Open Letter to Hospital Roberto del Rio

(I wrote this at Emilio’s bedside in hospital last year, and misplaced it until recently)

Dear Hospital Roberto del Rio,

When my 19month old Chilean son stopped breathing on Tuesday I did not think about the distinctions between public/private, Chilean/extranjero – I did not even think forward enough to put my shoes on. To see my son’s lips turn blue, eyes rolled back in his head and his small body convulse with seizures drove all thoughts from my mind except “save my baby.” Roberto del Rio is the closest hospital to my house and considered one of the best for pediatric care, and as we rode there in a stranger’s car I had no idea of the trial that was just beginning.

I have no real qualms about the care we received in Urgencia  – my son was saved not once but twice and all manner of exams were organized quickly. However when he was transferred to the children’s ward two things happened that was troubling, upsetting and concerning.  The first is that my position as a New Zealander with limited Spanish resulted in a condescending attitude being shown towards me by staff with a complete lack of communication on their part.  I was told that I should not be there if I couldn’t speak fluent Spanish, medicines were adminstered without my knowledge or consent, exam results were never explained and intimate details about my son’s case and our family were relayed to the other patients in the ward. Important questions were even directed to them. I was laughed at during my attempts to communicate (by the doctor no less) and those who did speak fluent English did not disclose this information. I felt abandoned, stressed and worried because I felt my son was not being laughed and instead of feeling support around me, all I felt was attack.  From a medical standpoint, the lack of interaction and interest shown is particularly concerning as vital information about my son’s symptoms were ignored or unheard by medical staff, meaning that they did not have a clear picture of my son’s condition.

The second concern is how my son was treated. He was confined to the cot – his place of rest – during his stay, and received all medical treatments and examinations in it. Twice a day he was left alone for testing for up to an hour and a half. He was not permitted to see his parents at the same time, which in our case is particularly troubling given then the father speaks English and could act as a translator.  My son very quickly began to exhibit signs of severe psychological stress and trauma: screaming, violent behahavior to himself, difficulty sleeping, self harm whenever he was left alone or saw a staff member coming. Staff members made derogatory remarks about him to co-workers and other patients in the ward, spoke harshly to him during testing and monitoring, and at times handled him very roughly (including forcefully administering a blood test that caused him great pain). Each time he was forced to be without me contributed greatly to his mounting terror.

I am disgusted that we should suffer such care and psychological harm in a place of care by the very people who take oaths to protect us. That my personal status as a non-chilean should have any bearing upon the care given to a baby is deplorable. To hear Chileans around me say that I must “suck it up or my son will be punished” goes against the core of biomedicine and of human rights in general. We are just two of many who have suffered at the hands of the system and will continue to suffer unless urgent attention is given to rectifying what I believe to be despicable breaches of ethical conduct.

Yours Sincerely,

Helen Cordery

UPDATE: After concluding our week-long stay at Roberto del Rio, and after having unnescessary tests performed, wrong medicines administered and various conflicting information and advice handed out, we returned home. Over the next few months we lived with a severely traumatised child. He could not sleep alone or eat properly,  developed a morbid fear of strange people and things and lost weight.  It took a very long time for our family to settle back into a normal routine and now, a year on, our son is still terrified of any medical situation.

Roberto del Rio Acceptable Practice Examples:

  1. Urgencia doctors exhibited professionalism
  2. One excellent female doctor in the ward that we saw on the Thursday morning
  3. Quick exams performed in Urgencia
  4. One friendly tecnical assistant during our ward stay.

 

List of Grievances:

  1. Lack of translation, interest in translation or attempts at communicating with me, despite being our son’s carer
  2. One nurse hurt Emilio while administering a blood test and made no apology
  3. One nurse reprimanded us for not getting appropriately attired before bringing our technically-dead son to the hospital
  4. Spinal exam performed without anaesthetic
  5. Three doctors did not disclose to me that they could speak fluent English in the ward, even when I was visually struggling to communicate vital information
  6. The Declaration of our rights was partially translated into English but most of it was not
  7. All exams were administered when Emilio was in his cot
  8. Despite being told our twice-daily seperaion would last 10-20 minutes, one time it lasted 1.5 hours.
  9. Conflicting information from nurses
  10. Nurses talked about our case to other patients in the room, sometimes negatively
  11. Staff directed all questions to other patients in the room instead of to me
  12. At no time was information given to us about our son’s condition, his test results or his medicines
  13. One doctor laughed at me while attempting to speak
  14. Repeated remarks made about my son being “too scared” and that it was “the mother’s fault.”
  15. No attempt to ease his pain
  16. No nappy cream administered or offered despite having diarrhoea that was acidic. His entire bottom was bleeding and leaking green pus.
  17. No help when Emilio vomited and could not breathe in front of the staff
  18. When I needed help I had to repeatedly ask.
  19. Each concern I raised was met with “no entiendo nada”
  20. I was shouted at  allowing vomit to get on the cot sheets
  21. I was kicked awake by a tecnica while sitting on my suitcase
  22. Conflicting medical advice given
  23. Dietary advice given that is not in accordance with common international practices, such as WHO.
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Emilio five days before going into hospital.
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Emilio five days in to his hospital stay and finally lucid.
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Emilio  five months after his hospital visit

 

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Mummy Diaries: When It Doesn´t Work

Tomorrow is Mothers Day! On my street there is a party amosphere in the air and next door Jose’s family have prepared a lavish display of bouquets and ubiquetous roses to sell to our unprepared neighbours.   I have no doubt that the usual empanadas and ceviche delights will make an appearance later, or that they will sell like hot cakes.

In Santiago, any cause for celebration (and sales) are clutched at with fervour. Easter is the same, so was Dia del Nino, a holiday followed with gusto and which I’d never even heard about before coming here.

I don’t like the forced and commercial aspects of manufactured days such as Mothers Day, but I do like the idea of taking a moment to thank and honour loved ones.  Particularly mothers who, thanks to ridiculous societal expectations, often feel like they do 1001 things without much notice. Men have an equal role in the household of course, but it’s safe to say that their a difference between the male and female modus operandi.

Luis avoids birthdays, dreads Christmas and shuns all other “special days”. He really doesn’t have to – saying thank you does not have to come with expensive gifts or a diminished bank balance. Although this day is dedicated to all the hardworking mamas out there (YOU!), I’m about to break protocol and say gracias to the daddy in our household. It is thanks to Luis’ business-savvy ideas and hard slogs at night in the taxi that I have been fortunate enough to work part-time over the past year and be at home with Emilio after my studies concluded.  This is the same hardworking individual who has been robbed at knifepoint and threatened in front of the barrel of a gun over the years – driving a taxi is not a picnic. Thanks to Luis we own two houses and I have been able to discover areas of Chile that are rarely seen by expats, let alone tourists.

The last three months have been a time of unbearable tension in our home, and not really through any fault of ours, either. In a nutshell, we bought a car to rent out as a taxi (as we have done three other times before), of which we needed to buy the rights seperately. Thanks to Santiago’s congestion and pollution problem, there is now a limit to how many taxis can be officially on the road so it is now no longer possible to buy new taxi permission. The normal practice now is to thus buy the papers secondhand.  Luis took out a bank loan to do this, of CLP$9 million. This seems like a lot, but once rented out the taxi basically pays for itself and creates quite a good income (or it did before Uber!). Luis found rights that matched our model of car , met with the owner and went with her to the notaria in San Miguel.  Once there, the notary checked all the documents, said all was hunky dory and cleared Luis to pay the woman. Luis did so. But one month later the notary had gone silent and nothing had been processed. Luis was livid and concerned as that meant that nothing had been transferred into his name and so therefore the car was sitting in the yard … and still a car. The bank loan still needed to be paid.  A lawyer advised us to speak to the head notary himself and demand compensation for our loss of business but, while the man admitted the mistake, he laughed at the thought of handing out money. Another months laters and Luis was positively shitting himself, especially as the police called to say that actually the ID and some of the documents were as fake as Kim Kardashians face  and that he was actually number 5 on the list of taxistas previously scammed.  Thanks to the ridiculous delay in transferring titles, all camera footage at the notary and the bank had been deleted and the notary worker who had authorised the documents had up and vanished.  All the while this was happening the bank was hounding us to make repayments on the loan that we now couldn’t possibly afford …

Luis has since been in and out of the police, hassling them and making statements. An investigation has been launched and the police are finally taking it seriously, particularly due to the grave implications the notary’s involvement infers.  Around the same time two of our cars needed to have extensive repairs done after being crashed by careless drivers, while all our other bills mounted. It’s been a time of unprecedented stress, especially as it came at the same time as 1) my recovery from last year’s attack 2) the quiet time for my work and 3) the awful sickness that my finally falling pregnant heralded (think vomiting blood every ten minutes). To add further difficulty, Luis had just started university as well.

We have fought and cried and despaired and hated the sight of each other and had long absences … but still we survive. We have been together only five years but in that time we have lived through two long distance relationships, travelled together, lived apart, lived together, and also suffered together when our son became gravely ill.  We are together still because we genuinely enjoy each others company and balance the other’s faults out. There’s no-one else I want to be with and I am so thankful that he is the father of my children. I honestly respect and love him, and it breaks my heart to see him struggle.

We are not going to stay in Chile, in fact once we are able we will head out on a new adventure. But through it all and no matter what I will stand by Luis during successes and mistakes, through happiness and hardships. No importa that tomorrow is the Dia de la Mama, I would not be a mother without Luis and I am thankful for every moment that we have.

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Our Miles & Smiles venture has helped enormously as we have been able to do something with the car, so I would like to take this moment to personally thank each and every customer who has booked with us, recommended us or shared our information, particularly the community of English Speaking Mum’s who have so far been our biggest client group.  We have also been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by friends, Facebook acquaintances and certain family members who have reached out during this tumultous time. Another GRACIAS goes to all those English Speaking Mums (them again!) who have helped me on the job hunt, either by taking a chance on me, referring me or continuously booking my services in childcare. Much appreciated everyone!! I’d also like to point out that we are still so very, very fortunate compared to many in Santiago and, although Ojos Abiertos has not been active so far this year, any opportunities that you can think of that we can get involved with to give back please don’t be silent and we will do our bit to do our bit, even if that’s rallying the troops or blogging about a cause.

Mummy Diaries: What I´m Reading

Does anyone even read my blog anymore?? In the blogosphere you lose if you snooze and that is exactly what my brief hiatus has cost me – readers! Why did I take a break (I am sure you are dying to know, WordPress!). It’s simple. I fell pregnant, suffered with the world’s worst nausea known to womenkind (it struck me day and night), got married to Luis and went on holiday with my visiting family.  If you have been following my blogs, you may know that last November I went through an awful Menieres Disease attack that forced me to stop working and basically live like a hermit, but I am pleased to report that come April I am feeling much better and have work lined up again for May!

If you are living in Santiago then you will know it has FINALLY started raining! This is a cause for both celebration and despair because, while we desperately need rain to clear the smog and dirty roads, the said roads and other public infrastructure in the city cannot handle the inundation (it’s not really an “inundation” either, more like a regular day in New Zealand!). If you ever read my article about Huechuraba for @thechileexperience then you might remember that much of the city was built by the residents themselves without  guidance or support from knowledgeable officials. Consequently the tiniest touch of rain causes drains to overflow and roads to become rivers, while the Rio Mapocho literally became an inland sea around the Bellavista/Centro area. The rain also caused contamination in Santiago’s main water supply so emergency measures were enforced, resulting in much of the city going without water for a weekend. Bizaarely, Recoleta was not affected but more upmarket suburbs such as Providencia sold out of bottled water very quickly. Friends that were living in the downtown area reported that they were stuck inside for days due to all the crazy flooding!  Facebook was working overtime as people posted photos of flooding outside their windows – interesting for an hour but after a day I was bored of so many blurry images in my newsfeed, particularly as we were barely affected at all.  And all this happened at the same time Ecuador suffered a monster earthquake – my thoughts to those in Ecuador.

The sun peeped its head out last week but last night (on our first date in an age) it began to pour again. So as I’m sitting wrapped up in blankets and still wearing pyjamas, I was wondering what to blog about and I thought – books! Why not? It’s the perfect solution to a rainy day stuck inside (besides baking brownies) and, as all residents of Chile know, buying a book here is not an easy task because of the extortionate tax levied (sign the online petition!). What follows, then, is my list of all time favourite reads – non-fiction and fiction – to either inspire you to read (it’s a dying art) or to help you make a decision on what to start next.

I’d love to know your favourites too as I always on the hunt for new material! I also have many of these books so if you are local and want to do a book swap please get in touch – I know what it’s like to not be able to afford the crazy prices here!

I also highly recommend The Book Depository which has free shipping to Chile. Books are usually sent separately if you buy more than one, and take around two months to arrive (don’t forget to pay your postman if you want to receive your mail, this is not a scam – it’s the law!).

Books about the Americas

  • 1491 by Charles C. Mann
  • The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
  • My Invented Country/House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • Collapse by Jared Diamond
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
  • How To Survive in the Chilean Jungle
  • The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
  • In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

The Classics

If you ask me every 20 year old should make a new years resolution to read the classics. At 20 you are more mature to stick with a resolution and also (I hope) to continue with a daunting task until you reach the reward at the end. The classics are hard because it takes a while to wrap your head around the strange language and themes but its a bit like taking up running: once you hit the wall and smash through you are away. Today the classics are my favourite genre of books to read.

  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • The Death of Grass by John Christopher
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

The scenes set in Transylvania are a masterpiece of suspense and gothic writing. I can picture each incredibly visually and still get chills every time.

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

This book is a MUST READ although I am not going to lie – the first one hundred pages or so are a bit hard until all the characters and plot points come together

Science Fiction/Fantasy

There are various stories in this section that could be included, but these are books I go back to time and time again.

  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  • Game of Thrones series by George R. Martin
  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Adult

  • Gone Girl byGillian Fynn
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini
  • The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson
  • The Sword and the Scimitar by David Ball

My all time favourite book! My copy is dog-eared and battered from being read THAT many times! If you like history, drama, romance, suspense and exotic locations you will love this story.

  • The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

A mind-boggling analysis of small town life – anyone interested in people and the interconnected webs that are woven will be impressed by this book.

Non-Fiction

  • Collapse by Jared Diamond
  • Tao Te Ching
  • No More Dirty Looks by Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt
  • Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything/In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
  • Thrive by Ariana Huffington
  • Princess by Jean P. Sassoon
  • Primal Body, Primal Mind By Nora Gedgaudas
  • The Honest Life by Jessica Alba
  • The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry

Authors & Series

My all time favourite has to be Agatha Christie – the mind on that woman! No-one can write a mystery thriller like Ms. Christie could and luckily she was so good that she was prolific – there are dozens and dozens of titles to choose from including a world-famous play called The Mouse Trap. Anything with Hercule Poirot I adore (and the tv series starring David Suchet is one of the best shows of all time).

For modern crime writing I prefer Lisa Gardner.  In other genres I admire the skills of JK Rowling, Bill Bryson and Dorothy Koomson.  Also Michael Palin and cookbooks by Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay all attract me to their corner in the bookstore.

As a child I could not get enough of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Dick King Smith, and the various books in the Sweet Valley/Nancy Drew/Babysitters Club/Saddle Club series’.

Going even further back, the Brambly Hedge and Flower Fairies books are all treasures, while Beatrix Potter I love even to this day.

 

Please add to the list!

Mummy Diaries: When Love Isn´t Enough

It is said that depression is like a great hole, black as night and with sides impossible to climb. They say that you struggle with silent screams, of which nothing can be heard of above. Some say it’s your own fault. Others say it is a disease.

I did not fall into any hole – I walked into a swamp.

I watched as my feet stepped into its murky depths until each one became laden with sticky tar, and then I became stuck.  Now I cannot go forwards or backwards. If I look behind me I can see each footprint that I made flashing like a neon sign. The first one I took as I lost my health. The second as I lost my independence (and my job). The third imprint (perhaps the deepest of them all) came as we lost all our money and began arguing over things I took entirely for granted, such as hot water or washing powder. My last step into the murk I was not alone, for I took the baby growing inside me too.

The swamp sits, like most swamps, beneath immense trees with low-hanging branches of leaves. The leaves block the sun just as my mind blocks my spirit. The mud is up to my chest with a touch that is heavy enough to make it constrict. The air is damp, close and suffocating – worse still it is stale because it is as though time cannot move. My heart beats but it takes all my energy to do so.

There is no question of me forgetting love. Every time I look at my son my heart swells with pride and I feel energised with purpose. I am a mother. I still laugh and smile when I am around him, and shower him with kisses.  This sustains me while I live in the swamp … but is that enough? Do I want to just linger on?

If I am honest, I am not sure I even have the energy to answer that question. The hardest battle for any person weighed down with sadness is not living with it, but doing something about it. The resolve to keep going or to pull yourself out of a blackness that is fighting to pull you down, in a feat worthy of Hercules. Harder still, I believe, to give up entirely and let it swallow you.

Chile is not an easy place to have these kinds of thoughts. For although this is a nation that seems to hold doctor visits as important as religious holidays and that overmedicates to the extreme, Chile does little to actually help those that are actually suffering. I read a story the other day of a man from La Pincoya who was struggling with a terrible drug addiction, which was made worse thanks to a past filled with abuse and parental neglect. The company he worked for had a drug rehabilitation programme, which they were very proud of and was a selling point for their business.  When the man finally found the strength to enquire about it he found that the cost was at least double his monthly earnings … soon becoming triple because they fired him immediately. This is not an unusual story, particularly as delicuencia is considered to be on the rise.

This is also not a country that rewards people who think outside the box. In fact, uniformity is perhaps the reason why Chile is now one of Latin America’s most “stable” nations.  It is also one that gives the appearance of equality but has a gross difference in income brackets and lifestyles. People pay extortionate amounts to send their children to good schools, even those these very schools offer an education that is barely en par with public offerings in other places. Girls wear the same clothes and sport the same hairstyles, while babies are cleaned within an inch of their lives and sprayed with perfumes. The same meals are eaten every day alongside the now-expected and recent additions of coca cola, UHT/reconstituted milk, table salt, margarine, potato chips and processed bread (said to be the highest consumption in the world).  Doing something even a little bit different, such as declining fizzy drink for a baby, can be met with sheer disbelief, something which will then crop up in endless conversation after you leave thanks to Chile’s national pastime, the Cahuin.

None of this is unique to Chile but it comes as part of the package that, alongside Santiago’s heavy smog, can make expats feel as though they are suffocating here. Many move with their children and do not speak fluent Spanish, living amongst a new culture that is not particularly open to the new faces and ideas that expatriates undoubtedly bring.

All of us get the blues from time to time, but this effect on a mother in Chile can be incredibly difficult. Mothers, like elsewhere on the globe, get the brunt of the childrearing questions but are also expected to be more than a housewife.  My biggest earwag is hearing that children must go to jardin from a young age or risk growing up with deformed social behaviour (or other issues). It replaces breastfeeding, my son’s attire and his “too healthy” diet as the number one complaint about my parenting – because no matter what my husband might say, all these unusual choices have come from me, as the foreign mother.

But there is no greater hurdle in Chile then when your relationship begins to fall apart. No matter how much your suegra appears to understand you, she is secretly counting the days until her son is free from your wayward clutches. No matter how much your suegro laughs at your jokes, he would much prefer it if his son had bought home someone who came from a Catholic past and didn’t debate his theories at the dinner table. They certainly never wanted their son to bring home someone who was … depressed, and openly so. They just don’t know how to deal with it. Just take a pill and stop complaining – the doctor can fix you after all!

There is also the question of where the children will go.  The second a cross-cultural relationship ends so too does all attempt at normalcy, because the foreigner will always want to leave (scratch that: escape). Countless parents are stuck in Chile for just that reason. Don’t get me wrong – I know there is nothing good waiting for me in New Zealand but at least it’s someplace that I know.

I came to Chile for love and through time fell in love with this place, but there is good and bad here, just like everywhere else.  Life can be really hard, particularly so when you are conned out of millions and Chile rewards the criminal. Or when you are pregnant and have already suffered humiliation after humiliation thanks to the public healthcare system here (stories for another day).

My screams are not silent, in fact they are deafening. “I do not want to be here anymore!” I seem to shout constantly but the swamp does not want to let me go. I stepped in without any money or independence and a pregnancy that was planned during a happier time. But the line between the swamp and the forest is not a clear cut boundary, in fact they are very close and at times merging – just as is the line between happiness and unhappiness. Debt and credit. Love and hate.

And life and death.

 

 

Mummy Diaries: Tribe of Support

All of us know what it’s like to be sad, but not all of us understand what it’s like to be so sad that you want to give up.

Everyone has an opinion about extreme sadness. I am going to call it that because I loathe the term “depression” – there is nothing more limiting to complex human beings than labels. “Why is everyone so depressed here? It’s ridiculous!” a friend once exclaimed to me in New Zealand and I guess it’s true. Did people even have time to be so down in the old days, what with all the washing and chicken plucking and trips to the dunny outside?

I’m actually not depressed. There’s nothing wrong with my seratonin levels or my hormones.  What I have is overwhelming anxiety but the line between the two is fine, and I have been depressed before. What is it like? Imagine waking up every day sad that you did, or looking at the most beautiful things in creation and thinking … nothing. Imagine dreams filled with murky doom and worry causing you to wake up constantly, or sleeping your life away because you just cannot bear it. Smiles would stretch too thin across my teeth and my body would be tense like a violin – this, coupled with being anxious, would make me seem to the onlooker like a crackhead flying higher than some of my neighbours.

Why am I so anxious? If you’ve been reading then you will know I’ve been suffering with my health since November. This is all nothing to new to me – since I was a girl I’ve been suffering in my body, mind racing to a thousand and one planets when it should be in the moment. I’ve always been unsteady on my feet as if my thoughts were weighing my head down to cause me to be lopsided. Doctors can’t help – my ear drums are just the wrong shape – and so I have to push through the Annapurna Circuit just to achieve the simple things.

Depression sneaks up … but with force. Life throws curveballs and unless your steady it can be hard to catch them. My pregnancy came at one of the most awful periods of my life, the details of which I won’t bore you with. If you remember my blog about drawing strength from my son, then you will understand it was the same principal that kept me hanging on when I was pregnant: my swollen belly.  That always-the-wrong-size pregnant ball on my front that kept me awake all night long (hello for the 8th time this hour, toilet!), and that gave me a purpose even when I felt as though I was all alone in the world. I lived way out in the bush – in the middle of nowhere – and with one friend a good hour away. I faded into myself and when Emilio was born I no longer even remembered that I had a personality. I was a mummy drone, changing nappies and breastfeeding day and night, through sickness and sadness. I don’t even remember much of those first 9 months with Emilio but I do remember that I struggled, and that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

But something really helped me during the 18 months of unbearably conflicting emotions.  I can’t believe I’m going to write this but it was … Facebook. It actually pains me to admit that given all that it represents, but when I was all alone and struggling to process overwhelming family drama with the pressure of being a new solo mother, and I have to admit that it really helped me. So when I was holed up in my cave, still horizontal from all the breastfeeding, the connections I made with people known and unknown gave me a sense of normalcy.  They were a band of mummies reaching out across the distance to form a tribe of support.

When I finally reconnected with Luis again it felt like a punch in the gut.  I couldn’t figure out how to pull myself out of the mummy role to be a seperate person. I had forgotten things like sexual attraction or what it meant to laugh at a joke. We faced some hurdles falling back in love and learning to live together as a family. We are getting married in March – how far I have come since moving back to Chile more than a year and a half ago.

Now I am struggling to find the confidence to be alone again after the last few months leaning on Luis entirely. I am anxious and I am still struggling to look people in the eye but I am not sad. I have a wonderful support network in Chile (and I get lots of Emilio cuddles) and I still have my Facebook tribe, which has grown immensely since I started this blog, but it’s a delicate situation, especially when money rears its ugly head (made worse by my difficulty working). So I am baring all today because the connection between your health and your actions is so tight – they must be in balance. When the balance is off life can become really, really difficult, and unfortunately people cannot help what they don’t understand. So I wrote this to draw attention to all the people who struggle to do the everyday things (I am so jealous of people who can walk up stairs properly), or the people who look normal but who are actually fighting a battle inside. Or the people who are really, really sad and who need our kindess, not our cruelty.  Instead of pulling apart, band together. Make a tribe of support – even if all you can offer is through Facebook.

It sure helped me.

If you are suffering with Meniere’s Disease, anxiety or depression and need a friend, please send me an email. Do not be afraid to ask for help and seek medical assistence.

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Our family in 2016

This blog is dedicated to my friends who reached out when I needed it most, Amanda and Melissa.

Being a Minimalist Mummy in Chile

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Nature is the best gift for your child

Last year I read a book that I really loved. It was called “Thrive” and it was written by The Huffington Post’s Ariana Huffington. It spoke about disconnecting from technology and the importance of being present in the moment.  Decluttering my life has been one area that I have really concentrated on, from downsizing my friend list to using my time effectively. I have also removed all the clutter from my home (especially as its tiny!) and donated everything we do not use. This is called “minimalism” and it has been the best decision I have ever made since becoming a mother. These are my suggestions to becoming a Minimalist Mother but in no way am I telling you how to raise your child!!

Guide to Becoming a Minimalist Mother

1) Do not be lured into the “must buy” trap and instead try borrowing before you buy.

2) Buy second hand everything! From breastpump to bassinet, everything for Emilio was used except for a new mattress for the bassinet.

3) Throw the baby books out the window. Watch only calm birth videos (no One Born Every Minute)  before the big day as preparation for how not-scary labour is,  or read the work of renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin. All the books, all the conflicting advice … it all made me feel terrified!

4) Toys and books – are they really interested? Don’t buy alot, and don’t buy anything with gadgets. Keep it simple and let their imaginaton grow. All those black and white special books for newborns was a waste of time.

5) Special bags for nappies? Special toys for brain development? Special clothes? Don’t overcomplicate something that we have been doing for generations. These are all things that companies pitch you to buy their product. Just use a normal bag you know?!

6) Don’t automatically give your child a dummy for no reason because you start a habit that they may be perfectly capable of working out on their own.

7) We co-slept for the first three weeks and then Emilio moved into a bassinet beside me. He began sleeping in a full-size bed at 9 months, and sleeping in his own room in a bed at 1 year and 2 months. He never used a cot and the only reason he now has a toddler bed is because his room is about the same size as most walk-in wardrobes. What I’m saying is work out what works for you, and don’t do things just because everyone else is.

8) Feeding. We say in NZ “food before one is just for fun.” Don’t stress if they don’t like potatoes or if their tastes change – that’s normal. Just lead by example and eat your veges and soon they will follow suit – especially if you don’t offer other choices and limit snacking between meals.

9) Donate all toys and books that your child is not interested in.  There are plenty of organizations that will put them to better use. Plus kids are not interested clutter

10) Do not feel bad about requesting what you need as presents

12) Rotating toys and books is a great idea to keep toys interesting.

13) Buy what is age-appropriate for your child unless they show an interest. So don’t buy toys for big kids if your child is a tot unless you want it to collect dust.

14) Designate certain areas for toys or reading. This helps keep areas tidy and children love order (deep down – you will be surprised).

15) Try making your own toys! Emilio had no interest at all in toys with lots of lights and buttons, but he did enjoy a bowl of pegs and my keys.  When he got older I made him a busy board with locks and latches, and I attached two wheels on something so that he could spin them to his hearts content (he was obsessed!). I also liked looking up Montessori Busy Basket ideas.  Other ideas: a bowl of rice or pasta, water and ice cubes (supervise), water bottle or container filled with things they can push inside.

16) We did reusable cloths as baby wipes and just washed them when they were dirty. We had no changing table, just a mat on the floor.

17) Lay your baby under a tree – they will be amazed by the leaves and branches.

18) Stick to a routine especially at night time but don’t freak out if it breaks from time to time.

19) Enjoy time away from your child regularly for sanity of mind

20) Do not overwhelm your child with toys. We do one special present for Christmas and birthdays, and a special Family Fun Day.

21) Same goes with clothes. Just what they need. Especially when they are babies – who really cares about the label or what the tshirt says when its covered with food or saliva or spit? Or worse?!

22) Emilio loved chewing on watermelon when he was teething and wasn’t much interested in any other remedy. Think outside the box if nothing else is working!

23) We never really used a highchair! He ate on a mat on the floor and when he was older he sat on his own little table, and now he sits at the big table with us. We also only used the sling until Emilio was 9 months, when we got our first pushchair.

24) Make your baby food! Put aside a day to do lots of cooking then freeze. When they get older, just make sure there are always leftovers so you are always prepared in an emergency!

My Must Buys for Baby:

  1. Co-sleeper
  2. play mat
  3. Moby wrap
  4. Bibs that cover as much as possible
  5. reusable cloths
  6. Toys: blocks, a wooden walker, a rattle
  7. Books: Dear Zoo, Hungry Caterpillar

For the Toddler:

  1. Giraffes Can’t Dance
  2. Train Set
  3. Shape sorters
  4. Ball
  5. Thomas the Tank soundtrack (a choir of children singing lovely songs)
  6. A special mug or plate – helps them
  7. Anything that makes music – Emilio LOVES the harmonica
  8. Paper and pencils!
  9. Pushchair

More Information

Read: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

Stores: Donde Estas Pudu (handmade and organic supplies), Kindertop (Hape and wooden toys in Chile)

 

Different play areas I made for Emilio with everything easy for him to reach, and roated toys in his tray.

 

 

Mummy Diaries: Strength

“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The last two weeks have completely spun me around. Literally. I have suffered with balance and vertigo issues for a few years but last week I finally reached the tip of the iceberg. I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t walk, I was practically bed-ridden and reliant upon help to move around.  It was like fast forwarding fifty years to give Luis a glimpse of our future together once we are married (in March, in case you are interested). The problem when you reach the summit of anything – be it iceberg or mountain – is that you realise how small and insignificant you are (this is especially true now that I have lost my depth perception – I really could be on top of a mountain!)

A few years ago I went through a moment where I really enjoyed marijuana. One time I smoked the legal stuff that you could buy in NZ at that time – basically synthetic weed – and it sent me time travelling to a galaxy far, far away.  It blew my head wide open because I realized how fragile our reality is.  That’s exactly how I feel now – like time is fragile.

When you have a child you automatically assume that you are there to protect them, and that they exist in a role that is only protection. But I don’t believe that this is true. There is a duality between parent and child just like there is amongst all of the Earth’s living things. I know this because even in my darkest moments Emilio gives me strengh.  Before Emilio I may have wallowed in my self-pity, but now that is impossible. Not because I feel a duty but because I cannot actually look at his face and see anything other than goodness. There is a light there, an innocence – something that is so perfect that it cannot be explained or duplicated.

I have cried in front of my son. Is that terrible? I haven’t meant to, I’ve just been so genuinely scared the past few days that I’ve shared that with Luis and E has been around. I don’t believe in bottling up emotions because I don’t like how I feel when thngs are repressed (hence why I have such a prickly personality).  Rather than being confused, Emilio has just given me a hug and a kiss, or brought me his favorite toy. This warms my heart to know that he understands and is emphatic to my needs. It makes me feel proud and fuzzy all at the same time to know that I am raising a boy who gets that emotions are a part of life and not to be afraid of. This doesn’t mean that I rely on him in my moments of need, but it certainly does mean that I draw purpose from knowing that he is there, and that I am his mummy.

I am also one of those wierd people that didn’t have a painful childbirth. There was pain, obviously, but it wasn’t what I had always assocciated as pain. The sensation was unlike anything I have ever known before. There was a moment during the labour when I felt as though it was all too frightening, but I remembered my baby relying upon me and I calmed down … and then out he popped (not quite as easy as that!).  When Emilio was a newborn I had no idea what to do but I followed his cues. He guided me then, and now that he is a toddler he still guides me, albeit with some – no a lot – of telling off inbetween (especially to leave the blimmin dog alone!). What I am trying to say here is that the relationship has never been a dictatorship, it’s been a partnership, a relationship that is fluid and goes both ways.

Whereas before I lived my life, I had no reason. Now I find reasons everywhere – even in cleaning the toilet! It’s impossible to be strong or smart or brave or well-mannered all the time … and that’s ok. I do think there is so much pressure upon us to do things perfectly – or to achieve a lot – so that when you have moments of weakness you feel like a failure. Eso no se hace!! It’s important to remember to ask for help, and not to keep things caged up inside, and one of the best instant remedies is to just look at your child and really see them.  See what they are doing in that moment. How they smile. That image will cut through the pain and the anger, and burn itself right past your eyes and into your soul. It is your children that will give you a strength you never knew existed.

*

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Mummy Diaries: The Rules (Part Two)

  1. You will never pee in silence again.
  2. During said action always be prepared for the door to open.
  3. Just when you think they are asleep … “mama?”
  4. Sex becomes quickies
  5. During said endeavour expect your mind to be otherwise occupied: will we wake him up?  Is there meat out for tomorrow? Did I organize a babysitter?
  6. The floor is now a suitable resting place for food. Just walked through banana? Oh fudge it – have a cup of tea. They will eat it anyway.
  7. Leaving a crying toddler with a babysitter? They will forget you in 5 minutes. Sorry!
  8. TV  the ENEMY … until you have a child! Or a second one.
  9. Boys love anything with wheels. It’s in their genes.
  10. That beautiful nursery you admire? It NEVER looks like that. Trust me.
  11. Everything you don’t want your kid to eat, they will eat.
  12. Brushing teeth and brushing hair – is it really worth the battle? I feel like I’m at the Wall every bedtime (GoT reference!)
  13. Those wonderful perky boobs you have always taken for granted will disappear after breastfeeding. Make the most of their symmetrical shape while you can!
  14. You will never feel shame showing your body in public again once you’ve popped out a baby and then spent a few months popping out your boob.
  15. When baby is asleep its party time!  That means a bar of chocolate and an hour of reading mummy blogs/How I Met Your Mother
  16. You know they say you always have one ear listening for baby at night? Yeah nah, once they start sleeping through you will stop that pretty quickly … SLEEP how I love you!
  17. Pooz is always interesting.  Hello Quinoa!
  18. “Kaka” “poopoo” “peepee” “weewee” during potty-training you will be unable to utter a single other word.
  19. When your child begins solids you will develop an overwhelming interest in nutrition.  Until they become a toddler, at which point you are just happy they eat at all. Even biscuits – oh the horror!
  20. Your bed will become the ultimate playground for your wee churab. That expensive toy you just bought? It will be collecting dust after 5 minutes, or broken.
  21. Playdates will bring out the mamabear. Who will hit your angel child? Wait – he hit your baby? Emilio, Emilio – EMILIO COME BACK HERE NOW!
  22. You will suddenly lose control of your child when all other mums are watching. It will play out a little bit like “Say sorry to the baby Emilio. EMILIO STOP PLAYING WITH THE CAT POOP NOW! Emiliooooooo!!!!!!”
  23. Do not put THAT in your mouth!
  24. Never leave your child unattended with pens, crayons or paints unless you are in want of a new mural.
  25. Alone time with the husband? You’re never really alone. You will spend the whole time talking about the baby.
  26. Babysitters will never match up to your parenting skills. Nor the knowledge of other mums.  Or even the husband, for that matter.
  27. People who offer you advice and do NOT have children will receive an eyebrow raise and a look of disdain. Sorry, did you push a baby out your vag? No? Then shuddup.
  28. In Chile, you will live at the doctors. Or (in our case) hospital ER.
  29. Your child is never quite enough. They are always too: regalon, mamon, big, small, light, heavy, not eating enough greens, not enough junk, breastfeeding, NOT breastfeeding, not sleeping enough, sleeping too much, not talking, talking too much … the list is endless.
  30. They will never look at the camera when you want them too.
  31. They will never have enough woollen layers. Even in summer.
  32. Christmas. You will either be so excited and put the tree up early only to find they aren’t the slightest bit interested, or they like it too much and pull it down *sigh*
  33. Summer in Santiago means only two things: overcrowded swimming pools and SUNBLOCK.  Ahahaha good luck with that!

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A Story of Machismo & Chilean Men

The creative juices haven’t been flowing lately for me.  I actually spent all of last week in bed with a horrific cold that had me shivering and shaking like a praying mantis, which also saw me exclaim that I was dying and that Luis was quite simply the world’s worst boyfriend for expecting me to get up and cook for his family when I was at my worst.

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This last, coupled with the fact that Luis went to have some “words” with our neighbour Jose this morning, has got me thinking about what it means to date a Chilean man. On Friday night I babysat until 2am and when I came home found I had misplaced my keys. While waiting for Luis to let me in, Jose appeared in all his drunken glory and slurred his way through the usual greeting spiel that constitutes Chilean small talk. Luis witnessed this and thought Jose had been way too friendly, something which I then made worse by saying “he was so drunk at one point I thought he was going to kiss me!” He didn’t try to and I said this only because he was very touchey and his reactions were slow from being drunk, but Luis took this literally and went to speak with him today. He told me so casually, like he had just gone to buy marrequeta and asked how the weather was.

“So I asked Jose what happened on Friday night,” he began and I felt my insides turn cold.

“Whaaat?!”

“I asked him what he was doing on Friday night with you. He didn’t know what to say, just ‘no no no!'”

“Luis what on Earth are you talking about? Nothing happened!”

“Helen you told me he tried to kiss you.”

“No I didn’t I said he was so drunk that he seemed like he was about to!”

“Well I didn’t say anything about that. I just said that I saw him from the window and that he was inappropriate with you.”

Now if you date a Chilean you probably have heard something similar.  There is a chauvenistic thread running through many of the men which sees some labelled as machista. You probably don’t want to say this in response:

“Luis, we are not married and even if we were I am still not your property. I can do whatever I like and if I need your help I will ask for it.  Don’t go causing drama over nothing!”

Luis is actually the least machista man I have met here but jealousy rears its ugly head every now and then. My sister-in-law Berny and I often joke at parties that the only way to get attention from our men is to suddenly begin a conversation with another man, because they will instantly appear. Funnily enough, when we went to Jose’s the other month he offered me a beer. I hate alcohol and drink very rarely, and Luis saved me from social disgrace by saying I wasn’t allowed. Usually I never get offered alcohol at parties but its not considered that polite to decline something when offered (my father-in-law thinks I’m SO odd for always saying no to Chile’s famous wine!).  Jose nearly spat his out when he heard Luis and called him too machista.  However, despite all the advances in the social sphere, Chile still suffers in the field of women’s rights. Femicide is a big issue here and abortion is still illegal, and many girls who have been raped never speak out. This is a nation that, until a few years ago, was a man’s world.  Just take a read of Los Prisoneros “Corazones Rojos” a song so damning against the men that it was years ahead of its time:

Eres ciudadana de segunda clase, sin privilegios y sin honor
Porque yo doy la plata estás forzada
a rendirme honores y seguir mi humor
Búscate un trabajo, estudia algo, la mitad del sueldo y doble labor
Si te quejas allá está la puerta, no estás autorizada para dar opinión”

This song, like all Los Prisoneros songs, is excellent and if you really want to know Chile you should take a listen of their music.

Four years ago, when Luis and I were newly living together, we shared with an acquaintance of Luis’ called Carlos. Carlos was a single man who was stringing along an ex-girlfriend named Viviana. Every time he called she came running, usually to cook him lunch. One time he wasn’t happy with the food that he threw the plate against the wall and it smashed into a thousand pieces. I don’t have any idea what happened with their relationship, but I do know that he owed our neighbours money for drugs and he had to leave so fast from here that he left all his furniture behind.

*

Emilio has been playing out the front the last few days with the children from next door. One of them, Antony, is a few months younger than him and his mother is the daughter of Luisa, the street’s main matriarch.  She is friendly enough and quite pretty (except for some of her tattoos) but she is the owner of the most awful voice I have ever heard. She is the woman responsible for the awful screeching we’ve heard out front over the last month during the night. They used to live further down the road but were kicked out of their room for causing trouble. Her partner is very flaite and is not that nice – Luis does not like him.  Together that pair cause the majority of the drama where we live and what is unfortunate is that their son Antony is learning from their behaviour all the time. He’s a little peleador and does not play well with other children – as we have been frequently warned – and the other day he took Emilio’s favorite toy he was playing with and then proceeded to hit him over the head with it. The mum did try to get him to share and she did bring Emilio some toys to play with, but while she expressed remorse Jose and his friends laughed and seemed to think that this display of aggression was acceptable. I asked Luis later if Antony’s behaviour would be considered a good characteristic in chorizo culture, and he thought so.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jose’s daughter is the most sweetest, adorable little girl who is as gentle and placid as a fly, so the contrast between the sexes is very pronounced.

I don’t think Luis has caused any lasting damage with Jose – in fact I’m sure that his proactive attitude lends him respect. You have to be assertive here or you won’t last.  Emilio was out the front playing again this afternoon, and what I love is how everyone – even the most unsavoury looking people – will look out for the children and keep them safe. A random guy even stopped to pull out all the stinging nettles around where they were playing!

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The Mummy Rules: A Guide to Raising a Child in Santiago

Just moved to Chile? Or maybe you have a child with a Chilean? It can be difficult navigating the cultural millieu of any country, let alone as a new parent. Allow me to assist you by providing this most-excellent list of the Top Ten things you should quickly learn and accept in order to survive in the Chilean Mummy Jungle.

NOTE: This post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek and in no way is attempting to be derogatory about any Chilean customs. These are merely my own experiences. My partner could easily write his own list about my crazy NZ habits, most likely starting with “Helen, you don’t even wear SHOES in New Zealand!”

  1. No matter how hot it is outside, your child is always cold and on the verge of catching a deadly illness. A trip out of the house should always include snow gear.
  2. Any cough or droplet of beautiful snot is a sign of terrible contamination and requires urgent medical attention. You should thus make sure that your first-aid kit is large enough to store a small elephant.
  3. (continued from point 2) 37.5c is already fever. Intervene immediately.
  4. Breastfeeding past age 1? Toughen up your layers Mummy, your going to take a knocking!
  5. Winter is, and always will be, a hellhole of multiplying germs, particularly if you live in Santiago and your child goes to Day Care. You must get out of the city Mama, or suffer the consequences!
  6. Jardin is a requirement as soon as is financially possible. If your child can walk but does not yet attend, your playgroup mummies will think you so very, very odd.
  7. The staple food of you infants diet (according to professionals) should be sugar in the form of processed foods, or the chocolate that strangers kindly offer your child when you are not looking.
  8. The general requirement for girls is long hair, pierced ears and perfume. Boys must never appear “mamite” or “mamon” by showing timidity or an attachment to the mother.
  9. Your child should avoid crying as much as possible.
  10. Allow total strangers to touch, kiss and hug your child. And then remind you that they are cold.

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