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The adoption process is not easy, but for some parents adoption it is their last chance at a family.

After 10 years of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments, plus two and a half years of waiting in the adoption program, hairdresser Pina and her husband John were finally able to have that chance.

The Melbourne couple, are one of the lucky sets of parents who were able to adopt a baby boy 20 years ago. Both had wanted children since their mid to late-twenties and after exhausting all their options to have their own biological child, they turned to adoption.

The 10 years of IVF treatments had taken their toll on Pina physically and mentally, seeing her future continuously taken away from her, made her feel like the adoption process would be just another form of torture and in some respects it was.

Still, she felt she had nothing to lose and if IVF had taught her anything, it was that she was willing to risk it. Thankfully, luck was on her side and after 13 years of waiting, Pina and John welcomed a baby boy into their family.

Pina explains how the IVF treatments hurt her. “We kept making beautiful embryos, through IVF,” Pina shares.

“For whatever reason, they never stuck to me. However, I think there is a reason in life, why things happen – I was meant to have Damien.”

IVF is an intrusive procedure that has a success rate per fresh embryo transfer of 38.8% for live birth and 44.9% for clinical pregnancy (ages 18-34) and 32.2% (live birth), 41.7% (clinical pregnancy) for ages 35-38, ages greater than 38 it drops even further.

“They kept saying to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong, my husband had the low sperm count that’s the reason we went on it. As the woman, I had to go through a lot,” Pina recalls.

I was at the point where I thought, I’m not meant to have kids and that’s it, end of story.” It was then, Pina’s husband, John mentioned adoption.

Although adoption seems like a great back-up plan for a family, in reality, it’s a very complex system with the average wait time being between five and seven, if one passes the qualifying stages. Between 2018-2019 there was a total of 310 adoptions Australia wide, 82% were Australian born children and 67% of the 310 adoptions were from their foster parents.

With the increase in women’s rights and family planning and the resulting drop of children in the adoption system, means there are more parents waiting to adopt than there are children needing to be adopted.

Australia’s adoption policies differ depending on the States. In Victoria there are three kinds of adoption systems: local adoption, inter-country adoption and permanent care.

There are also only 13 partner countries with Australia for adopting children, each having independent rules and regulations which can restrict options. Factors such as being married, single, male or female, in a de-facto relationship, one’s age, gender orientation and sexuality can all affect one’s chances of adoption.

The local adoption requirements are less strict, for example a persons’ orientation or relationship status does not matter but there is a demanding application process which examines a person’s life in minute detail.

The biological parents learn everything about the adopting parents as well has gaining many rights, one of which is the right to visitation.

Even though we would be adopting their children, they still get to see them,” Pina says.

Pina didn’t have a problem with this requirement because she believes it’s important for a child, any person for that matter, to know their heritage to better understand oneself.

To be qualified and placed in the adoption program would take two years for Pina and John. As Pina says, “They wanted to get to know us better than we knew ourselves.”

Answering endless questions fuelled a gruelling and extensive qualification process. It was also yet another period of trying not to get their hopes up in fear of disappointment.

The final step, after 2.5 years of the application process, was an intimidating interview with a panel of lawyers, doctors, psychologists and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.

Pina says she thought they were successful because of her view of it not mattering to her who or where the child was from, to her a child was a child and if she could supply the home then she would gladly do it.

Two months later, they got the call that they were to be the parents of a 4.5-month-old baby boy, whom they named Damien.

The first time I lay eyes on him, I just thought he was the most beautiful little baby ever,” Pina recalls.

However, their adoption story did not end there, it has always been in the background through Damien’s childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.

Damien has known he was adopted from an early age. Pina took the approach to start filling him in as soon as he could understand.

Pina strongly wanted Damien never to question where he belonged, she made sure he knew he was a part of this family and nothing could change it.

I told him little bits and pieces and as he got older,” Pina says.

“He knows that he has biological siblings, and yes that was a bit hard, I did not know how he would take it. I suppose growing up he knew nothing other than us; we are his parents- this is his family. He never really questioned it and had no interest in meeting her (his biological mother) or his siblings.”

Although Damien never questioned who he was and where he belonged it was still difficult to understand why his biological mother gave him up, especially when she had children already.

Even though Damien’s biological mother hardly used the visitation rights, as she wanted a clean break, she has been in contact with Damien over the past 20 years.

In some ways it was more detrimental than good for Damien. Each time would raise his expectations, to have some sort of relationship and understanding, only to be rejected all over again.

Damien does not know who his biological father is, although he knows it is where he gets his aboriginal heritage. While having no information on the biological father has been challenging in having real access to the Australian Indigenous community for Damien, both Pina and John made sure he was in touch with his cultural heritage.

“Adoption is a gamble. Any child is a gamble. Whether you adopt or whether you have one biologically. They can grow up to be the best, they can grow up to be the worst they can grow up to be anything,” Pina explains.

It has nothing to do with whether you gave birth or not. In the end it’s all the same.”

Adoption and its process are not for the feint hearted but if fate is on side it’s the best chance at having a family.

Perth Weekend Guide

We’ve found some fantastic fun and engaging things for the kids to do in Perth year-round, all you have to do is choose where to go first!

KEEP THEM ACTIVE

Are your kids bubbling with energy? These activities are sure to keep them entertained all day.

Zone Bowling Joondalup

Looking for a place with it all? With bowling, laser tag, an arcade and yummy food, Zone Bowling will keep them busy for hours. Visit: https://www.zonebowling.com/venues/wa/zone-bowling-joondalup

 

LatitudeAir Joondalup

Take the kids to LatitudeAir Joondalup to climb, bounce and fly. With over 3,000sqm of aerial entertainment, including trampolines and climbing walls, get the kids ready for a day packed full of activity. For more information, head to their website: https://latitudeair.com/?_ga=2.60282477.1790865332.1605578656-66651972.1605578656

The Climb Zone

At Kerem Adventure Park, the Climb Zone is a fun adventure packed experience – with high ropes, low ropes and rock climbing in a safe and fun family environment. Go to: https://www.theclimbzone.com.au

Adventure World

A favourite for the whole family, Adventure World is now open with awesome rides for everyone. If you’re a thrill-seeker, check out the big scary Abyss or the Kraken. Or if you’re looking for something a bit tamer, go see the Hawaiian resort-themed Kahuna Falls. There’s even something for the little ones in the Dragons Kingdom. Visit: https://adventureworld.net.au

Island Aqua Park

Located in Hillarys, this floating aqua park features climbing walls and slides, and is suitable for children 6 years and over. Just make sure to book 48 hours in advance. Go to: https://islandaquapark.com.au

Trees Adventure

Just one hour out of Perth, this action-packed treetop and zipline adventure is suitable for kids 4 years and older, and offers a great range of courses and challenges for the whole family to enjoy. Hopefully you’re not afraid of heights! Go to: https://treesadventure.com.au/park/lane-poole-park/

Bibra Lake Regional Playground

This playground has something for children of all ages, with everything from water squirting bulrushes to educational giant rocks telling local Nyungar stories. Located near Bibra Lake on Progress Drive, this playground has plenty of activities including a double flying fox, rope obstacle courses and climbing frames, and plenty of shade, so you can even bring a picnic. For more visit: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/Recreation-and-Attractions/Parks-and-Playgrounds/Bibra-Lake-Regional-Playground

VR-Arrival

For the older kids, this fun and new Virtual Reality experience is suitable for children 11 years and older. Much more than just gaming, VR-ARRIVAL delivers extraordinary experiences, transporting you, your friends and family into immersive virtual worlds. Boasting the best in professional VR headset (HTC Vive Pro) and room-scale motion-tracking technology, VR-ARRIVAL lets you experience virtual reality at its very best, with unmatched immersion and realism. Walk freely inside virtual worlds and literally step INTO the experience. Visit: vr-arrival.com.au 

LEARN WHILE YOU PLAY

Keep them learning and growing on the weekends, by making their time off fun but educational.

AQWA

A family favourite located on Hillarys Boat Harbour, the Aquarium of Western Australia is the place to see and learn all about the underwater creatures of our coast as you go on a journey to learn and gain respect for our sea life. There is plenty to see and do, including diving or snorkelling with the sharks. For more info, go to: https://www.aqwa.com.au/

Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison has some fantastic experiences such as an Escape Tour, for children aged 5-12; and their making a mark art workshop! With tours for children aged 8-12, the prison is an excellent and exciting place to learn while you play, getting a glimpse into the life of a prisoner at Fremantle prison.  https://fremantleprison.com.au/visit-us/

Boola Bardip Museum

Located in the heart of Perth, the new and improved Perth Museum has finally reopened its doors and has a multitude of fun programs and activities to get up to. From their “Blast off! Stop Motion Animation” program about meteorites and our solar system, to their “Virtual Vortals program” about virtual reality and interactive digital adventures, plus many more. See: https://visit.museum.wa.gov.au/boolabardip/tours-programs-events

WA Maritime Museum

This weekend, head on down to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle to learn all about the fascinating world of the Vikings, with activities such as a Vikings themed game show, a choose-your-own-adventure story, or just relax and enjoy a fun-filled adventure of sailing, raiding and exploring. Go to: http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/maritime

 

Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory

Located only an hour north of Perth, become a rocket scientist for a day with their rocket making activities, and on Thursdays get the chance to become a space explorer with their school holiday program. Visit: Gravity Discovery Centre

SEE THE WILDLIFE

Are you an animal-loving family? There’s plenty of activities to get out and see some furry (or not so furry) friends.

Perth Zoo

A family favourite for wildlife is the Perth Zoo. There is plenty to do, from kids and youth programs to watching live streams of the animals and Zoocoustics where you can see some of the best emerging Australian musicians with your loved ones. Set in the lush gardens of the Zoo, these unique live acoustic music sessions will have hearts fluttering. There will be food trucks for those looking for a bite to eat, or pack a picnic and bring your own food with responsible BYO drinks. General tickets are $30. Perth Zoo members receive a discounted ticket price of $25 (A valid Perth Zoo membership card must be present upon entry).  For more information check out the website:  https://perthzoo.wa.gov.au/programs

Caversham Wildlife Park

Located inside of Whiteman Park, get the chance to meet a wombat, feed a kangaroo, meet the koalas or feed some penguins. Visit: https://www.cavershamwildlife.com.au/daily-attractions/

Yanchep National Park

Have a little explorer on your hands? There are more than 400 caves reported at Yanchep Park, each offering contrasting experiences. Not only this but there are koalas to visit, kangaroos to see, golf to play and the opportunity tolearn about the rich culture and history of the Noongar people of Australia’s South West. For more, go to: https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/yanchep

Cohunu Koala Park

Have a chat with over 30 talking parrots, see dingoes, kangaroos, emus, deer and koalas, just to name a few of the animals that live at this park. Take a ride on the Cohunu Park Railway for $4, it zig-zags its way throughout the park most weekends & public holidays (subject to weather conditions). Visit: http://cohunu.com.au/pioneer-steam-museum/

 

Penguin Island

Just a five-minute ferry ride away, the beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters is an island known for its wildlife. Join them for a cruise to see some dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, as well as the world’s smallest penguins. Plus the chance to swim, snorkel, picnic and explore, Penguin Island is a dream for animal lovers. Go to: https://www.penguinisland.com.au/#welcome-1

Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm

Are cuddly farmyard animals more your style? With entry including free tractor/train rides, a free merry go round ride, free bottle and bucket feeding, and free tea and coffee for the grown-ups, this is a lovely day out for the family. Visit: https://www.cuddlyanimalfarm.com.au

Toodyay Fairy-Tale Farm

Located in the Avon Valley town of Toodyay, this family built and owned farm has a range of indoor and outdoor displays of all your favourite nursery rhymes and fairy tales, friendly farm animals for the kiddies to interact with, and even a vintage toy museum. Go to: https://www.fairytalefarm.com.au

Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity.

Of course it isn’t bad to care about your partner. If you love someone, it’s natural to feel the need to look after them. However, there is a difference between caring for your partner and being codependent. Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity

It’s true; relationships are about compromise. We give and we take. We care and are cared for in return. But how much is too much?

A couple with anchor tattoos

What is codependency?

In simple terms, codependency involves caring for another to the point where it becomes unhealthy. In a codependent relationship, an individual sacrifices their own needs in order to meet the needs of their partner. One party takes on the role of the ‘giver’ and the other, the ‘taker’. The ‘giver’ often loses their own identity while trying to heal or ‘fix’ their partner’s illness, addiction or dysfunctional personality. Eventually, the two begin to rely on one another for relief of insecurity and loneliness, rather than love.

What causes codependency?

More often than not, codependency stems from childhood. It appears in those who grew up in unstable households, where they were exposed to abuse, emotional neglect, family issues, and lack of communication. A dysfunctional upbringing can cause people to develop an insecure attachment style, which can lead to further difficulty in relationships. A person with an insecure attachment style is more likely to become jealous, clingy and constantly seek reassurance from a partner.

Individuals with low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, or trust issues, may enter a codependent relationship in order to feel wanted or needed. If an individual feels they are being relied upon, they are less likely to worry about being abandoned.

But I care about my partner. Why is that bad?

Of course, it isn’t bad to care about your partner. If you love someone, it’s natural for you to feel the need to protect and look after them. However, there’s a difference between caring for your partner and being codependent. Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity. A Codependent’s life revolves around their partner’s needs and emotions, leaving them with little time for themselves. This leads to isolation and loss of connection to friends and family. If your partner struggles with addiction or mental illness, your codependency may be enabling them and preventing them from seeking help. This may have negative, and potentially deadly consequences.

Codependency warning signs

  • You justify your partner’s bad behaviour.
  • You want to ‘fix’ them.
  • You can’t enjoy yourself when they’re not around.
  • You feel like your world would crumble without them.
  • You can’t perform daily tasks, like driving or going to work, without constantly thinking about them.
  • You have no boundaries.
  • You constantly seek their approval.
  • Your self-worth depends on them needing you.

Healing a codependent relationship

If you’ve lived in a codependent relationship for a long time, it can become difficult to notice or accept it, let alone change it. Though it is possible to overcome codependency on your own, many couples require professional treatment or counselling. If both parties are willing to make a change, they can work towards a healthier relationship.

As codependency is complicated, it’s important to find a therapist with experience in dealing with them. A professional can help you to:

  • Identify codependent behaviour and take steps to address it.
  • Work through unsolved childhood trauma.
  • Work on increasing self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Help with anxiety and fear of abandonment.
  • Challenge negative thought patterns.
  • Help you develop an identity beyond your relationship with your partner.

Remember, in a healthy relationship, it’s important to:

  • Take breaks

In a healthy relationship, people are able to function away from their partner. Spend time with your friends and family, go to the beach, out to dinner, to a movie or a solo outing… maybe that shopping spree you’ve been dreaming of!

  • Set yourself boundaries
    • If your partner is constantly texting you, decide that you’ll no longer answer while at work or after a certain time.
    • Don’t cancel plans to spend time with them. If you planned a day out with friends, don’t cancel it just to be with them.
    • Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t feel like spending time with them. If you’re sick, busy, or tired after a long day at work, tell them.
    • Organise a ‘date night’ with them, or plan time you always spend together. That way, you have time to yourself, while still having a scheduled time to spend time with them.

When you have become used to giving and giving, spending time on yourself can feel selfish and wrong. However, self-care is vital in relieving stress and anxiety, strengthening coping skills, and increasing resilience. Whether it’s putting on a face mask, taking a warm bath, or going on a peaceful walk in the woods, self-care can help revitalise your mind and body, leading to a calmer and healthier you.

  • Embrace positive communication.

Be open with your partner and express your feelings. If they do something to upset you, tell them. If they aren’t respecting your boundaries, talk to them. The more open you are with them, the easier it will be for them to open up in return.

  • Trust that your emotions are valid.

In a codependent relationship, it’s common to ignore or hide your emotions in fear of causing an argument. However, in a healthy relationship, both parties should feel comfortable sharing how they feel, without fearing the outcome. Regardless of whether you deem an emotion as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you are entitled to feel it.

Professional treatment

If you and your partner both decide to make a change, a therapist who specialises in relationships may be able to help you. A professional can assist you in establishing healthy boundaries, work on self-esteem and self-worth issues, and help you to recognise unhealthy thought patterns. Since codependency often stems from childhood, a therapist may also work through any traumas or unresolved feelings that may be related to your need for codependency. Overall, the goal of treatment is to allow an individual to regain their sense of emotions and identify which, in turn, leads to a healthier relationship.

Remember: it’s not your job to ‘fix’ your partner.

We all want to support the ones we love. But remember, you are not your partner’s therapist. It is important to love them without hurting yourself in the process.

As children are entering puberty earlier than ever before, sex education has never been more important.

 

‘The talk’ is a phrase that strikes fear into parents, eliciting reactions like cringing, nervous laughter and hope that the conversation is a long way off – but how soon is too soon?

Modern day biological and environmental changes are causing children to enter puberty earlier than ever before. Medical writer, Dr Randi Epstein, says girls are entering puberty at 10-11 years of age, while boys are starting a little later, at 11-12 years of age. These findings, combined with the vast amount of technology and knowledge at children’s fingertips, has health professionals and parents re-evaluating sexuality education.

For kids, the absence of sex education can run deeper than a simple lack of knowledge. With bodily changes occurring much earlier, children midway through primary school who have not had these discussions can be left feeling scared and confused as they enter puberty – yet experts warn this is not the only danger.

Children’s bodies are developing well before their brains, faster than ever recorded. Creating what Psychologist Jane Mendle calls ‘maturational disparity’, a result of both environmental and biological factors. This condition has been observed as having detrimental effects primarily in young girls – although it can affect boys as well.

Mendle says girls who begin puberty early and experience this condition, are “more likely than others to suffer from panic attacks, suicidality, body dissatisfaction, substance abuse, and depression that extends into adulthood”. She also notes these girls are at greater risk of sexual harassment at school.

While maturational disparity significantly impacts the psychological wellbeing of children, having open discussions about sex and sexuality can positively impact children having such experiences and reduce the risks linked with the condition.

There are other dangers associated with leaving ‘the talk’ too late. Children could be missing out on crucial information that influences their wellbeing and safety. In a recent survey of secondary students by Latrobe University, over one quarter (28.4 per cent) of sexually active students had experienced unwanted sex at least once, and one third of students reported engaging in sexting in the last two months.

While schools are working to reduce risk taking behaviours and are educating students about consent – a parent’s role in sexuality education cannot be ignored. According to the Australian Department of Education, parental involvement in sex education “contributes to greater openness about sex and sexuality and improved sexual health among young people”.

While what your child may need to know is heavily dependant on their personal needs and unique development, health experts have outlined basic information your child should engage with based on their age group.

 

Ages 0 to 5

For those with children under five, professionals say to start small, sharing information that will help create clear, open lines of communication between a parent and child. For under 5’s:

  • Teach the correct anatomical terms for body parts.
  • Explain the concepts of public and private.
  • Ensure your child understands the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching.

 

Ages 6 to 10

At this stage in your child’s development it is important to prepare them for the changes they are about to experience before they begin puberty. Having this discussion prior to such changes happening will prevent fear and confusion when entering this stage of development.

  • Teach your child how babies are born, and how they grow inside the womb.
  • Explain puberty, how their body and mind will change as they get older.
  • Explain different sexualities and preferences.
  • Discuss gender stereotyping.

 

Ages 11 to 12

As many children are entering puberty, it may be helpful to explain exactly why these changes are happening, and how to navigate a world in which technology is such a big part of life.

  • Teach the names and functions of reproductive organs.
  • Explain sexual intercourse.
  • Teach your child how to respect themselves and others.
  • Teach basic hygiene practices associated with puberty, for example: wearing deodorant.
  • Instruct your child about responsible use of technology.

 

Age 13 to 18

During high school teenagers are entering their first relationships, and health professionals say it is better to provide the following information before your teenager is sexually active – rather than waiting until it’s too late.

boy dad sad depressed

  • Educate your child on safe sex practices.
  • Explain sexually transmitted infections, and how to prevent them.
  • Teach the meaning of consent.
  • Educate your child on healthy relationships.

 

The top parenting podcasts to listen to right now.

 

The Early Parenting Podcast

Australian mum of two and early parenting consultant, Jen Butler, offers quick tips for early parenthood in her brief, practical and upbeat episodes. Focusing on ages 0 to 4, Jen discusses topics like new-born sleep, breastfeeding, family health and toddler behaviour.

Offering up her expertise as a parent and midwife, Jen also includes self-care for mums, answering questions like ‘how do I know if I’m ready to have another baby?’.

In one episode, Jen talks about dummies, discussing the pros and cons. She says that the dummy can be used as a tool to help others to soothe your baby and warns against introducing the dummy too early. Jen also provides advice for weaning your child off the dummy as they age.

Episodes are very short, considering those parents with little time on their hands, each hitting under 10 minutes.

girl headphones podcast

 

Spot Family Podcast

A deeply informative weekly podcast about children’s development, health and learning. Australian host Heidi Begg, a speech pathologist and founder of Spot (an online speech therapy service), provides advice for parents.

Every episode includes advice from Heidi, interviews with doctors and health professionals, and science-based tools to help children reach their fullest potential.

This relatively new podcast, answers questions such as ‘is my child a late talker?’ and topics such as ‘how language impacts behaviour’ from the perspective of professionals.

Heidi talks about how to fix lisps and other speech issues, discussing the causes and psychological impacts of speech impediments. She explains the different kinds of lisps and the risks associated with leaving the condition untreated. Heidi highlights the impact of having a childhood lisp on educational development – saying that it can cause problems when learning to speak and read in school.

All advice provided is well grounded in research and professional experience, and episodes range from 30 to 60 minutes.

 

Baby Steps

Baby Steps follows parents (and YouTube sensations) Ned and Ariel Fulmer, as they prepare for their second child. In their mid thirties, Ned and Ariel live in LA with their dog and two year old son. In the podcast you join them through the ups and downs of Ariels second pregnancy and beyond.

They discuss the joys, fears, and messy parts of parenthood – reviewing new products, sharing personal stories, and offering advice.

In one episode about sex after pregnancy, the couple talk about the awkward moments and the challenging ones. These intimate stories are often humorous, and touch on taboo subjects. The couple recount their arguments about whether to have sex with the baby in the room and discuss the importance of maintaining an intimate relationship postpartum.

Episodes run for 30 to 60 minutes and focus on different aspects of parenthood and pregnancy. While Ned and Ariel claim they are not experts on parenting, the podcast is candid and entertaining.

kid music headphones child

 

The One in a Million Baby

In this podcast, host Tessa Pebble interviews parents of children with disabilities from New Zealand and all over the world. Every week, Tessa sits down with a new guest to discuss their unique experiences.

Each episode of The One in a Million Baby offers insight into the lives of families who experience the challenges and triumphs of parenting a child with special needs.

Many guests on the podcast are parents, advocates and educators for children with disabilities – and offer advice and personal stories. In her third episode Tessa explores the challenges Beth Armstrong faced when trying to find suitable education for her disabled daughter. Beth’s child Molly, has ADHD, Autism and is partially blind. In an engaging and heartfelt conversation, Beth explains her struggles against an education system not suited to disabled children.

Having lost her first child to Charge Syndrome (a rare genetic disorder that causes life threatening birth defects) at only 10 months of age, Tessa explores parenting children with disabilities through a unique perspective. Understanding and empathising with guests as they share their own stories. Episodes run for 30 to 60 minutes.

 

Spawned

Joint founders of CoolMomPicks.com, Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase are parents and writers. In their podcast Spawned, the two women sit down and discuss challenges affecting today’s parents. Each episode focuses on a new topic – such as parenting culture, general tips and tricks, and interviews with celebrity guests.

The podcast features a wide variety of guests, and examines challenges such as raising unplugged kids, and discipline.

One of the guests, psychologist Mike Brooks, discusses how to effectively reduce screen time for children. The hosts and Brooks examine the issue together, while Brooks provides practical advice for listeners.

The hosts provide entertaining and comedic stories and discussions, usually ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. Liz, Kristen and their guests work together to decipher modern parenting issues– providing different perspectives on today’s biggest parenting concerns.

 

 

Perth primary school student, Elissa Bolton, was devastated when she saw a homeless man outside of a shop in Leederville, Perth. She shares, “I came home, I went into my bed and I started crying.”  

Soon after, Elissa and her mum, Rachel sat down to formulate a plan.

“We thought of the project Spread the Warmth,” Elissa says, “Where we collect winter gear such as beanies, gloves, blankets, jeans, jackets and other stuff.  

We have some collection points which are at a few places, and then we collect them and take them to Uniting WA in the city. They take it to homeless people in the streets.” 

Uniting WA provides community services and support to those experiencing complex challenges in the Great Southern and Perth Metro area. More than 9000 people are homeless in Western Australia, 58 per cent of which are male and one in five are aged 25 to 34. 

Starting the project in April this year, Elissa took on a workload that kept her busy during isolation. She started by recording a video campaign to connect with businesses and the community. Elissa has now set up collection boxes at 25 businesses in WA, from Kalamunda to Narambeen and Calingiri 

Elissa’s mother, Rachel says, “It gained momentum; it went huge. We had written down four or five businesses, and within a week there were about 15.” 

Elissa and Rachel wanted to involve the community in the project, creating a ripple effect of conversations around homelessness with businesses and friends.  

“We tried to do some research into what it means to be homeless, because for an 11-year-old kid, what is homelessness? So, it’s certainly generated a lot of conversation in our own family, and then obviously Elissa’s taken that to school, Rachel shares. 

Elissa says she loves sharing the experience with her friends, “they ask if they can come over and help me figure out some stuff about it, and then they tell their families, and their families tell other people, so more people know.”  

Elissa’s teacher has nominated her for the Fred Hollows Humanity Award. The award acknowledges Year 6 students around Australia who make a positive difference in their community, following in the footsteps of Fred Hallows. Students embody the values of kindness, compassion and integrity. 

Elissa plans to make Spread the Warmth an annual event, restarting around February next year with some exciting new ideas. 

To follow along or get involved you can visit Elissa’s Spread the Warmth Facebook Page.

The nausea, the pain and the mental strain placed over the 19-year-old became too much. She sat in the hospital bathroom, holding herself close, alone yet crowded by excessive thoughts. She lifted her phone and started to record.

“This is so dreadful… this is terrible, this is something I have to do, and I know I’ll get through, it’s just, this is my life for the next four to six months,” she shares. “Day four, it sucks.”

I met up with Emili months after COVID-19’s claustrophobic isolation. The tight wrap of her arms reminded me greatly of the fragility of life. After many months of lockdown, I noticed how her hair had changed. No longer was it a thick shade of dark brown but now it waved lightly over her pale cheeks. Its reflective light brown was highlighted by her wide smile, matching her cosmically brown eyes. Her face lit up the room with a rare positivity, yet her voice was croaky – alluding to the reality of her treatments.

In 2020, 19-year-old Emili Milosevska was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma. Over many months of chemotherapy, Emili has won the battle against the tumour that called her lung home. Emili’s outlook on life remained positive throughout, relying on a number of tools to help restrict chemos intense blow. As the chemo progressed and the negative thoughts shrouded, Emili embraced humour to ward off their ugly heads.

Her Experience

In late 2016, a 15-year-old Emili experienced a nasty, recurring cough. It got worse, and doctors diagnosed her with asthma, but the puffers never helped rid of the asthma attacks.

“The thing is they did the scans… but they diagnosed it wrong,” Emili said.

Then last year the physical pain started. Doctors scoured for an answer, and after the years of suffering, she finally received the news that a large tumour had been discovered. After learning the news, the joy-filled Emili decided to give the tumour a name in an effort to de-emphasise the defeatist grip it would hold over her life. Rob began to press against her nerves, causing such immense affliction. The pain was overwhelming and exhausting. Rob was an unwanted foe, thus began the demanding and debilitating process of chemotherapy.

Her Resilience

The first 14 days of her first chemotherapy cycle brought many challenges. Doctors attempted to find medications that could be taken home so Emili could continue her treatments in the comfort of her abode. This process, however, was difficult. The medication caused a number of problems that Emili was not equipped to handle.

“I remember that I was hallucinating. I was sitting in bed; I couldn’t move I was so high.” Emili said.

With a hallucinating spell cast over her, she noticed a nurse who attempted to kidnap her. She cried out in horror and began to hyperventilate. The nurse, in fact, had no plan to kidnap Emili, only wishing to continue the work in which they started. In actual fact, Emili had taken medication, anxiety medication, meant to generate a calming effect. However, the opposite occurred.

As the second round of chemotherapy approached, fear tied Emili down. Memories of the first cycle and the torment 11 days spent in hospital had, ate away at her nerves. But her strength and resilience allowed her to face the wall of anxiety as she danced her way into TikTok.

@emilimilosevskaI’m so bored haha. ##foryourpage ##feauture ##fyp ##shakira ##dance ##hipsdonttlie

♬ Hips Dont Lie by Shakira – goalsounds

“You know how positive I am, how crazy, so this process was a lot easier for that, because of my mentality.”

Emili still had a long way to go, not only having to experience the dread of chemo, but she also had to endure gut-wrenching fertility treatments. The thought of children had previously occurred to Emili in passing conversations with friends. She never wanted to go through the horror that is childbirth, so she often thought of adoption. In spite of this, she still had the option to conceive a child of her own.

One night, however, whilst at a friend’s party, she found herself crying in a kitchen, isolated the crowds and absorbed in a phone call that changed everything. The treatments didn’t work, the option was no more.

What do I tell my future husband about kids, how do I bring that up?”

When speaking of this night, I saw a comfort in her eyes. The knowledge that adoption is still an option allowed positivity to take over her young mind. She sat and spoke of her future Gary and the ways in which adoption could be spoken about. Funnily enough her humour began to reveal itself during the disheartening conversation, as the name Gary did not only belong to her future imagined husband but belonged to her hospital IV pole.

Emili’s individualistic experience with chemotherapy was one of positivity and resilience. For Emili she was able to scare cancer off in only two months. She told herself that even though the road was long and coarse, cancer was not going to be the end. 

Her Family

On day four of the first cycle Emili found herself trapped, surrounded by claustrophobic dark thoughts. Split-second conceptualisations of demise began to plague her once pragmatic mind. It was bad. She asked herself, is life worth this treatment? She continued to reflect on family and close friends who became main channel of positivity and assistance throughout.

Whilst we sat eating Emili could not stop talking about the love that continues to grow for her family in which her strength stemmed.

“I feel like it’s harder for the family and friends then it is for the person… I had to go through there’s nothing you can do, but other people have to see me go through that experience.”

With the prescribed medications altering Emili’s hormones, she began to have breakdowns. The strength of her parents shone through during the most difficult of times. A Mum who helped her daughter in showers where the water became a feared enemy of long, transparent glass. When she found herself in compromised positions unable to muster up the strength, her father became her muscles.

During hospital chemotherapy sessions, her father embraced Emili’s style of dry, sarcastic humour, as he began to laugh and joke with doctors.

“Would you give her another bag (of chemo),” he asked the doctor, only to be met with a confused expression.

“Why?” the doctor replied.

“Because she won’t shut up,” he laughed.

Even when retelling the story over coffee, laughter caused Emili’s eyes filled to the brim with tears.

It goes a long way to show just how parents will act when their child is sick, craving to create a smile no matter what. Trying to provide comfort when the idea of such is hard to imagine.

Her Faith

The first cruel cycle led her to want to give up. On the fourth day of an unbearable 11 days in hospital, she sat in the bathroom crying. This became a significant factor in shaping Emili’s idea of hospital, now never wanting to go back. A breakdown was had alone. Emili’s physical and mental state ready to give up. She let it out, standing there unable to convince herself that she could do this alone. Even with the comfort provided by doctors and family, Emili turned to her faith.

 

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My Hair Journey ❤ . One of the hardest parts about this camcer journey is losing a piece of yourself. I went from being a sick person to looking like one but it made me so humbly confident in my other features that I think this was meant to happen. Not only for the hair but this whole journey, to show my strength and turn me into this confident strong person I never knew I could be. . I lived with this disease for so long and I had no idea. Get checked and not only checked, if you don’t feel right push. Because I did and they still mistreated me, till I was finally diagnosed and on the way to healthy. . My tumour has shrunk significantly so to that I say #fuckcancer and I’m going to play with my new hair while I get healthy 🤣❤. Hodgkins Lymphoma stage 4 whoo?? . #lymphoma #hodgkinlymphoma #cancer #cancersucks #hair #wigs #wig

A post shared by Emili Milosevska (@emili_milosevska) on

“I’m giving you my life God, you want to take it away, you want to use it, you want to abuse it, do whatever, but this is in your control now. I’ll be here for the ride and you do whatever you want to do.”

It wasn’t until the journey home days later where Emili sensed a change. The hardest and most draining part of the first cycle was coming to an end and a shift was felt. The pain and exhaustion began to drift slowly away as her father began to drive further from the hospital. Her life was no longer in her control.

Knowing God held her life, she sat back to await the next chapter of her story. It caused her to shift from dark thoughts and the rollercoaster of emotions began to calm. The sense of a higher power taking control over her life allowed the weight on her shoulders to decrease.

From this Emili started to sing again, play music again. She sat in the bathroom singing, not crying. From here things began to look up and as she sat in that car, reminiscing of the days in hospital, the pain that began to fade and her mood began to change.

“You did listen, you son of a gun,”

As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.

Studies discover symptoms of depression and anxiety can be reduced through mindfulness meditation practices.

Studies at John Hopkins School of Medicine reveal a strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and its ability to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

After reviewing research on participants in mindfulness based meditation programs, lead researcher Madhav Goyal and his team discovered effect sizes ranged between 0.22 to 0.38 for anxiety symptoms and 0.23 to 0.30 for depression symptoms.

The Journal of the American Medical Association show these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of antidepressants in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.

“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal explains.

While meditation can be dated back to ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this age-old practice is gaining traction from its ability to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety without the harmful side effects of prescription medication.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,”Adrian Wells professor of psychopathology at Manchester University states.

Mindfulness meditation works by establishing concentration to observe inner thoughts, feelings and emotions while focusing attention on the present moment to not be reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us.

Meditation is a state of induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encouraging positive attitudes to achieve a healthy and balanced mental state.

Around one in six Australian adults now practice meditation, with the number of people who meditate worldwide rising by three times as much since 2012.

With studies revealing that mindfulness meditation can improve anything from memory in patients with Alzheimer’s to insomnia symptoms, it’s easy to see why this practice is being used by an estimated 200-500 million people around the globe.

The University of Oxford released a new study finding mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse of depression, further enhancing the credibility of this ancient practice.

In the study participants were randomly allocated to either the MBCT group or antidepressant group. The rate of relapse in the mindfulness group was 44%, with the rate of relapse of those on antidepressants at 47%.

Nigel Reed, participant from the study explains how mindfulness based therapy gave him life long skills to deal with depressive thoughts and episodes.

“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Centre for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders believes it makes sense to use meditation to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’

“Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that, a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” Hoge explains.

While meditation can be dated back to 1500 BCE the benefits aren’t just an old wives’ tale as science and studies have repeatedly proven.

Meditation is known for changing the way the brain processes thoughts and emotions but new research by Sarah Lazar at Harvard University reveals it can also change the structure of the brain.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program discovered increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, and certain areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing.

Decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala were also found, with this area of the brain responsible for thoughts of anxiety, fear and stress.

These changes matched the participant’s reports of stress levels, signifying that the program impacted their feelings and subjective perceptions in a positive way through meditation.

Evidence from The University of Hong Kong also confirms Lazar’s study with further evidence suggesting meditation practices have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes in the amygdala.

Participants in an awareness-based compassion meditation program were found to have significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity, which may be associated with general reduction in reactivity and distress.

These significant findings explore the powerful outcomes that can result from using mindfulness meditation practices to alter the way the brain processes thoughts of anxiety and stress.

While there is no magic cure for depression or anxiety, meditation brings hopeful benefits for those not wanting to take medication long term, or those who suffer from the intolerable side effects of antidepressants.

Although many studies suggest the benefits of mindfulness for those with depression and anxiety, it is best to consult a professional to find the best treatment option for you.

 

Precautions taken by medical staff left new mum, Jess Bowen, feeling traumatised, “diseased” and excluded during her first birthing experience.

 “I felt like I was diseased. The doctor would whisper to the nurse that I should have my mask on like I had the Corona Virus. It felt awful.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

Melbourne mum and hairdresser, Jess Bowen, gave birth to her first baby on the 28th of March this year, when the pandemic was beginning.

“My pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t have any complications and I was excited to give birth,” shares Jess.

At Jess’s final appointment with her midwife, protein was found in the urine indicating pre-eclampsia, whereupon she was admitted into the hospital and immediately induced.

Jess laughs about not having enough time to gather her things, pack a bag or worst of all, “put on fake tan”.

Being a new mum is stressful without the added pressures of a global crisis. Jess describes her experience at the hospital as “traumatic”. She says the nurses were cold and “on edge with Covid happening. This made them short and abrupt.”

Once admitted, Jess was induced using a Foley Bulb induction, commonly known as the “Balloon Method”, where a Foley catheter is inserted into the cervix and is inflated, with sterilised water or air, over a period of time to help the cervix dilate for birth.

The nurses monitored her during the process by checking her dilation using their fingers. “It felt awful,” Jess recalls. “There’d be no warning. Just enter the room, stick their fingers in and would be disappointed because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. They weren’t reassuring me so it would just make me feel anxious.”

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

Eventually, the doctor arrived to examine her.

“He was really quite abrupt and rude. He basically told me that I had a disease (referencing her pre-eclampsia). I’m a new mum and it’s not really something that I want to hear. He just said I have a disease and we have to get this baby out.”

Jess says at one point she coughed to clear her throat, and the doctor immediately pulled the nurse aside and whispered, “she should have a mask on”.

“It was horrible to hear that. I felt so excluded and was already feeling disgusting from when the doctor called me diseased earlier.”

Jess can’t help but think how her experience may have differed if she wasn’t giving birth during these unprecedented times.

Jess rarely saw the doctor after this. Any interactions from the medical staff were limited until she was ready to deliver. After a day of the Balloon, she had only dilated one centimetre and needed to try another method.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

 

Jess speaks highly of her head midwife, Jenny, throughout this process saying, “She was out of this world amazing, overall an experience from having that doctor, she made it so much better.”

She was then induced through the use of Oxytocin, which is a synthetic hormone that is administered through a drip in the arm to start the contractions.

Jess describes these contractions to be the most painful thing she’s ever experienced before.

 

“Immediately I felt anxious. I felt really depressed. They basically said to me that I needed to try, because at this point, I was feeling deflated and wanted to have a C-section.”

A few hours after starting the Oxytocin, Jess felt a sharp pain to the right of her stomach and had the urge to go to the toilet. The head midwife checked her and told her that she was three centimetres dilated. Jess immediately asked for an epidural, which was a 15-minute wait. During that time, Jess says she dilated 10 centimetres and was ready to deliver.

Jess went into shock and was crying through “the worst pain of her life”.

“Throughout the pushing process, I didn’t opt for any gas or pain relief because I was in such shock. It was a traumatic experience for me with everything that was going on and the treatment of the staff with Covid-19. It was frightening.”

Jess finally gave birth to her beautiful girl, Isla. Fortunately, she had her partner with her through this process.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

“No one else was allowed to visit me in the hospital and my partner was only allowed during a small time-frame in the day, so during the inducing process and after giving birth, I didn’t have support from my family to get me through this. I just wanted my mum there.”

Hours after Jess gave birth, the nurses continued to monitor her bleeding through a weighing process to ensure there weren’t any further complications. Jess explains being “on a high with adrenaline” throughout this and wasn’t paying attention to the rising concern from the nurses as she surpassed a litre of blood.

After 20 minutes from her last check-up, Jess had sat up and explained the sensation of her “water breaking”. Jess lost 1.8 litres of blood and the head midwife called the surgeon. She recalled nurses accidentally dropping blood on the ground and described her room to be a “murder scene”.

During emergency surgery, Jess says they put a plastic box over her head. “It made me feel really small. The surgeon felt bad about it and was trying to reassure me that it was just protocol with Covid-19.”

After this, Jess was relatively okay. She had spent the last remaining hours after surgery with her partner and her new baby girl, but at 5 AM, her partner was told to leave.

“My partner was annoyed but I was still running on adrenaline, so I was less upset. I was happy and messaging my family about the good news and it was just one of those situations where ‘it is what it is’.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

When Jess was finally able to go home, Victoria’s first round of lockdown’s was in full effect and she spent her first weeks as a mother trapped in her home alone with her partner. Jess was suffering from the baby blues and wasn’t able to lean on her family for help.

“It felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I was barely sleeping, could barely walk because of the blood loss. I just didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a single day during the six-week lockdown where I didn’t cry.”

Jess speaks about the importance of seeking help. The moment lockdown ended, she went to her psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressant medication.

“No one ever warns you about the way you feel after you give birth. I felt like it was unusual to be experiencing this level of sadness and anxiety when I have the most perfectly healthy baby girl who was gaining weight. Everyone else seemed so happy after their birth that it was hard not to compare myself to them.”

Isla is now five months old and Jess is feeling tremendously better. The lockdown had lifted so that gave her time to introduce her new baby to her family and friends.

“The medication is really helping. I’m starting to feel like myself again and my partner is seeing the improvements too.”

Even though Melbourne has gone back into lockdown again, she’s sad that her family don’t get to see Isla during some significant milestones, she feels much more prepared and stable to tackle what comes next.