As I watched my husband carrying our son around the kitchen island pretending to be a car I couldn’t help but smile. It was the picture perfect moment, all of us together happy and enjoying each others company. I’m reminded in this moment of how lucky we are to have the gift of time. Neither of us are pulled away by work. We don’t have work on our minds. We are free to spend time together as a family and be fully present in the moment. That’s such a special and rare thing to possess.
At the same time though my heart aches that Leo won’t ever get to meet the man his daddy used to be. The smooth talking charmer and the successful, caring doctor of 4 years ago before his voice and his career were stolen from him. That man will always be a stranger to our son. That man was incredible but the man he is today is so much more. He’s everything he was but he’s proven himself to be a fighter. A stroke SURVIVOR who not only persists in his own recovery but also supports his wife and son where he can.
Finns not new to the world of parenting but this time around its a hugely different experience. He was asked earlier today what the best part of being a father is and his answer was time. Yes, having a stroke was an awful, traumatic even for us both but Finn now has the opportunity to do what most men don’t. He gets to spend every day with his son. He gets to play with him, care for him, attend baby groups and take him swimming. If the stroke never happened we may still have Leo, but Finn wouldn’t have the same experience of him.
I also believe that Leo presents a fantastic opportunity for Finns speech development. Reading baby books and trying to learn nursery rhymes are great ways for him to practice speaking and reading. I hope to see him improve and develop as Leo grows, gradually using more complicated books and language. Eventually helping him with his homework. He truly hasn’t stalled in his recovery so far so I am intrigued to see where the next few years will take us.
On the other side of the coin there is a part of me that worries that Finns aphasia may cause problems for Leos language development. I have heard from other stroke survivors with children that they adapt incredibly well and learn to communicate with their parent despite the aphasia. It’s all Leo will have ever known and I’m fairly certain that he’ll end up being able to understand his dad better than anyone else. I just can’t help but have that small niggling worry which I try my best to put to the back of my mind.
As amazing as Finn is doing with his recovery, his stroke and aphasia does still affect our lives. In terms of co-parenting it can feel frustrating at times when Finns limitations get in the way. We made the decision to breastfeed however after a rather rocky start we were combi-feeding for a while which meant Finn could help with night feeds. And thank God he did in those early days when I was just plain exhausted. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t sustainable. The fatigue that Finn felt the next day meant that he wasn’t much use to me and so we agreed that he would sleep and I would deal with the many, many night feeds. In return he takes him downstairs early morning and let’s me get a couple of hours sleep before his next feed is due. Which is great. Until he complains he’s tired and goes for naps in the day. At this point the logical part of my brain is saying poor guy, the stroke really makes it hard for him, but the sleep deprived part of my brain is screaming…you had 8 hours sleep so dont tell me you’re tired!
My biggest frustration however is that he won’t admit when he hasn’t understood something. Instead he will take a guess at what he thinks you mean or he just hears one key word and infers a meaning that he thinks up in his head. Examples include…me saying give him that Teddy bear resulting in Finn undoing the straps to the cradle swing he only just fastened and picking Leo up…asking for that muslin cloth on the floor only to watch Finn leave the room and head upstairs for god knows what…me telling him to always use the automatic setting on the washing machine and you can’t go wrong leading to Finn putting our clothes on a 90° wash (ok that ones not strictly a stroke thing he may well have done that before too!!).
Most of the time these miscommunications are minor but sometimes they lead to arguments because he or I have taken something the wrong way. Or perhaps one of us is tired and stressed, lacking the patience to play a guessing game of what the other is trying to say. Finn feels unheard, I feel overwhelmed. Finn wants space to talk, I want space to rest. It’s a tough balance at times.
It takes a lot of concentration on Finns part to have a conversation as I am sure you can imagine. So when he’s trying to say something he can be very tunnel visioned on that and not as aware of what is happening around him. While he is trying to say what he wants to say I could be half way through cooking dinner and trying to settle a crying baby. He sometimes doesn’t have the awareness to think, this can wait until later when Grace isn’t as busy. I realise though that its not a general lack of awareness, it’s simply an inability to think about what he’s trying to say whilst also taking in what is happening around him. I know I often can’t give him my full attention and I don’t get chance to help him with his speech therapy much at the moment (other than normal conversation throughout the day) which fills me with guilt but I need him to be able to recognise when my plates a bit too full and as hard as he tries to do this, he isn’t able to.
It isn’t all negative though. Sometimes these miscommunications lead to an entirely confusing but entertaining series of events. One of which I like to call Soap Gate… more on that later.