ‘strong’ – Sam refers to these men as those with ‘beach muscles’. Don’t get me wrong other power lifting gyms may have a different culture but Valhalla strength powerlifting men and women are strong all over. They are committed to the sport. They are committed to their friendships, they are committed to their community and they are inclusive. They are my kind of people.

Pretty and powerful

I warmed up with Josh and another Eastside barbell team mate Bianca and slowly made it through each of my lifts without a problem.

14991944_10153973832416016_1141347893072247915_n

Eastside Barbell represents. Bianca and Josh ‘the warden’ Tait

They start the Competition with Squats, then bench and finish with deadlifts. My first squat I was so nervous that I got to the bottom of squatting and just froze. Not because it was heavy, I just went into a nervous daze. Then from the sideline I hear Josh yell out “STAND UP!” Whoopsy……..Luckily it was just on the edge of being passable. On that note I actually didn’t get any red light lifts, which means you’ve ‘broken’ a competition lifting rule, which I was so proud of. I squatted 75kgs, benched 42.5kgs and then came deadlifts (my favourite). Up until the competition I’d only ever lifted 110kgs, which I was super happy with so over my 3 lifts Josh had me lift 100kgs then 107kgs and by watching the 107kgs he’d decide my final lift, after my second lift he said “I’ll take you up to 115kg ok?” I agreed and so I waited for my final lift of the competition. Sitting on the sidelines watching fellow competitors and the large crowd cheering EVERY SINGLE competitor on made me feel so happy. Then they called me up for my final lift the gym owner and fellow powerlifter said over the microphone “Erin Benjamin 130KGS” I went white as Josh squeezed my shoulders and gave his big cheeky grin. “WTF?!” he laughed and said “Go on you can do it!” I walked out there, not caring how many people were watching. I heard nothing and saw no one in fact. It was really similar to when I run just me calm, and in the zone and holy shit I lifted it! I felt electric! I felt strong and well and proud that I’d tried something new.

So many times I felt out of my comfort zone, but with the support of all of the lovely Valhalla team and most especially Suzie and Josh, I’d competed in my first powerlifting competition at 35. Just amazing.

15094508_10153973832396016_3064577661977046372_n

New years resolutions 

So with all bar one 2016 New years resolution being completed I began writing my 2017 goals. I didn’t get strong enough to be able to do chin ups in 2016 so that was rolled over to 2017. But I did run a half marathon and compete in a powerlifting competition just to name a couple! So I wrote out a huge list, so excited about getting set to tick them off. My coach was set to train me up to compete in the QLD states for powerlifting and I was ready to be strict and tough on myself to be ready by April. I returned from Christmas holidays pumped, and got back to the gym straight away.

I went back to the gym on the 3rd of January and just remember feeling ‘meh’. I shrugged it off thinking it was too much indulgence over the Christmas break and pushed through. Then the next day I was meant to train with Josh but ended up messaging him and rescheduling because I just didn’t feel well. Little did I know that again the next day we’d have another bump in the road with my health.

mama2

I went to bed at 11am the following day for my nap as usual. Both kids were at Suzie’s family daycare. Sam was working, but said he’d be home to collect me so we could pick up the kids together. I set my alarm and off I went to sleep. Next thing I remember was Sam laying next to me in bed smiling saying “Baby? time to wake up”, in a soothing voice. I smiled and rolled closer to him and pointed to the ceiling and spoke. Next thing I was in the bathroom and Sam was on the phone saying to someone “she had a stroke in 2011…..” I said “Jack don’t call anyone I’m fine. Don’t make a fuss.” I sat down next to him on the bed and he hung up the phone. He had that look on his face I’d seen before. Terror. Its happening again. I felt sick. I went straight into ‘I’m fine’ mode trying to make him feel comforted. My kids were at daycare. They expected me to come collect them. I cant be sick again. This cannot be happening – not again. I’d made it past 5 years, why was this happening again .The ambulance came and Sam explained to them that I had been talking jibberish, I was disoriented and had called him Jack. I was on the verge of tears. I remembered nothing. Sam went to organise the kids as I was driven to Princess Alexandra hospital and he promised he’d be there to meet me soon.

I lay in the acute section of the Emergency Department (ED) reeling at the thought that this was happening again. My main thoughts were how selfish I was to have children when I knew there was a possibility I’d get sick again. What if I died and they grew up without a mother? What sort of person makes such a selfish decision? Me apparently. The staff were absolutely AMAZING. Some of the things these doctors and nurses have to deal with is absolutely disgusting, but they do it with great respect and kindness. I was in the ED overnight awaiting a bed and both of my neighbours were drug affected. I’m talking, pacing, screaming, freaking out, spitting, had to call security and tie them down – affected. But not once did I hear the staff treat them with disrespect. Nursing particularly  is such an amazing profession I wish I could say I could do, but wow they put up with such a lot and see such a lot and don’t get paid even NEAR what they should. The doctors were so supportive of the nurses. They had their backs. It was so wonderful to see how the team worked together. All individual people, succeeding as a collective, just like Valhalla.

20170106_100516.jpg

I had had a suspected TIA (Trans Ischemic attack or mini stroke) so they were very quick to have a CT, MRI, and an EEG completed. I was then transferred up to the stroke ward. I thought I’d seen the last of the wretched place. But I was wheeled in and as I passed each room I saw them. The white hair. The wrinkled skin. The sad sick faces of the many elderly patients affected by stroke. They wheeled me into my room and by this stage I hadn’t slept (due to the drug affected people) for 16hours. I was slurring my words. I couldn’t understand the requests of my nurses. I couldn’t tell them what had happened – my memory was gone. I was a zombie. I felt so scared again. Through the fog, Sam came in and out and once came with the kids and my mother in law. I will never forget little Jack’s face. He was so concerned. We’d prepared him extensively for my 4 day stay in hospital when Piper was born. But this was so much for his poor little heart to understand. For him to not have me there as usual, do the normal usual boring things that are so important to a 3 year old left him carrying a lot of emotions. Emotions we are still working through 8 weeks later. Piper wanted to just touch me, be on me and snuggle with me. When they left I cried so hard. Fat ugly tears. The tears you let come out for all to see when you’re a child. I felt so angry and ripped off. I felt like I was letting down my babies and putting everyone out . I was worried about my parents and siblings and how they would be feeling hearing I was back in hospital. They’d all just seen me well at Christmas, and a lot of wounds from the time of my stroke were finally healing – particularly for my poor parents. I was worried about Sam’s mood and how he would cope after this latest scare, and if it would bring his PTSD back. I was just so tired. I sat there on that bed cupping my crying face in my hands thinking that if this was confirmed as another stroke, that for the first time, I didn’t think I could keep soldiering on. Keep being positive. I just knew it would break me. I’d worked so hard.

I stayed in hospital for 4 days and on the final day my neurologist came in and sat with Sam and I and delivered the best news. I have epilepsy. I know right? Best news you ask?! Well yes it is because a TIA would have meant more brain damage and would honestly have left a dark scar of sadness on my heart forever. I don’t think I could have come back from it. Maybe I could have, but I would have entered a pretty dark place again. I knew that for sure. It seems my stroke five years ago has left behind scar tissue. The scar tissue is actually a good thing because its closed off any exits for the three blood clots still in my brain. The brain is an amazing organ it has created new paths around this blob of inconvenience. However, what this scarring means is that seizure activity seems to be more likely and is drawn to such areas. The CT and MRI confirmed there was not evidence of another stroke, but the EEG showed a large amount of seizure activity.

SO. My name is Erin Benjamin and I’m an Epileptic.

So for those who know me and have seen my interpretive dance skills, I now have an excuse – BOOM!

dance

Dear Erin 2011

Dear Erin 2011

It’s been a shock hasn’t it? Everything has become so serious, so scary. You don’t trust your body anymore. You feel so angry that it’s let you down like this. You feel so angry and sad and devastated and lost. You feel like things will never be the same – and you know what? They won’t be.

But lets pretend we could travel in time and I will take you years in the future and tell you where you are. But before I do, I want you to tell me where you think you’ll be, lets say in five years.

Hmmmmmm.So you think you’ll be out of work, fighting to keep your marriage together because you’re such a burden on Sam, unable to leave the house on your own and a constant worry to your parents and siblings. You won’t be able to bear children, a dream you’ve had forever. You will be physically unable to perform the smallest of tasks and your joy for reading and writing has been taken from you. Don’t cry Erin 2011. It’s such a shock. So serious. So devastating. So unfair. Let it out, but please listen to your reality.

Let me take you forward to share your future, by year 5 you’ve;

  • Read ten novels
  • You write a blog outlining your Stroke journey
  • You’ve had two beautiful, healthy babies.
  • You laugh so hard every day.
  • You’re married to Sam and happier than ever before. Together for 10 years married for 7 🙂
  • Your love for your family and the strength of your relationships with them is stronger than before. Although they do worry about your health. Everyone does.
  • You’ve run many, many kilometres. Organised and casual runs and built strong friendships through this passion.
  • You ran 5km in under 30 minutes! When you first started running again, you ran it in 41 minutes. What an achievement!
  • You completed a Half marathon and survived. You made your beautiful Step dad, Brian cry with pride.
  • You moved states. Homeless, jobless and pregnant!
  • You’ve started again and made new friendships
  • You’ve maintained your friendships interstate with your ‘tribe’
  • You started a new sport. Powerlifting – Can you believe it?It was scary and hard. Learning new things is really tough for you now. But you’re doing it! With the help of a trainer and great new friends at a gym without mirrors!!
  • You’ve competed in a novice power lifting competition. You dead lifted 130kg and even surprised yourself.
  • Your babies are happy
  • Your Sammy is happy
  • You are healthy and strong and happy.

ICU14975863_1248328741908525_1086140198_o

Don’t cry. I’m not being cruel. I’m not lying. Be kind to yourself now. Rest. Snuggle into your new puppy Darcy and dream about how happy you will be. You will fight and succeed. It will just be a different type of success to what you had planned. Some plans are meant to change. The new plans are better.

Yours sincerely,

Erin 2016 xx

 

 

 

 

Goals, fighting demons and getting strong!

Prior to getting sick I was a goal setter. I love a good notebook that outlines my short, medium and long term goals and ticking things off a list would make my day! But to tick those ‘big’ items off, made me feel so, so good. The problem with getting sick is, although you set the goals like you once did, the ability to complete them has changed. The idea that “I can achieve anything with hard work and determination” gets thrown out the window. My post stroke limitations are…… well…. limiting. Sometimes you work and work and you end up in a heap. In fact I often fall in a heap. But after nearly 5 years of this I have come a LONG way, but not necessarily in the ways I tried.

My mind and memory have changed in my view for the worse in a lot of ways. I used to pride myself on my crazy memory. I would often have people say “how the hell did you remember that?” When I spoke of things from my early childhood, or specific details of old financial products/legislation or business rules. The answer was – I just did. I didn’t know why, I guess I just filed them into my brain in a way that I could easily access them. Working in sales I would meet someone and quickly file in my brain as much information as I could, and in future meetings was able to easily recall their partners name, their kids upcoming birthdays or upcoming events that were important to them. Stuff like that matters to people. You build relationships quickly like this because people feel important that you remembered. So now I’m a massive arsehole, I meet someone and their name goes in one ear and out the other. My filing system for moving short term memories into the medium to long term memory filing cabinet is faulty. So a lot of goals I set post stroke, like studying again, getting back to work or even writing this blog once a month have not been achievable much to my distress. My ‘glass half full Erin’ thinks “well you are writing, reading and able to watch TV again, you couldn’t do those for a long time”. True. But my ‘glass half empty goal setter Erin’ tells her, “wow. Big win! You can watch TV – such an amazing contribution to society!” I set such high expectations for myself and to think I can’t achieve them ever, to the standard I once would have, is heartbreaking and cruel. So what can an avid goal setter do to meet such high expectations of herself? Look for goals she can achieve.

One thing that hasn’t failed me is my body. I get terrible fatigue, but if I pace myself during the day and have my 2-3 hour sleep I am physically able to do most physical activities. So, as you know running has been a real focus for me because it is both physically challenging and mentally challenging. But also meditative. Sounds silly but running makes my heart sing. The oxygen being sucked into my burning lungs and my muscles screaming for me to rest. It makes me feel so alive pounding the pavement. So ever since I started training for the city to surf in 2011 I have had it in my mind that I wanted to complete a half marathon. But after getting sick I just pushed that idea aside thinking it was never going to happen. But as the years have gone by and my running has built up, slowly but surely (mainly slowly). I started seeing it as a long shot, but now a possibility, and definitely something to aim for. So I set my first goal.

So this year after running regularly again after giving birth to Piper. I did it. I entered the Gold Coast Half Marathon and for 6 months prepared. I didn’t take the enormity of such a goal for granted for a second. I downloaded the free training plan, written by Steve Moneghetti. I stuck to it for 6 months and also added strength training to the mix to help reduce the potential for injury. I endured the heat of the Queensland summer and made no excuses to not train. I ticked off each session exhilarated that I was still going and that I didn’t ‘need’ to give up.I had been forced to ‘give up’ so many other goals because my mind or memory weren’t up for the task, but this was going well. So came the day.

My mum and step dad came all the way from Crescent Head to watch the kids so I could compete and so Sam could be with me. They were noticeably nervous and concerned that I may be pushing myself too hard. They still worry I will have another stroke. I assured them I had prepared SO thoroughly and I knew my running body so well now that I wouldn’t push myself past my limits. I truly meant that. We started our trip down to the Gold coast at 4am and got there nice and early so I could prepare. Being at the start line felt so comfortable and like any other training run. I just couldn’t wait to get over that line. I kissed Sam good bye and he told me how proud he was of me. This means the world to me because although he has said that ALOT in the past 5 years its always been because of stuff that just ‘came back’ like reading or writing. I didn’t feel I’d worked for those at all so it didn’t feel satisfying, if that makes sense? But this? I had worked bloody hard for this and I deserved his kiss and that look of pride he gave me. I felt amazing.

sam.jpg

4am “lets do this!”

So I ran. I soaked up every one of those 21.1kms and enjoyed every cheer from the people who came and lined the course. I high fived other RMA’s (Running mums Australia members) andI wore my RMA singlet with pride. I smiled to myself like a child with a great secret and I did have a secret that none of those running strangers knew. I am a running mum, but I’m also a young stroke survivor. I can run. I’m still here and god damn it I’m about to tick my first real goal post stroke off my list. I’m achieving again. I’m back baby!

GCHM - 18km mark.jpeg

18kms mark hip pain setting in but I’m still smiling

At the 18km mark my hip and knees joints were starting to feel the pressure but my lungs and muscles were buzzing along with no problems. The kilometre between 18 and 19 was the hardest of the run I was using all of my best mental  ‘keep going’ tricks and I got through it but boy was it a tough 1,000 metres! At the 19km mark the crowds were thick along the road and the marquees for all of the running clubs, including Running Mums Australia began lining the course. The cheers of encouragement in those last 2.1kms made me get my groove back and stop listening to those thoughts of pain and discomfort. I rounded the bend in the last 200m to see Sam holding a sign “GO ERIN!!!” and saw his face and burst into tears. I ran across the finish line crying with tears of joy. My hard work had paid off. I am a half marathoner!

GCHM Finish line.jpeg

21.1km crying mama

After the half marathon the buzz was electric. I felt so amazing and I got home to my babies and my parents and just beamed. As the days went past something started to happen. My fatigue hit me like a freight train. Everything became laboured. I could feel my mood dipping and dipping and dipping. I couldn’t get out of the rut. I felt like I was floundering. I was close to tears most days and I couldn’t pull myself out. I knew where I was headed and started to get scared. Depression just sucks you in like standing on the edge of a black hole. Its been REALLY hard since finishing the Half in July. But after getting back to seeing my psychologist its really obvious that I need to have goals. I just achieved a huge goal and then fell back into the nothingness. I didn’t have to get up and complete a run or have anything to look forward to and achieve. It has shown me that although I’ve come so far, there are still limitations even with my physical self. If I compete in something so large, I need to ensure I have support after the event to help with the inevitable fatigue that comes with it. It is SO frustrating that I need to ask for help all the time. Its disempowering and embarrassing for me, but I have to.

So whats next? Well I mentioned earlier that during my half marathon training I began doing strength training too. I was encouraged by Jacks Family day carer, Suzie Maude, who competes for Australia in powerlifting and holds Masters world records, to start lifting weights at her powerlifting gym with one of their coaches Josh Tait (Eastside Barbell). As time has progressed, I’m really enjoying the sport, its very different to any sport I’ve ever done before. I’m always very cardio focused, but I’m really enjoying getting strong and learning about how my body works in a different way. You can’t rush powerlifting, you have to build slowly or you get injured. Josh is very patient and constantly mixes up the way he explains things to me. Remember, its really hard for me to learn new things so in a lot of ways Josh has to figure out the best way to communicate what he needs me to do. The gym is fantastic because its extremely family friendly and because Josh and his partner Courtney have a bub of their own, Josh is an old hand at keeping Piper busy while I’m training, if need be. Although, he never takes the foot off being a hard arse!

josh and piper.jpg

Training with Josh and Piper

So now with the support of Suzie, Josh and my new gym buddies at Valhalla strength I will be competing in my first novice powerlifting competition ‘pretty and powerful’. Something very different and scary for me, but also a little exhilarating and a really positive goal to look forward to. The great thing is, its in mid November so once its over I only have 4 weeks until my favourite time of year, so I’m really hoping depression doesn’t rear its ugly head because I’ll have that to look forward to. Also, the competition is a week before my 5 year anniversary of having my stroke which is always a tough anniversary. I wish I could float back in time and tell ‘stuck in bed Erin’, “hey sad sack, guess what? you’re sick now, but in 5 years you’ll have 2 babies and have just completed a half marathon and a powerlifting competition!” boy she would laugh! So heres to setting new goals, fighting demons and getting strong!

 

 

Zzzzzzz….. post stroke fatigue

I have always loved a good snooze. I remember when I was a teenager I would wake up to my Step dads knock on my door and the inevitable

“Sweetie? Time to get up” a deep soothing kind voice, which in my mind meant another 10 minutes. I could hear him shuffle back down the hallway walking barefoot across the kitchen lino, turning the kettle on to make my mum a cup of coffee. I would hear him measure out the coffee and sugar. The kettle would bubble to a boil in the background and as I heard his feet tippy tap across the lino to get the jug in my sleepy haze I’d flinch slightly, pulling the covers over my ears for the inevitable second wake up call.

TINK,  TINK TA-TINK, TINK. TINK. TINK. The same spoon loudly playing the same melody against mums mug EVERY morning. How dare he? I would think. I’m exhausted! I would scrape myself out of bed and spill into the shower. I would get dressed for school and grumble towards the breakfast bar scowling. He’d be extra chirpy just to annoy me and I would complain until he left for work that I was exhausted. I’d only slept TEN HOURS. Why did I have to wake up just because he was awake? The reality was it was the only real time during the week we got to talk and catch up as he worked late, but I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes as he forced me to have breakfast and watch power rangers with him EVERY morning. I was a bitch. Plain and simple. I took sleep and conscious time for granted,as most teenagers, indeed most people do.

After I had my stroke I was imprisoned under the covers in bed on a weekday and weekend. My teenage dreams had come true the ultimate sleep in. The only catch… I was asleep for 18 plus hours a day. My step dad came down to nurse me when Sam returned to work, and out of habit, the same Tink, tink-a tink tink, would happen when making his morning coffee. Only, now I couldn’t scrape myself out of bed to spend time with him. I fought it. I fought it so hard.  I would wake, having fallen asleep again by mistake, and feel just as tired as I had before. This wasn’t exhaustion, this was different, a new term I would become very familiar with. This was fatigue.

The only way I can explain fatigue vs being tired is the physicality of it. Everything is laboured. It’s not just ‘I think I could fall asleep right here’ it’s ‘I’m not sure I can move one foot in front of the other’. And ‘if I don’t sleep now, my body starts switching itself off without me being able to stop it’. To put my fatigue in perspective, prior to my stroke if I went out on an all night bender, partied until the wee hours and then went to work for a full day the next day, I would be exhausted, but I would still be able function. I’d still finish all of my work tasks. I’d call all of the people I needed to call. I’d attend and engage with people at meetings. It would hurt. It would hurt A lot. But I could do it. Would I rather have been in bed? – hell yes! But I was able to function. Fatigue is different. Your body shuts down. You can’t fake even the smallest of tasks and push through the pain. Your body feels like you’ve just run a marathon, everything is heavy and your brain seems to have lost the ability to engage automatic pilot. The minute things your brain automatically takes care of without you thinking – seamlessly, effortlessly – are now being broken down into small manual chunks. It was as if going from using the latest iMac word processor to write an assignment, to writing it with chalk on a chalk board. Slow. Painful and awkward.

Aphasia 101

The worst part for me is, when I’m asked the smallest things my brain gets jumbled. I try to hide it by being quieter than usual, but there’s no escaping it. This is known as Aphasia and it is exacerbated by my fatigue. There are different forms of Aphasia but I suffer from the two most common seen in stroke sufferers. ‘Anomic aphasia’, where you have word-finding difficulties when speaking and writing but understand those communicating with you and ‘Expressive aphasia’,where I  know what I want to say but struggle communicating it.

An example of my Anomic Aphasia is saying things like;

“you know, like when you need to travel across the border from one state to another whats that called?”

“interstate?”

“yeah interstate”

Or ‘Expressive Aphasia’, I just make up new word combinations like;

Airport = plane station

Bus stop = Bus shed

Bathroom = Toilet cupboard

Bandaid = ‘ooey’ sticker (I call my sons bumps and scratches ‘ooeys’)

I laugh it off, and laugh at myself often, but can you see how this can be extremely distressing especially in serious situations? As my fatigue increases the symptoms worsen. I begin slurring my words, and often see people look at me trying to determine if I’m drunk? This is where having no physical signs of stroke can make things really difficult, because without them, people assume I’m ‘normal’, only maybe I have been drinking. Which was probably a perfect description of me during my uni years but now it just makes me feel embarrassed and makes me withdraw even more. Especially now that I have kids.

It’s not you its me…

Four years on and I have tried everything to make my fatigue ‘better’. My initial expectation was I’d be tired like this for a while, a year, two years and then my sleep routine would  be back to normal.But as time went on it became pretty clear I still needed a full night (10-12hrs) sleep  and 2 to 3 hours during the day in order to function on even a basic level. I became extremely depressed again. I struggled because I felt helpless because usually I’d get a problem and if I worked hard enough, thought outside the square and accessed support from others I’d fix things. I was coming to the realisation that this was ‘fixed’. It was devastating and made me question how I would ever be able to work again or effectively raise my children.

So with the help of my amazing GP Doctor Simon we slowly got my mood back on track and began setting more realistic expectations. I began Psychologist appointments again to work through my depression and anxiety and Doctor Simon gave me a ‘last ditch’ option. He referred me to the fatigue clinic which is part of the ‘Brain and Mind institute’ linked to the University of Sydney, but was very careful to explain it was a long shot as fatigue caused by brain injury was different to what they helped with, which was chronic fatigue. With their guidance I strictly implemented ‘pacing’ into my days. I began by reducing things out of my day that caused fatigue. These included television for more than 20 minutes, loud spaces like shopping centres, basically anything that made my brain ‘work out’. Then slowly re-introduced them but set strict rest times of 10-20 minutes where I did nothing. Just sat, almost meditating. The plan was to try and reduce, or fingers crossed, eliminate my day sleep. What ended up happening though was the quality of my awake time was better to a point, but my need for a full night sleep and a 2-3 hour nap didn’t alter. So after about 7 sessions with this amazing team, it became clear Doctor Simon’s expectation setting seemed to have fallen on deaf ears because when they ‘broke up with me’ a few weeks ago, I lost it again. I was back to thinking things like “my family would be better off without me”, and “my kids don’t deserve a disabled parent”, the sticky black tar of depression was starting to suck me back into that hole.

I called my mum and she flew to Sydney with Piper and I, to see doctor Simon again to increase my medication and just generally get a Doctor Simon hug. His background in mental health and his support since my stroke, has meant that even hearing his voice calms me.

I was back to mourning the person I was before the stroke, and I was devastated that this was it. This was now my reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop, Revive, Survive.

This is the story of the day I submitted to my post stroke life. I haven’t shared this because writing it, even now, four years later brings me great distress. It throws me back to a time where there was no positivity. The days were dark and the future was uncertain. Reading over this account now, I wish I could float back in time and lay in bed with Erin (version 2012) and hold her hand and assure her everything is going to be OK and let her see in my eyes that I mean it. No one knew if I would read again. No one knew if I would be able to walk more than a few metres again. But they would always look me in the eye and say “everything will be OK”. They would lie. But now I know that it is OK. My life is completely different but I’m OK. As soon as you submit, stop fighting against your problem and work with it. You work with it to overcome it. Life becomes OK and you start to rebuild.

Erin takes ‘control’

Sam was finally back at work. I had a break from that look of constant worry and fear etched on his face for at least 8 hours. He had begun looking older, the lines of worry on his face like scars I had created through the fear I felt I had inflicted on him. It brought me to tears when I was alone. He didn’t deserve this. He was such an amazing man, he deserved only happiness.

On this day I felt defiant. I was disabled, my dad was dead, I’d probably never work again and I needed to nap ALL THE TIME. The resilient, happy girl my parents had shaped was lying in a puddle of hopelessness and depression. This was fucked. I wasn’t a victim. I wouldn’t go down without a fight. This was bullshit. I couldn’t believe this was my life.

The Escape

My dads affairs were being finalised and I was no help. I had needed to get a simple document signed by a JP. But due to Sam’s work hours and my disablement and need for ‘supervision’, this document was not getting signed. It was becoming extremely distressing for me. It played on my mind constantly. So I lay in bed plotting my plan of escape to get it sorted on my own, like I used to do. Sam would go to work. I worked through a walking route to Newtown courthouse that only involved one crossing of the street without a set of lights.Remember, at this point I couldn’t cross the street unassisted because I couldn’t determine the speed at which anything was traveling towards me and often couldn’t tell if something was moving towards me or away from me. Kind of important whilst crossing the street. On the rare occasions I did leave the house to attend specialist appointments, I found myself holding my eyes tightly closed when travelling in our car, because cars on the road around us looked like they were driving AT us and I would scream thinking we would be hit.

Why would I dare gamble with my safety knowing how bad I was? I was still defiant in my disbelief that this was my new reality. Like a bratty child stomping my feet not wanting to go to bed. So at 10am I got dressed, made sure I had money in my wallet – the plan being if  I got into strife I’d just get a bus home. I shake my head typing this. What was I thinking? The answer? I wasn’t – I had just suffered a freaking brain injury!

Playing Chicken

Off I went to meet my one and only unassisted crossing. My family and friends will be so sick when they read this but, I crossed the street on the corner of the Princes highway and Barwon park road St. Peter’s. A very busy intersection in the inner west of Sydney, looking both ways not really knowing if cars were coming at me or away from me. I just crossed hoping, hoping, hoping no one would hit me, that they would see me and stop if they were coming my way. This is terrifying now and seems so reckless and selfish, but I was desperate, really sad, defiant and felt trapped in a situation that had been so quick and unexpectedly debilitating, that I needed to prove to myself it wasn’t real. I luckily made it.

I walked to Newtown stopping and sitting over and over on every park bench or cafe chair I came across along the way. Puffed, eyes getting heavier and heavier. Crossing at lights. Exhausted and becoming increasingly terrified. As I got closer to the courthouse it was becoming more and more apparent this was a really, really dangerous, bad idea. I was so tired, scared and my cognition was deteriorating.

Newtown Courthouse

I got to the courthouse and approached the counter after a long rest in the courthouse foyer. All I can remember was the lady saying she couldn’t sign it. I didn’t know what to say. My eyes were blurred with fatigue and I had no flexibility of thought. She had to sign it. She kept looking strangely at me explaining  she couldn’t sign it. I began becoming very distressed. She tried to calm me down. I began crying and saying over and over “you have to sign it , I came all this way!” She waved her two flat palms in a downward motion, saying I needed to calm down, she couldn’t sign it. My brain couldn’t understand what she was saying, or why. Big fat tears started rolling down my cheeks and I began blubbering. I raised my voice “my dad is dead! You have to sign it! He’s dead! My dad is gone!”For those who know me this is NOT me. I don’t like making a scene and I certainly don’t like showing this type of emotion in public. Not many people do, and yet I cried loudly, beginning to lose my breath amongst my torrent of tears. A man shuffled over and helped me out to the foyer where I sat crying. He seemed to comfort me and ask me questions. I couldn’t answer. I felt so scared and in danger, I got rid of him. I didn’t know how to get home, call Sam, or feel safe enough to ask for help. God only knows what they all thought of me?

I stumbled out into the main meeting area across from the train station at the busiest intersection in the suburb. I sat on a circular bench which surrounded the town noticeboard. A place I had met friends many times to head out for drinks, brekky,where I stumbled happily drunk, arm in arm with my girlfriends on my hens night. But I felt lost and alone. For the first time in my adult life I was helpless. I was like a toddler who had lost her mum in a vast shopping centre, not knowing where to start her search. I was SO scared and had absolutely no idea what to do. So I sat and cried. Big fat, ugly tears. I cried for my dad, I cried for this shit situation and I cried that things would never be the same. Ever. I was different, they kept telling me to take it slow, don’t compare who I am now to the girl I was before the stroke, but rather to who I was just after the stroke. So easy for outsiders to say. So should I be thankful? Grateful to be a fucking blubbering mess unable to complete a simple task? Great. I’m not dead, but I also can’t cross the street, read, speak to strangers, amongst 98% of the other things I used to be able to do. I cried harder, angrier,ungrateful tears. This was fucked. This was unfair. Why was this happening to me?! .My dad is dead.I hate this life SO much.

Miracle on King street

I got home. To this day I’m not 100% sure how. I  remember a woman with a warm face and smiling eyes approach me and consoled me at the noticeboard. I remember a bus driver taking coins out of my open purse for my fare home because I couldn’t count money anymore, and I remember collapsing in fatigue on our brown leather couch. The most scary, sad experience needed to happen for me to finally look in the mirror and see me. The Erin after the stroke. The girl who could no longer be compared to the girl from before without a lot of tears, anger and without feeling ripped off. It scared me into submission. I had to submit to move forward. I had to submit to make those who loved me feel safe that I was safe. After nearly losing me their fear was real and nothing to toy with. Their feelings mattered. But to this day even though I still submit in order to stay safe. There are times I stomp my feet and I cry and I’m angry that I’m again needing to nap. I’m missing out on another family celebration. Another friends birthday. I have to plan my holidays and travel around my 11am-2pm nap. Now I have babies that currently still nap at the same time, but what happens when they don’t? I’m meant to be there. I’m meant to raise them and I’ll be asleep? Its an ongoing struggle. A real struggle that I can’t fix or change. But, It is what it is and so I won’t dwell. I won’t let that black, sticky depression successfully drag me in without a good fight. People often ask me why I like to run? Its days like this. Every breath I puff on a run, reminds me of the days each step I once took, was laboured and hopeless for reasons out of my control. I run and run and run because with every breath and beating of each foot on the footpath it takes me further away from the memory of days like this. I run and I laugh and I stay positive, because I won’t give up. I submit to this new life. Not always happily, but I submit and I move forward.

 

Pippimac

 

Its been a while…

So I haven’t blogged in quite a while and there is a major reason for that. Juggling post stroke fatigue, a household and a baby (who is now a toddler) leaves absolutely no free time to do anything but sneak in sleep when I can. But so much has happened since we last caught up. Namely, I had another baby and her name is Piper. I will fill in the gaps over my next few posts about parenthood post stroke and how we’ve struggled, survived and triumphed but I first want to share my beautiful birth story, again created in my view by the amazing guidance of ‘Calm Birth’.

image

37 week Check up

Sam and I went for my 37 week check up and were ready to ‘book in’ an induction as this time around my doctors were going to be kind to me and let me give birth before bub got too big. So after a very boring pregnancy I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We knew we were having a little girl (we checked and double checked after last times big mix up) and were thrilled because we knew this would have to be our last baby. We left excited that I would be induced on the 12th of September perfect timing because my mum arrived on the 8th to look after Jack for us. Two weeks. No time at all. I could wait! Argh! No I couldn’t! Time goes SO slow when you’re heavily pregnant and boy was it hard with a busy 19 month old.

Calm Birth Refresher

This time Calm birth was a little different. We were old hands at the breathing techniques and visualisation but we really wanted to tap into the knowledge that calm birth instructors had around active birth positions and how Sam could provide more support and be more hands on this time around. This was mainly because he was so amazing at the end of the labour with Jack and felt so empowered when his support was exactly what I needed and it actually helped. So we went for an hour with a calm birth instructor and practiced several different positions and techniques to assist during labour and by practicing them I was able to cut the positions down to a set few that worked for me. We also stumbled across a position we liked for when bub was being born so we could all cuddle straight away together and so Sam could be ‘right there’ when she arrived. We were so excited again to be able to try out what we had learned. Little did we know, we would be using the techniques sooner rather than later.

image

Mum arrives…..and so does someone else!

Finally my two week wait was drawing to a close and I was so excited to be collecting my mum from the airport. I woke early on the 8th to braxton hicks type pain which began getting regular (every 10 or so minutes) but after a couple of hours it stopped so I thought nothing of it. I went about my morning as normal ending with dropping Jack at daycare. I got to the airport early, parked the car and began the slow waddle to the gate to welcome mum. On my waddle I again got a few ‘tightenings’ enough for me to have to stop and catch my breath, but again I dismissed them as Braxton hicks. Mum arrived and I was so happy to see her smiling face. I was looking forward to a few days with her and Jack before the birth and before the craziness of a newborn began. After the haze of post birth and my depression and fatigue creeping back in after Jack was born I was more frightened of the ‘fourth Trimester’ than the birth this time around. Mum and I headed straight to the shopping centre to escape the heat and to give mum some much needed retail therapy. She lives in a small coastal village of 1200 people, a far cry from any ‘Westfield’ so this therapy was long overdue. We had lunch and talked and shopped – it was a lovely day. I again stopped two or three times with tightenings, she felt my hard tummy and we both agreed they were Braxton hicks. At 1pm we were home and I was ready for my sleep but continued chatting to mum for a bit bouncing on my swiss ball. Sam’s brother Phil randomly came by for a coffee so they were out the back chatting while mum and I continued our catching up.

“These tightenings are still happening its getting quite annoying”  I said to mum.

“Lets time them to see if they’re regular” she said, both of us chuckling knowing it was ridiculous, but still I opened up my contraction timer app and handed my phone to mum and she began timing them. The gossiping continued and I was filling her in on Jacks routine and other stuff she needed to know for the 12th when I went in for my induction.

“Um, Erin. They’re 5 minutes apart do you think you could be in labour?” Mum interrupted after about an hour. Sounds silly right? But I’d only ever been induced I’d never naturally gone into labour so it was completely different.

“Noooooo. It’s not painful” I replied. 

“Maybe Sam should just call the hospital and ask what you should do, don’t they ask you to call when there 5 minutes apart?”

“Yeah but when they’re contractions” I said. Sam overheard all of this walking in with his brother and agreed with mum that he should call the hospital. After explaining my history and the timing of my tightenings they agreed I should be checked and asked that I come in. It all felt very ridiculous to me but we packed the car just in case and Phil and mum were left to collect Jack and I was certain I’d be back to put him to bed.

The girl who thought she was crying wolf …..but wasn’t 

I continued to have tightenings when we arrived at the hospital and was taken into an assessment room to be examined. I still felt quite silly and like I was probably wasting everyones time. But a midwife examined me and confirmed I was 2 cms dilated.

“We’ll send you up to the early labour ward and if you haven’t progressed after 4 hours we’ll send you home” the midwife explained, walking out the door to organise a room.

“4 hours?!” I said to Sam.

” Jack won’t know whats going on. This is going to shit me, they’ll keep me trapped here, nothing will happen, then they’ll send me home” I said frustrated. I’d never really been away from Jack without preparing him.

“He’ll be fine. Who knows you might have the baby tonight?” Sam said as he snooped through the cupboards and drawers searching for ‘supplies’ he could steal.

“No I’m having the baby on Saturday” I said with 100% certainty.

Next thing we were taken upstairs to a beautiful single room to wait for labour to start. it was a beautiful room overlooking a lush green lawn and garden and was so relaxing. I began walking the halls, the tightenings were still coming every so often but I walked out of boredom more than anything. We went outside to the beautiful lawn and i paced across it barefoot smelling the gorgeous fresh cut grass smell. Over the next 20 minutes my boredom turned into tightening after tightening after tightening. My calm breathing techniques were suddenly in overdrive!

“Holy shit Sam I think I’m in early labour” I said breathless after another tightening.

“We might meet our little girl today after all?” He grinned at me.

We went back upstairs  and over the next hour the tightenings began closing in on each other and I was left in beige hallways leaning against scuffed walls breathless from how tight my stomach would get. Again, no pain as such, just a punched in the gut, winded feeling. Sam by my side rubbing my back, talking positively the whole time.

“They need to check me. These are getting really close” I puffed breathless after another tightening. I was certain this was all a mistake and it would fizzle but I was so puffed!

The midwife on duty came in and proceeded to examine me and smiled.

“Your 5 cms and offically in active labour! Wow you’ve progressed so quickly, we’d better get you to the labour ward. Pack up your things I’ll come back to get you in a minute” she walked out and I turned to Sam astonished.

“5 fucking cms?! How the fuck did that happen? My water hasn’t even broken. I’m not even in pain yet?” I was completely shocked. I should also mention I swear like a sailor when I’m in labour.

“I’ll call your mum to let her know. Baby, we get to meet our little princess soon!!” he said with his hands cupping my face his excitement beaming from his grinning cheeks.

We walked to the elevator and headed down to the labour ward. On the way to my room we ran into the midwife from the assessment room. Her eyes got wide and she looked confused.

“What? You’re in active labour already?” she said perplexed

“seems so” I said not really believing it myself.

“Wow good job! Good luck!” She said as we entered the labour room.

Birthing circuit

The great thing about your second labour is you know what works and what doesn’t work for you. I knew movement and positive talk really helped me when I was under physical stress. So after practicing different positions in our calm birth refresher I walked into that labour room and set up the mother of all birthing circuits. A warm bath was poured. A swiss ball was in the centre of the room for bouncing on. The bed was rolled against a wall and raised to a height so I could lay my head against it standing for rocking side to side. I had a path cleared for pacing back and forth and a mat and bean bag ready for when I was ready to birth. Sharing those early moments with Piper together in each others arms might actually happen.

I began on the swiss ball bouncing and as the pressure in my belly would start to become uncomfortable I’d switch birthing stations. For the next hour and 20 minutes I went around and around my circuit with my eyes partially closed in the zone. Sam and the midwife Leah chatted away and I focussed on my breathing and the awesome playlist I had in the background – the same playlist I had when I was birthing Jack.

I turned to Leah and said ” I’m starting to get really tired. Theres just no relief in between tightenings. Can you check me? I’m starting to feel like my head is giving up. If I’m further along I’ll just suck it up, but otherwise I need some rest.” I was thinking I may need an epidural to let me sleep. I’d not had my normal day nap and I’d been up early. I was noticing my speech was slurring and my words were jumbled. My fatigue was becoming unbearable.

“Sure. Lets have a look” she examined me and smiled.

“You’ll just have to suck it up. Your 8-9 cms not long now, you can do it”

That’s all I needed to hear. I suddenly became really focussed and everything became clear again. The end was near I could do this – no problem. I stood up and leaned against the bed rocking side to side. Sam massaging my lower back whispering “you can do it” in my ear.

“Leah the pressure is really intense I know you just checked me but I think I need to push” I said still not sure, but I was just listening to my body. It was taking over. I had no control anymore and I knew that meant we were close.

Sam sat in the bean bag and they helped me onto all fours on the mat Leah behind and Sam in front. Instantly Leah said “Your baby is coming I can see her head!” then SPLASH! my waters broke like a vaginal tsunami and we were all soaked – AWKWARD!

“I can’t birth in this,hurry up and wipe it up so I can push!” Leah and Sam turned into cleaning ninjas.  They had a new sheet, everything mopped up and were back into position before my next contraction. I won’t lie, this part does hurt. But just like finishing that long run where everything hurts, once you see that finishing line, you dig deep, suck it up and just fucking do it. So thats what I did. Two pushes and Piper came into the world she was handed to me between my legs and I turned and lay in Sam’s arms holding our little girl on my chest triumphant! My greatest accomplishments Jack and now this perfect angel my Piper!

image

“You are amazing!” Sam said

“Look at her! She’s tiny!” we were in awe of this much wanted little girl.

After a few moments Leah said calmly but firmly ” Im sorry I need to take her now she doesn’t seem to have taken a breath yet.” She let Sam swiftly cut the cord and she took her to a bed and sounded an alarm. Its funny, the whole time I sat there in Sam’s arms and even when the alarm sounded and several doctors and nurses came running in I KNEW she would be OK. I didn’t get scared, or feel anxious. I knew she would be fine – and she was. Moments after the drama, she began breathing and spluttered a little. She didn’t cry – just like her big brother Happy Jack, she entered the world with a heart full of happiness and sunshine. No need for tears.

Leah handed her back to me devastated.

“I’m so sorry! The birth was so calm and beautiful and then this happens are you OK?”

“Sure. She’s OK, we’re OK. Thats all that matters. It was a perfect birth. We’re so happy! Thank you so much for helping us  have the birth we wanted! ” I said snuggling with my baby girl again both of us in my proud husbands arms. Life was perfect and our family was now complete. Piper Mackenzie Clare Benjamin, weighing 3.05kgs.Pippimac had arrived.

Now the easy part was over. Now began the dreaded ‘fourth’ trimester.image

 

A little ray of sunshine has come into the world – pt 2

Social Workers and Psychiatry

Due to the high risk nature of my pregnancy the head of Obstetrics at RPAH recommended I attend regular sessions with their Psychiatrist to try and prevent any possible post natal depression, and to also talk through any anxieties I may have throughout the pregnancy. I was to also attend regular counselling sessions with a Social worker to touch base and discuss support options for once the baby arrived. In hind sight I wish I hadn’t done either. You all know that I am a major advocate for getting help for depression and anxiety but unfortunately for me, these particular sessions had a reverse effect. I started to become extremely anxious as it began to feel I was being questioned about my ability to parent due to my ‘disability’. I started to become paranoid about these sessions and watched everything I was saying, because the questioning I was receiving started to make me feel like they would take my baby away from me. Sam and my Mum assured me nothing of the sort would happen, but the line of questioning and excessive note taking was unnerving! I realise this sounds absolutely ridiculous now but as an example, at the time, I was being offered free at home support once baby arrived, but what that meant was that the social worker had to put in writing that I was unfit to care for my child due to my disabilities and this would be lodged with the Department of Community Services (DOCS). She explained this was only to get me access to funding and would not necessarily open me up to anything negative like having my baby taken from me, but I questioned her on why she had to put in writing, that I was unfit? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would ever have to deal with DOCS and to have it written in black and white that I was ‘unfit’ was frightening and devastating. Then there was the Psychiatrist who questioned me and wrote pages and pages of A4 notes on me every session like what I was talking about needed to be documented because I was a mental patient. I felt like she was hell bent on having me in her care postnatally with a high expectation of depression. I didn’t have a crystal ball so I wasn’t to know what I’d be like, as I’d suffered from depression so badly post Stroke and my dads death. So I went along weekly and had to assume this could happen again. I will never give anyone power over me like that again, but at the time as a ‘new mum’ I just went along with what they wanted as they were ‘the experts’. Luckily my mum had worked very closely with DOCS in her teaching/Principal career and was extremely reassuring about the outcomes. But this ‘help’, throughout my pregnancy was in fact the key to a lot of unnecessary fears I began to build.

Calm Birth
Then at 24 weeks the extreme anxiety peaked. I was being highly monitored and the constant reminder of what could potentially go wrong physically, played on my mind daily. As did the idea that I was disabled and wouldn’t be able to look after my baby. No health issues had arisen as yet, but I was constantly fearful my luck would run out, and that this wonderful gift was going to be taken from me. Dying in childbirth due to complications was my main fear and leaving Sam behind with a baby, or alone without either of us, terrified me. We would sit and read ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ each Wednesday night to see where our baby blue was at, so excited about the journey we were on, but I always had a breathless feeling of anxiety.

So I finally took the advice of those around me and Sam and I drove down to Bowral for the weekend and attended a course called ‘Calm birth’, which was created and run by a very experienced midwife of 40 or so years, Peter Jackson. Sam wasn’t too happy about going to a full weekend of a ‘baby course’, as “people become parents everyday and don’t need to go to courses”! His mind was changed very quickly after the experience we had over that two days. We left feeling empowered and excited about the labour, whatever the outcome. Natural or C-Section, drugs or no drugs it didn’t matter, just as long as our boy was delivered safely.

I began listening to Peters CD tracks of meditation while I walked in the morning with Darcy. I ‘visualised the birth of my baby’ hippy style with a smile and deep breathing. A lot of people had strong opinions both positive and negative about the course (even if they’d never attended it) which I found interesting, but the meditation and visualisation removed a lot of the anxiety from the rest of my pregnancy and replaced it with feelings of empowerment and excitement. So at the time I would ask the ‘poo pooers’, “even if it is hippy crap and my labour is a crazy, painful mess, if its reducing this horrendous anxiety I’m feeling throughout pregnancy – the longest part- how could that be wrong?”

IMG_0208

Little did I know that Calm birth would be integral in the beautiful birth Sam and I would share with our boy. I am forever thankful to Peter and his team, as this empowerment was the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I recommend Calm birth to everyone now – I am an advocate for empowering women to have the birth THEY want, again, if thats a C-section/Natural/with or without drugs! Calm birth allowed Sam and I to talk through potential problems, likes and dislikes and get on the same page. I knew that if it all turned to shit, Sam knew what my feelings and wishes were. Our fears evaporated because of this. So we began counting down the days to the birth of our baby blue with anticipation.

41 + 1 put a fork in me I’m done!

The worst thing I could ever have done was tell myself I would give birth on the 11-12-13, a day before baby blues official due date. OK – so I wanted his birthdate to be awesome – but what it did was make what would turn out to be 9 more days, a living hell. 40 degree heat, Christmas getting closer and closer and still no baby. I started to get more and more desperate, and the more desperate I became, the more and more people seemed to ask, “has he come yet?” It’s so funny how irrational you become. I was crying daily, saying to Sam “I’m letting everyone down, I can’t even make the damn baby come out!” This still makes me laugh and I think of all the times I did the exact same thing to pregnant sisters and friends – you’re just excited – but for the pregnant lady it seems to make time go in slow motion. So at 40 + 5 I lost my shit. I demanded that Sam take me to the hospital, I couldn’t take it anymore and they would induce me today. I hadn’t slept well in about 4 days by this point and may have been a little crazy due to the sleep deprivation. They were so kind and calm, as I lost it hysterically crying, begging Sam to make them help me. I was terrified I’d go into to labour and be this fatigued. I wouldn’t have a chance! The midwives and the obstetrician dealing with my insanity were amazing and somehow got me out of there with sleeping tablets and an appointment booked for the next morning to discuss ‘my options’. Wow what a good night sleep does for a heavily pregnant lady! I went to the clinic the next day a little embarrassed at my tantrum the day before and agreed to hold out a few more days and they booked my induction for the 19th of December. I had a date to look forward to and sleeping tablets, so life was bearable again. Nothing happened, no amount of curry or walking would move this baby he was so comfortable in the home I’d created for him. So I arrived on the 19th for step one of the induction.

19th of December 2013 - Induction Day!!

19th of December 2013 – Induction Day!!

Breathing down your baby

After a day of pessaries and no movement they broke my waters early on the 20th of december and I was taken to the labour ward and hooked up to a Syntocinon drip. Because of this my movements were restricted and they had a heart rate monitor on my belly to keep an ear on baby blue. This was initially frightening because I had plans of standing under hot showers and walking around the room to keep my mind off pain .But I sat on a swiss ball and happily bounced waiting for contractions to start. I had a senior midwife, Alex and a student midwife, Kate helping me and they were lovely and a lot of fun. Alex was a midwife of 15 + years and Kate had been an ICU nurse for 10 or so years and was 26 births into her training – so I felt in the best of hands. The contractions started at around 10:30am and seemed to come on very quickly but the pain was completely manageable. It’s a different sort of pain. You know it has an end point so just like all of the long distance runs I had done in the past, I breathed, got a rhythm and paced myself. My sisters and my mum had shared one great piece of advice for labour and that was that every contraction is moving your baby down, so if you fight them your body still needs to have another to make up for the one you fought in order to get your baby out. So I just needed to trust my body let it do what it needed to do and the less I fought, the quicker it would be over. It was so true and helped me rationalise the extreme pressure my stomach was under. I communicated early to the midwives that my fatigue was my main fear and that although I wanted to start from the beginning and work my way through pain meds if needed,  if my fatigue got to a certain point I would ask for an epidural to rest. They were happy with that and we agreed I would tell them if it got to that point. I sat on that swiss ball and bounced in complete silence for the next 5 hours. Breathing, bouncing, breathing, bouncing. The world was gone. It was me and my baby working together and my eyes were closed and my mind was in a blissful state of meditation. The feeling was not that of pain as such, it was pressure and so I bounced silently, waiting for the labour to hit hard. Little did I know this was labour!

DCIM100GOPRO

Always in the back of my mind I kept thinking this could go on for days, so I was trying to mentally prepare for that. Just before 4pm I started to become really tired. My body was in control and my mind wasn’t coping. I was nearly falling asleep. I said to the midwives that I was exhausted and needed the epidural now. Alex said “let’s just get you up on the bed and check you and see where you’re at, then we’ll get the epidural sorted so you can sleep”. I silently stood up and as I did I said “I’m having the baby”. Kate smiled and helped me over to the bed and said “It’s your first bub, so it will probably take longer, don’t worry get on the bed and we’ll check you, I’m sure you’ll have time to sleep”.This sense of urgency hit me and I said “I need the epidural now, I’m exhausted, I need to sleep. He’s coming!” Kate smiled and helped me onto the bed. “You’ll be OK, Alex will call the anaesthetist now.” As I lay on the bed, she proceeded to check to see how dilated I was as Alex came back into the room and Kate’s eyes grew wide. “Oh wow she’s 8 cms! You’ve been so quiet I didn’t realise you were this far along!” “I can’t have the baby now, I’m too tired. I need the epidural. I need to sleep” I started to panic, my eyes half open, I was so exhausted. My body started to take over, I began having huge waves of uncontrollable contractions, my body was in auto pilot. They somehow got the anaesthetist in and starting trying to put the epidural in my back while I sucked on gas. My body began to involuntarily push and I was very quickly awake! The needle was in but it was too late the baby was coming – FAST!  They rolled me over and Sam held my leg and counted my pushing down from “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Breathe! your doing so well!”10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Breathe! come on baby you can do it!” next his eyes welled with tears and he said “Oh my god! its brains are falling out!” Through my breathing I said “WHAT?!” Kate said very quickly “No that his beautiful black curly hair – he’s fine – ready? Push! “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Breathe!” I watched Sam’s face as our son was born, his eyes were filled with tears of joy. A huge smile on his face. As Baby Jack was placed on my chest the look of pride on Sam’s face is something I will never forget.  I looked at this little boy on my chest and he lifted his head, his big, dark, possum eyes staring into mine, fighting to keep his head up to see me. He was here. He was so alert and looked around the room then settled on my face and laid quietly and calmly watching me. He didn’t make a peep.

First Photo of my Jack

First Photo of my Jack

“I thought he was meant to cry?! Is he ok?!” I asked the midwives terrified.He was just so calm. They assured me he was just perfect. “Hi Jack I’m your mama” I said “I thought we agreed you’d come on the 11th? You’re running a bit late. Did you meet daddy?” Sam kissed me and kissed Jacks forehead. He cut the cord, tears rolling down his cheeks. He then took some photos of Jack and then it hit me. I’m a mum! This is my baby! This was inside me and now its not! I love him! I’m terrified! He’s mine! Oh shit – he’s MINE! Oh shit – he’s MINE!

IMG_0364

How can you love someone so much that you’ve only just met – it still blows my mind. Then the epidural kicked in – just my luck! I was so thankful though to have felt the birth of my baby. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. The pain was manageable and I now know that no matter what happens with subsequent babies I will be OK. I survived childbirth. I didn’t die. The pain of my stroke was worse times by infinity in comparison.

IMG_0365

Jack was finally here.My sweet boy. I’m so thankful he’s mine.

A little ray of sunshine has come into the world – Pt 1

Two red lines that will change our lives

I am one of the lucky ones. Although I had such a huge scare with my stroke, my pregnancy was so good. I got pregnant the first month of trying, to both of our surprise. I was very sick for the first 18 weeks but I felt ok about that, because feeling sick means your hormone levels are high and that means you’re still pregnant. Sam and I wanted this baby so badly and yet for the first 12 weeks we had to hide our excitement, even from each other, in the fear that we may lose it. Our GP and my specialists didn’t want us to get our hopes up. The reality was that we did have our hopes, well and truly up. We had wanted this baby for two years and now we had been given the all clear. Physically my body was fine to go ahead, deficits still remained but these could be dealt with through the support of family and friends, and we could hire help if need be. We sat in a bar in Kuta staring at those positive tests after an amazing two week holiday in the Gili Islands. When those two red lines appeared, Sam and I were changed forever.

Erins iphone jULY 031

 

Pregnancy

I stayed extremely active throughout the pregnancy, walking 45 minutes to an hour every day with Darcy by my side and I soaked up every glorious moment with my bump. I was one of those annoying women who loved being pregnant, there is something truly amazing about growing a human inside of you that I just don’t think I would have appreciated had I not been sick. Sadly, I think I would have viewed it as a nuisance, something that would be getting in the way of my day to day work and social life. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself? Perhaps.

Walks with my glorious bump

But I do know that I enjoyed every moment of those days dreaming about the possibilities of our future – loving the fact that we had a future! You feel so special being pregnant too – everyone is so happy and excited for you and interested in every part of whats happening to you and your body. This becomes harder and harder though because it is often met with huge amounts of advice and also sometimes you just want to talk about something else. But the fact of the matter is, the main job you are performing for those months is creating life.  It still blows my mind that from those cells comes a beautiful human. Half me, half him.

Left Sam - Right Me

Left Sam – Right Me

 

18 week scan

Sam and I agreed we had enough surprises in our past few years, so the gender of our baby was not going to be another. We decided we would share the gender with our friends and family but keep name choices a surprise. I planned a romantic unveiling of the gender. I bought a beautiful card and inside I wrote ‘It’s A _______’ I told Sam I planned on having the Sonographer  write the gender at the end of the scan and we would then open it up together on our own privately. We were SO excited. What I failed to realise until later, and thankfully due to there being no issues, was that this 18-20 week scan is to see if there are any abnormalities with my baby. Thank goodness all was OK. So came the day!

The Sonographer was very nice, she also had a trainee obstetrician watching on in with her. We were happy to just wait and although I snuck peeks at the baby, Sam and I were careful not to accidentally see anything gender related! She asked me what gender I’d prefer and without hesitation I said “Girl!” She smiled as she wrote the gender in the card. She asked that we go downstairs and walk around for a bit and return as the baby was in a tough position to do the final examinations of the heart. So we discussed whether we should or shouldn’t open the card now…….or wait until we got home. As usual we caved and were too excited to wait, so sitting at a cafe downstairs we opened the card and instantly began to cry. “It’s a Girl!” was written on the page and we couldn’t have been happier. We proceeded to cry and cuddle and felt such elation! We then called our parents and brothers and sisters to share our amazing news. The Benjamin’s were excited to add a girl to the very male dominated family and the Riddell/Ross’ were excited to have another girl to add to their very female dominated family. Everyone was happy.

Baby Benjamin at 18 weeks

Baby Benjamin at 18 weeks

Oops! It’s not a…..

That was until we went back into the sonographer to get the baby’s heart checked. We were with a different woman this time and we kept giggling and talking about how amazing it was I was having a little girl “I knew it!” I said to Sam “I could just feel that she was a she!”

The sonographer concentrated on the screen but every now and then she’d look at us with a furrowed brow. Finally she said “Why do you keep saying its a girl?” Sam replied “we just found out the gender in the first scan”.

“Hmmmmmm” she said “Well I hate to tell you, but it’s not a girl its a boy”. We both looked at each other and I raised my eyebrow and answered “No its a girl.”

“See those and that?” She said pointing to the screen. “that means its a boy”.

We stared at the screen and ‘those’ and ‘that’ stood out as if they were glowing baubles and a candy cane on a christmas tree! I’m embarrassed to say my heart sunk. My dreams of dress ups and plaiting hair were replaced by snotty, dirty faces and holes in the knees of corduroy trousers.

“But his heart is fine”.

“No its a girl”. I said. “I want someone else to come have a look” sulking.

‘Those’ and ‘That’ glowed on the screen taunting me. Another Sonographer, and the head Obstetrician were called in and they too confirmed that he was indeed a boy. To ensure I truly believed the existence of ‘those’ and ‘that’ they took a picture for me to take home. Of which I won’t share here. But trust me it was obvious!

Sam and I walked out in silence and as we entered the hallway he whispered in my ear “Are you ok?” as he wrapped his arm around me and pecked my forehead gently.”NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I cried, blubbering over what now I can see was the most ridiculous, hormonal, selfish thing you could ever worry about when it comes to pregnancy. But its the truth, I really thought it was a girl. What I should have been thinking was, its healthy. Luckily  for us he was that too.

We then had to call all of the family back and spread the new gender and they all laughed their heads off. “Something like this could only ever happen to you two!” was the main response.  It took a day for me to get over the emotions of the day, but from that moment on I grew more and more excited about this wonderful little boy that I was growing inside me.  So began the daydreaming of the soccer we’d play, the books we’d read snuggled under covers in flannette PJ’s in winter with our torches. The cubbies we’d build and the mess we’d make! All of which were the exciting things I would have done with my little girl if she hadn’t been born with a ‘those’ and ‘that’!

Erins iphone jULY 007

 

City to Surf 2014 : Challenge Stroke

The night before

I found myself checking and re-checking my gear and thinking about my music playlists and whether my Garmin watch has all the settings just right. I am as excited tonight as christmas eve and for those who know me – that pretty damn excited!

I am also feeling really emotional. I keep thinking about Saturday night, November 19th 2011. I was lying unconscious in an ICU bed oblivious to what had happened to me and my husband, family and friends were all in shock and desperate fear for my future. It gives me chills. Then I held my little baby in my arms tonight as he smiled, asleep, dreaming of something wonderful and I thought to myself “why me? why was I so lucky?” I suppose I’ll never know the answer to that question but I most certainly will not take such a chance for granted and that’s why the run the next day was so important.

‘Erin had a stroke of genius’ Team

I woke up and checked, double checked and triple checked my gear – again. Ate three Weetbix and had a coffee. Off I went to the train station to meet some of my fellow team mates Melinda and Shaun Tatnell. There’s always a buzz when you hit the city. Everyone is so happy, the music is blaring and people are all around you stretching and chatting, fixing costumes or re-tying shoelaces. There’s something really special about having that many healthy, early starters in the one spot. I felt really emotional, even teary, I was here. I’d made it. Now all I needed to do was get to the finish line.

Some of my friends joined my fundraising team and I am so proud to report that Ciara, Melinda, Shaun, Mia, Crystal and I raised $3,196.95!!  We also had Debbie and Helen wearing National Stroke foundation singlets on the day to further provide visibility to the National Stroke Foundation. I am so thankful and proud of all of us and also so thankful for all of your donations and for all of the Cyber Cheers both myself and my team received. We received a total of 47 donations big and small – every single one of them and your comments have reduced me to tears. I am so grateful for your ongoing support and your positivity boosts me more than you’ll ever know.

The names

But how can I say thank you? Not quite sure I can cut it any other way but to give you a spot in this blog. So Mum & Brian, Ginny & Pete, Lyndal  & Grant, Mia & Ally &Cassidy, David & Stephanie, Anna D, Shannon, Sam & Jack, JR & Duncs, Melissa, Tara & Mark, Jimmy & Arlette, Peta, Carmel, Sam, Caiwen, Gerry, Alicia, Beauty by Beck, Clare, Erin, Veronica, Michael, Anna b, Kez & Spons, Carol & Robert, Jo & Jon, Crystal, Melinda & Paul, Jason & Karen, Jonesies, Angela, Joanne A, Soth & Hugo, Chris, Grace, Joanne E, Natalie, kari, Leanne, Nicole, Cheryl  & Ken, Karen, Mirri and Lexi…….

THANK YOU!!!

The run – lessons learned.

It’s so funny how I was certain that because I had only gotten a chance to run 5km each training session up to the day, that the first 5kms would be easy and I would struggle with the remaining 9km. In fact it was quite the opposite. I ran the first 5kms around the same time I would  usually run in training, but my legs felt like lead and I mentally complained the whole way. However, that being said, there is something really cool about running on roads that are normally congested with buses and cars, so I kept focussing on that rather than slowing down or heaven forbid – stopping.

Once I hit Rose Bay I got into my groove and I was really enjoying the view and the drunken smurfs and YMCA dancers. But I got caught up in the moment and stupidly stopped and gulped a cup of water at the first drink station and instantly got a stitch! I was running towards Heart break hill with a stitch! I found myself desperately trying to remember if I should stop, or stretch and run it out? I hadn’t had a stitch since my high school soccer days, so I tried both, in turn slowing my time, but I didn’t care I just had to make it to Bondi!

I got half way up heart break hill very positive, burning, but positive. That was until my phone bleeped and told me I only had 20% battery left! It threw me, I wasn’t even to the half way point, what the hell?! Spotify. Damn it. I must have been streaming that whole time. So I ran whilst stretching my fading stitch up heartbreak hill and switching to my iPod ,which I had not prepared any city to surf playlists on. I started to panic and so my friends, again the hill broke me. I stopped, found an upbeat album and then texted Sam to tell him my battery was dying and not to worry if I didn’t call at the finish line. The last thing I needed was him being worried sick and unable to come find me! So as I came over heart break hill, a little worse for wear, mistakes made, I ran the next 7km with a smile on my face and cruised my way into Bondi.

The finish line

I got to the final kilometre and running down towards the finish line all I could smell was sausage sizzles. My stomach was rumbling and my inner voice went into over drive complaining. But I looked at my Garmin watch and saw my time and I thought “Crap, even with all of that drama, I can still beat my 2011 time”! So off I ran across that finish line with nothing left in the tank. I kept looking around at all of the people and thinking, “I finished! Do you know what I just did? I finished!!” But I realised very quickly they too were all thinking the same thing. Tired grins of exhilaration on tens of thousands of fellow runners faces. We’d finished!!!!

Post run celebrations

I caught public transport home with a lovely lady, April, who shared her own journey to the 2014 City to surf. This mum of two had lost 28kgs and had only just started running and was loving the challenge. It made me remember everyone has their own demons, their own battles to overcome. She was overcoming them. I got home to my three smiling boys. Darcy licking my sweaty face, Jack squealing with delight and Sam beaming with pride. Melinda, Shaun, Kerry and Daniel all came over to help celebrate the three runners had all achieved a personal bests and the champagne flowed! What an amazing day. A day three years in the making. I did it!

Challenge Stroke 2014 – City to Surf Slideshow

Click Here to view my City to Surf Journey 

City 2 Surf – less than a week to go!!!

Final Week preparations

On Monday after a lovely long weekend with the in-laws, I needed to squeeze a run in! Jack has been sick off and on with a niggling cold and so its been really hard to get out. I had originally planned to run every day whilst in Queensland because the suburb my parents in law live in has beautiful, long slow hills for me to practice on and lots of lovely scenery. However, on saturday night Jack had the most horrendous fever and Sam and I were up most of the night and it took many loving hands, tag teaming, for us to catch up on sleep. So all opportunities began disappearing. So here I was, sneaking out for a run only hours before our flight to Sydney whilst Jack was asleep. Pacific Pines did not disappoint!

Pacific Pines

Pacific Pines

I was able to squeeze in a 5km run up and over the many hills and around the beautiful lake at the centre of town, and was able to complete it in a really good time. I was mainly pleased because I was able to maintain my pace even though there were so many hills and they weren’t small!! So I came home feeling pumped and so excited about the coming week of preparation. However again once we got home, Jack has continued to be unwell and we found out over night after another bad fever and a rash that he has Roseola – poor bubba. He doesn’t want to leave my hip for one second. He is so tired and miserable it breaks my heart. So I am looking down the barrel of having completed one 5km run leading into the big day. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that but I don’t really have a choice. Being Jack’s mum comes first. Hopefully the long term preparation will hold me in good stead!

Media

In amongst all of this craziness of travel, family, sickness and training I was asked by the National Stroke Foundation to be interviewed by Channel 9 News to share how receiving prompt medical attention can dramatically improve your chances of full recovery. It was so nice to have Channel 9 come along to Newtown and film Jack and I at my Mothers Group with all of our new friends. I was just so happy to share our positive news story and show off my beautiful baby boy and his adorable baby mates.

Channel 9 News report

Channel 9 News report

 

Thank you!

So…….. 2 Days to go! I just wanted to say I am so thankful for the support everyone has shown over the past few months. Through donations, messages and phone calls! It has been overwhelming  to say the least. As you can see it is so important to me, not only to complete this run after such a massive health issue, but to also encourage others who are in the early stages of recovery to not give up. Setting goals and striving to achieve them has been the key to recovery for me. As the months go by and I move further away from that horrible day, I realise it’s important to remember how terrible it once was, but to allow that memory to make the things I achieve in the future that little bit sweeter.

National Stroke Foundation Team Singlets washed and ready to go!

National Stroke Foundation Team Singlets washed and ready to go!

I cannot wait to update you all on how the day goes. Stay tuned for my next blog!