Introducing Raphaela Ragini Pillay

Sketch inspired by Raphaela Ragini. The angel's wings are a reference to the character in Faraway, So Close! while the fish - yin to the wing's yang - is a tribute to her Piscean birthdate. My favourite dream as a young child involved dancing with a giant goldfish on my grandmother's lawn.
Sketch inspired by Raphaela Ragini. The angel’s wings are a reference to the character in Faraway, So Close! while the fish – yin to the wing’s yang – is a tribute to her Piscean birthdate. My favourite dream as a young child involved dancing with a giant goldfish on my grandmother’s lawn.

I knew, the moment I found out I was pregnant, that I would need to think about names. A name is such a very serious thing – a reflection of oneself and one’s aspirations as well as the ability to navigate family politics –  and I wanted something that would stand the baby in good stead throughout life. I knew exactly which name I wanted for a little boy. If the baby was a girl, though, I was less certain.

For various reasons, I leaned toward something Italian. For a start, my sister had taken up two of the available sensible/posh English names my family favours, which somewhat narrowed choices. Both of my stepdaughters have names ending in –a and I wanted to continue the pattern. Olivia would have been my first choice once upon a time, but it’s just too popular now. I was one of a rash of Sarahs at school- three Sarah Bs in high school alone – so I wanted something a little different.

Kanthan worked in Sardinia in the early 90s, where he picked up Italian as well as a taste for Mirto and proper Parmesan. His first daughter, Aura, was born there. My mother studied Italian at university. I grew up with Italian as part of my musical vocabulary, so I feel an affinity with the language even if I don’t speak it. An Italian name made sense. But which one? Chiara was one option I considered, as well as Fiamma.

Then Kanthan suggested the name of a character in his favourite movie, Faraway So Close, directed by Wim Wenders. Raphaela is an angel portrayed by Nastassja Kinski, who moves among and above the people of post-wall Berlin. As a lapsed film buff, I like the cinematic connotations. It’s also why her name contains a ph and one 1, when there are various spellings.

Here is Nastassja Kinski in the role of Raphaela:


As for Raphaela’s second, Tamil name, we needed to wait until after she was born. Tamil names are chosen according to times and their associated auspicious syllables, one of which was Ra.

In the list of Ras, one stood out. Ragini (pronounced RAgini with a hard g as in gift) means melody. A feminine form of Raga, if you like. My mother, husband and mother-in-law all liked it (which, if anyone knows the politics of names in families, is a massive win). There are singers and keen amateur musicians on both sides of the family, so it’s a pleasing nod to both our histories and love of music. There is a piano waiting for us at home, and I can’t wait to play it for her.

I think Raphaela Ragini has a certain ring to it. She will definitely know when she is in trouble. And she will almost certainly be unique no matter which school she attends. We’ll probably all call her Ra-Ra for short, which – given the fanfare with which she will be greeted when she finally gets to go home – will be entirely appropriate.

Welcome to the world, Raphaela Ragini. Love, your mother xxx


Things I am learning

These are some of the things I am learning bit by bit.

Pregnancy is painful. Or at least was painful until very recently. The pain caused by the pressure on my diaphragm last week was so bad I was in tears, convinced I was suffering from a terrible bout of gastro. (That was actually caused by the laxatives I took to deal with the side effects of the painkillers to treat the headaches that were a side effect of the blood pressure tablets to deal with the side effects of being pregnant).


As it turns out, a C-section is even more painful. I knew this from the experiences of friends and family, but nothing quite prepares you for that twisting knife in the gut feeling. It’s like particularly brutal period pain. No wonder you’re not supposed to drive for 6 weeks. Right now, I walk with a slight stoop and the occasional wince. Getting out of bed requires a steering committee, a ten-point plan and a winch.


Painkillers are good. I like painkillers.


There is a lot of blood. After not bleeding for however long you were pregnant, it’s as if your body makes up for it in one fell swoop. Which brings me to: Maternity pads. I had no idea. Apparently some medical professionals call them surfboards… for good reason, because if they came with wings they’d be suitable for intercontinental flight. (Oh, and they also make you invest in linen savers for your bed. Birth is not dignified.)


Breastfeeding ranges between bloody difficult and completely impossible. I knew this thanks to my sister’s challenges and the fact that there are lactation consultants, but hoped I’d have a lucky escape. I’m still battling to pump anything. Peak boob se gat. I’ve been given loads of Eglonyl, which happens to be an anti-psychotic prescribed for schizophrenia as well as a lactation drug. How’s that for multitasking?


Your post-partum body is a war zone. This morning, I allowed myself to look at my naked reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was awful. I wasn’t full term, so it doesn’t look as if I was pregnant now that the baby has vacated the premises – just saggy and bleaugh, like Vicky Pollard’s slightly more useless big sister. Now, a roll of flesh droops unceremoniously over my bikini line, where the scar stretches like a bolt of black lightning. I look revolting and will probably have to wear baggy clothing for some time.

If I find out anything more, I’ll keep you in the loop.

Holding her for the first time

Sarah and baby

Tiny. Astonishingly, impossibly tiny. That is the first thought I have when the nurse hands me the pink-blanketed bundle. I know that premature babies can be a lot smaller than this, but this…. Tiny, perfect hands tipped with the faintest specks of fingernails. Eyes fringed faintly with lashes. How is this real?

“You don’t have any eyebrows yet, “ I tell her, “but when you do get them, we’re going to have to talk about eyebrow maintenance. No shaving them off and drawing them back on.”

She’s a doll. A doll that can move and yawn and pull faces reminiscent of a grouchy old man reading newspaper stories about #FeesMustFall. I try to imagine her the size of a normal newborn, able to suckle. Laughing and playing. Rolling her eyes at bad jokes. Grown up. Squeezing my hand and telling me it’s going to be ok at my deathbed (it’s very Hollywood and elegantly staged. I’m surrounded by everyone I love and it’s perfect.)

All of it telescopes back to this moment where finally I have her in my arms for the very first time. I daren’t touch her skin, not just yet. She is kept in a GE Giraffe branded incubator, surrounded by monitoring devices that flash like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There are pings and bings and beeps. This is the soundtrack to her life. Talk to her, Best Beloved says, so I do.

I tell her about all the places we’ll go and the bedtime stories I’ll read. How her dad will teach her to code, and probably be the disciplinarian. I’ll  start her on the piano until she’s too advanced and needs a proper teacher. We’ll negotiate the issue of bribery around practicing. How she will meet her sisters and her cousins and the animals and how, a year from now, we’ll have a birthday party for her at which we’ll try and control the sugar. Maybe I’ll commission a flourless cake.

It’s hard going. The tears keep welling up and pouring down my nose, not a good situation in a highly infection controlled environment. Best Beloved holds a tissue for me and I blow, though he doesn’t squeeze hard enough for me to get the necessary pressure going. “I’ve never done this for an adult before,” he says.

We sit there together. She sleeps in my arms. I talk about how I’m looking forward to being vomited on and how I’m even ok with projectile poo, because that means she’s big enough to come home.

“For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine anything like you,” I tell her, choking up again. “Now I can’t imagine the world without you in it.”

Cheesy, yes. But suddenly, desperately true.

On being feeble

This morning, I made myself breakfast. First, I shook up guava juice together with green superfood powder to make a smoothie. Then I mixed cocoa powder with honey and hot water before adding double cream plain yoghurt. (The result was reminiscent of Moirs Instant Pudding and not bad at all.)

Physically challenging stuff. Afterwards, I felt so faint that I had to pour myself a glass of cold water and retire to bed like a delicate Victorian lady in a sanitorium.

It turns out that getting let out of hospital was not a ticket to getting back to normal. If anything, I felt better when I was confined to a bed with a remote control and nurses brought me headache pills on request. Now I’m just… feeble.

Friday, in retrospect, was an unusually good day. I drove to the office. Yes, it felt far – much further than usual – but I made it and even presided over a couple of reviews. On the way home, I did some shopping at the Pick n Pay Hyper. Gliding along with my trolley in search of sugar free peanut butter and cherries (I eat a lot of cherries now, for the uric acid), I felt pleasantly spaced out, like a supermarket Julie Andrews about to launch into a number from Mary Poppins.

Yesterday I was back at Sunninghill for a check up; standing at the reception desk afterwards to pay the bill was torture. Today, getting breakfast finished me. I’ve been lying on my bed ever since, with a brief sojourn to fetch lunch. This blog entry was typed out on my phone while lying flat and now being completed on my laptop while sitting up. Already, I can feel the dizziness blossoming inside my head; soon I’ll need to lie flat again.

I feel fine as long as I’m horizontal. The moment I get up to do anything, I’m not. The trouble is, there isn’t a lot one can accomplish while horizontal. Can’t drive. Can’t go to the office. Can’t attend meetings or deliver presentations.

Nights are better, at least. Then I can manage dinner with the family and even playing the piano. “I’m not an invalid,” I tell my in-laws when they fuss over me. The trouble is, I’m not sure that’s true. I’m capable of frighteningly little right now.

Pregnancy is perfectly normal. It’s not a disease. So why, all of a sudden, does it feel like one?

A Special Thank You

It’s well past 2am. It’s very quiet; even the motorcyclists who scream along the highway like demons trying to outrun time itself seem to have gone to bed. I should have been asleep ages ago, but having spent most of the past couple of days in a comatose state, I’m tired of being unconscious. My trusty Stilnox is there, waiting, but I’m not quite ready.

Elf and horse in progress

I’ve been here for long enough to get to know the nurses and midwives taking care of me. Without exception, they’ve been friendly and caring, willing to chat and happy to answer my questions about their lives when they’re not in uniform. Tonight, I had a long chat with Khanyisile, who hails from Vryheid, studied at Bara and whose boyfriend went to the carwash to have beer with his friends rather than spend Valentine’s with her on Sunday. Nurses are often in the news for all the wrong reasons in South Africa, so it is gratifying to report that they’ve all been wonderful.

My paintings intrigued them, so I decided to do a quick sketch to thank them all. I featured a little galloping horse – a reference to the foetal Doppler – and the baby’s face in the moon. There are butterflies and blood pressure readings and a note that reads:

To the nurses and midwives of Sunninghill Maternity Ward, thank you for having my numbers.

Elf and the Galloping Horse

Special thanks go to Khanyisile as well as Colletor, Lorna and Hlengiwe, all of whom went out of their way to make me feel comfortable during my stay here. I’ll do my best to make sure that Netcare head office knows what gems they have in these wonderful women.

Thank you to all of you, and hopefully when I next see you, it will be toward the end of April, when the baby is due.

Sleep tight

It’s late. I’m waiting for 11pm when I can take my Hypotone and – yay! – the Stilnox. “It’s locked away in a cupboard,” Colletor the nurse explains to me. “We have to sign in for it.” Almost everyone in the ward seems to be on it. (Who knew? I would have thought it would be bad for babies, but apparently not.)

Stilnox, as I discovered while Googling it, is zolpidem tartrate, a drug I got to know well during what I like to call the Tranquillizer Years. From late 2009 until early 2013, I was a walking pharmacy, my veins pulsing with Schedule 5 concoctions designed to manage my moods, control my severe anxiety and help me sleep. My psychiatrist – bless him – was free and easy with prescriptions and my short-term memory will probably never recover.

Tomorrow morning, early, someone will show up with a blue plastic box filled with needles and vials and take blood. The crook of my left elbow already looks like one of my lipstick paintings; this will probably just add a new shade of purple.

My doctor will come by to tell me about my blood pressure and the blood results.

Later, the baby will be scanned to see how she is doing, and whether she is growing. There is a good chance I will be allowed to go home, and come in to the hospital for monitoring once a week. (Whether this means being flat on my back for weeks or going back to work as normal is not clear yet.)

I am remarkably calm right now, all things considered. Apart from a serious wobble not long after I was admitted, when the gravity of the situation hit me, I’ve managed to hold it together. This small square of Sunninghill, with a view of a lightning-filled sky and the sounds of motorcyclists speeding on the highway, has been my world for a week now. I’m grateful for the good care I’ve received, even if the sandwiches were terrible.

My new room mate – the third I have had in the time I have been here – will be a mother to twins by 9am tomorrow morning. There will be lots of visitors. She calls other women who visit her “girl”; she has that easy, unforced sense of sisterhood that I’ve always lacked but envy just a little. She’s snoring gently right now; the Stilnox is clearly working.

I won’t take my own round blue ticket to pleasant oblivion just yet. Having spent so much of today in a state of drooling stupor, I’d like to do something to feel productive. Perhaps work on a thought leadership piece on new research out from our global network, or paint, or both.

It’s quiet out there and things are looking up. Good night everyone.



The cherries and the elf

It’s past 10.30pm. I can only take my blood pressure medication – 500mg Hypotone, a magical yellow disc that fixes almost everything – at 11.30, so I need to stay awake until then. That’s perhaps just as well; I’ve slept a lot today – a response, possibly, to the relief about yesterday’s uric acid levels and the drowsiness caused by the increased medication. I managed to get some work done on a shower gel overview, but I can’t claim to have been especially productive.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 10.52.22 PM


Cherries, my husband and my mother have determined, can reduce uric acid levels. There are none in season, so I’m eating tinned cherries until they’re coming out of my ears. I open the tin and rinse out the syrup, then scoop them out with a plastic spoon that came in my Netcare baby goodie bag (along with bum cream and baby shampoo). In the absence of being able to take anything – blood pressure can be treated with medication, but not uric acid – the cherries have taken on a magical quality. Edible amulets, if you like.

To pass the time this evening, I have been painting. Earlier this week, I painted a commission for a client’s birthday, so I have my lipsticks with me. Tonight I used them to paint a portrait based on one of the 4D scans from Tuesday. It took me ages and ages of fiddling, trying to get every line exactly right.

Cherry Elf

I create a patch of colour, then rub at it with one of my makeup wipes, then replace the colour, then rub. It is a slow, iterative process. The slightest mark changes everything. Around her face, I wrote a message reminding her that I’d like her to stay exactly where she is right now. There are butterflies, a bateleur eagle and a couple of tiny galloping horses.

Tomorrow morning, early, someone will come to take blood. I hope the results are good. To our dearest little elf: all I want is to give you the best possible start in life. The thought that I might not be able to is what makes this so hard.

Here’s holding thumbs.