Weight on my Mind, Mind on my Weight.

Life

As of last Saturday, I have finally decided to change my diet and my terrible eating habits once and for all. I have been over 2-and-a-half stone overweight for too long, and it is now becoming such a problem that I seriously cannot let it get any bigger, physically or metaphorically.

I have been eating junk food and large portions at meal times ever since Nathi was born. I remember being at Mamkhulu’s home in Swaziland after Nathi’s birth and eating 2-3 peanut butter sandwiches (yep, that’s 4-6 slices of bread) for lunch without a second thought. At that point, I thought I would be OK as I was breastfeeding and I still looked relatively slim (for me, anyway!). I had momentarily forgotten how my body works… which is that I eat badly, don’t put any weight on straight away, continue to eat badly, then BAM… I’m a stone or two heavier overnight and none of my clothes fit anymore.

I love food. I love all types of food, but mainly I love sweet food. Chocolate, desserts, popcorn, anything packed with sugar. My main vice, though, is cereal. Big, fat, mammoth bowls of cereal which, to quote my dad, ‘don’t leave enough room for the milk’. When I eat cereal at his house, I use one of their mixing bowls rather than a normal cereal bowl. And I went through a terrible phase just recently where I was eating three big bowls of cereal a day, sometimes in addition to other meals.

My physicality represents my mental health, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t really give myself enough care or respect. I don’t think I ever have done. I am terrible at sticking to my own opinions, I am rubbish at making decisions, and I have low self-esteem (much to people’s shock, as I hide it well most of the time). I am miserable in my own skin (Actually, my skin is a whole other blog post!), and I cannot let my children see that anymore.

Everyone puts weight on differently, and loses it differently, I’m sure. I put weight on around my middle and my upper arms mostly, but I’ve also recently struggled to get boots on, and even rings on my fingers. The arms and the middle are the two places which, if I put on weight, make me look a little bit like a small, round Oompa-Loompa (And not just any Oompa-Loompa… The one fourth from the left). I have a small chest and a small head and I am short. I need to go IN at the waist, not out. I remember remarking to a friend a few years ago that, when I put on weight, I look like a Walnut Whip as my head is so small compared to my body.

One of my ‘moments of clarity’ on this change I needed to make was as a result of a conversation with my mum. I was telling her how much I weighed and how much I wanted to lose, and she said to me; ‘Think of all that extra weight you’re carrying. It’s like you’re carrying a Khaya around with you all the time.’ WOW. That was it. The moment I realised that I’m a ‘Khaya-weight’ difference between what I want to weigh and what I do weigh. That’s a whole 4-year old. I’m carrying the equivalent of a 4-year old around with me all day long. I imagined how I would feel if I got rid of that fatty baggage (Not Khaya, the weight). How much easier would it be to do the simplest things, like walking or playing hide and seek with my boys!?

Because I’m a bit of a faddy person, I’m being sensible. I’m taking it a day at a time and not expecting too much too soon. I know how my mind works, and I am determined to do this. I don’t want me to fuck it up. I have replaced breakfast (Those huge bowls of cereal) with a SlimFast high protein shake with added fruit and soy milk or skimmed milk and, apart from being extremely gassy (sorry, TMI), I am already feeling a small difference. It may simply be the feeling that I’m doing something positive at last, as I don’t physically feel any lighter as yet! I also need to drink more water – My worst habit is not drinking enough. My next step will be to do more exercise – I have DVDs that I can do at home, and I have considered joining a gym, although I don’t really like them! It may be the only way I can join a Pilates class, though, which I miss terribly from my pre-mamahood days.

So, if any of you are in the same boat as myself and want to share your journey with me, please get in touch. I have friends and relatives who have done so well at losing weight and changing their lifestyles for the better, and I hope to be one of the next ones to do so. I can’t wait to be happier in my own skin.

Thanks for reading,

NSG xxx

Talking Honestly about Death

Life, Parenting

I have just listened to the wonderful second episode of Clemmie Telford’s Honestly podcast (I also highly recommend the first episode with the brilliant Father and Mother of Daughters, Simon and Clemmie Hooper). Clemmie’s Honestly podcast is about speaking honestly about those subjects which are often taboo or brushed under the carpet; subjects which can be tough to talk about or difficult to bring up, maybe a bit embarrassing to talk about in front of friends or family. But, they do need to be talked about.

This episode deals with that subject that we all avoid – Death. I know I avoid it, as the sheer knowledge that I will die one day frightens me so much that I can’t bear to even think about it. It has scared me from a young age. I recall driving home from my grandfather’s house one dark, rainy evening with my mum, dad and brother. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old. I started crying for no apparent reason. When my parents asked me what was wrong, I said ‘I don’t want you to die’. It really, really upset me to think this would happen one day and there would be no way I could stop it. The thought of living without them traumatised me.

As we get older and our families grow, we tend to change the way we feel about death. I guess, as it becomes more inevitable, we learn to accept it and face it head-on. But, becoming a mother makes the whole thing so much harder. Now we have to think about our children losing a parent as well as us losing our relatives. I don’t think I have ever really talked about this with anyone before because I am blocking it out of my mind completely as a way to avoid having to deal with such a huge fear of mine. My biggest fear. And I don’t know why I fear it. Why do I feel scared of dying? As the man in the song ‘Great Gig In The Sky‘ by Pink Floyd says, ‘Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve got to go sometime’. And I have lost some amazing people in my life. My grandmother died in 2002. We were close. She was strong. I thought, if she can do it, then it must be OK. And it happens so often, almost as much as people being born. The world daily death rate is 151,600 people, according to http://www.ecology.com. That’s per day!

I think the fear is the unknown. Not many people can tell us what it’s like to die. People die for a moment before being brought back to life, which is incredible, and that’s the closest we will get to being able to understand what happens. In Clemmie Telford’s podcast, Louise Winters and Anna Lyons talk openly and honestly about their jobs as an alternative funeral director and end-of-life doula respectively. Both deal with death and grief every day. Listening to their take on it all, and the way it should be discussed, was really refreshing. So much so that I had to write this blog post immediately in order to share with you, and signpost, some of the things they said. Anna Lyons’ post on Clemmie Telford’s blog, Mother Of All Lists, was mentioned in the podcast episode, so I went and had a look. It is an honest guide to death and all the things surrounding it. Here is the list for you all to read (and I feel it is important that you do): What Death Has Taught Me. I won’t spoil it for you, as it is really an amazing read, but I was surprised to hear, on the podcast and in the article, that you can have a funeral anywhere, you can be buried in your back garden and, most unexpectedly, you can remain at home after you die, not in a mortuary, as long as you’re kept cool and the cat isn’t allowed in the room (Apparently they begin to eat dead bodies after the heart stops – Ewww. Although, this won’t stop me from loving cats).

Listening to the Honestly podcast has made me think about mortality, grief and life’s fragility. These would normally be grave subjects to think about on a Wednesday morning, but today I am thinking about them in a different, new and refreshing light. It doesn’t have to be taboo or forbidden to discuss it, and I totally agree with Anna about talking openly and honestly about death with our children. I have thought about it many times, when the subject arises, but I realise that they’re not stupid and shouldn’t be shielded away from the subject of death. It will only increase a fear in them. My eldest is really obsessed with The Lion King at the moment, and he refers to the death of Mufasa as him ‘getting stuck’. So now, any time there is a perilous or sad part of a film, he asks if someone is going to get stuck. *LION KING SPOILER ALERT* We tell him that Mufasa died because Scar pushed him, and he blamed it on Simba. He understands now that Mufasa died. These things do happen, so why lie about them? I think having children has made me begin to feel differently about death – When I talk about it with them, I don’t want to scare them like it scares me. I want them to feel comfortable with the inevitability. It is inevitable and it doesn’t need to be scary. My boys will find their own way to deal with these things – the death of relatives and their own mortality – and we will be there to support them through the tough times and to try and explain things to them truthfully when they ask questions. As they say in the podcast, understanding what happens in death allows us to feel more comfortable with it. It helps us to imagine, as best we can, what it might be like and that gives us a better personal connection with our inevitable end.

I have to, finally, give a special mention to Louise Winters’ beautiful answer to Clemmie Telford’s question, ‘Death is…’

‘The full stop at the end of a life sentence’.

As ever, thanks for reading,

NSG xxx

Cover Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Book Review: The Mummy Lessons by Helen Wallen

Parenting

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Firstly, I want to say that I only found out yesterday that The Mummy Lessons is the second book in what is hopefully a whole series, following the motherhood experiences of three childhood friends, Emily, Liz and Molly. I am clearly very late to this party! But, like many parties, it’s better to be late than not turn up at all. And, even without knowing the hosts, I still had an awesome time and ended the evening feeling like I knew them well. Plus, it left me wanting to go out and get that first book…

OK, that’s enough of the party metaphors.

It’s true that all three ladies in the book are completely different people, all doing the motherhood thing differently, but you can’t help but sympathise with them all in some way. As a mother, I have probably felt the same way as all of them at some stage in my own experience, and I think other mothers (and fathers) will find this, too. This is how Helen Wallen draws us in to the story – She makes us fully empathise with the characters. I am not going to spoil the story in any way, as that would be just mean (and make my partner, who is a writer of stories, very angry with me!), but it felt like I was reading the diaries, Whatsapp chats and blog posts (and witty poetry!) of my dearest mummy friends – Content that I’d heard, felt and seen before, but this was portrayed by other people… so WE ARE NOT ALONE then!

This is one of the main things that I loved about this book – Its familiarity. It made it a real joy to read. Even at the end of a day (or sixteen) where I have felt so tired and fed up, this book brightened me up and made me laugh out loud before bedtime. Helen’s language and her ease at telling her characters’ stories made it easy to follow and kept me entertained throughout, even when things weren’t going too well in the story (Again, no spoilers).

The book also reinforces the importance of mummy friends, and I think every mum will read this book and feel ever-more grateful for their village. I know I did. I don’t think any of the characters could have gone through these stages of motherhood without each other, and I genuinely feel this way about my own mummy group. Just reading the Whatsapp conversations about babies that won’t sleep, and getting messages at 4.30am and actually responding to them… I remember it all so well!

What sets this apart from other books of its kind is that it is completely fictional (It seems that most others seem to be either autobiographical or an advice book rather than a story), but there is still a hint of ‘hmmmm’ about whether Helen Wallen has used some of her own experiences to create the stories of her characters. I can imagine that most of the parents out there could split their crazy experiences across three separate and totally different characters and still manage to make the stories feel so real.

I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, and was sad when I’d finished it (Although I got a little taster of Helen’s first book, Baby Boom, at the end – Nice touch!). It made me feel warm and cosy, but also sad and empathetic at times. This crazy journey we’re on as parents can only be fully enjoyed with laughter, jokes, not-so-candid conversations about baby weaning and a few swear words, and Helen Wallen has brought that into print for us all to enjoy, and for really not that much money! If that’s not a tonic, I don’t know what is…

NSG xxx

Where else can you follow Helen Wallen aka Just A Normal Mummy other than physically stalking her and her family?

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Cesarean Awareness Month – My Story

Parenting

After finding out that April is Cesarean Awareness Month, I felt compelled to share my story. The highs and the lows, but with a very happy ending. I just felt I should add that now before you read on.

First, a bit of birth history…

I got pregnant with Khaya about three months into my relationship with my wonderful man. The pregnancy was awesome, the birth was even more awesome. It was quick, easy and relatively pain-free. My labour started around lunchtime on a Wednesday, and Khaya was born at 6.54pm that evening! In a way, I wonder if this easy process added to the problems I had later with post-natal depression. Was it too easy? Had I been spoiled? Did I therefore expect everything to be perfect or, at the very least, easy and natural? I have been playing that all over in my head a lot over the past few years.

Fast-forward to our rather risky trip to Swaziland in November 2016. I was 7 months pregnant when we left, and the plan was for me to return to the UK in my 36th week of pregnancy, just before Christmas. I had a letter from my GP to say that I was fit to fly, and it was OK with the airline. Nothing could go wrong, right?! Well, how wrong was I…

When we left for Swaziland, I was in the process of selling a flat I owned with my ex-husband. It was stressful. I didn’t want to be in contact with him, but there were things that needed to be done in order to get the process underway. We had some viewings, some interest, and then we had an offer. It was slightly lower than I wanted, but it would still mean a little bit of a profit for us both and, most importantly, closure. Being so far away, and having minimal access to the internet, was tough. I was able to contact the agents as and when I had reception (most of the time from a local bar/cafe in Mbabane – Thank you so much to them for their help!). I remember some rather stressed conversations with the agents as a result of my ex-husband dragging his heels on some paperwork, although he denied this at the time. I then had a heated FB Messenger conversation with him about it all, and it was not a nice experience. Being 7-months pregnant and having to deal with all of this as well as the soaring heat in Swaziland was not the best situation for me to be in. I rested as much as I could and Khaya, then a toddler, was upset that I wasn’t playing with him as much anymore. I felt miserable at a time when I should have been happy.

I woke early one Monday morning, around 3am, with a very wet patch around me in the bed. I went to the bathroom and realised I was leaking fluid. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was urine or amniotic fluid. Had I just lost control of my bladder?! I was only in my 35th week of pregnancy. The baby wasn’t due yet. The fluid kept coming, so my partner found the number for a clinic to get some advice. He called the Women and Children Hospital in Manzini, a city about 20 minutes’ drive away from where we were staying with my partner’s aunt (in Lobamba, a beautiful rural area with mountain views and lots of peace and quiet, except on Sundays when all of the churches in the area would have their services). The hospital said I should rest and sleep until the morning and then make our way to see them for an examination. Khaya had woken up, too, so we could all do with a proper sleep for a few more hours. The leaking subsided a bit but it was still coming out. We got up later in the morning, got dressed and made our way to the hospital in the family car.

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Manzini’s Women and Children Hospital. I swear we spent longer in this waiting area than in the hospital itself!

As we arrived at the hospital, it looked really nice. New, clean, with a TV in the waiting area. I was happy that my partner had chosen this hospital for our check-up, despite it being a little further away than other clinics. They asked for money when we arrived. We couldn’t see a doctor until we paid. So we paid and we waited. We were called in and I was examined. The doctor confirmed that it was amniotic fluid and that I would need to be admitted because I was probably about to go into labour. After much negotiation with the receptionist and accounts administrator about fees for the admission, we finally got in to the ward where I was given a bed. They told me that I would be in for the night and would just now need to wait for labour to start naturally before they decided on what to do next. By the next morning, nothing had happened. I was induced. Nothing. Then I was induced again at lunchtime. Things then started happening. I was feeling contractions and they were getting more intense. I remember the doctor saying to me, ‘Why are you smiling and laughing? You should be screaming in pain!’. I replied, ‘I’m about to meet my son, why wouldn’t I be happy?’. But, upon examination about four hours later, the doctors found that I was fully effaced but only 1cm dilated. My son didn’t want to come out yet. He wasn’t ready! The doctor told me the words I really didn’t want to hear – ‘We are going to have to go into theatre and get this baby out. It has been too long now since your waters broke. We will need to prep you now for a cesarean’. Shit. My happy, laughing self turned into a wreck. I was completely nervous.  I felt so vulnerable – A complete flip from my first birth where I felt that my body had this, that it was working well to get the baby out naturally. Now I felt as though I had failed. My body had misread some signals and thought my son wanted to come early when, in fact, he was totally happy in there. It makes me sad to write that, you know. I still feel very sad about that.

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Waiting for our son to arrive naturally the night before he actually did!

So, I was prepped for theatre. It was the first time in a while I’d been shaved ‘down there’, which I managed to joke about to the lovely nurse who had that awful job! I also remember not having any more contractions. It was as if my body knew it could stop now. Perhaps my son knew that it was futile trying to do anything about getting out. Perhaps he just didn’t want to. I was given a gown to wear and I had to take off all of my jewellery. My partner had to sign a consent form to say he was happy for the operation to go ahead. He always tells me how frightening that was. I was wheeled down to theatre with my partner by my side (Khaya was staying at the house in Lobamba with his auntie and cousin). In the theatre I met the anaesthetist – A lovely man with a bubbly personality which really helped at a time when I was feeling so scared and nervous. Both doctors who I’d met and got to know were performing the operation. I felt safe and looked after. I was lifted on to the table and I started telling the anaesthetist how scared I was about having an epidural, as I’d heard that they really hurt. He reassured me, and we went through the process. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would, so I was relieved. Then I lay down and started to feel the pins and needles and numbness as it happened. First in my feet, then up my legs, then finally up to my waist. I only recall bits and bobs about what happened next, mainly involving me talking to the staff about complete nonsense and being extremely nervous. I didn’t let go of my partner’s hand the whole way through. I said to him, ‘Let me know when he’s out’, and he replied, ‘He already is!’. He had been watching the operation, like the brave bastard that he is. I saw a very long baby being brought over to us for a kiss, then he was whisked away to be checked. My partner went in to check how he was doing (asking for my permission, bless him) while they sewed up my wounds. The doctor said that she would only put a couple of stitches inside as she wanted it to heal more by itself, and then she stitched up the outside with more sutures (One of which stayed in there until a couple of months after I returned to the UK – I went to the doctor to find out what this vein was that was running across the underside of my section scar, and she found out it was a long blue suture that had been left in there after the removal of my stitches). I remember saying to the doctor that I could feel something putting pressure on my chest. It was overwhelmingly painful. She told me she didn’t know what that could be, as she was dealing with my uterus at the time. And then I started to get the shakes. Really badly. I was shivering, my teeth were chattering, and I couldn’t speak properly. They were worried about me, but I kept cool, took deep breaths, and all was OK in the end. It took a while to wear off. I think my body was in shock. My partner told me that our son was OK, but needed some help with his breathing. His lungs hadn’t fully matured, so he would need to go into ICU for at least the rest of the night. His birth time was recorded as 7.24pm, exactly half an hour after his big brother was born 21 months before, almost to the day. Once I was stitched up, I was lifted back onto my hospital bed and wheeled back to the ward. I was told I couldn’t have a pillow and that I had to keep lying flat without lifting my head for the next 24 hours. This was to avoid some major headaches, which were a side effect of the anaesthetic they had used.

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Baby Nkosinathi, only minutes old.

For those 24 hours, I mainly slept. My partner was told to go home as there was nothing he could do now. I would be asleep, and our baby was being well looked after in the ICU. My partner needed to be back with our other son at home and could come back in the morning refreshed. Poor Khaya was probably wondering what had happened to Mama, and whether there was a new baby yet! As I lay down that night, without really being able to move, I heard babies crying in the ICU. I wondered if any of them were my baby. I later found out that the staff weren’t able to pick the babies up to comfort them, and this really made me sad (Still does). When my partner came back in the morning, he went into the ICU and took videos and photos of our baby so that I could see him. He also got some updates on his progress. They thought he would be able to join me the next morning, which was great. By then I would be up and about and we could start on the feeding.

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One of the photos taken of our baby son while he was in the ICU without his Mama

That night, it was time for me to get up and start walking. I had a catheter inserted during my operation and recovery but this was removed when the anaesthetic wore off. I was then expected to try to walk to the bathroom by myself. The most wonderful nurse was on duty that night – Sister Emma. I will never forget her. She and my partner helped lift me up to sit, which was extremely tough. Then I had to step down from the bed and walk across to the bathroom by myself. I needed so much help. I was broken! Not only had I been opened up to get my baby out of me, I had also been lying down, pillowless, for 24 hours. And, yes, I still got those awful headaches which the doctors assured me would be much worse if I hadn’t laid so still for that long.

My body hadn’t caught up with the event that occurred the previous evening. I didn’t have my baby with me! My milk hadn’t started coming in yet. But, the next morning, he was back with his Mama, still connected to a drip. This tiny little skinny thing with a dented chest. He looked so unready to be here. He even seemed a bit pissed off about the whole thing. If you know him now, you could understand that – He’s a feisty and stubborn little boy! We worked on the feeding all day, and started our bonding process. It was lovely. Then, my partner brought Khaya in to meet his little brother for the first time. He thought the baby was really funny each time he moved. It was also the first time that my partner could hold his new son. We discussed names for quite a few days. I wanted one of his middle names to be chosen by my partner’s aunt, as she had been so good to us, looking after us during this hard time. In the end, we decided that the name she chose for him would be his christian name – Nkosinathi, meaning ‘God is with us’. We shortened it to Nathi.

We were in hospital for a week. I was discharged on the Friday and Nathi was discharged on the Monday. I had to make an appointment to come back to have my stitches removed and we had to come back after two weeks with Nathi for a check-up. It was all very expensive. The bills were huge. We had been told the cost of a c-section when we arrived and it wasn’t much more than a natural delivery. It was affordable. But, they added on so many things, even each pair of latex gloves used. Even way after we left they added more and more fees. We had to borrow money from all of our relatives to pay the fees.

At this point, I want to tell you what I know about births in Southern Africa. I have heard many things, but the main thing I hear over and over again is how doctors try to convince you to have a caesarean. The reasons they give probably include increased health, safety, precision, no potential unnecessary trauma, knowing the day your child will be born… The real reason is that they are able to get all of their buddies some scheduled work. The surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses… All of them would be able to book the operation into their calendars and be guaranteed a wage. Most people in Southern Africa have Medical Aid, a health insurance that covers most of their medical needs. Some people cannot afford this monthly payment towards their healthcare. These people have to use the government hospitals which have less reliable care. Obviously, the Medical Aid only covers so much. I know a family in South Africa whose twins were very premature and ended up staying in hospital for over three months. Their Medical Aid only covered a portion of the total cost of the care and the total bill came to millions of rands. I wrote a blog post (Why We Need To Vote To Save The NHS) in June 2017 about how important it is for us to save the NHS for this very reason. I have learned in our international family living that there are so many differences, pluses and minuses of both lives. The NHS is a huge plus to life in the UK and we really need to know how bloody lucky we are to have such a reliable service for those scary and nerve-wracking times in our lives – Times when reliability and reassurance are most vital.

During Cesarean Awareness Month, I will be thinking of my experience which, despite the fees and the downsides, was actually a mostly-positive experience. We were well looked after, we were safe, and we had amazing support from everyone around us. Despite all the ridiculous claims that a cesarean birth isn’t a real birth (I blame Shakespeare for this – All that shit about ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth‘ – It turns out Macduff’s mum had a c-section), or it’s the easy route, it is important for us all to share our stories about our own experiences with cesareans and how it really isn’t ‘the easy way out’. It has just as many ups and downs as a ‘natural’ birth and should not be seen as a failure. It took me a while to see this, as I was disappointed that this was the path we had to take in order to have our second son, but I have no real reason to feel this way. He was born, he is healthy. He might not have made it if we’d carried on trying to do it the natural way. I might not have made it either. Surely, that’s the important thing here. If there is a way to do this safely, with the best and healthiest outcome, you’d surely have no choice but to do it this way.

I hope that this somehow has a positive effect on my readers. I would hate to think that I might put people off cesareans after hearing my story. I admit I still have moments, and writing this post has been hard, but I was already suffering with anxiety, depression and stress at the time of Nathi’s birth. That aside, the birth went really, really well. My physical and mental scars have practically disappeared, and Nathi is a fantastic, hilarious and extremely strong little boy.

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Nathi today. Two years old and stronger than all the rest of us put together!

Thanks for reading, and please support/share/encourage others to talk during this month of awareness. For more information, please visit: the International Cesarean Awareness Network.

Thank you,

NSG xxx