a season of sick

Gevoelig. Sensitive. The most common adjective used to describe Estella since February.

Februari. The month that Estella began crèche.

Vierteen. 14. The amount of times Estella has been sick since February.

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It’s been quite a season. You name a common early childhood illness; the chances are good that we’ve been through it. When E was eleven months old we decided the time had come to enroll her in nursery school (crèche) so that I would have an extra day to work. We quickly found that most of the nearby crèches were full and had a waiting list from six months to a year and a half, so we sprung for a posh one in a nice neighborhood nearby, figuring that enrolling her one day a week for a few euros more wouldn’t hurt us too badly financially (the government here supplements up to half your crèche expenses, dependant on income. And Frans works for a non-profit, lucky us!).

The crèche is in a four-story brick building dating from the 19th century, and is smartly run. There is a fingerprint system that allows you into the gates, and a sparate back entrance for you to shed your coat and shoes and don pantoffels or slippers over your shoes to keep the floors clean for the still-crawling babies. There are at most one leider, nursery worker, for every four children, and all of the leiders have degrees in early childhood development. Estella has a fruit time, a smoothie time, a warm lunch, and on a special days gets either yoga lessons or music lessons. The little ones are taken at least once a day for a walk in the park with giant strollers that seat from six to eight babies. The leiders are professional and friendly, and keep a journal of Estella’s adventures for the day, including what she ate and how she played. Many crèches in the Netherlands are run like this. All of this to say, contrary to the timing, I don’t believe the crèche itself is to blame. Sure, kids are germy no matter how clean their environment, but it’s important to us that E have the freedom to play with other children her age.

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We’ve been to the huisarts (General Practitioner) six or seven times. We’ve made two late-night trips to the hospital, one because her fever was 42.3 C (105 F), one because she stopped crying tears after having chickenpox on her tongue and refusing to eat or drink for several days.

Frans and I are tired. It’s not just the late night trips, or the hours spent cradling your feverish one in your arms, or holding her in the steamy room with the shower on. It’s the worry, the wondering, and the endless researching that can be so exhausting. It’s also disheartening making plans and often having to cancel them. You’re on call, knowing that tomorrow’s playdate or date night can be cancelled because your child could be broken out with spots, throwing up, or develop a sudden high fever.

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I’ve voiced my concern to our family doctors, and they all say the same thing. This is the age for illnesses. Some children are simply more gevoelig than others. She needs to build up her immune system, and this is the best way to do it. The Dutch medical community does not believe in antibiotics or intervening with medicine until absolutely necessary. This is an ideology I’ve come to respect. The message is loud and clear: tough it out. Watch and wait: your geveolige toddler will soon become robust and strong. Just wait for it.

But as a mother, this isn’t an easy answer. More than once I’ve held her and prayed that I could be sick instead of her, or simply for God to heal her body.

I’m thankful for Estella the way she is, the way her body is made with her sensitivity and her immune system and her body’s ability to fight off virus after virus. I’m thankful that we live in a country with a good medical system. I’m thankful that Estella is not suffering from something more serious. These past months has made my heart tender for parents dealing with a difficult diagnosis.

But I sure am looking forward to the healthy days ahead.


My (non-professional, of course) Survival Tips and Tricks:

Prevention. Figure out the amount of sleep your child needs, find a schedule, and stick to it. Enough rest boosts the immune system. We make a healthy bone broth almost weekly, and serve E fruits and veggies at the beginning of every meal, when she’s hungriest. We also try to keep her drinking water, and away from sugars. We wash hands before meals and nap times (she sucks her thumb), but don’t go crazy (a little germ is a good thing). We also try to give her yogurts with good cultures. Do you have any immune-boosting tips?

Fever. Often a good sign that the body is fighting an infection naturally. Don’t fight the fever, unless it gets too high (42 C or 104 F) or is for more than three days in a row. Then try paracetemol or children’s Tylenol (never aspirin!) until it comes down (should be within 20 minutes). Try offering liquids as often as possible. Dress your child in lightweight, cool, breathable clothing. You can try essential oils or natural remedies like I did (diced onions on the soles of socked feet) but a fever is often a good thing. Let it do its work in raising the body’s heat to fight off the virus.

Sleep. Be flexible with your usual sleep schedule. He might need to sleep longer hours if he’s fighting an infection, or take an extra nap, but pay attention to how he’s acting. He may be whiney and clingy, but should be able to look clearly at things and make eye contact. If he looks dazed or ‘out of it,’ you’ll want to call the doctor. Once he’s awake, make sure and check his temp and hydrate him.

Colds. We used a combination of baby nose spray and the NoseFrida before bed. I made my own Vicks Vaporub from coconut oil, Echinacea essential oil, and peppermint oil and rubbed it on her chest. It also helped to stand next to a steamy shower for 10 minutes if the cough is dry. We’ve also made our own humidifier by taking a large metal bowl and filling it three-fourths full with boiling water. We add two drops of essential Echinacea oil, and then cover the bowl with a large cotton cloth. Then we add a bit of weight to the center of the cloth (like a small rock) so that the center is saturated with water. We place this bowl where there is no way she can reach it from her crib.

Vomiting. Often a baby will cough before she vomits (we found). We bought plastic liners for the crib and always try to have two layers of sheets and liners on. The first you can simply take out if she throws up, and then you have a spare. Also important to offer ice chips or water or a popsicle to keep her hydrated. Expect frequent changes of clothes and lots of laundry for a couple of days.

Chickenpox. I know in the States there’s now a chickenpox vaccine, so this one might not apply to some of you. Once or twice a day oatmeal baths (or maybe even one in the middle of the night!) are more than enough. You don’t want the skin to stay too wet. You can take a cup or two of steel cut oatmeal, grind it in your blender, mix it with a tablespoon of baking soda, and then put the mixture in a nylon. Knot the nylon and put it in the bath. If you squeeze the oatmeal-filled nylon, a nice milky texture comes out in the water. After a bath, let the skin dry (lots of naked time!) and apply natural anti-itch cream from your local organic store. Coconut oil also works fine. This too should be allowed to dry before fresh clothing is put on. Clothing should cover affected areas but be cool, nice and loose. Hydration is important, so try popsicles if he or she won’t eat or drink. Nice bland, non-spicy foods are best. Chickenpox break out in ‘colonies’ (ewwww, can’t stand this part) and break out in several ‘generations,’ so the more you change your child’s clothes (3-4x per day), towels and sheets (1x day), the less likely you are to have new colonies or new generations. Toward the end of the chickenpox, when the blisters are beginning to scab, it’s important to apply Vitamin E oil to the skin to protect against scarring. Also, kids are contagious until all of the blisters are covered with scabs, about 10 days. I found that chickenpox is very dangerous to unborn babies (stay away from pregnant women!), adults who have never had chickenpox (especially the elderly), and newborns/young babies. So unless you’re invited over by a family who wants the love spread to them on purpose, you’re probably going to have some cabin fever!

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