I’d love to hear more about how having a child has affected your caregiving, and vice versa, if you feel comfortable – it was just something you mentioned before, for example, that Junior never slept between you because of Mr. Juniper’s medication. [M] QoB – Caregiving: A Quickie
In a few week’s time, Juniper Junior is going to be five – our baby is growing up — there’s no escaping it. The effect he had on my caregiving, Mr. Juniper and our lives in general? It began when, well, he began. Or at least, a few weeks after that point.
To add a little context to the early part of our journey as parents, my pregnancy was not of the glowing type. It was of the throwing up and sleeping type. As in, when I wasn’t throwing up, I was sleeping. If I wasn’t doing either of those, I was feeling hideous and trying not to fall asleep. This, as can possibly be guessed, had an impact on our life. There was the “ordinary” impact but then there was the caregiving impact. Whereas I had always gone with Mr. Juniper to Accident & Emergency, as the weeks went on, I could go with him less and less often. Anecdote time: we were there one morning because Mr. Juniper needed treatment and while the nurse was treating him, I fainted and promptly threw up afterwards. Much amusement was had.
The hardest part of my pregnancy, in terms of caregiving, was that Mr. Juniper was without proper treatment and support for a considerable length of time. It wasn’t until I was six months pregnant that we moved closer to my family and, at long, long last, Mr. Juniper began to receive good psychiatric care. The impact of this was that, for those first six months, we were managing my being pregnant while he received psychiatric care that left a lot to be desired. We had the support of my family and our friends, but there was no professional support and that was hard. We were on our own with what Mr. Juniper had been going through. Whilst we had been doing this pre-pregnancy, it wasn’t so easy to support him whilst he was having to now support me, too.
I was able to do but a fraction of what I had before I was pregnant. But it did mean that I developed skills of prioritising that I hadn’t quite managed before. I also got a little more brutal. Before I was pregnant, I treated every hospital-worthy incident the same. You know, drop everything, let’s go. Once I was pregnant, Mr. Juniper found himself triaged before he got near a hospital. If something was, by Mr. Juniper terms, “serious” then I did my best to go with him to hospital. If it was the Mr. Juniper equivalent of a scratch, then he could go himself. I was already late for a date with a duvet. I could still listen, though, I could still talk. Though there may have been the odd occasion where I fell asleep in the midst of a heartfelt discussion. There was also the focus of baby. When things were hard, we could at least go off on a tangent about baby names, boy or girl, who would they look most like. We also tried to just live simply. (This is assuming that we don’t include the fact we married when I was seventeen weeks along, and moved when I was six months.)
Once we were settled in our new home, close to my family, and in a generally happier place, the struggles of caregiving began to ease. Partly because we were close to my family and in a happier place. And also, very importantly, because Mr. Juniper found himself under fantastic psychiatric care – and found himself correctly diagnosed. He at last began on medication which offered him relief he sorely needed with sleep and anxiety. This meant he also had professional support in the form of a mental health team. He had one worker in particular assigned to him. There was someone who was there to support us. I could relax a little knowing that there was someone on the end of the phone who could come around. Who could listen to Mr. Juniper while he unloaded what was going on in his head. Who could help liaise with Mr. Juniper’s psychiatrist. As much as anything, my caregiving was undergoing a change because Mr. Juniper was undergoing change. He wasn’t in therapy, but where there had been incidents generally considered detrimental to one’s health happening easily every couple of weeks, the length of time between incidents was increasing. To a degree, Mr. Juniper was needing more support but it was because the goal of everyone involved could loosely be described as recovery orientated, rather than simply going with the flow of his previously misdiagnosed and mismanaged illness.
One of the biggest changes that pregnancy brought was that my priorities changed, primarily, Juniper Junior was now my top priority. When Juniper Junior came into the world, it wasn’t long before he was introduced to the world of mental illness and psychiatry. In fact, I remember Juniper Junior, barely weeks old, lying on my chest in that way newborns do and falling asleep as I read aloud a book on hearing voices, by Professor Marius Romme and Sandra Escher.
The early weeks and months with Juniper Junior were, in a way, easy on my caregiving because with a child that young, there isn’t the same need to watch what you say, for fear that they will either understand or learn the words involved. The ease that provides is that I could be caring for Juniper Junior whilst talking with Mr. Juniper about less pleasant topics. That didn’t last long. The change has been gradual but it has been there from when Juniper Junior was a few months old. We had to learn to communicate in a way that would be safe around Juniper Junior.
On the whole, this has proven to be relatively easy. It can seem daunting to discuss mental illness when there’s a child in the vicinity but to an extent it can be done. The first point is how to communicate. Mr. Juniper and I often email each other through the day, it’s a safe way to talk about Mr. Juniper’s well-being without exposing Juniper Junior to anything. There is also the simple route: asking Mr. Juniper how he’s feeling and getting an answer of somewhere in the region of good, bad or ugly. The numeric version of this is to ask him where he is on a scale of one to ten, where we are quite familiar with what each value translates to. Then there is waiting for Juniper Junior to be asleep, in which case, we could talk freely. The result of all this, though I have perhaps not illustrated it as well as I could, is that we have learned to communicate in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Something as small as the shake of a head in response to a gesture can be enough for me to gauge how Mr. Juniper is, and whether or not I need to do XYZ.
There are though some discussions which need to be had in which everyone involved can talk freely. This means that when Mr. Juniper has an appointment with his psychiatrist, Grandma Juniper is called upon to look after Juniper Junior. Now that Juniper Junior is older, it means that when he is at nursery or settled in bed for the night, that we can talk freely, too, knowing that there is no risk of Juniper Junior hearing anything he shouldn’t.
In a way, the impact Juniper Junior has had on Mr. Juniper and I being able to talk, and in turn for me supporting him, has been a positive one. We are “forced” to think about what we need to discuss and consider what and who are involved. It is, in another form, prioritising. And there, Persephoneers, is where I’m going to bring a rather abrupt end to tonight’s article. I’ve just realised the time and realised how much more there is to come on parenting, so look out for Part 2!