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. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

A Basic Breakdown of Why Butterfly Free is not a Brilliant Blog

 If you are ever to read an article about how to become a good blogger, you will likely find a list of exactly the opposite of what I've been doing lately. To gain a strong, loyal readership, one is advised to meticulously construct a monthly plan of posts - each one varied enough, but relevant to the common theme - and stick to a regimented posting schedule so that your readers can get into the habit of anticipating your updates at a certain time and frequency. One is supposed to be consistent. Content is key. Specially tailored photography to accompany each blog post is also expected.

I used to be the Social Media Executive for a major luxury brand, and the Media Editor of a key national organisation. I know how all this online malarkey is supposed to work. I know what I'm supposed to do. But I've not been doing it. Butterfly Free hasn't followed the rules of how to be a successful blog.

And I shall tell you why:

1. I didn't start writing Butterfly Free for the purpose of accumulating a huge following
In DJ Khaled speak, this is a 'major key'. There are some pretty simple steps and formulae to implement if your sole purpose is for that 'followers' figure to exponentially rise. But the important thing to remember is that number of followers DOES NOT equate to quality of engagement. I would rather have 2000 mamas-to-be and thyroid warriors reading my posts, than 20,000 Beliebers who were lured to my page under false pretenses by click bait or misleading SEO. Quality over quantity.

2. Monetising my blog is not my main aim
Another important factor. If I was purely motivated by making money from this page, you would see it littered with pop-up adverts and my Instagram would be strewn with sponsored posts (which quite possibly would bear no relevance at all to me or what I write about). My main reasons for starting to write these posts were: to share information, raise awareness, help people who are or have been in similar situations to me, and also from a purely personal point of view, because I find it cathartic to write about these topics. If I get a bit of revenue from it, great. If a company sends me some free stuff as a result of it, great. If I get invited to some interesting PR-type events, great. But that is not my specific game plan.

3. My writing takes energy
I'm pregnant. I have a thyroid condition. Energy isn't going spare round here! Because my writing generally includes an equal serving of emotion and of research, it can be quite exhausting to sit down and thrash out a post. I like to write them in one sitting as well; I'm not someone who can leave a post half-finished as a draft and come back to it later. It's all or nothing. I write on the spot, when I feel inspired at a certain moment. Sometimes a topic idea comes to me and I type the whole thing out on my iPhone. I generally click 'Publish' as soon as I'm done - even if perhaps I don't link it on my social media pages until a more appropriate time the next day. 

4. Half-hearted content won't do
There are some perfectly popular bloggers whose pages I follow or check, and they seem like lovely people, but when I click on their 'new post' links their actual written blog content is so wishy-washy and bland that it makes me wonder why they even bother. Just make it a photo blog if you're not even going to put any effort into stringing more than one paragraph together! I like my writing to be authentic. My posts are long, I know, but I have to explain everything fully because that's just my way; that's who I am. That's also how I like to read. In depth. In detail. I could very easily post little two- or three-paragraph updates every single day, but that would completely defeat the object of why I started this page (see points above).

5. My content is not aesthetically pleasing enough
In the era of filters, Photoshop and personal branding, the visual impact of my website and my Instagram is not particularly impressive. I'm not a talented photographer by any stretch of the imagination (my husband will testify to that - it takes me at least 50 attempts to take a picture of him that he's happy with, and he's VERY photogenic *mashallah* but at least my Camera Roll is filled with his face), and I'm not going to pretend to be. Nor am I a graphic designer. I post pictures I like to see with my untrained eye, and I may even dabble with adding a bit of text to an image using the incredibly advanced Phonto app on my iPhone (if you don't know, it's probably the most basic photo editing app going), but I am well aware that visually what I post doesn't have the 'wow' factor. And that's ok. Because I'm all about the words anyway. 

So, this is why I wouldn't even call myself a blogger. I don't class Butterfly Free as a blog. It's more of an online journal, or notebook of my experiences and thought processes. And I'm very grateful to those of you who take the time to read it. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

36 Weeks, with Writer's Block

Once again I have been horribly lax with my writing, and some very lovely ladies have sent me messages of care and concern since my last post, so I just wanted to give a brief update as we enter July; our due month!

I am now 36 weeks pregnant, and with it I am suffering from Writer's Block. Since my last post I haven't had a single flash of inspiration; not one idea that made me think, "Yes! I want to write about that." I've just been plodding along, day by day, trying to distract myself from the fact that my beloved husband is such a long way away, and preparing the practical things for our little one's impending arrival.

My maternity care since arriving in the UK and booking in at the Kensington Wing of Chelsea & Westminster Hospital has been fabulous so far; I adore my midwife, and my 'link' consultant - the famous Miss Gubby Ayida - is truly deserving of her prestigious reputation. I feel in excellent hands. Baby is growing well; he's been head-down since 32 weeks and ready to make his emergence into the world. I - thankfully - don't have any complications and have been signed off for a natural, midwife-led delivery, and my TSH level is nicely in check at 2.02 since last doubling my dosage.

I've only had one mild episode of Braxton Hicks contractions so far, before my husband had to suddenly fly off, and nothing since. I have, however, lost a bit of my plug in recent days, which suggests things are moving in the right direction and my body is gearing up for delivery in the coming weeks.

My mother has been a great source of support during a time when I have been emotionally tested and feeling vulnerable, and I am very fortunate to be staying with her. She can see the anguish it has caused me to have my husband unexpectedly whisked away at such a crucial time to answer the call of duty, and whilst she is always there to offer a sympathetic ear, most of the time I have preferred to process the situation alone.

Instead we have been busying ourselves with getting all the baby stuff ready - finally I've ticked 99% of the items on my Baby Shopping List off! Harrods was the supplier of the Sleepyhead Deluxe sleeping pod and the Mima Xari seat kit and starter pack, Peter Jones provided many a muslin cloth, baby bath, cellular blankets and the suchlike, whilst I online-ordered a fantastic Moses Basket with a rocking stand from a company called Shnuggle, which I felt a great sense of satisfaction in putting together by myself. Sleep suits, babygrows, romper suits and other newborn wardrobe essentials have come from a combination of Peter Jones, Petit Bateau, My 1st Years, and M&Co, and all those delightful baby-related toiletries (nappies, Metanium nappy rash cream, Lanisoh nipple cream etc.) have been sourced from Boots. I purchased nursing bras and comfy, dark nightwear and a dressing gown from Marks & Spencer to prepare for my hospital stay.

The midwife has now asked to see me every 7 days from the 36-week stage onwards, and I've been offered the delight of a sweep from as early as 38 weeks if I so wish, to try and bring on labour. Generally 3 sweeps should be conducted before an actual induction of labour is necessary, and my induction - if it gets to that stage - would be bang on my due date of 40 weeks. Some ladies aren't even offered a sweep until then, but in my case I understand that things are being planned a bit earlier because a) baby is already of a healthy size and weight to come on out, and more importantly b) because the chances of developing pre-eclampsia from 40 weeks onwards is considerably higher in someone with an underlying thyroid condition. Although mine is nicely under control, I suppose they would rather not take any risks by letting me go overdue.

I'm hoping and praying for an early delivery, not least because my husband would be in his military no-contact lockdown from 1st August, so our little man really needs to pop out by his due date of 29th July at the very latest. I'm not at the 'I just want to get this baby out of me!' stage yet, and I don't know if I ever will be, because I'm still carrying relatively small and luckily not suffering from any aches or pains. But what I certainly am is excited, and desperate to meet our tiny human. And I'm desperate for my husband to be with us to meet him too.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Best Laid Plans in Pregnancy...

Pregnancy is a great time of change - physical, emotional, practical - and a certain degree of planning  is generally required in order to help prepare for the life-altering arrival of a little one. Making lists and ticking tasks off as you complete them can help you feel more in control of what is largely an unknown situation, and putting practicalities in place certainly helps to settle the soul ahead of the anticipated major life event.

Some people are extremely detailed with their planning, leaving little or nothing to chance, whilst others prefer to plot out the main points but leave the finer elements flexible. I am in the latter camp; whilst I like to have the fundamental factors clear in my mind and on paper, I don't want to get bogged down in the minutiae as I think many of the smaller details are subject to change beyond our control anyway.

And, as is often the case in life, even the best laid plans can go completely to pot in a split second. Sometimes, if you have invested effort and consideration into putting a painstaking plan in place, you can end up more disappointed or traumatised when it goes tits-up all of a sudden than if you had allowed for some flexibility.

That said, even with a 'go-with-the-flow' attitude, we all imagine the way we expect events will unfold in our heads and any disruption to or deviation from that can be a source of distress.

This is the boat in which I currently find myself, on several counts.

Firstly, my husband and I specifically decided to come to London for the final 2 months of my pregnancy to escape the oppressive desert heat of Dubai, so that I would be comfortable in more temperate weather and able to take nice long walks in the park and by the river every day, staying active right up until labour. As it happens, we find ourselves in the midst of the hottest June the UK has experienced on record for the past 25+ years, with London and the South East bearing the brunt of the heatwave. At 34 weeks and 4 days pregnant, this 30 Celsius (feels like 40) London heat is melting me. I can't go anywhere comfortably. I can't even sit in my own home comfortably. My hands and feet are throbbing, and I'm frequently found sitting with my feet in a bucket of ice cold water. Thank goodness my husband is a fussy sleeper and can't nod off without air conditioning - whatever the weather - so we had already purchased a portable unit for the bedroom on our first day. Otherwise there is no way I would've been getting any sleep during this hot spot either.

So that's the first well-intentioned plan which has gone well and truly out of the window.

Next up is the matter of our private health insurance, which conveniently expired at the end of May. We knew this would happen, of course, and had planned to renew it immediately - which shouldn't have been an issue at all - but it has become one. The insurance is issued as part of a 'corporate package' to all employees (and their families) of the company my husband is employed by. This is standard; in fact it is a legal requirement for private companies in the UAE to provide private healthcare to their employees. It's a wonderful benefit and I'm not complaining at all, but unfortunately the company has been slow to activate the renewal of the corporate package, thus leaving us all without valid health insurance cover until now. We're not entirely sure what the hold-up is from the company's side, and even though my husband has attempted to renew my insurance as an individual off his own back, apparently it is not possible.

Cue the private Maternity wing at which I am due to deliver next month, suddenly demanding payment in full for the care package THIS WEEK! Great. Luckily we are fortunate enough to be in a position whereby we CAN self-pay the full amount if necessary and then later claim it back from the insurance company once our policy is renewed, but many others wouldn't necessarily have that option to fall back on. Either way, it is an expense we hadn't planned to pay out of our own pockets at this precise moment. But needs must.

Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the complete capitulation of the best laid plans, as an entirely unexpected piece of news came through at the start of this week. A curveball hurled from so far left-field that it has knocked me out of the park.

On Sunday, my husband received an official call-up to the 1-year national military service, due to report for duty on 1st August. My due date is 29th July. He immediately had to fly back to Dubai on getting the call-up, in order to enlist and go through all the medical assessments and psychological evaluations prior to the start of service date. This is the first time they have initiated military service call-ups for August; usually new recruits are taken on in January.

It will mean an initial 45-day cold turkey period with absolutely NO communication whatsoever. No phones, no emails, not even pigeon post. Nothing. The prospect of facing 45 days without talking to my beloved husband - my best friend, my soulmate, my world - either when I have just delivered our first baby, or even when I am delivering our first baby, if he arrives late, fills me with absolute dread and horror. Following the 45-day radio silence, there will be a further 4 months of being locked up at the military camp and sometimes being allowed out at weekends. Then a further 8 months of daily commutes to the military base.

My emotions and hormones had been so wonderfully stable since we came to London; every day was a happy day and a tear couldn't have been further away from my eyes, but since getting this news on Sunday I've been an oversensitive bag of weeping. As I mentioned in a previous post, we knew my husband would be in a training camp somewhere in Central Europe from mid-July for just under a month, but that he would be allowed to leave and come straight to me in London once I went into labour. Now that is not the case. There are no exceptions made to the 45-day lockdown. There are no delays to the start of service date.

What should be the most exciting and love-filled time of our lives has now been turned upside down into one of the most unsettling. I can't really get my head around what is to come and how I will handle it at the moment; it's still such a fresh shake-up to our 'best laid plans' and my husband having to hop on a plane and fly away last night was not something I had ever anticipated, let alone the rest of it. I know he has to respond to the call of duty and I'm very proud of him and what he will be doing, but for our fledgeling little family, the timing literally could not be any worse.

So, as is the theme of this (long, rambling, sometimes ranty and overemotional - my apologies!) blog post; you can plan for what you THINK is every eventuality, you can prepare for multiple scenarios, but in the end there is always a possibility that something could flash like a bolt from the blue and your only option is to react on the spot and deal with it as it happens. I suppose it will at least serve as good training for the unpredictability of life with a new baby.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A 7-hour flight with a 30-week bump

We leave as two, and will return as three...!

I've been MIA from posting lately as I've been busy getting settled into London life for the final stretch of my pregnancy... But despite the delay, I thought it would be worth writing about my experience of travelling whilst heavily pregnant, as it may be helpful or interesting for some of you.

So, we flew from Dubai to London exactly 10 days ago, when I was 30+1. In the days leading up to our departure I had my final appointment at Medcare Women & Children's Hospital with my OB-GYN, during which I passed the dreaded GTT (glucose tolerance) test with flying colours, and the doctor issued me with a 'Fit to Fly' certificate to present when asked by the airline during my impending travels. It's generally required by all airlines from 26 weeks of pregnancy onwards, but you may even be asked to show it earlier than that depending on how pregnant you actually look.

My doctor also prescribed me an Innohep injection to be taken just before flying; it's used as a 24hr blood thinner to prevent the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and is recommended before  any flight of over 4hrs in the later stages of pregnancy. Mine was administered at the hospital by a nurse into my thigh at 11pm, before a 5am flight the next morning. I didn't feel any effects of it and it's apparently a very normal injection with minimal risk of any side effects, so I was more than comfortable to take it.

The prospect of a 7hr flight from Dubai to London rarely fills anyone with joy, but factor in being really quite pregnant and also having booked a connecting flight via Doha rather than travelling direct, and it is safe to say I was rather looking forward to the whole transit part being over. I made sure to wear my most comfortable Topshop maternity leggings, a big baggy sweater, and my absolute favourite shoes to wear during pregnancy: Yeezys. I know they're overhyped and overpriced but there is really nothing more heavenly for those swollen pregnant feet.

Checking in at the Qatar Airways desk in Dubai International Airport was a breeze - even with our total of 100kg luggage between my husband and I - and nobody even seemed to notice I was preganant. The flight to Doha was a short and sweet 1 hour in First Class, but once we arrived in Doha the fun and games began. A shepherd from the airport was waiting for us as soon as we stepped off the plane, and proceeded to hurry us to the other side of the terminal - without a buggy - as he said our connecting flight was waiting for us. He also didn't notice I was pregnant and was rushing ahead whilst I struggled to keep up. We finally reached the boarding gate with much huffing and puffing on my part, and the shepherd informed us that there may not be time to transfer our baggage from the first plane to the second as the transit time was so short. Great.

We raced through the gate, believing that we were the only two holding up the entire flight, only to find that takeoff was to be delayed by at least an hour for a totally unrelated reason. So we rushed for nothing, and I sacrificed a bathroom trip for nothing. We sat in the holding pen at the gate with all other passengers for over an hour, with no access to any bathrooms - the worst prospect to face when you have a 1.5kg baby nestling against your bladder!

Eventually we boarded and yet again nobody from the airline appeared to even notice I was pregnant - so my Fit to Fly certificate went totally unused. As soon as we reached cruising altitude I reclined my seat to the flat position and proceeded to sleep for 5 of the 7 hours in the sky. I also made sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the flight, plus I requested ice cold towels a few times to soothe my feet, which are tending to overheat at any altitude these days.

Upon landing at Heathrow things were nice and smooth - both of us breezed through border control and our baggage - which thankfully had had enough time to be loaded onto the plane during the delay - was the first to roll off the carousel. Excited to be home in London and to see my mother, my energy levels were good for the remainder of the day, but when it came to bedtime I was absolutely exhausted from the exertions of the trip and spent much of the night and the next morning virtually comatose.

Overall it wasn't a bad experience at all taking a long haul flight at 30 weeks pregnant, although a direct flight would've been more convenient in general. I didn't suffer any aches or pains or new symptoms as a result of flying, but of course I was fortunate enough to be flying First and Business class so I had plenty of space to get comfortable, and I think an Economy seat would be far more difficult to deal with during pregnancy. So if, like me, you must fly in your third trimester, it's definitely worth it to book as high a class as your budget can stretch to (or do some great hustling work to get an upgrade!) for the sake of your baby and your body. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why I'm going to 'eat' my placenta

No... Not fresh out of the womb with a knife and fork, or spread liberally over a few slices of toast... Don't panic, and get those common 'eww'-inducing misconceptions out of your mind! For placenta encapsulation is the way forward, and there's absolutely nothing gross about it at all.

You've probably seen sensationalised headlines in various newspapers and celebrity magazines recently about the likes of Rochelle Humes, Coleen Rooney, Tanya Bardsley, Alex Gerrard and Amy Childs 'eating their placenta' after giving birth, which at first glance you might think was a little bit weird. But these ladies, and many more, have in fact turned to the practice of placenta encapsulation by the Liverpool-based, female-owned and -run business called Placenta Plus.

Danielle Kinney started her business after experiencing the benefits of placenta encapsulation first-hand. Having suffered from crippling post-natal depression after her first baby, Danielle heard about the advantages of placenta encapsulation and tried it with her subsequent pregnancy. Her experience was so drastically different from the previous one, and so overwhelmingly positive, that she pursued a path to make placenta encapsulation accessible to many more women in the UK.

In case you hadn't gathered from the term 'placenta encapsulation', the process literally involves the placenta being steamed, dehydrated, ground, and placed into pills or capsules, which you can then take daily as you would any multivitamin or health supplement until your yield runs out. Danielle at Placenta Plus offers two methods of placenta encapsulation: Traditional Chinese method, which involves steaming before the dehydration process and is thought to have a more calming and rebalancing effect, or the Raw Dehydrated method, which skips the steaming stage and is recommended as the more energising of the two methods.

So why exactly have I decided to do it? Well...

The benefits of placenta encapsulation include:

  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced post-birth bleeding
  • Faster reduction of uterus size post-birth
  • Reduced risk of post-natal depression and post-natal thyroiditis
  • Reduced likelihood of suffering from a post-natal 'hormonal crash' - hormones are rebalanced much quicker
  • Enriched and more plentiful supply of breastmilk
  • Reduced amount of time to return to pre-baby weight due to boosted metabolism
Your placenta is a tailor-made source of nutrients, hormones, naturally occurring chemicals, iron and protein, created specifically by your own body to nourish your growing baby during the gestation period. Therefore, consuming an encapsulated version of your placenta and all the nutrients it contains is like taking a multivitamin supplement which was designed exclusively for you. The majority of mammals (including herbivores) eat their placenta after giving birth, proving that this is a beneficial practice in nature throughout the animal kingdom. 

The placenta is rich in nutrients and hormones such as:

- THYROXINE: a major key for all thyroid patients like me, especially after suffering a sudden increase in TSH levels during pregnancy. Natural thyroxine from the placenta will assist with rebalancing TSH, improving thyroid function, boosting metabolism to assist with shifting the baby weight quickly, and staving off the risk of post-natal thyroiditis (which is often misdiagnosed as post-natal depression)

- ESTROGEN, PROGESTERONE & PROLACTIN: Female hormones which contribute to stabilising post-natal moods, boosting lactation, regulating post-natal uterine cramping, decreasing depression and normalising libido

- THYROID STIMULATING HORMONE (TSH): essential for regulating and restoring thyroid function, boosting energy levels and supporting recovery from stressful or traumatic events

- OXYTOCIN: known as the 'love hormone', this stimulates bonding between mother and baby, therefore reducing the likelihood of postnatal depression. It also counteracts the production of the stress hormone cortisol, and enhances the breastfeeding let-down reflex

- CORTICOTROPIN RELEASING HORMONE (CRH): increased levels of CRH are vital to fighting off the risk of suffering from post-natal depression

- CORTISONE: reduces inflammation and swelling, and promotes healing after childbirth

- INTERFERON: triggers the immune system to fight infections - remember, your immune system is massively subdued during pregnancy

- PROSTAGLANDINS: an anti-inflammatory which helps to regulate uterus contractions and shrink it back to pre-pregnancy size

- IRON: replenishes maternal iron supplies to combat the common onset of post-natal anaemia, whilst also increasing energy and reducing depression

- HAEMOGLOBIN: oxygen-carrying molecule essential to increasing energy levels

- CYTOKINES: trigger cell metabolism healing and replace damaged cells and tissues

- VITAMIN B6: aids in the production of antibodies

- VITAMIN E: rich in healing properties for damaged skin cells

- IMMUNOGLOBULIN G: antibodies to support the reinstatement of the immune system

- HUMAN PLACENTAL LACTOGEN (HPL): boosts lactation as well as regulating maternal glucose, protein and fat levels

So, for the privilege of receiving all the evident benefits above, I have booked in and paid for a £200 package from Placenta Plus to encapsulate my entire placenta, which can yield anything between 90-250 capsules depending on its size. That's almost a year's supply of custom-made multivitamins designed just for me. There are also packages available including pills and body cream, but for me I feel the pills will be of most benefit so I preferred to maximise the number of those I will receive.

The whole Placenta Plus procedure includes Danielle sending a licensed medical courier to collect the placenta from wherever you give birth in mainland UK, and delivering the beautifully-packaged pills along with a dried umbilical cord keepsake (sweetly twisted into the word 'love' - a bit better than the grotty old cord clip my mum has saved from my birth back in the 90s!) between 24-48hrs after you give birth. An exceptional service, and I can't wait to try it out. I will definitely be posting more about my experience once I've had the benefit of trying the pills myself.

For more information about Placenta Plus or to book in for your own placenta encapsulation (available in England, Wales & Scotland only), visit their website - www. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The awkward moment when you enter your Third Trimester but haven't bought any baby things yet

Officially the first (and only) baby-related item we own... Oh, and baby!

So, I officially entered the third trimester of pregnancy this week, which means we are now on the home stretch! Part of me feels like I've already been pregnant forever and the days are passing really slowly, but another part is suddenly startled by how time appears to be speeding up as we hurtle towards one of the single most life-changing events we will ever experience.

I joined the 'Mumsnet July 2017 Births' group a little while ago, and have been following and contributing to the thread with great interest ever since; learning a lot and sharing experiences with a diverse group of fellow mamas-to-be. It has been particularly interesting for me to compare my experience of prenatal care in Dubai with the other group members' UK experiences, with some of the biggest differences including the fact that I appear to have a great deal more ultrasound scans than anyone is getting in England, as well as the fact that the whooping cough vaccine is not offered in the UAE whereas it is standard on the NHS, and here in Dubai the GTT (glucose tolerance test for gestational diabetes) is standard for all expectant mothers, but in England it seems to only be offered to those who are considered at a high risk.

I really enjoy my interactions with the other July-due mothers - a group which also includes my expectant cousin! - and we often reassure each other by comparing notes on mutually-endured pregnancy symptoms and indulging in general baby-on-the-way chit chat. However, over recent weeks, reading the thread has started to give me mild anxiety.

I think I am quite literally the most utterly unprepared pregnant woman in the entire group.

It started dawning on me when I realised I was able to contribute less and less to the more prevalent discussions on the thread. Clearly I was the black sheep; the odd-one-out. Everyone else has moved on to sharing photos of their fully-decorated, fully-equipped nursery rooms. Talking about which brand of non-bio detergent they've already used to pre-wash their entire 0-3 months AND 3-6 months collections of babygrows. Reviewing the different baby-carrying systems they've trialled and tested out at their local sling libraries. Suggesting clever storage solutions for the multipacks of nappies they've already purchased. Writing up their lists of what they've already packed in their hospital bags.

I honestly have NO common ground on which to join in with the discussion anymore. I CANNOT relate. At all!!

I don't even know where we will be living when we come back to Dubai at the end of August; let alone how baby's room will be furnished or decorated. I didn't even know you were supposed to pre-wash all baby clothes before they wear them, and, suffice to say, to date we have not purchased a single item of baby clothing. I didn't have a clue that such a thing as a 'sling library' even existed. Clearly I haven't started to stock up on nappies yet - disposable or reusable (and that's a whole other story...). And as for packing my hospital bag...? I DON'T EVEN HAVE A HOSPITAL BAG YET!

We physically do not own a single baby-related item. Not one single thing.

Trying to reassure myself that I wasn't way behind or being too lax in my approach, I convinced myself that all the mothers-to-be in the July group are just superhumanly organised, overly keen, overly cautious, overly prepared, and/or verging on OCD.

But then...not one, not two, but THREE babies were born to mothers in our July-due group. In the same week. In May!!! Thankfully they are all healthy and doing well, despite arriving so early, but it really hammered home to me that all the other women in the group who already have everything ready and set up are in fact not being overzealous with their preparations. They are simply being practical.

Ok, my circumstances are a little different, in that I'm currently in Dubai and will be travelling to London in less than two weeks, due to give birth there in July. So really it doesn't make sense to do any baby-related shopping until we get to London. Inspired by the massively organised mothers-to-be of Mumsnet, I have at least started curating shopping lists of items we'll need to get as soon as we arrive in the UK on the Mothercare and John Lewis apps. But I still can't help feeling a bit naive for the way I've just made the sweeping assumption that I'll carry baby to full term and therefore still have plenty of time between now and then to get everything sorted.

To be fair, I've taken care of the 'big stuff'; the hospital booking for the birth, the placenta encapsulation booking (more on that in a post soon), plus overseeing (from overseas) the renovations of a number of rooms at my mother's home in London, ready to accommodate us all over the summer. But in terms of physical, material, baby-specific items... Nothing whatsoever has been done in that department.

Yesterday, after having another 4D scan to see baby delightfully wiggling around, yawning, smiling and touching his face, the sonographer gifted us a tiny weeny pair of socks along with our CD of images from the scan. So, finally, we do actually own ONE thing for the baby, although we didn't purchase it ourselves! There's still a long way to go towards being ready, but at least it's one small, baby-sized footstep in the right direction...

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Despicable Trumpcare bill punishes thyroid patients & pregnancy

I'm not usually one to get on my political soapbox in public, particularly when I am neither a citizen nor a resident of the concerned country, but many of my readers are from the USA and most of my 'thyroid network' of friends and fellow thyca-fighters are Americans. So here I am, sharing my outrage on your behalf.

The first 100+ days of Trump in office have been a horror show to say the least, and from an overseas perspective we have watched the numerous scandals and sickening decision-making unfold with our jaws on the floor.

The latest in a series of disturbing events is the passing of the AHCA (American Health Care Act) - otherwise known as 'Trumpcare' - by the House two days ago, in an attempt to repeal the current ACA (Affordable Care Act) referred to as 'Obamacare'. I realise that I am commenting from the outside, as someone who has no experience of American healthcare whatsoever, and I realise that there were also valid criticisms of Obamacare and that it had its imperfections. But this Trumpcare bill is just so, so much worse.

It has been brought to my attention by reading the posts of several influential and inspirational American ladies I follow across various social media platforms - including Aisha Thalia and Shelah Marie - that the new Trumpcare bill appears to be a major attack on women. Stunned by what I was reading, I investigated further, and researched the list of all illnesses, conditions and circumstances which will now disqualify people from receiving healthcare coverage - either as subsidised packages through Medicaid, which provides reduced price healthcare and financial support for 74 million poor, disabled and elderly Americans - or even for citizens who are attempting to purchase health insurance at the full premium. The bill will enable health insurance companies to deny these people coverage, or significantly raise their premiums to an unfeasible level.

The vast majority of the newly-considered disqualifying 'pre-existing conditions' are suffered specifically (or almost exclusively) by women. Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Hysterectomy, Osteoporosis, Sexual Assault, C-Section, Pregnancy, and Thyroid Issues are all considered reasons to disqualify patients from being able to obtain health insurance in the new bill. If that is not gender discrimination, I don't know what is.

As someone who is fortunate enough to be British and have grown up with the NHS (National Health Service), providing free healthcare for all under all circumstances, and now as someone who has fully comprehensive Gold Standard private health insurance in the UAE, for which we pay around 8000 AED (£1678 / $2178) annually to get a remarkable level and standard of coverage, my heart really hurts for the estimated 24 million Americans who will be disqualified for health insurance due to this bill. If I was in the USA and subjected to this legislation, my healthcare would be denied on several counts. If I wasn't able to avail of this private health insurance coverage in the UAE - or free NHS healthcare in the UK - my treatment bills for my thyroid surgery and subsequent issues, followed by my pregnancy, would have easily topped 200,000 AED (£42,000 / $55,000) over the past two years. That is simply not a fair or sustainable amount for the regular working class citizen to shell out for the human right of healthcare.

I sincerely hope and pray that this barbaric Trumpcare bill doesn't make it through the Senate and that enough sensible politicians will stand up for the rights of those who are suffering in order to oppose its passing. My thoughts are with all my friends and readers from the States, who are dealing with similar medical conditions to me, but could soon be dealing with vastly different healthcare privileges and financial issues. Nobody deserves to be punished for being a survivor, and women certainly don't deserve to be discriminated against for going through the physical struggles we are susceptible to due to what we were put on this earth to do.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Struggle is Real

I just realised that I haven't written a new post in 10 days. 10 whole days! When I started writing Butterfly Free in February, I was so energised, so full of ideas... pre-planning topics to write about weeks in advance... But in recent days that motivation suddenly trailed off.

I recognised this feeling. It had happened to me before, in the aftermath of my thyroid surgery. All my excitement and brainstorming and effort I would routinely throw into my work projects suddenly evaporated overnight. I became disillusioned, dejected, and utterly demotivated, and I had no idea why. I couldn't focus. If I had an idea or thought, it would quickly disappear, or my enthusiasm for it would wane in mere moments, or I just wouldn't have the energy to follow it up. My work duties began to feel like chores for the first time. My creativity was gone.

It was not until the discovery and treatment of my severe Vitamin D and Ferritin deficiencies that I started to get my sparkle back, and then I realised that my apathy towards my work had come as a direct result of those deficiencies and a debilitated thyroid function.

This time round, I have been able to identify that apathetic symptom far quicker. At my most recent checkup with the OB-GYN last week, I insisted that she run some more thyroid blood tests despite it being outside the scope of health insurance coverage. I knew something was out of balance; I knew there must be a physiological reason for my sudden lack of lustre. Sure enough, the hospital called the next day with my results - my TSH has jumped from 2.4 to 3.9 in one month. I immediately doubled my dosage of Euthyrox to try and quickly get it back down below the recommended range of 3 during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Some days I haven't wanted to leave home at all. Other days, a simple trip to the supermarket has been a struggle. A dinner out at a lovely restaurant with my husband left me feeling utterly drained. I kept pushing myself to attend my prenatal Pilates classes, but I didn't feel enthusiastic in the slightest at the idea of doing something physically taxing.

My emotions have been all over the place, too. I know pregnancy hormones wreak havoc with a woman's emotional state, but I'm someone who has always been quite reserved with her emotions. I never suffered from PMS or any other sort of hormonal oversensitivity, but recently I've been out of control (by my standards). I've gone from someone who cried maybe once or twice a year maximum - my husband had only previously seen me shed a few happy tears when he asked me to marry him - to someone who starts welling up at the slightest little thing on a daily basis. I got tearful during the opening sequence of the new 'Boss Baby' movie at the cinema the other day, for goodness sake!

Some days I barely recognise myself for how outwardly sensitive and emotional I've become. My insecurities, worries and fears have all been royally shining through, too. I don't know how my poor husband has been able to handle his previously placid wife turn into a drama queen, but I'm grateful that he has been very understanding and reassuring throughout.

As my newly-upped dosage of synthetic thyroid hormone starts to take effect, I am feeling the grey cloud lift from over my head. My motivation is coming back, my focus is clearer, and I have more energy to go out, to work out, and to simply get out of bed before the afternoon. I can't promise that the tears will dry up anytime soon though - that seems to be a direct knock-on effect of pregnancy!

So, I have written this post because I finally felt enough drive to actually open my laptop and start tapping away at the keyboard again, and because I wanted to be honest with you. On social media we tend to see the highlights of people's lives; they only want to share the shiny, glossy side, which is understandable, but also leads us to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Sometimes it's ok not to be ok. It's normal to go through a down or demotivated spell. What's important is to seek the right help to pull yourself out of it. The struggle is real, but the struggle doesn't have to last forever.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Delicate Matter of Deciding Where to Give Birth

Choosing where to bring your child into the world is a big decision at the best of times, but when you and your other half are from two different countries it becomes an entirely greater challenge. Not only do you have to consider hospital birth vs home birth - and then, if you go with hospital birth, which hospital - but also the rather major factor of which country to deliver your baby in.

I was born at a now-closed hospital in London, a mere stone's throw away from the home in which I lived with my mother for 21 years before making my move to Dubai. My mother still lives in the same house, and my grandparents live an hour and a half outside of London. My husband was born and has lived his entire 25+ years in the UAE, where his mother, two brothers and three sisters also live, as well as it being where we met, got married, and have set up home together.

Here are some of the main factors we considered when weighing up our options as to whether I should give birth in the UK or UAE:

Quite clearly my husband has a far bigger family than me, so in logical terms, it would appear more reasonable to fly my 3 immediate family members to the UAE for the birth rather than booking an entire jet to transport my in-laws to the UK (slight exaggeration for comedic purposes!). My family wouldn't need visas to fly to the UAE and could stay for up to a month visa-free, whereas my in-laws would be required to fill out the online visa waiver applications a minimum of 48 hours before departure to the UK, which would mean a last-minute flight booking if I suddenly went into labour early would be entirely out of the question.

In practical terms, though, it is not quite so straight forward. My grandparents are both of a fine vintage, but a long flight to Dubai in the peak of summer would certainly not be ideal conditions for them. And, it being my first baby, of course I am absolutely adamant that I have my mother with me not only for the birth, but also for as much time as possible afterwards to help me adapt to motherhood. She works and has responsibilities in the UK, so to ask her to drop everything and come to the UAE for a month or more just isn't fair or feasible.

Then there's the thought of offending one side of the family or another, depending on which country we settle on deciding to deliver in. However, as with all things relating to such a major life event, I don't believe one should agonise over offending others when the best interests of the mother and baby are the main priority in such a situation.

Naturally this is a huge consideration, as the welfare of baby and mother are paramount. Luckily enough for us, the standard of healthcare both in the UK and UAE are exceptional - which is great - but doesn't really help in making the decision any easier! I am also fortunate enough to have private medical insurance (an essential for all UAE-based expats) and my policy will fully cover the costs of private maternity care both in the UAE and overseas, including the UK. So I'm thankful that I don't need to factor cost of care into the equation either, but once again, it doesn't assist with narrowing down my options from two to one.

This is a more documentation-based consideration to keep in mind for couples of different nationalities who are expecting a baby together. In our case, again, it doesn't really make a big difference in helping us to hone in on a choice, though, because with a British mother, our baby will be entitled to British citizenship regardless of where he's born, and with an Emirati father, he is also entitled to Emirati citizenship regardless of where he's born (though, as per UAE/GCC rules, he will not be able to hold dual citizenship - more on that in a future blog post). 

It may seem strange to some of you that this is a major contributing factor in making our decision, but anyone who has lived through a hot Middle Eastern summer will understand. It's only mid-April and temperatures are already reaching the mid-30 Celsius range here in Dubai at the moment, and quite frankly I'm already overwhelmed by it in my current pregnant state. Yes, it's easy to avoid the heat here if you want to - everything is air conditioned to Arctic proportions and driving everywhere is the norm - but I actually want to be as active and outdoors-y as possible both in the late stages of my pregnancy and after giving birth. 

I love the idea of walking (or, more accurately, probably waddling before my due date) in the park and along the River Thames pathway next to my home in London every day... The moderate exercise and fresh air will do me the world of good leading up to going into labour, and will also be blissful to experience with my newborn baby in his pram as I try to start walking off the baby weight. I think I would lose my mind if I was trapped indoors with my baby due to scorching heat for months on end. So this is one big plus point for a UK birth.

This turned out to be the crucial, all-deciding factor for us. My husband's work is 'seasonal', and the summertime is the only period in which he gets a decent stint of time off. Since we've been static in the UAE for the best part of the year (ok, ok, I know we went to London for 3 days and The Maldives for 4...but those were quick trips and not during his 'major' holiday time), it is important particularly for my husband to have a change of scene during the off-season. He fell in love with London since visiting with me for the first time in his life last summer, and he's very excited about spending a month or so there this summer. It's also a great place to use as a base and then travel for quick getaways to nearby European destinations. 

My due date is, obviously, in summertime. Mr Butterfly's duties will take a break at the end of May, so it makes sense for us to travel to London then - escaping the heat, getting a change of scene, having my mother on-hand to assist as I get closer and closer to delivering - and we can even try to get some extra mini-babymoon trips in to nearby places like Paris. The sticking point is the fact that my husband will have to resume his duties in mid-July, and Baby Butterfly is not due until the end of the month. However, for probably the first month back on duty, my husband will be based somewhere in Europe with his colleagues, so it would be much faster for him to get a couple of days' leave and hop on a plane from a European destination to London at my first signs of labour than it would be for him to head all the way back to Dubai if I was giving birth there. Plus, since he won't be able to stay with me for long after the birth, it's better for me to be at home in London with baby and my mother.

So, whilst there were good arguments for both places, all in all, the factors were weighted in favour of me delivering our little bundle of joy in London, and we all unanimously agreed on that decision. I honestly couldn't be happier with our choice and am so excited to bring our baby into the world in the place where I was born and raised, and most importantly surrounded by love.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Mamas I Admire, #1: My Mummy

As my pregnancy progresses, I find myself contemplating more and more the type of mother I wish to become, and reflecting on the many mothers who have helped to shape my views and ideas about motherhood. Through a series of 'Mamas I Admire' posts, I will showcase some of the most magnificent mothers I know, who inspire me and others around them and whom I hope to emulate in some way or another as I embark upon my journey of motherhood.

There is only one place to get started on this series of posts, and that, of course, is with my own mother. Helen, Mama, Mummy, Maja... She goes by many names, but funnily enough, I never call her 'mum'. It just doesn't seem enough of a word to do her justice. She deserves more syllables; more breath dedicated to calling her.

My Mama is undoubtedly one of the strongest human beings I have ever come across in my life, and the extent of her strength is becoming even more apparent to me now as I go through my own pregnancy. Just consider the fact that she was horribly deserted by her long-term partner in the early stages of carrying me, and that she continued to work full-time in her hectic TV producing job right up until the very day I was born (I arrived early - surpriiiise!), and then proceeded to raise me entirely as a single mother with absolutely zero input or support on the paternity front... I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of fear she must have felt at bringing this new life into the world on her own, and the amount of sacrifices she made in order to raise me in a way whereby I never even felt anything was missing as I grew up.

She showered me with unconditional love, affection and support right from my very earliest memories, and still does to this day. I never wanted for anything. She juggled her career with always dropping me off and picking me up from school, and always cooking and eating our meals together. I never had a nanny or au pair, and rarely even a babysitter. I never felt I was lacking in love due to only having one parent. She surrounded me with positive male role models from a young age, to look up to in the absence of my father, and she made me believe I was special and capable of anything.

The bond between a single mother and her only child is truly unbreakable and insurmountable by distance, as we have learnt since I moved overseas 5 years ago. Sometimes I feel guilty about moving so far away and leaving her alone, and of course I miss her immensely on a daily basis, but she never doubted my ability to thrive and succeed on my own two feet, in a new country, amidst a different culture. In fact, she encouraged me to pursue my dreams wherever they may lead me, and thanks to her guidance and love as my mother, she is the one who provided me with the foundations upon which to grow, to become independent, and to spread my wings and fly.

I could fill the pages of a rather lengthy book recounting stories of my Mama's love, strength and support, her struggles and sacrifices to give me the best possible childhood and to raise me into becoming the woman that I am today. Perhaps I will write a book about it one day, because some of the things we went through and some of the trials and tribulations we overcame are really quite extraordinary. But for now, I shall simply end this blog post by saying how words are not enough to express the gratitude I feel towards my Mama, and if I can be even half the mother to my baby that she has been to me, I will be considered a great mothering success.