Travel is for the birds

It’s the Loeries this week, which means that thousands of delegates will descend on Durban for three days of collecting wristbands for awards ceremonies, exhibitions and seminars as well as excellent parties, and going home with vintage hangovers after it’s all over.

It’s the biggest thing in my industry, advertising, and an event I’ve attended almost religiously for the past six years – which is, naturally, why I am writing about it in bed in my faded purple Mr Price Moody Cow pajamas with a baby snoring gently next to me.

There is no Loeries for me this year. No red carpet, no VIP access, no canapés and no schmoozing. This is a bigger deal than you might think, because it had long since become an annual fixture on my calendar, either because they were one of my clients when I was freelancing, or my husband was attending. The radio station he runs is an official Loeries partner, and he’s already down in Durban.

I suppose I could have gone to the Loeries if I really wanted to. But I didn’t. The thought of travelling with a baby and navigating social commitments that were easy once and aren’t now (do I try an organise a baby sitter? Do I sit everything out and spend days in the hotel? If I don’t, what do I wear now that fashion is the last, last thing I care about?) was too much to contemplate, and I was relieved that the logistics of getting down there and back made it a non-starter.

We’ve done a bit of travelling with Ra-Ra – to Howick, Durban, Dullstroom and Clarens – and none of it has been easy. She’s fine when she’s sleeping, but when she wants Boob, it’s a different story. I don’t know how long this aversion will last; maybe I’ll be inclined to get out more once she gets older. In the mean time, I’m very happy in my pajamas, in the bed, with a sleeping baby and a mug of Milo.

Keeping the boobs going

“I hope you’re keeping those boobs going,” my mother warns me down the phone. Yes, I’m at the airport and yes, I’ve pumped, I assure her. I gaze through the glass at the apron, slick with rain. #badweather is trending in Cape Town, though it’s trending everywhere. My Twitter feed is filled with photos of a tornado that swept past the airport in Johannesburg. Already, some wit has decided that it should be named after Bonang because “they’re both in the business of wrecking homes”.

The queue next to me murmurs like bees waiting quietly to swarm. We should have begun boarding ten minutes ago, but nothing has happened yet. My mother accepts my story, though she’s not happy that I will be back so late. I think of the Medela bottle in its carry bag tucked into the pocket next to my laptop. I filled it in the Slow Lounge, my poloneck top and dress hoiked up over my bra in the privacy of one of the cubicles. (I imagined staff wondering why I was taking so long, and worried about what they might think.)

Thank God for the Slow Lounge at any rate. A toilet cubicle might not be the best place to express breast milk, but theirs are spacious and private. By 5.15pm, my boobs were painfully engorged and it was a tremendous relief to decant something, anything. I’d managed to express a little earlier, in a toilet cubicle at the client before the tech guy miked me up for my talk on brands and communication. Just enough to delay the pain.

Breast feeding while working isn’t easy, but breast feeding while travelling is even more of a challenge, as I found out during today’s trip. Normally I would say no to travel, but this was a favour for the chief creative officer and our biggest client. Not that I’m ever good at saying no at the best of times, but I believe in not disappointing clients if at all possible.

This, my first flight since having Ra-Ra, required a bit of preparation. For one thing, the prospect of being away from her for so long, and having to have so much pumped for her, catalyzed something I’d been holding out on for a while: formula.

Yes, dear reader, I caved. Last Friday, I finally accepted that I just can’t keep up. Either I spend the entire day plugged into my baby, or she starves. Neither is a serious option. At the time, I found the decision extremely stressful, to the point where I was conscious that my eyesight was negatively affected. For about half an hour, I went through the obligatory self-loathing and mild tearfulness before pulling myself together and admitting that not being under so much pressure is a relief.

Oh, every time I read the message on the NAN tin about how its contents are not breast milk, and the message on the Tommee Tippee box about how breast milk is the best food for babies, I feel an awful twinge of guilt – but not enough guilt to get the milk flowing reliably, sadly. Yes, I would very much rather my baby was exclusively breast-fed, but it’s not possible.

Today is the 26th, which means it is five months since Ra-Ra was born. She’s nowhere near that in real terms, of course, and she still fits into newborn clothing, but five months is what the calendar says. Today was also the longest I’ve been apart from her since she was born – more than 12 hours by the time my husband picks me up at the airport. I’ve missed her, but I’ve handled it better than I thought I would.

I’m writing this as I sit on the plane flying back home. The rumble of the engines fills my ears as we sail over the dark, cold earth 37,000 feet below. The family in front of me murmur in a language I can’t quite catch, though I think it might be Dutch. The captain is announcing from the “flydeck” that we’re about to begin our descent. The runway has just been changed because the wind direction has changed, which means we will land six minutes later than planned.

I’m aching to hold my baby, and I can’t wait to have her in my arms again.


A Visit to the Doctor

Today I took Ra-Ra for her first ever real doctor’s appointment. Not the sort where you just go for a check up – the kind where there’s something wrong and you need a diagnosis and a prescription.

Ra-Ra started coughing on Monday. It got steadily worse, and by today I thought I’d better take her to a GP. As a premature baby, she’s vulnerable to respiratory infections and I don’t want to take any chances.

By coincidence, the doctor she saw was also born premature. Dr Tiny Mhinga’s nickname comes from the fact that he could fit in a shoebox when he was born. He’s clearly come a long way since then:

RaRa Dr Mhinga

Ra-Ra handled the consultation with aplomb, and stayed calm throughout the long and drawn out visit to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. She’s on Augmentin, Celestamine and Prospan syrup.

I was thrilled at how happy she seemed to take her medicine, but it has turned out to be too good to be true. The 3ml of antibiotic suspension she’s supposed to get twice a day has, so far, been vomited up or spat out.

Despite the diagnosis – an upper respiratory infection – she seems her normal self. Right now she’s dozing  in my left arm, stirring every now and then in order to suckle. (I’m typing this post on my phone.)

I’m hoping that later, when I give her the Celestamine, she keeps it down and goes to sleep. Half the people I know are sick – my parents, my sister and my husband who is in bed with flu – so it’s no wonder she’s developed something.  I can only hope that I escape the dreaded lurgy. Touch wood.

Sunday Night

Written on Sunday night, posted on Monday morning
It’s Sunday night on my first weekend after going back to work. I’m lying on our bed, feeding Ra-Ra. I’ve just caught my first Pokemon, Squirtle. The app wants me to go for a walk, which is a challenge in my current state, so I’ll go Pokemon hunting again in the morning when I’m at the office.

For the first time in a week, Ra-Ra has had me all to herself. We went on a walk with other moms at St Stithians yesterday. I had a good time – exercise and socializing in a baby-friendly setting is a good idea – and would love to do it again.

The rest of the weekend has been devoted to hanging out upstairs where it’s warmer, and letting Ra-Ra feed whenever she wants. This has helped to keep her calm, although we have had to deal with a couple of tantrums. (Last night’s outburst, apparently triggered by the inconvenience of having to be dressed again after her bath, was spectacular.)

Today, I ducked out to the shops for an hour. The first WhatsApp from my husband was a picture of Ra-Ra sleeping. The next one was of her smiling. The third was an alert that she was now ART – angry red tomato. When I got home, I found her lying calmly in her fathers arms as he rocked her, but she was clearly hungry and I whisked her away to feed her. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, with her suckling and sleeping and suckling again.

I’ll be away from her for a lot longer than that tomorrow. I would be lying if I did not admit that I’m a little apprehensive about this coming week. Now that I know about the problems with bottle feeding, I can’t sit in meetings without worrying that Ra-Ra is having a meltdown.

One of the items I bought today was a Tommee Tippee bottle. I need to at least give it a try. Let’s hope it works – although I’m not confident.

Here’s to a week without drama!

A Whole New Juggling Act


Three weeks ago, I dreaded the idea of going back to work.

A week and a half ago, I’d reconciled myself to the inevitable.

Six days ago, I was looking forward to it.

Today, five days in, I’m managing – just.


This is a whole new juggling act. I’m loving being back in the energy of an office, having face to face conversations, and getting stuck into new projects. I really do get a kick out of the work I do, and I like the people I work with. I didn’t realise how much I had missed it until I was back in the thick of it.


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Baby and laptop

Ra-Ra is a different story. On Monday, while I was reconnecting with my colleagues and sitting in meetings, she was dealing with the trauma of not having Boob at her beck and call. On Tuesday, my mother described feeds involving flailing limbs, spitting, head butting and screaming. “If she could have sworn at me, she would have,” she said. On Wednesday, I ducked home in between meetings to feed her, and on Thursday I did the same. I took a lunch break, something I almost never do – not for me, but for her.


The trouble is that Ra-Ra has decided that she no longer likes feeding from a bottle. In fact, she hates it. My mother is finding it hard work to keep her entertained long enough to distract her from the fact that Boob is not around. Yesterday, I had to feed her after dropping her off because she started protesting before I could leave; then I popped back to top her up at lunchtime, and then again after work. Today, I got a frantic call from my parents while in a meeting that ran over time, begging me to come and feed the baby. Luckily I was able to duck quite quickly, but I won’t always have that option.
So I have something of a problem. As long as my baby hates feeding from a bottle, my life is going to revolve around breast feeding – something that is not entirely compatible with working in an office. This means limiting meetings, especially if they’re far away; I’m very lucky that my office is a six-minute drive from my parents’ home. All-day workshops? Working late? Travelling? Forget it.


I don’t know how long this hatred of the bottle will last. I’m very happy to be back at work – but I will admit that I’m worried that I’m going to drop some balls.

Four months old today!

“Is that your baby?” the woman says to me while I wait in the pharmacy the other day. “It looks like you’re holding a soft toy.”

Though it’s tempting to ask whether she takes me for some sort of loon who walks around with a soft toy in a baby carrier, I smile and explain. She’s nearly four months old, I say. She was premature and that’s why she’s so small.

Today, four months ago, Raphaela Ragini Pillay was unceremoniously yanked from her comfortable, warm abode and brought into the world 10 weeks ahead of schedule. After five weeks in NICU, she came home. I spent that first week juggling a new baby and a new business pitch before finally settling down to get to know our daughter.


I’ve come to know her faces, which range from Alabaster Angel to Angry Red Tomato. My names for her include Raphaela, Ra-Ra, Nunu and the Nunu-est of Nunus as well as Droolie Andrews, Grumposaurus Max and Fiddler Crab.


Her eyes are slaty grey with a hint of green, like a distant hill on a rainy morning. She frowns when she’s concentrating on suckling. I think she gets that from me. “Focus,” I tell her when she fusses and spits out the nipple. “Focus on the task at hand.”


She’s smiling more now. Oh, I live for this smile.

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We listen to lots of Mozart, mostly the piano concertos played by Daniel Barenboim, with the Bach French Suites to mix things up a bit. We’ve also started play with the toys I bought her from Baby City, which are designed for babies’ limited vision.


Ra-Ra has developed quirks. Her rigid routine established in NICU is a thing of the past. She’s into cluster feeding these days, which means she’d be attached to my boob the entire day and half the night if she could. When she was younger, we regularly took her out to restaurants with us in the evening, but I can’t see that happening again any time soon.


Ra-Ra has lots of friends. There’s the original and greatest, Loquacious Mancini the zebra from Brooklyn. There’s Muncho the monkey (named by Mia), Taneekwa the African-American doll, Lorenzo Mancini (Loquacious’s flashy Italian cousin), Ralph the rhino and Bev the elephant. Just this morning, Ra-Ra also met Bruno the bear who speaks to her in French.


I miss her terribly when I’m away from her. Last week, my husband and I went to Emperor’s Palace to watch the Jazz Epistles. They were remarkable and the show was wonderful, but for every moment of it I felt a great ache at the core of my being: that I wanted to hold my baby, and just then I could not.


Happy four months of being in my world, Raphaela Ragini. You may be small, but you’re the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.


Throwback Thursday and thoughts on having children

It’s Thursday, so I thought I’d indulge in some delving into the past. My life today – happily married with a baby – is very different from how I imagined it when I was marooned in the middle of severe anxiety and depression.  Nearly six years ago, I wrote this after hearing of the birth of my ex-husband’s son:

Should I not crave the act of procreation? Should I not fantasise about nappy cream and gurgles and saving for school fees? Why is it that I always joked about how I’d only consider having a kid when my ovaries were screaming — and there hasn’t been a peep?

I couldn’t imagine having a child of my own. “I like children,” I wrote

but find babies faintly horrifying in their fragility and their otherness, and whenever other people bring theirs into the office I hunch my shoulders over my laptop and hope that I won’t be asked to come and coo over the child or — heaven forbid — have to hold it.

I’m certainly over my fear of babies now; nothing forces one to confront fragility and otherness like a premature baby less than half the size of the average newborn.

Back then, I also wrote that I regarded my books as my children. So I must be honest with myself, and you, and report that I failed to finish any of the several I started over that time. I would start with great enthusiasm, and my productivity would be astounding for two weeks over the December holidays, and then real life would intervene and the project would grind to a halt.

One of the reasons that I’ve gone back to my old blog posts is to jog my memory of the post-divorce years. I’ve been meaning to write a memoir of what happened when my life imploded, and h0w I managed, contrary to all expectations, to get an amazingly happy ending. It is a good story, I think. Many people have said that my experience gives them hope. And, as I’ve said before, “In the end, all we have are our stories, and all we can do is tell them as best we can.”

Here’s hoping that I carry this one to term.