Dawn Tan is sunshine in human form. You just have to take a look at her watercolors of Care Bears, Croissants and Iced VoVos to find out. It does things that make people happy. And very, very hungry.
Anything is possible in Dawn’s world. Take, for example, her yurt on the back of her home in Yarraville, where she teaches art. It had been a dream of hers to build one, so she did just that. She is a dreamer and pragmatist, which, objectively, is an unstoppable combination of things. When self-isolation only became a reality a few days ago, Dawn immediately began offering art resources and courses online to help children and parents unite.
We spoke on the phone on a rainy weekday. Dawn was in her car in front of a cafe where Darren and Baby Louie kindly bought us time. I was impressed by their honesty, generosity and strength, both in general and in relation to a really messed up situation.
Dawn Tan for PM.
How do you deal with this whole corona business?
We try to stay calm and keep going! I think we just do it day after day because who knows what will happen tomorrow? A lock for a month? You never know!
Despite the uncertainty, we decided not to panic because we thought we would not build toilet paper + canned fortresses for protection. Instead, we try to keep things as normal as possible for Louie. I think children are picking up on their parents’ fear, so we’re trying our best not to get carried away by all the inaccurate social media reports and political arguments. We improve our game with our disinfection regime and I wiped every surface. I feel like I’m in week 38 of pregnancy when my only mission was to clean up the entire Hazmat-style house! Call me crazy, but I really love cleaning.
What is your mantra for parents?
Take part. That is our opinion. Darren and I made a conscious decision not to read parent books or to download one of the (parent) apps. All babies and children are so different. There is no “one size fits all”. We thought we would only inspire them and take care of the poop when the poop hits the fan.
Did it hit the fan?
Oh yeah. Multiple times. It was a pooplosion. Especially at the end of last year. Everyone involved cried a lot. A lot of stress. I was basically sent to a psychiatric ward. That is a long story.
We have time if you feel like sharing it.
Well, Louie had severe eczema. He still does. It was difficult to deal with. In the spring of last year it was the worst ever, because it was his first exposure to the hay fever season. I couldn’t handle it. He was five months old and always cried, always screaming, in pain all day and night. His onesies and sheets were often stained with blood from scratching. Darren and I slept on either side of him so that we could nail one of his hands each to try to stop more irritation. We finally put him in an emergency one night after his entire torso went bright red. We were given a treatment plan that did not work after two weeks. So we went back. And then everything was turned upside down.
I collapsed in an emergency and cried my eyeballs. In addition to Louie’s pain, one immediate family member was diagnosed with cancer and another was reported to have lost a job. It was hard to be so far from the family. In short, a social worker told me I had severe postnatal depression and anxiety. I was told that it was okay that I could not cope with it, but it was normal for babies to cry and cry a lot. I was confused because I knew my normally happy baby was crying because it was in pain, and yet I was told to accept it.
Then I was recommended a night in the psychiatric ward, but I refused to be away from Louie, so we stayed with him while he was seen for his eczema. An MRI and scans were ordered, but I wasn’t sure why. We were stuck in the hospital for a week. It turned out that Louie’s MRI should rule out head trauma. Child protection services even got involved!
HUH ?! For whatever reasons?
I was asked if I had injured Louie from a social worker who thought I said “yes”. That was it. I had to be put under supervision and couldn’t be alone with Louie. I couldn’t even feed him in peace. Throughout the week I had to think I had completely lost it. I kept asking myself and wondering how I ever got it so bad. There was so much self-accusation. It broke me. I was “strongly encouraged” to check into a mother-child unit. We were told it would be nice and gentle, “like a sleeping school”. So we went.
We were promised a quiet and nurturing environment, a place where I could talk about my “problems”. But it was far from what was promised! It turned out that the unit was intended for mothers who were classified as a danger to themselves or their babies. There were no locks on the doors. You could tell that everything was “suicidal”. We were checked hourly during the day and even a flashlight came through the door every hour!
I was told the admission was voluntary, but it felt like my rights were taken away as soon as I entered. There were words like “request vacation” and warnings of what would happen if I didn’t return. Sleeping pills were prescribed to “calm my fear”. So yes, the poop hit the fan and at that point he hurled everywhere.
How did you get out
Eventually Darren got pretty firm and insisted that we speak to the chief psychiatrist sooner rather than later. I also spoke to the registration doctor before when we discovered the grossly inaccurate report. My file said I had hurt Louie even though all the scans and checks were clear. Of course I didn’t hurt him!
Miraculously, I was quickly taken to the psychiatrist. And after five minutes, she could see that a big mistake had occurred. I was misdiagnosed. Any young mother would have had a total breakdown given the situation I was in. Simply put, I was under enormous pressure, stress and, together with the lack of sleep, I became an emotional wreck in an emergency. We were told to go home immediately as it would do me more mental harm to be in the unit. The child protection services soon came to visit and apologized for everything that had happened. They explained that it was the first time in over 20 years that a case escalated as quickly as mine! I am lucky!
What were the consequences?
We are in the process of submitting a formal complaint. It’s a ton of paperwork, but we have a letter of support from the chief psychiatrist that should be helpful. It’s not a nice thing to have it on my file, especially when I’m a teacher. We’re just trying to stay positive. It happened and we can’t change it. It can only make us stronger. We are just so grateful to the two nurses in the crisis department who found that something was wrong with my report, and we were in favor of being released. And for all nurses and pediatricians who looked after Louie so much and supported us.
Has experience changed the way you are looking for support now?
Going to the hospital or even driving past it can be quite a trigger, but we’ll tell ourselves when we’re there that we’re there for Louie. So he can seek the best possible medical help. Aside from fear, I still believe in speaking out. I have always. That’s why I spoke in the first place. I think it’s really important to recognize and share what you’re going through. Especially when you need help. Mental health is so important and I think the first step to helping ourselves is to speak up. Darren and I have an open and honest relationship. We share when we’re frustrated or angry about something. We have talks all day.
“This will also pass,” parents say when it is difficult. What do you think about it?
I do not like it. I know it will go away. Louie has had many allergic reactions, some that required ambulance trips to the hospital, and he still has severe eczema. He has relapses almost every other week. Even playing with a light brown bark or walking on a light windy day can flare up for a whole week. He’s never slept that much since the day. He is a piglet that prefers to take a nap and breastfeed around the clock every few hours. Needless to say, he never slept through the night. The one time he did it we thought Christmas was here!
We count our blessings because we know we have them so well. We are so grateful that Louie overall is a healthy, happy and blooming baby. That said, a few days are so difficult. I cry my eyeballs. Sometimes I even regret it and wonder if I ruined my life by becoming a mother. Then I feel guilty that I no longer appreciate him and because I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have children.
Darren and I made our own fertility trip with endometriosis and tricky fibroids. Louie is our little miracle. So we should never feel frustrated with our new life as parents! But on some days it’s just so difficult! People often tell me “It will happen”, but I see it as closing the door for what I feel, and I don’t like that. Whether I have a good day or a bad day, I want to acknowledge it. I feel that in order to become better parents, I have to skip my feelings, accept them, and then go on. There are good and bad days. The ups and downs – everything belongs to parenthood!
Favorite activity at home in the family?
Cuddle in bed and solve a Rubik’s Cube – Louie’s favorite toy. Hah!
Sunday morning breakfast?
Pancakes with lots of berries and honey!
Go to the album?
We are nerds of classical music. We also like old school jazz classics, Etta James or Frank Sinatra.
Starting today, every Friday, Dawn will publish a FREITAGS FREEBIE FUN art lesson on her Instagram TV /. Facebook Page. Simple, easy-to-follow videos for all ages. More great articles will be published next week, and you can buy art from Dawn Online shop!
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