Things I did on my day off work

Three days of bonus leave are nothing to be sniffed at. They expire at the end of June, so it’s now or never. When I saw that June 13 had no – no! – meetings scheduled, I knew this was a very special opportunity.

What do you do with a day (almost) all to yourself? You do something you haven’t done in a long time. You do something that used to matter to you, a lot. So, today, the plan was to watch a movie in a cinema for the first time since December 2015 when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Once upon a time, I was something of a movie buff, watching at least two movies a week. I studied film at university and wrote movie reviews for SA City Life in the 1990s, when I got to see everything long before everything else, and with great catering. That was how I met Barry Ronge and why, during one conversation about an ex-boyfriend, he called me “Hitler with tits”.

Once I had a RaRa, movies became most definitely a thing of the past. Until today. Today, I was going to watch Wonder Woman and write later about the experience of being in a dark theatre with nothing to think about or focus on but what was on the screen in front of me.

It was never going to happen, of course. This morning, I needed to write a resumé and send it to a potential client, and give a quick overview on the job at hand. By the time I dropped RaRa off at my mother’s, I knew there was no way I would ever get to Rosebank on time.

So this is what I did instead.

First, I dropped off two paintings at the framers I use to mount my work in lipstick. (They’re next to Herbert Evans, and very good. I can recommend them.) One painting is for Gaynor Young, and the other is for a fellow fan of the Frankel, the unbeaten superstar British racehorse.

On the way to The Zone, I’d noticed several outside broadcast vans next to Oxford Road. Twitter informed me that it was the DA press conference, so I snooped around the Rosebank Holiday Inn and scored a coffee while eavesdropping on the comments of the journalists gathered there. It’s possible that I photobombed a TV reporter. If I’d run into either Mmusi or Helen – neither of whom I’ve met, but both of whom know my husband – I’m not sure what I’d have said.

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Then I ducked into the Clicks in search of a photo frame for Father’s Day. There I encountered assistant store manager Lesego Phihlela, who gave me a discount on two photo frames and happily chatted to me when I asked her about some of my clients. (Yes, I know it was a day off, but I’m never not working.)

I tweeted a pic of Thula Sindi’s Rosebank store and titled it the headquarters of Avo Haters South Africa. (The avo wars are a perennial feature of Black Twitter in South Africa.)

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After that, I went hunting for Africology. My husband had received a spa voucher as part of a corporate gift, and six months later, there was finally an opportunity to use it. I walked in, chose my treatment and enjoyed 45 minutes of bliss thanks to Aletta Khwinana. The treatment got to all the knots and I feel so much better now, which is more than I can say for many massages. Highly recommended.

After the massage, I rushed back to my mom’s place to feed RaRa and go through my mails. I typed up a quick biography for the executive creative director who needed them for a pitch, then headed to the office to chat to the MD about some proactive social media ideas. (Life hack: showing up at the office when you are officially on leave is a way to win friends and influence people.)

Then I did a spot of shopping at the centre across the road before picking up RaRa, heading home and writing about my day.

There’s something quite wonderful about being officially on leave when everyone else is at work. There’s none of the guilt, no worrying about time sheets, and always the possibility that something interesting might happen.

Oh yes – I did mention that there were three bonus leave days. I still have two more bonus days to take. I’m thinking about using those to travel to the Garden Route, which needs the business after the horrific fires of the past week. If I don’t travel, I’ll try to watch a movie in a cinema again. Perhaps I’ll use my two Sorbet vouchers, one of which dates from August 2015. I haven’t bothered to get my nails done in all that time, but bonus leave means there’s no excuse.

 

 

Product Review: Cetaphil Baby

I have two baby showers coming up in the next couple of months or so, and two items will definitely be in my gift bags: Cetaphil Baby Gentle Body Wash and Shampoo, and Cetaphil Baby Daily Lotion.

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Of course, I’m somewhat biased. I’ve been excited about these products when I first heard about them last year from my clients at Galderma. Hypoallergenic baby products free of parabens, soap, mineral oil and fragrance – from Cetaphil, a brand known for being recommended by dermatologists? Yes please!

 

I’ve been using Cetaphil Baby on RaRa for the past three months, and I’m a big fan. Before the switch, I had been using Purity/Elizabeth Anne’s products because those were what were given to me when I was admitted to the maternity ward ten weeks ahead of schedule. I will admit that it was initially a bit of an adjustment because everything from the colour and consistency to the fragrance levels and even the dispensing nozzles of the products are so different. Now, Cetaphil Baby is an integral part of our bathtime ritual, and I can’t imagine using anything else.

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Baby skincare products matter more than I imagined. Thanks to working with Galderma on Cetaphil Baby, I’ve learned that newborn skin needs special care and has to adjust as much to life outside the womb as baby lungs and digestive systems. Unlike adults, baby skin lacks a protective acid mantle, making it vulnerable to harmful microorganisms. A baby who is uncomfortable in her own skin will be irritable and inconsolable, so good quality baby products are an investment in your baby’s happiness and your own peace of mind.

 

Glycerin and panthenol enrich both Cetaphil Baby Gentle Body Wash and Cetaphil Baby Daily Lotion, while the latter also contains tocopherol – all important building blocks for strengthening the skin barrier. The Daily Lotion contains a triple blend of sunflower seed oil, soybean oil and shea butter, and I Iove how smoothly and easily it rubs into RaRa’s skin. Her post-bath lotion application session doubles as a massage while I enjoy the chance to connect with her through the power of touch. Though the products are fragrance free, they leave RaRa smelling lovely and fresh, and every time I sniff her hair I’m transported to a happy, splashy, gurgling space.

 

Cetaphil Baby Gentle Body Wash and Shampoo, and Cetaphil Daily Lotion are available at Dis-Chem in the baby care section and retail at R69.99 each. They would make a great gift for anyone about to welcome a baby into their world.

Find Cetaphil Baby on Facebook here.

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!

Boob envy, and other things I have learned about breastfeeding

I remember it with startling clarity: the first time I experienced boob envy. Not in the aesthetic sense (many’s the time I’ve seen a shapely pair and thought, idly, that it would be nice if mine were more like those). No, this sort of envy was much more functional. At the time, I sitting with another NICU mother in the corner of the maternity ward reserved for expressing breast milk. We were huddled around the Medela Symphony breast pumps, their rhythmic sighs filling the silence, and I couldn’t help but notice the torrents of maternal largesse gushing forth from her nipple. Then and there, I wanted her superboobs rather than my pathetic, underperforming lot. “Oh, I’m not planning to breastfeed my baby once he’s out of hospital,” she said later and I thought: how shocking! and also: bloody hell, life’s not fair.

Medela Breast Pump
Disapproving Medela Symphony breast pump as photographed in Sunninghill Hospital.

Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever attempted, and that includes the pole dancing classes I once bought on Groupon (there was chafing as well as other indignities; I lasted one session). Before I had my baby, I assumed that breastfeeding just… happened. You whipped out your boob, plugged your nipple into your newborn’s mouth and away you went. I marveled at the notion that women might need lactation consultants. Really? Surely, if anything comes naturally it’s this? As it turns out, no.

This has been a steep learning curve for me: the emotional stakes are so high, after all. Breastfeeding is loaded with good intentions and guilt. It is quite literally a matter of life and death – if you can’t produce enough breastmilk, your baby starves. Breast is best is one of the most effective slogans ever coined, and if you’re not breastfeeding you’re not giving your kid the best shot at life. No wonder there’s an inverse correlation between breastfeeding and post-natal depression.

Apart from boob envy, I have learned other new things during the three and a half months that I have been breastfeeding.

First, a word on terminology. “Breasts” is so formal; “tits” is far too Benny Hill. “Boobs”, on the other hand, has a cheery informality about it. That’s the word I’m choosing to use for a subject that is both very personal and – as I’ve discovered – necessarily public.

I am two boobs attached to a body. My life quite literally evolves around feeding Ra-Ra. I’m either breastfeeding her, expressing breast milk or sterilising the equipment I use for expressing. As her consumption has increased, I’ve battled to keep up, to the point where it feels as if the day is one long feeding session, with one feed morphing into the next.

My moods are directly correlated to how much breast milk I express. On good days, I’m elated. On bad days, I’m an anxious mess, wondering how I will cope once my maternity leave is up. Breastfeeding while I’m in the office simply isn’t an option.

Yes, it is possible to spray yourself in the face with your own breast milk. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting with a client with glasses covered in a fine spray. (I managed to lose track of an hour, ran horribly late, and had to rush to get there. It was like driving with a dirty windscreen.)

I’m deeply appreciative of antipsychotic medication. Who knew that a drug developed as an antipsychotic would stimulate lactation? Thank you Eglonyl.

I live on Jungle Juice. Ask any South African mother about breastfeeding and she’ll say, “Are you on Jungle Juice?” Yes, I am. I spend a fortune on Rehidrat and Schlehen Berry Elixir, and recently stocked up on fruit juice from Pick n Pay Hyper at R12.90 a litre. It is important not to confuse this kind of Jungle Juice with the  alcoholic American party staple. (This recipe includes 5.25 litres of vodka amongst other ingredients.)

I’m developing repetitive stress injuries from expressing. A couple of weeks ago, the Medela Swing breast pump I borrowed from my sister – the smaller sibling of the Medela Symphony – stopped working as well as it had been. From 100ml in a 20 minute session, I was down to less than 50ml. So I’ve switched to using a Philips Avent manual pump, also loaned from my sister, or expressing by hand. Both methods are hard on wrists and thumbs.

I could probably write a PhD thesis on hydrodynamics. I can tell you, for example, that the plastic used for the Philips Avent breast pump is better than the plastic used by Medela because it prevents the dispersal of droplets which then go to waste. When every single drop counts, waste of any kind is heartbreaking,

I’ve breastfed during a meeting and a couple of dinners. As Ra-Ra’s demands have increased and I’ve battled to keep up, I’ve had to overcome my reluctance to breastfeed in semi-public settings. When she cries, and the only thing that will keep her quiet is Boob, I do what I must.

As a result, my relationship with my own body has changed. Once upon a time, I would never have dreamed of showing my boobs to anyone except my husband. But now that they have become almost purely functional, manufacturing facilities devoted to the feeding of my baby, I don’t particularly care who sees them. (If you are inclined to be shocked, or titillated,  that’s your issue, not mine.)

Most of all, I have learned that breastfeeding is fraught with massive anxiety. I would like to keep breastfeeding for as long as possible because I know that it’s so good for the baby. But, despite last week’s experiences,  having a baby clamped to one nipple is not compatible with attending meetings or maintaining a professional demeanour in the office. Once I go back to work, the kind of routine I’ve been maintaining will be impossible to keep up. I know that at some point I am going to have to accept that I will not be able to keep her going purely on my supply, and that is going to be very hard.

Whoever said “don’t cry over spilled milk” never tried to breastfeed.

 

 

 

My first ever mommy blogger meet-up

Today I did something I’ve never, ever done before. I went along to a mommy blogger group for a coffee and a chat. I’d seen the Mom’s Morning invitation on Twitter and decided to take the plunge, telling myself that this would be good research for once I’m back at the office and working on influencer strategies for clients.

I felt really intimidated at the prospect. Driving to the venue in Fourways, I worked myself into such a state of anxiety that I told myself I would sit alone and have a cup of coffee before fleeing back home.

Moms in numbers, you see, are not my comfort zone. Not at all. Before I fell pregnant, I was quite literally afraid of mothers in groups of more than two. I was convinced they would detect alien, non-breeder me in their midst and reduce me to a blubbering wreck with talk of poo and linked sleep cycles.

But now that I am the mother of a baby, I’ve had to accept that yes, I am quite possibly a Mom. Not a typical mom by any means – for one thing, I’m so much older than most other first time mothers – but a mom nonetheless, who deals, as it happens, with poo and sleep cycles.

I was half an hour late and every one else had already made inroads into their cappuccinos by the time I arrived. I quailed at the sight of a table of strangers but Laura, the force behind SA Mom Blogs, immediately made me feel welcome. We shared Twitter and Instagram handles, followed one another, and soon I got to know @moonstormer @melbli @mascara_mimosas @laurakim123 @yellowlabstudios @modernzulumom @Little_Interior and @nadia_ass.

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What do mommy bloggers talk about when they get together? Not, as it turns out, how adorable their children are,  not about what products they use and definitely not about which brands give them free stuff.

They talk about sex, blogging about sex, birth control after birth, and horror stories about siblings born 10 months apart.

They talk about how much of their reality they share online, and what kind of photographs of their children they feel comfortable with uploading.

They talk a lot about schools, especially how expensive schools are and how difficult it is to get your child in if you don’t put their names down as soon as they’re born.

In-laws also feature, especially the kind who interfere and try to tell you how to be a parent.

They also talk about rape culture, about the Brock Turner case and how to train your children – boys and girls – about boundaries from an early age. As one mom pointed out, the problem is often politeness: we tell our children to accept hugs and kisses from strangers because it’s the polite thing to do.

I felt mildly terrified, especially during the schools conversation, but not for the reasons I thought would be (I need to put Raphaela’s name down for a school sooner rather than later, it seems). Moms in numbers, it turns out, are quite capable of talking about the more serious issues we grapple with. The only major difference between them and any other group is that it’s perfectly acceptable to haul out a boob and start feeding your child – something I was grateful for, because Ra-Ra started wailing almost from the moment we arrived. All in all, it was a very pleasant morning listening to the ebb and flow of conversation and discovering that I fitted in far better than I had imagined I would.

Before we left, Laura generously distributed gifts. I was the lucky recipient of a muslin receiver from Baby Sense, a brand I know well and rate highly, and a chewy teething blanket from one I had never heard of before today: Toofi Tots.

Like any good influencer, I’ve posted a picture on Instagram and I’ll report back on the products once I’ve used them.

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Now that I’ve met other mommy bloggers and discovered that they’re not quite as terrifying as I thought they were, I may even become one of them. Time, I think, to write all those overdue posts.

 

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.

 

The Mother’s Day Red Velvet Cake

This is a post primarily about cake.

When Raphaela was in NICU, I’d walk past the coffee shop at the Sunninghill Hospital several times a day. Nestled against the wall, waiting to confront the unwary passer-by, were the cakes: death by chocolate, Bar One cake, baked cheesecake, carrot cake and, of course, red velvet cake.

So it was that those weeks became indelibly associated, not just with antibacterial hand gel and beeping alarms and feeding tubes, but also with… red velvet cake. That’s perhaps why, when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my first Mother’s Day, my second thought was: I want to bake a cake. Specifically, a red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.

(My first thought was: I don’t want spa vouchers of gift sets or any of the things we associate with Mother’s Day marketing. All I really want is to spend time with my mother, and for her to spend time with the baby.)

But the cake was the thing, even more so because I wasn’t able to bake it the day before because, well, breastfeeding. I can’t remember the last time I baked a cake – years ago, probably. Baking a red velvet cake from scratch is a challenge. I’ve attempted it before, but this time I didn’t want to take the risk. I didn’t want to just buy a cake either; there was something about the mixing and making that mattered. So I bought a cake mix and frosting, and – in a moment of extreme extravagance – heart-shaped silicone muffin pans.

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Pillsbury is one of our clients so this was the perfect excuse to try the product.

I got home from the shops an hour before my mother was due to arrive. This was where a cake mix came into its own. No faffing about with buttermilk or red food coloring. You measure the water and oil, chuck in the eggs and it’s done. No worrying about disasters and, most importantly, I got to lick the batter in the bowl.

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I got to lick the batter in the bowl. This was incredibly important.

l mixed, baked and iced the cupcakes in record time, photographed the process, placed the muffins on one of the Portmeirion plates I’d received as a gift for wedding number 1. And then… waited.

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All the Portmeirion is a leftover from wedding number 1. I plan to use it as much as possible.

 

In the end my sister came along too, with her two daughters, which was a bonus because this would be the first time that Ra-Ra would meet them. (Endless bouts of bad germs meant that they couldn’t see the baby until now.)

Victoria and girls meet RaRa
Raphaela weighs up the situation.

The cake was a hit with them. I’m glad I baked it. Cake is decadent and unnecessary. We do not need cake in our lives, which of course is precisely why we do.