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.

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…”
“Yes..!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?”
“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.