On Mother’s Day, here’s to the grandmothers

There are 90 years, 2 months and 13 days between the two people in the photograph below. This is my daughter with my grandmother on the very first day that they finally got to meet. I don’t know for sure if, by then, my grandmother knew exactly who I was and who had brought her a baby, but I like to think that she did.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 11.36.56 AM.png

On Friday, I gave one of two eulogies at Granny Molly’s funeral. She died on Thursday, May 4, at the age of 91, which means I was fortunate enough to have her in my life for more than 42 years. (42: the answer to life, the universe and everything.)

I was very close to her for much of my life. As I reflected on Friday, “everyone should have a Granny Molly in their lives”. That tribute to her was very much on behalf of her eight grandchildren, of which I am the eldest.

Some of my earliest memories involve Granny Molly: walking up the hill from my parents’ home to hers, lying on her bed while she tickled my back and told me stories about a little boy called Seedy Weedy, who lived in Plettenberg Bay and who loved to “pee in the seagull’s eye”. I lived with her before I got married and after my divorce; she was a constant fixture in my life, the family matriarch around whom the rest of us revolved.

I am so very fortunate to have had a grandmother who loved me – and spoiled me – and was there for me when it mattered most. RaRa is lucky enough to be very close to her grandmother too. Long before my daughter was born so far ahead of schedule, my mother told me that she would not let me put my child into daycare. So it is that every work day, I take her to my parents’ home, where my mother, my aunt Janet and my mother’s helper Joyce all help to feed, change and entertain my baby while I am in meetings and hunched behind my laptop drawing PowerPoint slides.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 11.37.05 AM.png

On Friday, RaRa attended Granny Molly’s funeral. She didn’t know what was going on, of course. For most of the requiem mass, she prattled happily, speaking – in baby talk – on behalf of all the great grandchildren. Her innocent cheeriness brought smiles to an otherwise solemn occasion, and I like to think that my grandmother would have been charmed.

Later, in the church hall, we had tea and coffee and sandwiches, and chatted to relatives we last spoke to at the last funeral. RaRa got tired and hungry, so my aunt Janet fetched a bag with food and a bib from her car, and my mother and I sat at one of the tables and fed the baby before a familiar aroma signalled that it was time to change her nappy. Life goes on, and the baton passes from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter. I look forward to seeing the relationship between my daughter and my mother grow, and flourish in all sorts of interesting ways.

Here’s to the grandmothers who add so much to our lives, and to whom we owe so much.

Advertisements

Breastfeeding ruined my skin

The maternity shoot. The newborn shoot. Both of these are very fashionable. I see them posted on Facebook all the time, and a small part of me feels envious, even resentful. Every time.

I didn’t do either of these. I have hundreds of photos of RaRa, but I feature in almost none of them. I don’t have a single nice photo of myself with my baby.

I had a very good reason for not wanting to do a maternity or a newborn shoot. My skin is a disaster, and I don’t want anyone to see.

This is nothing new. I got my first pimples at the freakishly young age of seven, and it went downhill from there. I was 12 when I was put onto my first course of Roaccutane, and I’ve been on countless courses since. Before I came off the Pill, I was on a chronic low dose of a Roaccutane generic. Nothing else worked.

The first zits soon appeared after I stopped taking contraception, and it only got worse when I fell pregnant. Now my epidermis is faced with a double whammy: not only can I not take Roaccutane (its safety while breastfeeding has not been established), but contraception I’m taking – the mini-pill, which prevents pregnancy while not impacting negatively on breastmilk production – is an acne bomb.

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-10-47-35-pm

I hate the way I look most days. I feel ugly, and because I’m now in a category where it’s permissible to look like shit, I’ve let myself go. Before I go to the office, I put on the barest minimum of makeup. I live in leggings.  I keep cover sticks in my car to plaster over the zits, though I know it probably makes them even more obvious. I am pretty sure that people talk behind my back. It’s not normal for a woman in her 40s to have skin like a 16 year old – for all the wrong reasons. (“You should pamper yourself,” my mother-in-law told me when I last visited. I know what this is code for.)

RaRa has almost certainly inherited this particularly shitty problem. I hope that by the time she gets her first pimple, there will be a treatment other than a drug that causes long-term liver damage.

In the mean time, I can have decent skin, or I can breastfeed my baby. But I can’t have both.

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-31-55-pm

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

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-42-31-pm

Look at her now!

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-43-29-pm

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.

cetaphil-baby-1

 

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-41-42-pm

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.