Adjusting to Family Life
Life with a new born takes a bit of adjusting. Life with a terminally ill husband takes a bit of adjusting. Life with the baby blues and onset of depression takes a bit of adjusting. A complete change of circumstances for a 6yr old takes a bit of adjusting.
Yes, life for all 4 of us had suddenly changed and each of us individually had to adjust to the changes that had now occured.
To start with, we tried to ignore Gary's illness and focus on adjusting to life as a family of 4. We were lucky that Darcey was (and still is) a good baby. She sleeps well, only crys when she is hungry and is relatively placid.
I stayed in hospital the day after Darcey's birth but Gary went home to be with Nathan. He also went home to have a good night's sleep as he was back on Oncology the next day for his 2nd cycle of treatment. Now that was a bizarre day. We left the Birth centre at 10am to go into the hospital for routine new born checks. We were home by 12noon and then Gary left at 12.30 to get back to Hospital for his scheduled Chemo appointment at 1pm. It was literally a case of exchange the birthing bag for the chemo bag and then back to the hospital. I have no idea what thoughts were running through Gary's mind. I was preoccupied with my own pains and this new born child that unashamedly I did not register Gary's predicament. I remember laying on the sofa, glad to be home whilst Darcey slept in the pram. I was pleased that Gary was not there so I could get a bit of sleep. Looking back now I can see how selfish I was. What on earth was Gary thinking? Yesterday he had witnessed the birth of his daughter yet today he was being injected with horrendous medicine in a chance to prolong his life. To this day I will never know his thoughts and that will always haunt me.
Gary returned home later that day with his bottle attached to him. My parents were here and that night we settled down to our first night at home as a family of 4. Darcey was a hungry girl and I was doing my best to breastfeed. Unfortunately though it didn't work for either of us and luckily after 3 days and 3 sleepless nights my Mum intervened and told me to get on the bottle before I broke down. I was definitely on the verge. Gary could not get out of bed in those early days due to the tubes and bottle that was attached your him. I was therefore the only companion for Darcey during the night.
I felt the need to do everything "properly " for Darcey. Nathan was in intensive care the first 2 weeks of his life and because of this I thought I should be a "proper" Mum to Darcey to make up for what I missed with Nathan. The fact my Husband had cancer was irrelevant. I thought I could do it all and be there for Darcey and the rest of my family without any signs of struggle. DOH! Who was I trying to kid? There was no way I could do it all yet I didn't see that and felt I was a failure if I couldn't do it all.
Those early weeks were hard for us all. Sleepless nights meant my patience levels were not as high as usual. I was frustrated that Gary did not help as much as I thought he should. I could see that Gary was frustrated with himself for being so tied from the Chemo and Nathan was extremely annoyed that he was no longer the centre of attention. These struggles plus the constant 'cancer' thoughts and you can see that life was not at all rosy for any of us.
My focus during the first few months after Darcey's birth was to get Nathan back on track and to get Darcey sleeping through. Gary was pushed back into the corner. I wasn't strong enough to carry everything on my shoulders so I took the decision to focus on the kids. Naturally guilt now hits me constantly about this choice. Looking back I should have cared more for my husband but at that time Gary didn't appear to be too affected by his illness so I therefore thought he would get over it. Plus if I kept ignoring the illness, it would never affect us would it?
New sibling traumas
Despite the arrival of my daughter and the illness affecting my husband, it was my first born that took most of my energy.
I can completely understand. For six years and six days Nathan was the sole focus of our attention. Yes there were work events and our relatively recent move from Spain to England was a big event for the family but the majority of the time our little man was our number one concern.
Suddenly he not only has to understand that his Daddy has an illness that Calpol can not fix he also has a baby sister to deal with. Nathan was so excited when he found out he was to be a big brother and was overcome with excitment when he finally met her. However, fast forward a couple of weeks and in his eyes the whole world as he knew it had changed.
Firstly, why was he (a just turned 6yr old) the only person in the family who had to leave the house in the morning? Before Darcey, all 3 of us left the house for a busy day at work or school. Now, it was just Nathan.
Next point- why did this new baby get to stay up late when Nathan had to go to be at 7pm? ..and whilst we are on this point, why was Darcey allowed to snack in the middle of the night?
Most importantly, why was Nathan suddenly 3rd on the list to get attention? Darcey was always seen to first and Daddy got his way because he was "ill". Nathan was told to "wait" or "be quiet so you don't wake up Darcey or Daddy".
Finally, why was Mummy shouting all the time or crying? Having a new baby was supposed to be fun, or so Nathan was told. So why then, was nobody in the family happy and why was everyone ignoring him?
I wish I could go back and soothe those worries. Once again I am hit with guilt. Why didn't I understand what Nathan was going through? I knew the pain that I was going through and unashamedly I know that I did not deal with it in quite the calm way that I wished I had. I hold my hands up and admit to shouting and saying things I shouldn't to a frightened six year old who didn't understand what life had just thrown at him. Even now despite everthing I have since been through, I still can not put myself into Nathan's six year old shoes and understand how it was for him.
I guess Nathan coped as best he could. Unfortunately this coping manifested it's way out of him as anger. For the first 4 months after Darcey's birth, Nathan was a very angry and violent little boy and unfortunately I was the target. I was shouted at, hit at and on a couple of occasions was bitten on the arm. I tried to keep calm but with the baby blues and my own grief I was experiencing over Gary's illness, keeping calm and not reacting was difficult. It was particularly hard to accept that I was the main target when in my eyes, I was the one holding the family together.
I really don't know how I got through those early days. However I do know that despite everything Nathan and I are now as strong as ever. It is said the bond between Mother and Son will never be broken. That is definitely true for us.
Race for Life
I wanted to help Gary and somehow experience the pain he was going through. Every day Gary was battling against the unknown, never sure if today would be a good day or one that would wipe his energy levels completely. What could I do though? Apart from magic the cancer away, there was very little I could do. Or was there?
We were driving home after a family Sunday outing and whilst Gary was driving, I was surfing the internet on my phone. "Guess what I've just done?" I say, not taking my eyes off the phone. "I'm going to take part in Race for Life. I've decided to challenge myself and complete 10km". Now, this may not be a challenge for some. However for somebody who had not been near a gym since 2010 and had given birth 6 weeks ago, this was a very big challenge.
With Gary home to look after Darcey, I started my race training. It took a lot of motivation and there were many times when I was close to giving up but I stuck it out. By the time the race day came around I was ready.
I amazed myself and probably most of my family and friends by completing the 10km in 1hr 9mins. More importantly I raised just under £1500 for Cancer Research. I knew I couldn't really help Gary but I felt by raising money and pushing my own body to its limit, I was helping in some way.
The calm before the storm
Amazingly, we did soon settle into a "normal" life. Perhaps not normal to those in the outside world but it was our "new normal". I won't deny that it was easy, for it wasn't, but we soon settled into new routines and managed to get on with daily life.
The usual newborn routines of bottle making and nappy changing were interspersed with the not so usual hospital visits of blood tests, consultant appointments and chemo days. In between we also had the school run and various school parent events. Suffice to say I was kept busy during my maternity leave.
In the early months of Gary's chemo treatment and during the days when Gary's strength had returned, we were lucky to spend quality family time with our newborn. Gary took over a lot of the daytime care for Darcey which meant I could go running in an attempt to loose the baby weight. We also took the opportunity to go out for leisurely days out whilst Nathan was at school or my favourite way to spend maternity leave - going out for coffee and cake. I'm sure sales of Costa (other coffee shops are available) quadrupled during the months of April to August 2015.
It was at these moments, that for a few moments I forgot that Gary was battling cancer and I can actually say that we had fun and enjoyed ourselves. On the days that Gary was fit and well, I had an extra pair of hands around the house and as Gary was home I was able to catch up on much needed sleep whist Gary entertained Darcey. It also meant that household chores were completed during the week, so weekends were dedicated to our new family.
In the hope of restoring Nathan to his usual non-angry self, I piled on the love and affection to him. Unfortunately, this was at times to the detriment of my relationship with Darcey as she started to favour Gary over me. This resulted in a complete mix of emotions for me to deal with. On one hand, I was pleased that Nathan was progressing and getting back to normal and I was also happy that Gary was spending such quality time with his little girl. On the downside, I felt really put out. I had gone through the pain of childbirth and the even more painful trying to get my body back to normal after childbirth. I carried Darcey for 9months and was the one who was getting up every night for night feeds (and to look after Nathan), yet I didn't get the cuddles or smiles that a Mother so dearly craves for. Looking back on this time it was clearly the hormones playing up but I was feeling pretty miffed by this lack of love for me.
There are moments in life that are just "perfect". For me, my perfect moment was in August 2015, sat on the decking of our mobile home in France. Nathan was playing on his tablet, Darcey was bouncing in her baby chair, Gary was cooking on the BBQ with a beer in hand and I was sat at the table watching my family. Everyone was content, loving life and enjoying living. It was perfect. We were a normal young family enjoying a family holiday.
Gary had stopped his chemo mid July so we could enjoy the summer holidays without feelings of sickness or tiredness. At the last check up before the holidays we were told that the chemo had done the job for the bowel cancer as the tumour had stopped growing. It hadn't shrunk but it hadn't grown either so this was good news. Unfortunately the situation with the bile duct cancer had not improved so another type of chemo was needed. However despite this the Doctors gave the go ahead for us to go on holiday and with good news regarding the bowel cancer we set off to enjoy the holidays.
We had no idea at the time that this would be our last holiday as a family of 4 and as we sat around enjoying life waiting for Gary to cook the BBQ that evening, these thoughts were far from our mind.
Nathan was tasked with completing a diary of his summer holidays for his school homework. Despite a few battles he did write a daily journal of his holiday activities. This included a trip to Northern Ireland to introduce Darcey to the Molloy side of the family, a visit to see friends in North England plus the holiday in France. We added several photos to provide wonderful memories. This diary is now extremely precious. A wonderful reminder of the amazing summer of 2015. Our final holiday with Daddy.