I have a problem with anxiety.  The familiar acid tang at the back of the throat, the clenched heart, fluttering in the stomach, caught mid swoon. The tunnel vision too, which is a bugger when you’re driving.

This is nothing new; I spent most of 2010 and some of 2011 so tanked on tranquilizers that I wrecked my short term memory. Eventually I got myself more or less back on track, and the daily bouts of clammy palms and lurching stomach became a memory.

2016 has changed all of that. First I was anxious because my health went pear-shaped. Then I was anxious because I had to have my baby ten weeks early and I was worried she would die. After that, I was anxious about producing enough breast milk and whether she was gaining enough weight.

Then she came home and I was anxious because I had a new business pitch and combining that with a new baby and no sleep was a nightmare. Then I was anxious because I was at home with the baby while everyone else was working late on more new business pitches and I wasn’t a team player.

After I went back to work, I was anxious about going to my mother’s house to feed the baby, and anxious about abandoning the baby to be in meetings. I was anxious about breast milk and, when I could no longer cope with expressing, anxious about letting my baby down by supplementing her feeds with formula.

I became anxious about losing relevance because I’d been away for three months, and the office might find that they could manage without me. I’m anxious because things are not the same, and I feel guilty about not working the hours I used to, and guilty about not being there when my baby needs me, which in turn leads to more anxiety.

I’m anxious because I don’t feel as smart as I used to, and there are days when I feel completely incompetent or utterly extraneous and sometimes both at the same time. I’m anxious because I can’t focus the thoughts rattling around in my head. I’m anxious because I know I have to save for school fees, and I gave away a lot of money a few years ago and now I’m regretting it. I’m anxious because sometimes I’m not billable enough and someone’s going to look at my time sheets and wonder if I’m expendable. I’m anxious about increases in medical aid for next year, and how much will come off the salary I’m worried I don’t deserve to get anyway.

I’m anxious because the stakes are so much higher now. I’m anxious because if I slip up, it’s not just me I have to worry about any more. I’m anxious about being anxious, about whether I should change my medication, whether it’s the pill I’m taking because I read that anxiety is one of the side effects.

I am anxious because I am anxious because I am anxious and it won’t stop and there is no end in sight.

FaceTime from Vienna

It’s Sunday evening, and I’ve just had another FaceTime call from my Best Beloved. He’s in Vienna visiting an old friend. Today, he went on a hike in the hills near the city before taking in a recital by a Bulgarian pianist (Mozart, Bach, Liszt, Chopin). Now he’s about to have schnitzel for dinner.

I wave at everyone else in the background and tilt the phone so that it shows Ra-Ra. She smiles broadly the moment she sees her dad’s face on the screen.

There was a time, once, when I might have been a tiny bit jealous of the day my husband had. Mine, in comparison,  was desperately dull. Apart from some painting, writing and dog wrangling, I’ve spent the day either feeding RaRa or snoozing. Yesterday my husband was in Bratislava for the day; tomorrow he’ll be back in London before flying back home. In contrast, the highlight of my weekend was schlepping to Northriding to finally pick up the curtains I ordered back in January.

Once upon a time, international travel was my major ambition in life, but it’s so impractical now. Besides the challenges of getting leave and traveling with a baby, there’s the small matter of school fees. I’ve already started saving, and every rand I spend on airfare and foreign currency is a rand I can’t spend on RaRa’s education. Last year’s trip to Japan was an experience of a lifetime as well as a financial disaster, and I will need to be much more prudent in future.

Perhaps my feelings about will change  as RaRa grows older. Perhaps the wanderlust will set in again and I’ll feel a gnawing sense of loss and regret at all the places I’ve wanted to experience, and haven’t.

In the mean time, that old, pre-baby version of myself has vanished. I wonder if she will ever return.

42 and all the answers


In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a group of super-intelligent beings pose a question to a powerful computer called Deep Thought. What, they want to know, is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It takes seven and a half million years, but finally there is an answer.

“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

There you have it. 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything.

As it happens, I turned 42 today. Do I have all the answers to everything? Good heavens no, but I have been busy. Over the past few years I’ve been through a divorce, dealt with years of severe depression and anxiety, had a major career setback, lost a lot of money, helped start a business, settled back into gainful employment, and got remarried after a whirlwind courtship. On my 41st birthday, it was confirmed that I was six weeks pregnant; my baby was born ten weeks premature and she’s now six months old.

These are the most important things I know now. They may not be answers to everything, but they work for me.

  1. My happy marriage is my greatest achievement. Forget books and promotions and my PhD. After the implosion of my first marriage seven years ago, I never imagined I’d say this (and neither would anyone who followed my blog posts over that time). But I’ve been given a second chance. Against all the odds I’ve hit the jackpot, and I’m not going to take that for granted. Acknowledging this matters: happiness within a marriage is so easy to lose, and I don’t want to be that person who lets something good slip away because I wasn’t paying attention.

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  1. My family matters more than anything. Having a baby brought this vividly to life. I love my daughter with an intensity that leaves me frightened sometimes. My husband, my parents and in-laws, my siblings, stepdaughters, the friends who are family to me: this is the lattice around which I am constructed now.
  1. I choose what I care about. Caring takes energy, and energy is limited, so I’m very careful what I care about. I used to let everything rattle me. Every setback was a disaster; every snarky email or cross word would spark hours of angst. Now, I make a conscious effort to let things go. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, and it gets better with practice.
  1. Managing anxiety has become my major daily objective. I used to manage my life in order to get Stuff Done. Now, when I’m weighing up how to handle a situation, I assess every decision according to this question: will it increase or decrease my anxiety? Anxiety is the fraternal twin of depression, and depression is the one thing that really frightens me. Anxiety causes untold misery, which is why I organise every aspect of my life around minimizing it.
  1. I think very carefully before reacting to anything. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned the value of keeping quiet. Watch, listen and wait. This doesn’t mean being passive – the best way to deal with anxiety is to take control of your feelings by taking action. But I’ve learned that thinking before sharing how I feel has improved my happiness considerably. I create less drama for others and, more importantly, for myself. (If I enjoyed drama and got a kick out of anger and stress, I’d generate more of it, but I don’t. I hate it.) When things get too much, I scream while I’m driving around. Nobody can hear me, I get it out of my system, and bar a little croakiness afterwards, there’s no harm done.
  1. I’m saving for school fees. Once upon a time, I saved in order to travel overseas. The Clicks home pregnancy test I took on August 27, 2015 changed all of that. One thin pink line reconfigured the entire trajectory of my life. Buying stuff no longer interests me, unless I’m splashing out on gifts for others. (The piano I bought late last year was a notable exception, and there’s a whole story there that I’ll share at some point.) It helps that at the moment I have little to no interest in hair and nails or clothes and shoes.
  1. I actively take pleasure in little things. With the exception of the piano I bought late last year, I don’t own very much and I plan to keep it that way. Instead, I try to get as much pleasure as possible out of moments. I make a point of looking forward to things like reading a new book, or curling up in bed with my baby.
  1. I’m a lot more careful on and around social media. Social media used to be my default shoulder to cry on, the void into which I could dump my angst without having to worry too much about any of it coming back to haunt me. It’s no longer so simple, and not just because my family, friends and colleagues all follow me. It might have tied into the narrative when I was an obvious and entertaining mess. But I have more responsibilities now, There are too many risks associated with sharing too much, especially when I’m angry (see point 5) or depressed. Oh, the tweets I have composed in my head, the tweets that have never seen the light of day. Social media is also a two way street. Just as I have control over whether I share more than I should, I also need to guard against being affected too much by the opinions of others. I’ve spiraled into suicidal despair more than once as a result of tweets directed at me, so the stakes are high. Social media will always affect my mood far more than it should, and I will always have to guard against getting sucked into its relentless gravitational pull. In a world where it is so easy to let it all hang out, where it is so easy to take the baited hooks and be dragged to the soggy bottom, discretion really is the better part of valour.

There you have it.


“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”


I don’t know what the question is, so I’ll put a placeholder here for now: how do we get to be happy?

I’ve always regarded happiness as something that just… happens to one, but by reframing it as something that takes thought, focus and effort, I have more control over whether I have a shot at experiencing it it. The work of happiness might not be glamorous, but it is good. It’s taken me four decades to learn this, and I’m not going to forget it.

So this is what I am going to keep doing. Keep focusing on what matters, keep amplifying the good, and letting the bad dissipate into the breeze, and the birdsong, and the infinite wonder of a baby’s smile.

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!