Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Q&A: Getting to know Um Zayed

A big 'thank you' to everyone who submitted questions for this Q&A post via my Instagram and my blog; I really appreciate your interest and have tried to answer all your questions in as much detail as possible. So, here we go...!

What are your biggest interests and passions in life? (Sara)
Good question! I have quite a lot... I'm very interested in properties: architecture, house design, interior design, landscape design, the real estate market etc. I also really love cars, and have done ever since I was little. As a child I collected toy cars and played with them more than dolls! Everyone who knows me knows that I'm passionate about football and I grew up supporting Fulham FC in England. After working in UAE football for the past 5 years and being consumed only by local matches, it has been nice to reignite my interest in watching the English Premier League since I left my job. And I guess I'm into fashion too, although I'm certainly not a fashionista. I'd say my style is quite classic, and I'm not overly adventurous with clothes, but I'm more into shoes, bags and accessories added to a simple outfit.

Can you speak Arabic and give some examples on your insta story? (Anonymous)
I can understand a lot more than I can actually say, but I'm getting there... I'm just shy to make mistakes! But communicating with my mother-in-law has forced me out of my comfort zone and made me brave enough to just talk and not worry about my grammar being perfect. She doesn't speak English, so the main thing is for my points to be understood, and she will forgive my grammatical errors. Inshallah I will speak in Arabic for you on my insta story in the next few days, but please don't laugh at my accent!

How did you learn to speak Arabic? I live in the UAE and plan to stay, but don't even know where to begin learning Arabic! (Anonymous)
I have a background of learning languages, and studied French, German and Latin in school until I was 18. I'm fluent in French and German. But with Arabic I sort of picked it up by osmosis; just by listening to people around me, figuring it out, and asking them to help me understand. I'm lucky that I've always been surrounded by locals ever since I moved here, whether it be my friends or at work, so that helped me to pick up Emirati Arabic. But as a language student I would definitely love to take proper classes sometime and learn all the correct grammar. I've heard Al Ramsa Institute is the best in town for learning Emirati Arabic - you should give it a try!

How did you meet your husband? (SO many people asked this!! haha)
I was working in the same field as him for 5 years. Although we didn't work directly together or work for the same company, our paths crossed from time to time, and after a few years (yes, years!) we finally got talking. So basically we met through work.

How did you know that you wanted to marry your husband? (Anonymous)
I had always said since I was very young that it would be my dream to marry my best friend. He very quickly became my best friend above all else; we share a similar sense of humour, we are always discussing ideas and challenging each other intellectually, and we both have similar interests and ambitions. He always treated me with the utmost respect. When he asked me to marry him I had no hesitation in saying yes.

How did your husband's family react to him marrying a non-Emirati? (Amna)
I have been very lucky in my experience with my husband's family; I know a lot of people in my situation have a really difficult time being accepted. Fortunately my husband's family have been supportive right from the start. When he first told them that he wanted to marry me, of course they asked for us all to meet. So we went for dinner with his mother, sisters and brother - I was terrified!! It started off like a job interview/interrogation (!!!) but ended up with us all laughing together as friends. At the end of the dinner, my husband's mother told him to bring me to the family house next time and she would cook lunch for me. At that point everyone round the table started celebrating and said "It's official: you've been approved!!!"

I'm immensely grateful to my mother-in-law for how welcoming and how fair she has always been towards me. My husband and I are quite simple and would've been happy just to get married by signing in court, without a big party, but my mother-in-law was adamant that I deserved the same treatment as any local wife would get, and so we did have a traditional wedding. She wanted to show me to her friends, extended family, and the community, and show that they are happy to have me as a member of their family. She also insisted that I get the same amount of mahr as my elder brother-in-law's wife, even though I didn't ask for any at all. But she said I should be valued equally, and I can't express how much that meant to me as a principle. We have a wonderful relationship, and I also love my sisters-in-law as if they were my own sisters.

What has been the biggest challenge to you about being involved with an Emirati husband and in-laws? (Fatma)
Of course there are some cultural differences with my in-laws... even when planning the wedding party, we had some differences of opinion on the style of the setup, the style of dress, the number of guests etc... But I think that's normal in any family, right?! We always managed to come to very amicable compromises and never had any major issues at all al7amdellah. Since having Baby Z, again, there are some cultural differences in terms of child-rearing practices...but as long as I explain my reasoning for doing things a certain way (for example waiting until 6 months to start solid foods, instead of starting at 3 or 4 months) then they are always very accepting and understanding.

I would say the biggest challenge for me with regards to my husband being Emirati is not being able to share his identity the way it would be so normal to do so in my culture. It has been challenging trying to explain it to people back home too; for example, they really don't understand why I don't post him on my social media - not even mentioning his name or tagging his account - and vice-versa. I think in the UK and in the western world in general, we are very public about relationships and certainly if a couple is married, it would be expected for everyone to know that they are husband and wife, and they are usually both very proud to show each other off. But here it's different and I respect that. Having said that, I really love the way there are Emirati couples like Salama Mohamed and Khalid Al Ameri, as well as my dear friends Hind Beljafla and Majid Al Qassimi, who are proud to share their love on social media these days. I think it's very inspiring, especially for the younger generations.

Why don't you post your face on Instagram? Does your husband not allow you to? (Anonymous)
It's not that he doesn't allow me to, but once we knew that we were getting married he said he would prefer me not to. So I deleted all pictures of my face and didn't post anymore. At first I felt a bit like I lost my identity on Instagram, but then I realised that it wasn't necessary to show my face in order to connect with people and share my experiences. The purpose of my account is not to publicise the way I look, and once I found a way to tell my stories in a way that is true to my own character I understood that there was no reason to share my face anymore. I have a private account for family and friends only, where I can share pictures of myself and pictures with my husband with the people that matter the most to me in a safe and private space. So that's the compromise we came to and we are both happy with it.

What are some of your goals for this year? (Anonymous)
This is the first year where I've actually written a list of goals for 2018 on paper. Last year, as I mentioned in a previous post, I felt very unproductive professionally, but that's because I was busy being productive physically by growing and birthing a baby(!), so I should really cut myself some slack. But this year my main targets are to complete my Property Development qualification (which I am doing via distance learning from a UK university), to improve my blog and social media content and grow my following, to embark on a new business venture which I have recently partnered with and hope to introduce to the market in the next few months, and on a more personal note, to get my fitness level back and work out to achieve my best possible post-baby body. Also, as someone who has always been financially independent, I feel it's very important for me to start contributing financially to our household again. I've earned my own income since I started working at the age of 16, and I'm not used to relying on anyone else. I understand the culture here that the wife takes a salary from her husband, and I appreciate the opportunity it gave me to rest and focus on our home life when I was pregnant and adjusting to motherhood, but now it's time for me to start working towards achieving our ambitions again.

Are you going to start working? And if yes, where? (Anonymous)
I started working part-time while I was still at school, and then full time as soon as I finished school 18, and I didn't stop working until February last year. But now I'm in the fortunate position whereby I don't need to work. What I have decided is that I don't want to work for someone else; I don't want to have to report to anyone and I don't want to be based in an office. I want to be my own boss, and I have started to work on some projects already in order to make that happen inshallah.

What are the most important things to buy for a newborn? (Anonymous)

  • Nappies!!! But I wouldn't advise bulk-buying Size 1 nappies just in case your baby is quite big and goes straight into Size 2 or 3... Baby Z was in Size 1 for the first 4 weeks but then jumped straight to Size 3. Sizes are hard to predict, and that's why I would recommend holding off from bulk-buying until after your baby has arrived. 
  • Full-length 100% cotton sleep suits in Newborn and 0-3 Months sizes (with fold-over sleeves, so you don't need to worry about scratch mitts)
  • 2 or 3 100% cotton hats in Newborn size
  • Swaddling blankets (preferably cellular blankets - the ones with little holes in for breathability)
  • Car seat
  • I really do recommend a SleepyHead (Deluxe size) - it was the only thing Baby Z would sleep in when he was born. He NEVER used his Moses basket! I would also recommend getting a spare cover for it because your baby will inevitably spit up and/or pee on it, so you'll need to have one in the wash and one on the pod!
  • Pacifiers (they usually come in packs of 2) - Baby Z likes the MAM and Avent brands
  • A barrier cream (to prevent nappy rash) - I recommend Metanium, which is available from Boots and on Mumzworld
  • If you are planning to breastfeed - I recommend getting a pump. I used a manual Tommee Tippee pump and an electric Medela Swing pump.
  • If you are planning to express your breastmilk and/or formula feed, you will need plenty of bottles... Start off with the small 120ml or 150ml bottle size for a newborn. I recommend the Tommee Tippee 'Closer to Nature' anti-colic vented bottles.
  • You will also need a steriliser for any bottle feeding - again, I recommend the Tommee Tippee electric steam steriliser.
  • If you will be formula feeding I highly recommend getting the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine - it will make your life MUCH easier!
I would say those are the main essentials... Each baby is different and will have differing requirements and needs, so just keep in mind that you will not be able to be 100% prepared, and you may also find that you buy things which never get used!

Did you face any issues after your thyroid removal and hormonal imbalances in order to get pregnant? (Anonymous)
Al7amdellah no, I didn't have any fertility issues at all, which I am sincerely grateful for because I know that thyroid and hormone imbalances can be major causes of infertility. But often if there is a fertility issue caused by thyroid levels, it can be solved by taking the correct dosage of synthetic thyroid stimulating hormone and regulating the TSH levels.

Are you planning on more children? And if you have a girl what would you name her? (Anonymous)
I think for now I'm just happy to focus on raising Zayed, and I would ideally like a gap of around 2-3 years between him and the next one. I don't have any brothers or sisters and I always said I would want to have more than one child, so inshallah we will be blessed again when the time is right. We have a few options for potential girls' names but nothing specifically chosen yet - it's still up for debate!

How do you cope with not seeing your family every day and adjusting to life in Dubai? (Anonymous)
I've been here for 6 years now so it definitely got easier with time; especially now that I have created my own family here. But I didn't find it that difficult to make the transition, even though the first year living abroad was most certainly the hardest in terms of the emotions of being away from my mother and my grandparents. With technology these days it's easy to communicate and stay in touch with people back in the UK. 

Will your mum move to Dubai? (Anonymous)
No, I don't think she ever would. She's very attached to her life in London. She's been here to visit a few times and loves it, and hopefully she will be coming to stay again quite soon. But I don't think she would ever leave London behind. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Time for Positive Changes

As 2017 draws to a close, traditionally this is the time when people reflect upon their achievements of the past year and set targets for the coming one. I, however, do not believe in New Year's Resolutions; I think if you genuinely want to make a change or start something new, you shouldn't have to wait for the turning of the year to push you to do so. And that is why I have already started making positive changes in my life over the past few weeks, rather than putting it off until 1st January.

When I look back at 2017, of course it will stand out for one thing: the birth of Baby Z. So from a personal perspective, it has been an extremely memorable year. But as far as being enterprising goes, it was quite possibly the least productive year of my life.

Since giving up my job in January, I struggled to adjust to the stay-at-home lifestyle, although I very much needed the rest during an energy-sapping pregnancy. I started writing these blog posts as a means to keep my brain and my writing ticking over, but that alone wasn't intellectually challenging enough for me. Then Baby Z came along mid-year, bringing with him a whirlwind of newborn excitement and exhaustion, and for at least four weeks postpartum I wondered if I would EVER feel like myself or feel in control of my life again.

But, what motherhood has done for me, it turns out, is ignite a newfound level of motivation. Where previously I was motivated to succeed only for myself, I now want to achieve things to make my husband and son proud, and to create more opportunities for us as a family. With my thyroid in check and my postnatal recovery well and truly complete, my energy levels and mental clarity are better than they have been for a very long time. I am raring to go, and ready to take on new challenges.

My first step towards being more productive was enrolling in a distance learning qualification from a British university a couple of months ago, which I can complete online in my own time over the course of a year. The course subject - Property Development & UK Property Law - is something that really engages my mind, and I'm hopeful will prove to be a great asset to us as a family in a future business venture we are preparing for.

Other steps I am taking towards maximising my potential and 'living my best life' (is this the buzz phrase of 2017?!) include:

  • Eating healthier - I relied largely on Deliveroo during the early months of Baby Z's life, but am now making a concerted effort to be cleaner with my eating and to dedicate time to 'meal prep' at home. BUT I do love chocolate and iced coffee, and I don't think I should deny myself those treats... 'everything in moderation' as my Grandma always says!
  • Improving my fitness - I've never been a gym bunny but always used to be quite active with walking and running; now that the weather is better and Baby Z enjoys being pushed along in his pram, I've at least started to move more. I fully intend to build up my stamina and start training properly in the coming weeks. The inspirational @diaryofafitmommyofficial on Instagram provides great tips on how to work out as a busy mother, whether it be combining exercise with completing household chores, or doing lunges and squats with your baby's stroller.
  • Investing in my skin - I was inspired to do this when I read my friend Shanice's blog post about skincare and it really resonated with me. Our skin is the largest organ of our body - not to mention it is almost constantly on show to the outside world - yet so many of us, including myself, neglect it or don't put enough effort into treating it well. My newfound interest in paying more attention to my skincare regime has also opened the door to a very exciting new business opportunity - a company I officially partnered with this month - and I can't wait to get started on it and share more about it with you in the weeks and months ahead. 

So, to those who say 'your life is over once you have children': I strongly disagree. Your life doesn't have to revolve solely around your kids, even though of course they are the centre of your universe. You can still take time and make effort to invest in yourself, to create opportunities, and to fulfill your potential personally and professionally. You may even find that - like me - you become even more motivated to be the best version of yourself after having children. Just imagine being your baby's biggest role model while they are growing up, and that should be enough to inspire positive change at any time of year.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

There is No Such Thing as ‘Easy’ in Motherhood

Something that happens when you become a mother is that you get invited to a lot of children's birthday parties. It's lovely, but it also marks uncharted territory for me as I'm new to the scene; the new mum on the block, so to speak. We recently attended one for a delightful 2-year-old, where I knew nobody except the birthday boy's parents. It was a superhero themed party, and Baby Z wore an adorable Superman onesie (with cape attached), which served as a great ice-breaker amongst a sea of unfamiliar faces. 

One of the first questions new people ask when meeting Baby Z and me for the first time - often even before asking his name - is "How old?" 

I had made my way over to a gaggle of mothers who clearly knew each other well, as they were all having an involved chit-chat. They paused their conversation instantly at the sight of Baby Z and cooed over him in his little Superman outfit, and pretty much immediately one of the ladies asked "How old?" When I answered "5 months", my response was met by an outbreak of universal envy. "Oh you LUCKY thing, SUCH an easy age!" "What I wouldn't give to go back to the time when I just had one 5-month-old! So simple!" "Enjoy how easy it is for now because it will become a million times harder once he's a toddler!" "Oh no, that's a breeze...wait until you have a teenager to deal with!"

To be honest I was quite taken aback by their reactions; mildly offended, even. Whilst I'm sure they didn't mean it at all, I found their comments really rather insensitive. A group of mothers, greeting a new first-time mum whom they have never met, whose circumstances they have no idea about, and whose baby's temperament they are not at all familiar with, and telling her that she has it 'easy'. They didn't know what I may or may not have been going through, whether I have help or support, whether my birth was simple or complicated and how long my recovery time was, whether I had dealt with baby blues or postnatal depression (thank goodness I didn't, but many do), whether my baby might have colic and scream blue murder for hours every evening, whether my baby sleeps through the night or is still waking up every 2 hours... They didn't have a clue. They don't know me at all. Who are they to tell me what I'm dealing with is 'easy'?

As mothers to young children themselves, I would've hoped they would know better than to make such assumptions or generalisations. Mothers should be empathetic to one another more than anyone else.

Let me tell you this: there is NO SUCH THING as 'easy' in motherhood. I've held demanding, high-pressure professional positions in my career, but nothing has even come close to the challenges motherhood has presented over the past five months. I can now fully understand and appreciate the hadith from Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) stating: "Heaven is at the feet of mothers." It is the toughest job in the world, and largely a thankless, invisible task, too. Mothers deserve every reward for the pain, the exhaustion, the sacrifices... everything we go through in order to bring new life into this world.

A very important thing to remember - which again, I would've thought these mothers would've been well aware of - is that all babies, children, and people are DIFFERENT. One baby might be a peaceful dream for their first 6 months, but then suffer horribly with teething. Another might be a 'nightmare' high-intensity, demanding, non-sleeping newborn, but then suddenly start sleeping through and skip the sleep regressions. One child may miss out on the 'terrible twos', another might start throwing tantrums as a toddler. Some mothers may struggle with the baby stage but then really enjoy their offspring's childhood and teenage years, whilst another mother may love the baby stage more than all the others.

I'd say the only part of motherhood that definitely IS easy, is hypothetical motherhood: that wonderful time before having children of your own when you set out all your parenting plans and definitively decide that you will 'never use a pacifier' or 'sleep train when baby is 3 months old'. But in reality, when your first baby arrives and becomes the boss of your life, all those idealistic plans most likely go out the window.

Mothers; we are all facing our own challenges and struggles on this wonderful journey, and all at different times. Let's make a pact to support each other, to be sensitive to one another's circumstances, and to NEVER tell another mother she 'has it easy'.

You're doing great, Supermum!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Milk Guilt: Fed is Best

I've thought long and hard about writing this, as it's something very personal and something I really struggled with in my early weeks of motherhood. But what got me through it was opening up to a few close mummy friends of mine, who in turn opened up about their own similar struggles - struggles I never knew or imagined they had gone through. I realised I was not alone, and I realised I was not a bad mother. So if sharing my experience can help someone else who is going through the same situation that I did, then it will most certainly be worth it.

Throughout my pregnancy, I took two major things pretty much for granted: one was that I would be able to give birth naturally - which, thankfully, I did - and the other was that I would be able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. My intention - or assumption, even - had always been to breastfeed for at least a year; exclusively for the first 6 months, before introducing solids to his diet. I hadn't really given it a second thought that things may not go as I had planned.

After giving birth, I immediately had skin-to-skin with my baby, and gave him the colostrum I was producing. The midwives visited our room every few hours overnight to check on us, and confirmed each time that our latch was good. The doctor conducted a full physical assessment of the baby the next morning, certifying that there was no tongue tie, and we were then discharged.

Upon arriving home, my baby - having been quite placid up until that point - literally cried ALL night. He was feeding from my colostrum, but as anyone who has breastfed knows, it comes out in very tiny (yet nutrient-rich) droplets, so as a new mother you feel that you are not feeding your baby at all and he must be starving. I called the midwifery team from my hospital in the middle of the night, in despair. Immediately upon hearing his cries over the phone, the midwife identified it as a hunger cry. I kept feeding non-stop, in hope that he would get enough colostrum droplets to comfort him and fill his empty stomach. That was pretty much the story of the next few days; lots of crying (from both baby and me), and a never-ending 24hr latch.

My milk came in three days later, during which time he had already lost 350g of his birth weight. I thought things would get better at this point; my supply was plentiful, and his appetite was insatiable. He started gaining weight. But no one had prepared me for the pain. I had the Lansinoh cream, the soothing gel pads and everything, but they didn't touch it. The pain I felt was deeper; it wasn't a surface pain from latching, it was something from much further within. It felt like a muscle or ligament was being stretched to snapping point with every suck of milk my baby took. On top of that, I did also get blisters, bleeding, and of course whenever you breastfeed your baby in the first few weeks your uterus also starts contracting... so overall, it was physically draining.

Since birth - and even in the womb - my baby has always been very physically strong (mashallah mashallah). He was lifting and holding his head up from the moment he was born, and his leg kicks and arm pushes had quite considerable force behind them despite his small size. This physical strength also translated into his feeding. He was quite an aggressive latcher and drinker, which no doubt made the whole experience more uncomfortable for me. He may not have teeth yet, but just imagine a gummy terrier dog attacking your chest, and you will get a somewhat accurate representation of how our breastfeeding experience was...!

I saw midwives and lactation consultants, who all told me it will get better. I sought solace from my July 2017 birth group online, and they all told me the same thing. It gets easier. The pain will go after a few weeks. The pain should only last for a few minutes at the beginning of a feed. You are doing the best thing possible for your baby. You are providing unmatched levels of nourishing gold. Breast is best.

I've always had a high pain threshold, and even though it was reducing me to tears at every single (frequent, one-hour long) feed, and I even started developing mastitis, it wasn't the physical pain that troubled me the most.

Perhaps it was an unrealistic, romanticised view, but I had always imagined breastfeeding would be this beautiful, natural, maternal bonding experience. In all the breastfeeding propaganda the health service peddles, you only see images of radiant, glowing, smiling mothers beaming down gracefully at their contented, latched little baby. For me it was the complete opposite. I felt trapped. I dreaded the next time my baby would make rooting signs and need another feed. I spent the entirety of each feed sobbing. I didn't enjoy the first four weeks of motherhood at all.

It was my husband - who was away with his work and feeling helpless, bless him - who suggested I start bottle feeding instead. I was 100% opposed to the idea. I had been conditioned for as long as I could remember to believe that formula was the milk of the devil. Breast is best. Breast is best. Breast is best.

But as the days went on and the misery got deeper, I started to research about the possibility of mixed feeding. If you search about any of the formula companies online in the UK, you first have to read a landing page, which once again screams 'BREAST IS BEST' and forces you to click a button stating that you are aware of this fact and that you enter the formula website at your own risk. It's as if you're logging on to some explicit illegal site hidden in the depths of the deep, dark web. Way to make an already emotional, guilt-ridden new mother feel about herself... Might as well have Googled 'how to poison my baby'!!

After another visit from a midwife and a lactation consultant, who were - thankfully - very supportive and not at all pushy with the whole 'breast is best' mantra, I finally took the plunge and replaced one feed with formula. My baby lapped it up. He finished 90ml of warm Aptamil within minutes, whereas he had been latched to me for each feed for around an hour and a half. He was happy. I was happy. I replaced more breastfeeds with Aptamil. I started expressing and bottle feeding him with breastmilk, too. Mixed feeding was working for us. He gained more weight. I gained more confidence and independence.

Pumping and expressing is not easy, either. It's time-consuming, and it can seriously make you feel like a cow at a dairy farm. Again, I stuck with it for as long as I could, but as my baby's appetite continued to increase, he would become less and less satisfied with a bottle of expressed breast milk and would need a top-up of formula afterwards to complete his feed.

Fast-forward to now, and my son is 3.5 months old. He has more than trebled his birth weight and has jumped from the 3rd to the 89th centile for head circumference, and from the 33rd to the 88th centile for length. He happily guzzles away on his Aptamil from a Tommee Tippee bottle (or any bottle, actually - he's not fussy as long as he gets his fill!). I enjoy feeding him. I enjoy other people - my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law - being able to feed him, too. In fact, he's just started holding his own bottle recently and is now also feeding himself when the mood strikes.

Am I sad that breastfeeding didn't work out for us? Yes. Am I disappointed that it wasn't the beautiful bonding experience I anticipated it would be? Yes. Do I regret switching to mixed - and now completely - formula feeding? No, not at all.

My mental health was suffering. My golden newborn days with my son were tainted with pain, misery and guilt. I understand the emphasis on promoting breastfeeding positively, but I do think the stigma against formula feeding is a bit too much; the fact that formula companies cannot advertise, that their websites require disclaimer landing pages before you can access the information you want, and that the formula packaging is plastered with the 'BREAST IS BEST' slogan... it all just adds to a new mother's struggles and sense of guilt.

We are very fortunate in the developed world to have such a wonderful alternative as formula for when breastfeeding doesn't work out, with access to clean water and sterilised bottles to ensure we feed our babies in the safest way. Once they reach the playground at nursery school, nobody will know which child was breastfed and which was formula fed. The most important is just that: 'Fed'. We all want what's best for our little ones, and ultimately what I believe is best is a happy mother and a happy baby.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Be a Mother, not a Martyr

"Enjoy going to the bathroom alone while you can!"
"You should cut your hair short; you'll never have time to maintain it once the baby arrives."
"Make the most of your freedom to go to the cinema because soon you won't be able to go again!"

As soon as you start sharing the news that you're pregnant, you quickly become inundated with horror stories of how your world will suddenly spin the opposite way on its axis, life as you know it will be altered irreversibly forever, your relationship with your partner will become non-existent for the foreseeable future, and you'll 'never sleep again'. Ever.

It is undeniable that parenthood changes your life a lot. A LOT. In fact, in the first four weeks of motherhood, I even believed all of the above. I felt like I had lost myself and would never get myself back. But it doesn't have to be that way forever, and your day-to-day really doesn't have to change so drastically that you don't even recognise yourself anymore.

There seems to be a trend these days - particularly online, and particularly in the UK, if my perception is correct - to show off about quite how much you have sacrificed since becoming a mother. You will find plenty of women online, bragging about how many days they have not showered for because they're simply too busy with their baby to even care about their own personal hygiene. They wear these claims as if they are badges of honor, and what's worse, they criticise anyone who so much as dares to indulge in a little bit of 'me' time.

You will find these attitudes rife in the comments section of any celebrity mothers' posts on Instagram. I particularly recall the makeup-famous YouTuber Jayde Pierce being vilified for posting about having a manicure a few weeks after giving birth to her (absolutely adorable) daughter Ayla. I mean, how dare she take an hour away from her baby - who was almost certainly in the safe care of her father and/or grandmother - to get her nails done?! How dare she CARE about what her nails look like now that she has a baby?!

This mentality is dangerous in my opinion. It's almost as if they are competing to say: "I have given up the most in my life, and therefore I love my baby more than you do." To love your baby wholly and completely DOES NOT require you to entirely neglect yourself! Now, if you were not the type to go for a shape and polish BEFORE your baby came, logically you will not be likely to start doing so after giving birth. But if a mani/pedi was part of your regular routine before becoming a mother, then there's no reason why you should have to totally give it up to prove your undivided adoration for your baby. Having nice nails and having all the love and devotion in the world towards your baby are not mutually exclusive.

I'm using nail maintenance as an example, but really I'm referring to any treatment, activity or pastime you used to enjoy prior to becoming a mother. Perhaps you used to love reading one book per week. In the early days of having a baby, you may not get the chance to turn quite as many pages as you normally did, but you can certainly still set aside some quiet time to sit and read, if that was part of your schedule before. Maybe you are passionate about cooking, or you were addicted to going to the gym and it makes you feel good about yourself... Whatever it is, you can and should make time to do something you love. You don't have to lose your entire identity just because you've become a mother.

Something I struggled with in the early days was the pressure I put on myself to be the one doing everything for my baby. I felt like I should be the only one to take care of him, at all times. I mean, with all these mothers online who said they couldn't even pee in peace since their little one arrived... how could I possibly take a ten-minute shower without feeling guilty? If I left my mother with my baby downstairs for a few hours so I could take an uninterrupted nap, did that make me less committed as a mother?!

With the help of my husband and my family, I banished this mindset after a few weeks and realised it was no crime to take a little time for myself, and nor was it wrong to leave my baby in the care of trusted others to facilitate that 'me' time. To quote a recent Ayesha Curry clapback after her parenting was criticised on Instagram (how dare she employ a nanny when she works full time and has two children...), "It takes a village to raise a child."

As soon as I accepted and embraced this point, I started feeling more like my old self again. I had more time to take care of myself, I had more energy, more confidence, I spent more one-on-one quality time with my husband, I felt happier, and bonded even better with my baby.

So this takes me to the rather bold statement I used as the title for this post. There is no prize for being the mother who gave up the most of her personal pursuits in order to dedicate her life to her baby. Your baby will not remember how many hours you stayed awake with them for in their early years, or how many salon appointments you sacrificed so that you could be constantly by their side; nor should you remind them of it when they're older. Yes, for the most part, being a mother is a selfless role. Your priorities will naturally shift once you have another little life to consider in everything you do. But it doesn't make you selfish if you take some time out just for you. Be a mother, not a martyr.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

2 Years without a Thyroid, 2 Months as a Mother

My days have been so filled with milestones lately that I have once again been found slacking in the writing department. September 2017 has not only included my birthday, both my grandparents' birthdays, and their 61st wedding anniversary (now that's real 'goals'), but also marked 2 months of motherhood, and 2 years of being butterfly- (and thyroid cancer-) free.

September has always been a special month to me, of course with it being my birth month, as well as its significance for my grandparents. It's also traditionally the start of the new school year, and as education shapes most of our lives for at least 14 years, it leaves a mental imprint as being a time of starting afresh and planning ahead. Although the Gregorian calendar sets the New Year as 1st January, this year the Islamic (Hijri) New Year also fell in September - on my birthday, funnily enough - and Eid al Adha was celebrated at the start of the month too.

Truth be told, though, the 30 days of this September have somewhat merged into one; such is the effect of having a small baby. I'm someone who usually keeps a diary - yes, a handwritten one! - not for the purposes of journaling, but for keeping track of appointments, significant dates, and making plans. I think the last time my diary was opened must've been the day before I gave birth back in July, to scribble the note: 'Waters broke!' and since that day it has been sitting, neglected, at the bottom of my handbag, along with the ballpoint pen that accompanies it.

I can't help but be astonished at how far I've come over the past three Septembers. In September 2015, I was going under the knife to remove my thyroid and dealing with the shock of being diagnosed. September 2016 saw me resign from my job, move house, and prepare to get married at the very start of October. And now, on the last day of September 2017, I sit here to write this as a healthy, happy, married mother.

So I suppose I write this reflection as a story of hope for anyone who has stumbled across this page in the midst of being diagnosed. You will get better. Life will get better. Your struggles will make you stronger. The hardships you are about to overcome will make you appreciate the happiness that lies ahead for you even more. Don't forget, it's always darkest before the dawn.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Baby Butterfly: The Birth Story

So it seems I start every single post with an apology for being absent, but in this instance I had a very genuine reason for the delay in writing any new content:

On 13th July 2017, Baby Butterfly arrived!

The past 25 days have been an utter whirlwind; who knew someone so tiny could quite literally turn your entire world upside down and inside out in such a monumental way? There have been wonderful moments and challenging moments in equal measure thus far, and it is true when they say absolutely NOTHING can prepare you for motherhood until it actually happens. But as Baby Butterfly currently lies cocooned in his GroBag and SleepyHead, snuffling away as he sleeps, I am finally getting round to sharing my birth story with you...

12th July 2017

I awoke to a multitude of messages and voice notes from my husband, who was 3 hours ahead of me in Dubai. Hurrying to open and listen to them, I was overcome with a rush of relief and delight upon hearing the news: 1. He had officially been graded Level 5 for military service (office-based, daily job rather than in the military camp), and 2. His services as a Level 5 recruit were not to be required for the August call-up date. A call-up could be received any time within the next 3 years. This was the best possible outcome after a month-long saga of distress and despair over his sudden call-up. The best possible news I could receive in my 37th week of pregnancy.

The news meant that we could revert to our original plan - the main basis of why we chose for me to give birth in the UK rather than the UAE - in that my husband would now be able to continue in his normal job and would therefore be based nearby in Europe for 25 days from 20th July onwards. With my due date set for 29th July, our plan (agreed with his manager) was that he would leave his colleagues as soon as I went into labour and take a short trip to London for 2 days, hopefully in time for the birth, or at least for the immediate aftermath.

But, once again, things soon deviated wildly from the plan.

As if by magic, my waters broke at 17:45 that very evening. It was as though the emotional relief of the morning's fantastic news had triggered a physical release of tension in my body, causing my waters to break. I went to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital at 20:30 after the midwife told me to come in over the phone, and they confirmed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, and that all was well with the baby inside.

As my waters had broken without any contractions or other signs of labour, it was classified as PROM - premature rupture of membranes. It is expected that labour will begin spontaneously within the next 12 hours after this occurring, but if labour does not begin within 24 hours it can cause a major risk of infection, and therefore all healthcare professionals are advised to advocate for labour to be induced at that point so as to minimise the chance of mother and baby contracting an infection. I was sent home from hospital and told to come back once contractions started, or by 14:30 the next day if nothing had happened.

Of course I was updating my husband all the way along, from the very moment I felt my waters go as I was taking my daily walk down by the river. Communicating by snapchat videos back and forth, I could see the emotion in his face at the thought that our baby would most likely be arriving within the next 24 hours, and that, thanks to the morning's good news, he would be able to travel to London and be with us.

13th July 2017

My waters were still leaking. Still no contractions. Husband booked himself on an Emirates flight from DXB-LHR.

I returned to the hospital at 14:30 for monitoring, where a truly lovely midwife massaged my hands with clary sage oil and wafted it round the room using her aromatherapy kit to try and encourage labour. Still nothing happened. I went home again, this time to get my hospital bag and head back to the Kensington Wing for 17:30, when the 24-hour window would expire and a decision would need to be made regarding induction.

Hooked up to the monitor in my private delivery room, three very minimal contractions were recorded by 18:30 but still nothing of note appeared to be happening. After an examination from the midwife, whereby she gleaned that the baby's head was still only 3/5 engaged, it was decided that I should plump for an induction. At 19:30 she inserted a tiny pea-sized dollop of Prostoglandin gel, which I was told would slowly soften my cervix and perhaps encourage contractions to develop over the next 24 hours, and then left me in my delivery room with my mother, and another examination due in 6 hours' time.

It would be slow, she said. Examination in 6 hours, she said. Possible delivery tomorrow or the day after, she said.

Not quite so, as it turned out!

Contractions started immediately. I mean literally within minutes. I somehow managed to stagger to the bathroom but spent most of my time in there doubled up in agony on the floor with the sudden intense contraction pains. I made it back to the bed and the midwife came rushing back in. Labour had well and truly begun. The contractions became so intense and so close together incredibly quickly, that I was soon cracking out the gas and air. But due to the incessant nature of the contractions I had absolutely no chance to give myself a break from the gas between each one; there was no respite from one contraction to the next.

I'm someone with an extremely high pain threshold, but this was like no pain I had ever experienced in my life. It was all-consuming. I couldn't stop gasping for the gas, and as a result I was becoming dazed and beginning to lose consciousness. I remember screaming and shouting; two things I've NEVER done in my life. I remember my mum trying to give me water to sip through a straw when I wasn't sucking the life out of the gas inhaler, but I could barely even control my mouth to have a drink. I could hear the voices of my mother and several midwives and was fully aware of what they were saying, but I wasn't capable of communicating back to them. I thought it would never end. I thought I was going to die!

Finally, after 2 hours, I gathered enough strength to wheezily beg for an epidural. I was slurring my words and (apparently) my eyes were rolling back in my head, but I knew exactly what I wanted (and I wanted it NOW). The midwives of course had to be sure that I really did know what I was asking for, and had to repeatedly request for me to confirm it. Each time I somehow mustered the strength to say 'epidural' and then slump back to sucking on the gas. When the anaesthetist came, all I remember was him telling me to curve my back 'like a prawn', and in my gas-guzzled spaced-out head I was thinking 'but I'm allergic to prawns'...! I must have made myself suitably prawn-like though, as the needle was inserted into my spine and suddenly I felt this velvety warmth enveloping the lower half of my body. It was heavenly; how I imagine it would feel to be dipped in smooth, warm chocolate.

My surroundings,, and people's faces, came back into focus. Apparently I had quite an audience in the delivery room by now. I started apologising profusely to everyone in earshot for being quite so vocal in my pain; I was enormously embarrassed for having allowed my dignity to slip as I shrieked with some of the most intense contractions. But I'm sure they'd heard it all before.

I looked at the clock and was horrified to see that less than 2 hours had passed. It had felt like an eternity. During those 2 hours, though, my husband had landed at Heathrow and had frantically been trying to contact me for updates. Clearly I had been in no fit state to be operating any kind of technology at that time, but thanks to the wonders of the epidural I was able to cheerfully ask my mum to pass me my phone so I could text him and tell him I was definitely in labour by now (!)

Unbeknownst to me, I hadn't been examined prior to having the epidural. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but I'm mightily glad it did, because had I been examined they would have told me it was too late to have one. As it was, the midwife decided to examine me AFTER the epidural, estimating that I would probably be about 3-4cm dilated following those 2 hours of contractions.

Imagine everyone's surprise when, at 21:30, I opened my legs and she could see the baby's head crowning.

I was ready to push, but I'd just had the epidural, so I couldn't. She advised me to collect my energy and wait for an hour to let the epidural wear off a bit so that I would be able to have some sensation to push.

At 22:00 the delivery room door opened and my beloved husband's head popped through the curtain at the foot of my bed. At 22:30, with him by my side (head end, of course...!) and squeezing my hands, I started pushing. And at 22:38, Baby Butterfly was delivered and placed on my chest. A little wiggly bundle of love, who would change our lives forever.

The timing and circumstances of Baby Buttefly's arrival - 16 days early - were quite extraordinary. In fact, I don't think I could have written the whole event more perfectly if I tried; not even for a movie script. That my husband made it in the nick of time, after all those days of separation and angst, to witness such a special moment as the birth of our first child... words can't explain how much of a blessing it was. And so, like a fairytale, with such serendipity, the Butterfly Free family became three.