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.


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.


Daddy’s Lucky Duck

The one thing Ra-Ra hates more than anything – more, even, than being bathed – is being dressed. She hates having necklines stretched over her head and her hands coaxed into sleeves and out through the other end. I always bunch up the sleeve fabric to make it easier for her, and she always yells blue murder. It’s one of our rituals.


It’s not surprising, then, that I noticed when it started to get difficult to squeeze her head through her preemie vests, which Kanthan had bought from Baby Gap in Chicago soon after she was born. When her onesies began to get tight around the toes, I noticed too.


So for the first time, I’m retiring some of her clothing. Finally – finally! – she is big enough to fit into items meant for newborns. As of the 26th, yesterday, she is three months old, so the clothing is a sobering reminder of how much catching up she has to do – that, not only was she born two months too soon, she also lost a lot of ground.


She’s not quite there yet. She can still fit into her Baby Gap preemie long sleeved vest, the one that says “Daddy’s Lucky Duck”, though I hope it won’t be for much longer. Grow grow grow I keep thinking, hoping that the labels will give me the evidence I crave.


Ra-Ra is not short of clothing – besides the huge pile of hand-me-downs, there are lots of gifts from friends – though clothing that fits has been another matter entirely. In those early, crazy days, when she lived in an incubator and wore nothing but a nappy and a collection of probes, all of them went into my cupboard where they could wait to be sorted out. When she first came home, very little fitted her. There were the Baby Gap clothes, some Woolies things (a gift from a friend of her big sister Aura) and a delivery from Little Lumps, which knew I had a premature baby thanks to my tweets. Besides those, and a couple of items from my sister which were small enough to fit her, her wardrobe was seriously limited. I ordered more leggings and onesies online from Little Lumps and, with regular washing, that’s how we’ve managed since early April, even with the odd poonami (a delightfully apt word I picked up from Sheena Kretzmer via Facebook).


Today was the next big step. I packed most of her preemie clothes away – some will be kept to remind her (and us) of how tiny she once was – and sorted through everything else. Newborn into the box stored under her changing mat; 0-3 months and up back in the cupboard. Some of the gift clothing is so beautiful that it saddens me to think of the poo and vomit that will inevitably end up on them.


There were moments of anxiety. I would pick up a fleece onesie with anti-pill fabric, examine the label and think “0-3 months? Are you serious?”. To be honest, I still can’t imagine her getting big enough to fit into some of these clothes. She has to grow so much to get anywhere near them. And yes, she has grown so much already, but I’ve been a little too close to notice, and from my perspective, it seems painfully slow.


Still, today was good. The thought of those clothes unsorted in the cupboard bothered me, and now that I have ordered them, the world makes more sense. It has been something of a rite of passage, too. When every tiny little bit bigger matters so much, vests and leggings and babygros become trophies, signposts on the way to normality.