A question I have to ask

This is going to sound like a strange question. Maybe it is a strange question. I will ask it anyway.

My question is this: What does it feel like to have a baby when you really wanted a child, and you finally got what you wanted?

It’s a question that occurred to me for the first time this evening, triggered by a FaceTime conversation with my husband, who is in Brussels visiting a friend. Tonight, they are going out to watch Arrival. Overseas travel and going to the movies: both of these are things I used to love and which I have now accepted are no longer within the realm of possibility.

This is what I do know. I know what it feels like to have a baby when you were convinced, for years, that you would never have a child, that for some of that time you were deeply hostile to the idea of having a child, and that if you came around to the idea eventually, it was because you let go of a part of yourself that once felt essential to your identity.

It feels like this: a lovely surprise. It feels like wonder that something that once – to be frank – you found completely alien can be so filled with joy. It feels like astonishment that you can love another being so much, a person who cannot speak or walk, though she can smile (and it’s the smile that gets me every time). It is the thrill that never stops thrilling. If I share so many pictures of my daughter on social media, it is because I am so astonished at how marvelous she is.

RaRa is the maybe who became the definitely. She’s the possibility, the let’s-see-what-happens-if made flesh. But she is not the result of hoping, or wanting, or trying.

Which brings me back to my question. For those women who wanted a baby, and then had a baby, what does it feel like? Does it make the complete change of lifestyle less of an adjustment? The inevitable sacrifices easier to bear?

RaRa was never part of my plans. Now my entire reason for being centres around saving up for school fees. Things I wanted to do are now very unlikely. And tonight – for once – I’m sad about it. Or to put it more accurately: tonight, I’m being honest with myself about how I’m sad about it.

What does it feel like? I want to know.

Why November 17 is Significant

Today, November 17, is World Prematurity Awareness Day. The Empire State Building has been lit up in purple to raise awareness of the leading cause of death in babies in the US. Around the world, 15 million babies are born premature every year, and 1 million of them will not reach their first birthday. Last year, I read this fascinating story on how premature babies were cared for as part of a sideshow on Coney Island in New York; I never imagined that it would come to mean so much to me personally.

My daughter was born 10 weeks premature on February 26. Her due date was April 29. She was perfectly happy where she was, but because I had pre-eclampsia, my doctor had no choice but to yank her out way ahead of time. I will never forget the strangeness of that day, and the confusion I felt as she was placed on my chest after being weighed. This tiny, screaming life, outraged at being in the world. I remember how terrified I was that she might die, how each gram she gained was a victory. How my husband and I took turns sitting for hours and hours and hours each day, holding her next to our skin, willing her to grow. For five weeks, motherhood was something I shared with the nurses in NICU.

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When she came home from the hospital, she weighed less than 2kg. She was dwarfed by her car seat:

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Look at her now!

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Having a premature baby means that whenever people ask me how old she is, I never know what to say. Do I give her age from birth, which will confuse them because she’s clearly too small, or her age from her due date? (Usually, I give her age since her birth date, and then try and explain.)

I worry sometimes that she might have been damaged in some way by her difficult start in life, and that my health problems will cast a shadow over her life. She’s small for her age, and she hasn’t started to sit on her own yet.

I’m very grateful for the quality care she received at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. I’m also grateful to Discovery for paying her hospital bill: this is why medical aid matters so much.

I wonder what pregnancy is really like. I missed out on two months of pregnancy at its most physically intense, and though I know it would have been uncomfortable, I do feel a sense of loss.

Ultimately, though, I will never stop being grateful that Raphaela Ragini is as healthy and happy as she is. To be born premature is to run the risk of all sorts of health problems and developmental issues and I hope that she will overcome them all.

Who would have believed we could get through all of this, my baba? Tiny as you are, you’ve never done anything but embrace life. Your smile lights up my world and I love you very, very much. Happy November 17.

 

 

It’s back.

It’s back. Of course it is. It probably never really went away. I’ve staved it off quite successfully this year, all things considered. Health problems, the emergency c-section, NICU, all of that. I was always a very good candidate for postpartum depression and the fact that I didn’t succumb to it probably has a lot to do with the effects of the Eglonyl and getting enough sleep.

I’ve tried to pretend that it isn’t back. Being depressed when I’m so happily married seems horribly ungrateful. It doesn’t fit in with the narrative, which is that I’m supposed to have dragged myself through the swamp and climbed out, triumphant, on the other side.

But there it is. I sense it in my procrastination. In my inability to write. In that sense of failure that creeps up on me whenever I read of the success of others. I think back to last year’s quixotic ventures to overseas art fairs and marvel at how stupid I was to waste all that money. Those dreams have turned to dust and now I have other, more concrete realities to deal with. School fees will forever haunt me now.
Little things get to me. My inner voice is starting up again, the one that says you’re a useless piece of shit and you know it. Your mother is a piece of shit, RaRa, I told my daughter the other day. (I need to not do that. I don’t want to poison her with my self-loathing.)

Most of the things I used to love hold little pleasure for me now. Painting is a chore. The piano I bought is out of tune and gathering dust. I can’t concentrate on words on a page for long enough to read a book.

I don’t want to travel, don’t want to spend money, don’t want to do anything except be with the baby. I’m not excited about anything. There’s nothing I want to do. I drink too much, sometimes to slow my scattering thoughts, sometimes to stop feeling at all.

I don’t know if this will pass. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is the way things are now, and I just need to get used to it.

I brought a child into this awful world.

Once upon a time, I had many reasons for not wanting a child of my own. I didn’t want to saddle another human being with my dubious genetic heritage. I didn’t want to add to the burden shouldered by an already overloaded planet. And I wasn’t sure that it was entirely fair to bring a life into a world where it’s all going to shit, quite frankly.

And now here is RaRa, born in a year we all agree is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one. What have I done?

Today, November 9th 2016, we know that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Who knows what effect his administration will have on us here in South Africa, but the symbolism of an openly racist, sexist candidate endorsed by the KKK is hard to miss. The notion – one I held dear – that we’re gradually advancing towards a kinder, fairer world based on universal human rights is profoundly flawed, as it turned out. Yeats, writing all those years ago, was onto something.

Then there’s the planet we call home. The world inches ever closer to environmental catastrophe, regardless of what the “climate change is a hoax” crowd who will now be running America would like to believe. Wildlife is being wiped out by the rampant march of rapacious humanity. We spoil everything we touch and leave devastation in our wake.

There will be no end to war and suffering.

There’s little cause for hope in this neck of the woods either. The leader of our fastest growing opposition party has assured us that he won’t call for the slaughter of white people – for now. Our country is run by a venal, predatory elite. Poverty, unemployment and inequality threaten the rickety consensus of the  post-Rainbow Nation.  Crime is everywhere. The economy is tanking. Education costs are spiraling.

The world is changing in ways that frighten me, even if they don’t surprise me.

On this thoroughly depressing day, it’s hard to find anything to smile about. Yet there is RaRa, blissfully unaware of the world she has been born into. Her concerns revolve around Boob. She is surrounded by people who love her. Her next great challenge is to learn to sit on her own and start solids. One day, perhaps, when she is older, and she knows more of the world, she will ask me why she was born. I probably won’t have an answer for her except this: that I love her completely and utterly, that I am besotted with her, and love does not allow any room for regret.

I wanted the world to be better than this, RaRa. I’m so sorry.

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.

Anxiety

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.