Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Common Questions about being pregnant in the time of Covid:

It's a weird and uncertain time of us all, regardless of location, social economic status, age etc. However, if you're pregnant it can be particularly stressful and even scary. Let's not dwell on that though, and instead - let's look at how you and your baby can get through this time, safely.

I recently did an Instagram LIVE, on COVID and pregnancy, with Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia of TherHappy.  To read more about her, click here. She is a certified lactation and birthing expert and a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
The live is also still available on IGTV, click here for part 1. and here (for part 2).


Here are some of the common pregnancy and COVID-19 questions we got, and their answers:

1. What appointments are absolutely necessary to step out for?
There were a number of questions about this one, but unfortunately regardless of which appointment you are up for - it depends on your doctor. They will evaluate your risk profile (of the pregnancy), and the stage you are at, and decide whether it is worth it. Make sure to ask where you have to go (and avoid hospitals if you can), choose a clinic visit instead, or even a home test if feasible.

2. Should I have an elective C section?
Having had 2 natural-ish deliveries (I say naturalish as there's nothing about shoving a cantaloupe size baby out of you that's natural), I would not advocate this unless necessary. Nor am I advocating it now. However, I bring it up because its a commonly asked question and something that you may need to keep in mind depending on how close you are to delivery and how bad things are in your area. If your doctor recommends it, based on availability and safety at the hospitals they work at, keep an open mind. It is something that you should go with your instinct on, or trust your doctor about. You can also ask if induction is an option, however, the success of this depends on several factors like the baby's station, and position, so it will ultimately be your physicians call. Do keep an open mind though.

3. Why is your immunity compromised during pregnancy?
Pregnancy doesn't necessarily weaken the immune system but it does change it. Some responses are stronger but many are different - the body is trained to change so that we do not view the foetus as an invader and attack it. Also, hormone levels do cause changes in our immune system. These do make us more susceptible to infections like Covid. Particularly, respiratory issues, can act up because the lungs tend to be compressed by the diaphragm, given the amount of space the growing child in your uterus is taking up. So those pregnant are considered to be at high risk do need to be even more careful at this time.

4. How do we boost immunity during pregnancy?
Be regular with your prenatal vitamins and add vitamin C (if your doctor allows it - which will depend on your reflux, if any). You can get the needed vitamins and boosters through food though - citrus fruits, bell peppers, ginger, almonds and yoghurt all work well for boosting immunity. Keeping an eye on your gut health also helps here.
Don't forget to capture your baby bump yourself!

5. What happens if I test positive while pregnant?
Well, the good news is that Covid isn't passed down vertically. Which means that your baby cannot catch it from you - while in utero. Your physician and everyone else around you can, and is likely to be more cautious, so do not be alarmed by this. Also, try and stay home and rest as much as you can during the isolation period. While the isolation will be the same as what everyone else goes through - your medications and treatment protocol will be different. Go with what your doctor says, and keep in mind that even something like steaming which is known to help, may not be safe for you (as it raises your body temperature). Your doctor will design your treatment protocol based on your risk, and how far along you are. Keep that in mind.

6. What if I live with someone who cannot stay home (or is an essential personnel)?
I have a close friend in this situation and it is not an easy situation to be in. I also know multiple pregnancy couples where they stayed separately initially so that she is not exposed to anything her husband picks up while going in and out of the house. That being said - this is not a luxury that everyone has, so if you do live with someone who has to get out, make sure they come home, don't touch anything and go straight for a bath - hot water bath. And that their clothes are washed separately, and utensils are kept separate too. They need to keep sanitising, as do you. Observe all necessary and possible precautions, including using a mask and gloves when needed.

7. How do I deliver if I test positive?
You can still deliver, but the doctors will take all necessary precautions to protect themselves and the team, so do not be astounded if you do not see the staff getting too close to you, or doing too many check ups. Keep in mind that if the staff gets sick, they can pass this on to your baby post birth, so it's in the best interest of your child too.

8. What are current hospital policies I should be aware of?
A lot of hospitals are not allowing visitors in, including your spouse, even at the time of delivery. This is really scary to many, however, this is an individual hospital policy, and as lockdown measures start to relax, this will eventually get better too. Do talk to your doctor though to make sure you have all you need, and you can even talk to the nursing staff and make sure they know what you need too (other than your spouse, unfortunately).
bigger and bigger...
9. Can I have family and friends visit the baby?
Whether you're in hospital or back at home - do avoid this. It's not easy, but it's in the best interest of you and your baby, at least right now. Once things start to slow down, and the numbers ease of then yes - people you know who are safe and have observed the lockdown can be welcomed by you. With masks and sanitiser in abundance of course.

10. Can I nurse my baby if I tested positive?
While you can't pass covid on to your baby in utero, you can pass it on to your newborn. So until you have retested and tested negative, it is better to pump and have someone else feed your baby than to feed directly. It can't be easy - having to stay away from your newborn, but it's extremely temporary in the long run of things so please take every precaution to protect your baby first.

11. Is all hospital staff being tested regularly?
No! Testing kits are in short supply and in most places they are only testing people who have symptoms (and majority of cases seem to not have any symptoms), so all hospital staff is not being tested. This did differ initially though based on hospital policy, though currently, due to government regulations only symptomatic cases are being tested.

12. What precautions can we take in the time of Covid-19?
The easiest way to know what to clean is to look at anything and everything that comes from outside as if it could be carrying Covid. Vegetables, fruits, staff, shoes, clothes, people, everything. Leave shoes outside the door, sanitise packages, handle things with gloves and masks, keep wipes and sanitiser at the door of your house, and make sure everything and everyone coming in is cleaned. Packages should be wiped down and left open for 4-5 hours before they are touched. It's not easy to be so vigilant, but when you are pregnant, it is definitely a necessity.

13. Can you order take out at this point?
A lot of people would say not to. I personally, at 9 weeks now, can't do without my one meal out a week - I consider it essential. So I would say this is a personal call, but if you are ordering out please be vigilant about cleaning everything, leaving it out and even reheating food as a precaution.

14. We are all home, is this the right time to conceive, or plan a baby?
After everything I've just written, I don't think it sounds fun to be pregnant right now.  More stressful, I would imagine, with concern about getting to the doctor, deliveries and appointments. I think a lot of us have to write off this year - financially and otherwise. Maybe best to wait, though if you are still keen, talk to your gynaecologist.

15. Is it okay to mourn the things I've lost like baby showers and a maternity photo shoot?
Yes, these are unusual and scary times to say the least. I went in to pre term labor the second time, (with a 2 and a half year old hoovering around), and had to delay and then finally cancel my maternity photo shoot (and a surprise baby shower that I didn't know about, but since I had one the first time around it was the photo shoot with my son and pups that I was upset about). So yes it's okay to mourn what you have lost, but its also great to pick yourself up and make the best of the time you have - do digital photo shoots (there are tons of videos on how you can do this, and also photographers who will work with you on FaceTime!), and you can have a virtual baby shower too. It's not ideal, but it will lift your spirits and in the long run be something that you will look back on (hopefully fondly).

soon! 

These are unusual and trying times - for everyone, but especially for you. Pregnancy can be nerve wracking without all the added stress of covid. However, this will all be over soon. The nightmare we are living through and your pregnancy too, and you will soon have your arms so full you won't be to think beyond that (for a little while). So take the time at home to plan, to rest to breathe and just to be you for a little while longer.


I hope this helps mamas, good luck to all and do feel free to reach out with questions!
Much love and more to come!
TKV




All content on this blog belongs to the author and cannot be reproduced or replicated without permission.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

10 tips on homeschooling and staying sane through it:

As much as I love time with my kids, I never ever thought I would have to home school.  Frankly, if anything, the last 5 weeks have taught me that teachers get much less credit than they deserve, and that I don't have nearly as much patience as I thought I did. My kids are 6 and 3, so this isn't a test of my memory or mathematics skills as much, as it is of my patience and ability to juggle their tasks and my own.

Many of us are in the same boat, I hear it's easier with older kids who don't need constant super vision - but I'm sure each age has it's own set of challenges that it comes with.

It's not been easy though, I've lost my patience way more times than I can count. My son tends to zone off and day dream and my daughter is a definite distraction because her work is colouring and painting and more fun. Regardless, as we approach our 6th week, I think I've developed some coping skills to atleast keep myself sane, as we get through the rest of time (however long that may be).

Below are some tips that I hope help you, as I know they have helped me.

For tips on social distancing with children, and keeping them busy during the same, click here.


10 tips on staying sane through home school:

1. Set a fixed start time:
This doesn't have to be unreasonably early, or as soon as the assignments come. It's easier to start as soon as you feel sane. So, we start at 10.45 every morning. It gives me some time to laze around the kids, and it gives the kids time to play before we dig in (and also keeps bedtime a little more relaxed, since let's be real here - bedtime is currently all over the place).
From @mommydiaries on Insta - how I feel by the end of the day



2. Set your own start time before hand, to review:
If you sit first and go through what's due (or what you have to print), the kids have less time to sit around and wait and be restless. So, I usually sit down 15 mins before the kids so that they are not getting jumpy and impatient before we even start.


3. Step away from some of the assignments:
This is a sanity suggestion - for you! I didn't do this initially and then I felt I was screaming the whole 3 hours. Now, I know that when he's copying out math or English, I'm better off sitting elsewhere and then making him rewrite what I need him to, than sitting next to him and getting frustrated if he's distracted, being untidy, or making errors while copying.


4. Don't helicopter:
Make sure you check the assignments before they (or you) submit, but try not to look over everything while it's happening. I realized that I was prompting him, instead of letting him get there, with my own impatience. So it's better for them to, if you step back. And they will call you as soon as they need you - a 1000 times, and even if they don't need you.


5. Divide and conquer:
Regardless of whether you are also a working mom, trying to juggle your own tasks and calls, or a stay at home mom, or even a home schooling mom - crisis schooling, which is really what this is - is a whole other ball game! So, ask your partners, husbands or whoever is around - to pitch in too. I'm only able to pass off one assignment a week, but even that, is a big help! Though I've recently decided that bedtime is no longer my responsibility, on days I have to home school - it makes me feel like a monster to be the only disciplinarian in the house (and I'm really not one, at all, so when I have to be, I hate it.)


6. When you're about to lose it, step back:
This one always leads to regret. And tears. And guilt. And your own tears sometimes too.  So before you yell, or scream or flip out, breathe, count to 10, and step back. I normally save my shower - for this point. Cause it does come, and it's okay to step back - and give them a break too. I step back, go for a shower, tell them to finish the assignment by the time I'm back (if it's something they can do alone), or have a dance party and jump around till I'm back.

7. Work at the pace that keeps you sane:
A lot of people like to break up the assignments and do it in bits through the day. I can't deal with having anything due, hanging over my head. So I prefer to get it all done in one sitting. So do my kids. Then they have the rest of the day free to plan the things they want to do (as do you).
Whichever way you chose to do it - it's fine. Do whatever works for you, and in which way it does.


8. Don't stress about perfection:
I made this mistake too. I erased and fretted and made him change every answer that wasn't right, and then explained and explained and got fried too. Don't let yourself get to that point - they do get it, but your their parent first, and teacher second, that is going to seep through somewhere. So are their vulnerabilities, and the fact that they know they can ask you to repeat yourself and they have spent every day since they were born, testing your limits. It's their birth right though, and it's how they learn where the limits are.  But seriously, this doesn't mean you let them turn in work that's crap, you do let them work to the best of their abilities, given the situation, and lower your bar too. You too, are learning how much they know, and what their academic strengths and weak points are, so adjust accordingly. (I for one, have made my peace with my son's handwriting and I'm trying not to pass on my OCD tendencies downward).


9.You don't have to do it all:
Seriously, there's enough pressure on us as moms and teachers, and many of us are cooking and cleaning and doing home chores too. It's okay if you realise you're not the best, most patient teacher. Your kid is going to cuddle you at bedtime and tell you how much they love you anyway. However, you may love yourself more when you're calmer - so step back when you have to but forgive yourself too. Whether we have internalised what's going on in the world or not - its a time with a lot of fear and uncertainty. We are crisis and pandemic home schooling. Not a normal situation. So make the most of it and cut yourself some much needed slack.


10. Play!
Allow them to play, like free play. Jump around, play with clips, paint, make a mess (clean it up after too of course), and just be kids. Try though to schedule in some unstructured time, because that's what they love the most (and it will also give you some downtime).


I hope this helps mama! It's a weird time we live in, but wishing you all love, and strength and a sprinkle of patience.

More to come, always
TKV


All content on this blog belongs to the author and cannot be reproduced or replicated without expressed permission.

Friday, April 10, 2020

12 tips on social distancing with children:

We truly live in a weird time! I'm someone who stresses about the most random things, but even with all my public health experience and background, I never would have imagined (or wanted to imagine), a day when we are locked at home, and cannot get out for even our basic needs.

I'm an introvert, but I definitely have a few friends I can't do without. So, this is tough for me socially,  but mentally too, as there seems to be no end in sight. However, when I get out of my own head and think about what's happening in the world around me, how truly privileged we are starts to sink in. Not only to be alive but to ride out this storm in the comfort of our homes, with our families around us. My brother, lives alone in New York, and contracted COVID-19, and had to deal with being unwell, and completely alone too.

(Infact, to hear his first hand experience - including symptoms, early signs, medication and what to look for, you can check out the IGTV of his Live conversation with me, on my Instagram @mommydiaries. For Part 1 of Shaun's interview, click here. And for part 2, click here.)


So yes , we are definitely lucky but that doesn't mean it's easy though, to have family around the entire day. Particularly little children, who give you no down time, and are themselves confused with this drastic lifestyle change, and on top of that - having to deal with home school, and distance learning and the oodles of work that are being sent home. Below are some tips on social distancing with your children, that should help YOU stay saner, while at home.
a glimpse of the stay home series


Also, if your looking for entertainment or activity ideas (including recipes and workouts), check out the #mommydiariesstayhome series on Instagram/ IGTV!



12 tips on social distancing with children:

1. Watch their anxiety levels:
Kids pick up on everything (first of all, swear words), but on our feelings and anxieties too. It's very normal to be stressed at this time, and there an endless number of reasons to be worked up from the economy to health concerns. However, let's keep in mind that our kids are picking up on these too. My kids are as different as can be, with my son being the quieter and less expressive of the two. And to top it off, he loves to be home, and keeps saying how fun this is. However, I do find, that he's having more nightmares, is acting out by being more stubborn and is harder to put to bed (in part because of the lack of physical outlets, and also because he's scared of his nightmares). Both my kids have been coming to my bed at different times at night, complaining of bad dreams - including my daughter who has never had a nightmare before.

So, no matter how happy and well -adjusted they seem, they do pick up on our stresses, and they do have concerns and fears of their own too. Let's keep this in mind when we are having adult conversations around them, and when we are communicating with them too.



2. Keep some kind of routine:
Kids do very well with structure and routine. All kids. It helps them feel safe when the patterns are predictable. This doesn't mean every day has to be the same (even though in many ways, currently, all our days are blending into one endless one) or that you have to set alarms to be up and jumping, but it does mean that having some kind of structure to your day.

For example, we are starting our home school around 10.30 am everyday, and are done by lunch time. We have lunch time with my parents (who live in the same building), then they have downtime which can be anything from reading, free play, board games, or limited screen time (while I get some work done), then they have garden time (which my husband has taken charge of), and then their bedtime routine. So, while we haven't kept a rigid schedule for every minute of the day - their school time, lunch time and garden time are at set timings, so they know what to expect with the day.

This is much more fluid on the weekend.  They get more time to play but lunch and garden time is set, as is bedtime. We are on our 3rd week home, but they have known what to expect since a few days into the first week.


3. Answer their questions:
Kids have ALOT of questions. Address them and answer them. If you have things you feel you should discuss or concerns you don't think they are voicing, you should ask them their opinions and see what you get in return. Try to avoid overly open questions like "how are you feeling?" and go for more pointed and detailed questions like "what did your teachers say about this topic when..." You will be surprised at how much more they share when you get to the point (even if it's a seemingly irrelevant point), than when you ask an open question. And this is true regardless of the situation.
My kids have asked me
- Why someone ate a bat (my son learned this in school apparently),
- If their friends are ok (specific friends have been named, who they obviously miss and are concerned about),
- Why they can't see their friends
- Why they can't go to New York
- Why our summer holiday to Austria is cancelled
- If my grandparents are going to die of corona virus, because they are older.. and the list goes on.
Try to be honest with them without scaring them or scarring them. Instead of telling them that you are scared, don't know anything and are worried about how and if this will end, tell them that they are virus warriors who are staying home to protect everyone else around them. Try and put a positive spin on this so we don't add to their anxiety. There are great resources available online to help you come up with ideas - one of my favourites is Bookyboo kid's free printable and personalised book (click to check it out). 


4.  Activity time:
It's essential to spend time doing things with them so that when this is done they remember it as time they got with their full family around, and not as time they spent dealing with the uncertainty that we as adults are undergoing. Play board games, paint, let them build tents and dance it out - with you. If you (like me) are not someone who is super into DIY stuff - that's fine! Read and play old games and do puzzles, or whip out crayons and show them how well (or badly) you draw. But use this time to let them see you have fun. Tell them stories and read them books, just spend time together and bond.

Also, give them time to play by themselves or with their siblings so that you get downtime. Let them put bandaids on their dolls, and race their cars and do whatever they want to - so that you get some time too.




5. Step out of your comfort zone:
For many of us, this entire isolation is a step out of our comfort zone. Even for me, as an introvert, there are family members and close friends, then I hate not seeing, including my grandparents - who are at greatest risk at this point, with this virus. However, I know for me - the other thing I thought I would never do, is anything culinary. I've sent the microwave on fire twice - both times I was home alone in New York, and once was while I was pregnant (I'm still not sure how it happened, I was making Easy Mac, went to change out of my work clothes and when I came back the kitchen was filled with smoke. The dishes were charred too.)
Over the last few weeks though, my children have been wanting to bake! So, we've made a couple of cakes. Premade mixes of course, but for me that's as far out of my comfort zone as it gets, and compared to everything else - it didn't feel that strange.

So do experiment with what you're comfortable with too. We're living in odd times and it's okay to show our kids too how well we can adjust - it will make their journey a little easier (and maybe you will pick up some skills too).


6. Gratitude:
I have whined and whined and whined. About everything. However, I am also reminded (from someone I whine too), that all of my problems - are first world ones. Which only reminds me to be grateful for the comfort and things I do have. (Including my parents in the same building, which means I can see them when most of the people I know cannot). I want my kids to realise this too.
They have been keeping a gratitude journal. For this too, there are lots of online options available - check out ellybean designs (100% of their proceeds go to COVID verified related charities). You can also make them write down things they are grateful for, on strips of paper, and create a gratitude jar, that they can dip into and refresh their memory of - when they feel less cheery.

Most of the things my kids have been writing down - are moments or activities spent with me - which tells us so much about what they are most thankful for.


7. Chores:
This is a great time to teach your kids some basic chores, if you haven't already. They can help you put the dishes away, make the table, and make their beds - to start with.

You may meet some resistance at first, specially if your kids are not used to helping out (like mine), but in time they do get used to it, and it is a blessing to have them give you a hand with things around the house. Specially if they are old enough to bathe and eat themselves!!


8. Use a rewards chart:
This makes the home school a little easier too!
Create your own rewards chart, and give stars for things like not fussing at home school time, eating their vegetables, doing their chores (or whatever else you want to add in there).

We have been using this for a while and it has been a game changer. Under usual circumstances, if they got above a certain number of stars they get an outing to one of their favourite places (I prefer to keep rewards as an experience and not material). However, under current circumstances, they are settling for other things like getting to pick which movie to watch, and deciding what to bake/ eat.

9. Facetime:
Make them FaceTime their friends, their grandparents, your friends, anyone they love! They need to know that we are all in this together, regardless of how isolated. It also helps them feel some sense of normalcy and connection.  I know how much this helps me (not that I've had any time for it with the kids on top of me the entire day).

We recently had a zoom birthday - two actually, one for my cousin, and one for a friend's twins. It does help the kids feel connected, and spreads a little cheer!



10. Screentime:
Even if you, like me, are someone who limits screen time - now is the time to allow it! Limit it ofcourse, and use parental controls etc, but allow it because it will give you some time and sanity too.

You can also indulge in some movie time with your kids. Watch old classics and your favourites with them so that they are not stuck to Tom and Jerry and their animated favourites all day. We have watched some of my favourites in the last 2 weeks: Mrs. Doubtfire, Dr. Doolittle, Sound of Music, Honey I shrunk the kids and The Avengers (the last series, with my son only, as my daughter is still little for this).


11. Exercise
Make sure to get in some time for physical activity with you too. If you want to youtube dance videos and make them dance along, or run around corridors or a lawn (if you have access) that's fine, but get physical, and moving so that they get an outlet too. This will also make bedtime easier, as bedtimes have seem to have gone haywire all over the place.

It will also keep them fitter, and more active and just healthier - and will do the same for you.


12. No awards
Seriously, there are no competitions and no awards. More than the mom community, I find the mom blogger community putting a lot of pressure, on themselves maybe but that is visible to others too. We don't have to all show that we are perfect - I for one am a big advocate of keeping things real and letting everyone know that we are in the same boat - and it's not always sunshine and roses. Infact it usually isn't and currently more than ever - its ok not to be okay and all there.

Please ladies, let's suspend the competitions, lets put the awards on hold and let's put our sanity first. There are days we don't feel all there, there are days we yell and scream, there are moments we just want to hide and cry, and it's fine. Even when I remind myself that I'm better off than many - it's not to reduce the magnitude of what you are feeling in this moment. It's to distract myself perhaps but I also acknowledge that this situation is not normal from any standard, and so the MOST important thing, above all the rest, is to do whatever you can, to allow yourself to feel SANE. Even if that means you spend days doing absolutely nothing. I am quite tempted at this point to hide for 24 hours and take a mental health day. Except I know that my kids will find me in seconds anywhere. But the last 48 hours though, I've done nothing productive (except push myself to finish writing this as I have been trying to do so for 10 days now! Seriously, 10 days. That's how low my productivity is at this point.)

So let's focus on keeping sane, keeping our kids fed and clothed and keeping their anxieties at bay.

Also, I'm hearing from NGOs and all kinds of people connected and working in this field, that domestic violence is at an all time high. It's so scary and sad for people in this situation. My own housekeeper told me a story a couple nights ago about how her husband beat her eldest to death, and she had to run away and hide one morning at 6am, hide out in her city for a month (while cops were looking for her), and then take a train and end up in Bombay. She's been with me for almost 6 months and while I was watching the news last night about this, she told me her story. Currently though, many in this situation are cooped up with their abusive spouses, and children too. Please first, protect your kids. I've heard (today), of women who are being raped while their kids can hear. If you are in an abusive situation (or you know someone who is) - protect your kids - literally hide them if you can, and CALL FOR HELP. Please. For those in India the child helpline number is 1098 (it works from cell phones and landlines too).


Sorry to end this on such a serious note, but it would be a shame to have a platform to reach out and not use it.


More to come!xx

TKV


All content on this blog belongs to the author and cannot be replicated or reproduced without expressed permission.




Friday, February 21, 2020

How to talk to your kids about loss and grief:



I've got a lot of questions about where I've been and why I haven't written for a while. Those on my very active Insta account are aware, but for the rest (and also for you because it leads into this article) --

It's been 32 weeks and 1 day since I lost the love of my life (or atleast that's how long it was when I started writing this article that I have had on my mind for about 30 weeks). That's 6 months and 27 days, during which I haven't been able to get him off my mind for a second.

Also, before you read further and think that this isn't relevant to you because the love of my life barked, unfortunately,  the sad reality of life is that this is relevant to all, and the tips below are applicable no matter what form of life you have lost - human or otherwise. 

Most people don't get it when I say that my baby, my first baby, had 4 legs and barked. Then the entire grief is dismissed like I'm a little looney for still being sad, and I should have expected it when I got attached, and I should have known that time runs out. But knowing it conceptually, and going through it are 2 very different things. And then there's going through it and grieving while you are a parent and have to explain not only your grief, but the loss too, to two very young and inquisitive children. 

It took about 3 months to be fully functional and get out of bed and get back to a normal work routine, and that's after 10 days that I ran away to be in New York away from my kids so that I get the chance to grieve without worrying about how I was impacting them when I didn't feel up to the mark to put on a happy face. I'm not a runner, but literally 36 hours later, I booked a flight and flew across the world with a small box of ashes in my bag. I literally fled. And while the distance didn't make the grief any easier (seems to be that only time dulls that a bit), it did give me space to think about how I had handled my grief and of course, the loss with my children, and also how I wanted to handle it going forward. I knew it would be a long road to some sense of normalcy. 

In hindsight, my kids have adjusted well. I still take it a minute at a time. Coco, for me, was everything. There's no other way to put it. I hugged him through the night from well before I met my husband, and even after we had children who would climb into our bed (without disturbing Coco, of course). He was my first love and the last being who will ever have my whole entire heart, undivided. I spent months - actually 19 months to be exact, running from doctor to doctor and doing everything I could to save him and prolong his quality of life. He fought and bounced back through every hurdle (just for me, and the fact that I wasn't ready to let go - I'm still not) until we had no choice - looking at him in pain, with failing organs, to put him to sleep. 10 years and 7 months old,  and the last thing I said to him was that I will learn to be fine, and to go in peace. And I'm still trying to be fine, one day at a time. I have as hard a time with the fact that the pain is fading (does that mean the memories will too?), than I did when it was at it's peak. I've read a few books on grief that have helped me to accept that the process is different for everyone, which encouraged me to take my time and heal, my favourite of these was "It's okay to not be okay." (for anyone in the same boat, do check it out). 



With regards to my children though, they now have memories that are happy, and look back very fondly. They discuss memories casually, and every time my daughter sees a star, she tells me Coco is watching us and thinks of him (yes, even at the age of 3). My son, is quiet, and doesn't express himself as easily, so I would encourage him (and he would remember on his own), to write Coco's name on our window with a star, using window markers. He did it on his own, and then did it again every single day, for 6 months. It was his way of paying tribute, and he stopped on his own a little past the 6 month mark.  It's the little things, that helped them adjust, so more on that below. 

How to prepare your kids to deal with grief and loss:

1. Give them a heads-up before it happens (if possible):
The last 72 hours, I spent running around headless, first wondering why he was low, then dealing with a cancer misdiagnosis (the third one in a year), then getting second and third opinions, realising it was yet another infection as he was severely immune compromised, and then trying to treat for it. the last 24 hours though were different, as it was evident that the antibiotic injections I was giving at home were not working, nor were the treatments the doctors were administering, and opinion number 4 also concurred with the previous 3 - that organs were starting to fail and that we could either wait and watch and let it happen, or help him through the pain. While I was leaning towards waiting and watching I was also afraid that if he passed while I was sleeping, and at that point was alone and in pain I would never forgive myself. So, yes, at some point I knew that it was our last day. And I explained it to my then 5 and a half year old. 


As simply as I could I said that tomorrow I have to take him to the doctor and he won't come back, he's in a lot of pain, and so he's going to go to sleep (permanently). I still can't get through these words even in my head without choking, but my son was amazing, he wanted to celebrate this last evening. He took out his polaroid camera and made us take a last ever fully family picture.  Something that I am now so incredibly grateful for, but couldn't think of in the moment. The next morning was more painful, as Coco also knew it was his last few hours (don't ask me how, but he did, he was gasping and in pain but woke up and limped to me and then I carried him to the house door when both kids left for school - each time separately).  So they got to say goodbye, so did each family member, and every member of 2 households that interacted with him. Every single person tried separately to feed him, and cried when they realised that his love affair with food had come to an end too. 

I believe it helped. He told his best friend in school that at 10 o clock today, Coco will die, and so even through my euphemisms he had gotten the point, and managed to gather a small support system too. 


2. You can sugar coat, but give them a version that's close to the truth if not the truth. 
Your kids also need a chance to grieve. So please - don't tell them that your pets are on a farm. Or that the elderly are in a home, when they are not. Seriously, I tried to find my rabbits that went to live on a farm for many many years, only to find out as an adult that they were buried in the lawn of our apartment building. 
This doesn't mean you say that they have gone in to the ground and are rotting, but at the same time you can decide what your child can handle and tell them as much of the truth accordingly.

My daughter still asks for Coco every day. She says why did you leave him at the doctor, can you bring him back, and so on. Endlessly. So she has a version where he went to the doctor wasn't well, and cannot come back. And now is watching us from far, and misses us.

My son, has seen the ashes, he's seen the bones, he's helped me bury them. With every question he asked, he got more information, because he needed it, and because I could tell that he could handle it. And yes, at some point, I showed him the bones too (because I had the bones by my bedside for over 3 months after I put the ashes in the Hudson River), and I felt he needed to understand the finality of the situation. And it helped - it helped him and it helped me. 


3. Let them see you at your worst, but also at your best
Like I said, I ran away 36 hours later. But that doesn't mean they didn't see me cry and howl and scream. They also saw me put myself together though and pretend to be okay, suck it up and feed them dinner, and tear up through bedtime stories. They saw me hold my husband and break down and they saw me pull it together when they needed me too. 


I still ran away, because I needed time to not have to pretend, and 10 days wasn't enough, but that's more than I could bear to be away from my kids. As much as I love New York, it's all studded with memories of Coco and I was ready to be back home in 3 days. Even after that, they often came home from school to seeing me still in bed (I would get them ready and go back to mope) , something that they have never seen and something I hope they don't have to witness again. I didn't have to say I was sad - it was understood, and on milestone days especially like my birthday and Coco's birthday, I was able to explain that to my kids too. I could talk about how I felt, and they have taken that in too, and definitely cuddled me a little extra. Even through the bad moments though, I hope they saw some strength and resilience, and I hope they someday understand just how much strength and purpose they gave me when I needed it most. 

4. Don't dismiss their questions
There will be a million questions. Many of them very difficult for you to answer. Go with the truth as much as you feel you can. You may not always be the only one they ask their questions too, and if you are honest and consistent it will be easier for them to digest it, than if they get different versions from other people. 

So decide what you're saying, and then you and your spouse, parents etc all need to be consistent, but do answer all their questions - all 1000000 of them, without breaking down (too often). 


5. Give them a way to pay tribute
Regardless of how much you choose to share with your kids, they will still feel the void. I felt it like a missing limb, literally there's a hole by the side of my hip in bed every night. But to them too, there's a family member missing, someone they saw and loved and were attached to and interacted with every day. 

Give them a way to pay tribute even if it's something as simple as letting them write the name in a corner with a star or a heart. Riaan truly believed that Coco could see it from the sky, and so he did it every day. 

He also helped me plant the bones in the ground, put a sapling on it, and he watered it. We've made pinwheels and put it around the ground there, and on Coco's birthday we decorated the sapling, made candles and lit them, and even cut a cake there and fed it to strays (and our 2 younger pups). Again, this helped him, but it also helped me, and it gave him an outlet to talk about it.



6. Talk about the memories
Don't be afraid to talk about memories. It's not easier to let them forget it. It's better for them to make their peace with it. Healthier for them and healthier for you too. So if something reminds you of the person you miss, share it. They will learn to share it back too and learn that it's okay to share (and that it won't hurt you when they do.) Eventually, these will make you as happy as it makes them. My kids love watching videos of when they were little and most of them feature Coco, and it's okay to let them be reminded of their past. We even blew up pictures and put them around the house. The kids asked for their pictures to be included too, and I have canvases now of all 4 of us with Coco, in different places around the house.


7. Show them that you can be happy again 
I'm not saying pretend all the time - I'm preaching the opposite. Kids are resilient and understanding and able to support you even though they should not have to. But life is up and down, and as parents we cannot always be a 100% happy, a million percent present and permanently on point. I wish for their sakes we could be, but it's not humanly possible, and it need not be - they are not going to grow up in a bubble, and seeing us going through our ups and downs will prepare them better to handle theirs too. However, it is as important for them to know that you - as their parent, and their primary source of security, are okay, and love them above all else. 


Common questions:

Why not just cover it up and say they went to a farm or moved away?
Because they are likely to learn the truth at some point, and it should come from you - they should always trust you the most, and know that you will tell them the truth, even when it's tough for you to say or explain. 

How much information is too much?
I wouldn't take my kids to the hospital or have them witness anything major, but apart from that, depending on their maturity and how you as a parent think they can handle it - feel free to say how much you think is right. 

At what age can you have honest conversations?
Any age! How much you share though is your call and depends on what you think your children can process healthily.

How do you let them see you grieving?
When you're really grieving, they will see it. They pick up on every single thing, so it's definitely better if you talk to them about it, explain how you feel, and offer them an outlet to share their feelings too, than hide it and run away. 


This has been the hardest thing I've ever written, and I'm quite relieved I made it through it intact. Apologies if I droned on too much about certain things (there's no way I'm editing this before posting). 

I do hope though that it hit the point - giving you relevant information to help your kids cope with almost anything.

I'll try not to fall off the face of the earth again ! 
More to come
-TKV



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