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.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Benefits of a Babymoon

The obligatory 'babymoon bump' shot!
As you may have seen if you follow me on Instagram, my husband and I were recently lucky enough to get 5 days off amidst his busy schedule, which we used to travel for a dream getaway to Furaveri Island Resort & Spa in the Maldives.
I suppose we can call it our 'babymoon', as it will most likely be the last chance we get to have an actual holiday together before the little one arrives and turns our world upside down. Babymooning seems to be all the rage these days - though I must admit it wasn't a term I was familiar with until very recently - and I would highly recommend heading off on one to any parents-to-be, if you get the chance. Here are just some of the reasons why it's so worth it...

Spending quality time together as a couple

Now, my husband and I are lucky in that we spend plenty of quality time together most days, but the chances to actually travel together are few and far between. There's nothing like exploring and discovering a new place with the one you love, particularly if you choose a romantic destination for your babymoon - for instance, a paradise island in the Maldives, like we did. With a baby on the way, we realise that our priorities will be changing in the coming months as much of our time will be taken up with raising this tiny human we've created together, so a babymoon offers an opportunity to devote some special days of undivided love and attention to one another, before becoming a trio.

We told the hotel staff it was our babymoon and they threw in some extra romantic treats during our stay

Makes a change from the daily routine

I don't know about you, but my daily routine since getting pregnant has been rather restricted and repetitive...  In fact, I behave somewhat like a newborn: eat, sleep, bath, repeat! Not that I'm complaining - I need all the rest and chill-out days I can get - but to have a change of scene for a little while was definitely uplifting for both my husband and me, and the excitement of travelling boosted my energy levels.

Candlelit dinner by the beach and breakfast at our beach pool villa definitely made a change to the normal routine

Spontaneous getaways won't be so easy to come by in future

Although in our case we are lucky that we will always have family on hand to take care of our little one if we ever wanted a few days away by ourselves after he arrives, it still won't be the same as just being able to pack our bags and jump on a plane to anywhere in the world. Logistically, there will be more to think about after becoming responsible parents, and I'm sure I would also suffer from separation anxiety and probably wouldn't want to be away from my baby anyway! For many people, I know childcare will be a major issue in the future planning of any mum-and-dad-only trips, so the babymoon represents the last chance to travel with no strings attached.

Great opportunity for making (and documenting) 'bump' memories

The obligatory babymoon bump pictures just HAVE to be taken! The first pregnancy will be such a special phase in life to look back on, and having beautiful photos of you and your bump glowing on holiday will be treasured mementos to keep forever, and to show to the little one when they're not so little... Imagine telling your child "You went to the Maldives when you were in my tummy!" - that's a nice 'first travel experience' to share with them in future.

We thoroughly enjoyed our babymoon and definitely made the most of it - beaching, snorkelling, lounging by the pool, going out for fishing trips and yacht cruises, spa treatments, eating yummy food - but even if you can't manage a trip to somewhere tropical, even a local getaway for a couple of nights to a spa hotel or a city you haven't visited together before would be well worth it. Pregnancy can be physically and mentally draining, not only for us ladies but also for our partners too, and a little change of scene can provide a welcome break for both amidst all the exciting (but often exhausting) baby preparations. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

What NOT to say to a thyroid sufferer

If you are dealing with any kind of thyroid condition, I am almost certain you've heard at least one of the things I'm about to list... On top of the symptoms we largely suffer from in silence, one of the most difficult elements to face is a lack of understanding or empathy for our plight. So, without further ado, here's what NOT to say to a thyroid sufferer...

"But you look fine."
Now let me tell you. Just because we look fine on the outside, doesn't mean we aren't struggling on the inside. Some people actually refuse to believe that anything is wrong with us simply because we aren't displaying physical signs of sickness. Be sensitive to this fact and don't question us when we say we are not feeling well!

"Get some more sleep then."
Ah, this gem. One of the prime symptoms of thyroid conditions is severe fatigue and exhaustion, however, we also tend to struggle with falling asleep at night. Getting more sleep is not always an option (if it was, believe me we don't need to tell us). Anyway, thyroid fatigue can't always be combatted by a lot of sleep either - even if we get plenty of regular sleep and rest, we will probably still feel drained. It's just a fact of that thyroid life unfortunately.

"Your TSH is within normal range."
A special one for the doctors. If we are coming to your office and complaining of worsening symptoms or difficulty functioning, please please please don't just throw our 'normal' TSH level in our faces and say there's nothing wrong. We are suffering and asking for relief. Test us for other relevant factors - Vitamin D, Ferritin, check our thyroid antibodies... TSH may be within 'normal' range but is it 'optimal'? There is so much more to a healthy thyroid function than just TSH being within range.

"Thyroid cancer is a good cancer to get!"
Wait what...? You may be shocked and in disbelief that anyone would actually say or think this, but trust me it's a regular comment we receive. Let's just get this straight: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A 'GOOD' CANCER! Yes, it's true that thyroid cancer has one of the best prognoses, but it's still cancer. Everybody hates cancer. And nobody wants to be told they have cancer.

"Just eat less and work out more." 
I'm lucky not to have suffered with this because weight gain has not been a side effect of my condition for me, but for many of us it is. The thyroid controls our metabolism, and in many hypothyroid patients, their metabolic rate slows considerably due to poor thyroid function, thus making it almost impossible to lose weight regardless of how well they eat or how much exercise they do. Oh, and don't forget we are almost always tired. So working out is more of a challenge than it normally would be.

"But they removed it, so you're better now." 
I got this a lot after my surgery. Ok, so the nodule/tumour/cancerous cells are gone - BUT SO IS THE THYROID GLAND! In case you hadn't noticed, we actually need it to function properly... and no medication can completely replace the abilities of an essential gland, which is formed in every human by the time they reach their second trimester in the womb. Getting rid of the danger zone via surgery is vitally important, yes, but it is also just the beginning of coping with a lifelong condition.

"Let's meet for breakfast at 9am on Saturday."
A light-hearted one to finish on, but this is just all kinds of wrong... Number one, weekends are our chance to get a much-needed lie-in. Number two,  we can't eat anything or drink coffee for at least an hour after taking our thyroid medication. So if we're meeting you for breakfast at 9am, that means we need to at least take our tablet by a weekend. That's cruel. Let's just settle for brunch please!!