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Fertility in the time of COVID

“Well, what do you think?” I ask Becs after recounting a friend from work’s experience of Groote Schuur’s Andrology department.
“Ja, I mean, it’s significantly cheaper right? And a hospital’s a hospital’s a hospital…”

That was it, we’d decided, we would begin our journey towards Baby Joy 2.0 at Groote Schuur – a government facility (but, like in Cape Town, so it’s different).

Early in the new year we had our first appointment with, wait for it, Dr. Patel. Not Razina this time, Malika Patel. She was wonderful. It felt synergistic – like kismet – going to another wonderful Dr. Patel to help us on our journey. We gave her our history, shared some context on our beautiful son and told her that the donor we’d used for him was, unfortunately, no longer available. “Well, did you tell them it was for a sibling?” We shook our heads – no, we hadn’t. “Oh, you must. The laws have changed and there can be more than six live births, as long as it’s siblings of existing kids.”

Hashtag “thinking emoji”! I immediately jumped onto my email and got in contact with the lab we’d used in Jo’burg, explained the situation and specified it was for a sibling. We have 10 straws left for siblings only. What?! Excellent! So Fletcher and 2.0 could be half-siblings after all. What a boon! We’ll take them. I replied. Invoices were sent, monies were transferred, frozen swimmers were couriered and we were all set.

Enter COVID. (Hashtag “facepalm emoji”!)

“I’m sorry Rebecca, as Groote Schuur is a COVID hospital, the andrology lab will be closed until further notice. We are only seeing already pregnant ladies, no “new” patients.” After the five weeks of L5 lockdown, Becs had called the hospital. It was as we had feared, they remained in lockdown. Medical staff were being diverted to other areas where they were needed and administrative staff were on furlough. We were stuck. Our 10 straws of sperm were sitting in a freezer we didn’t have the keys to open.

Becs got in touch with the Cape Fertility Clinic and began correspondence with Dr. Sulaiman Heylen. He assured us that he’d “have his people call their people” and he’d make a plan to get our magic ingredients out of that freezer and back on the road. Invoices were sent, monies were transferred, frozen swimmers were couriered and we were all set. Again.


Fertility journeys are never easy and they are never simple. Along the way there are so many ups and downs. Moments that break you, that shake you to your core. Times when you think, is it even worth it? And then you look into the face of your miracle and you know, beyond doubt, it is. It absolutely is! Fletcher will be four this December and, with any luck, before he’s five he’ll no longer be an only child (which is a blessing in other ways too, because we had a meeting with his teacher yesterday and she’s a little worried about his (in)ability to share).

Through our journey so far, we’ve had the usual ups and downs (and a couple of unusual ones). We’ve had friends share their exciting news of siblings on the way. News like that is always bitter-sweet when you’re on a journey like this (whether natural or medically-assisted). Obviously, you’re over the moon for your special people, but a tiny part of you will always sigh and say that should’ve been us. And, in those moments, you have to remember, that little star will come to you when he or she is ready and not a moment sooner. Children operate on their own timetable, even before birth. Everything in time.

Just let me love you…

I’ve never understood why abused women – or men, I guess – all too often remain in relationships with their abusers. What is it that makes them accept that kind of behaviour? What could possibly possess them? Why would they stay somewhere they are being treated so appallingly? But, the last six or so months of motherhood have given me a glimpse into the mind of an abuse victim, a hint at understanding their reasons.


It’s 3am, the early morning silence (and my sleep) is shattered by Fletcher’s distressed cries from down the passage. He hasn’t been sleeping well lately and we haven’t quite nailed down a reason. We think he’s exhausted – he doesn’t nap well (or at all, really) at school and consequently is completely broken (and disgusting) by 5pm. We fly through bath and bedtime routines before he gets over the hump and crashes down the other side into over-tired. If that happens, it’s hours before he finally winds down and it’s a generally unpleasant experience for everyone. But this tired, over-wrought brain of his means he has trouble switching off and really winding down for a good night’s sleep. Consequently he wakes anywhere between two and six times a night, and sometimes it takes us over half an hour to settle him again. It’s like having a newborn in the house…

I sluggishly pull myself from the bed and stagger into his room, he’s crying on his bed. I sit carefully on the edge of his floor-level bed and quietly ask, “What’s wrong, my boy?” “Eeeeeeee!” – and more insistent crying – is the only response I get. I try again, extricating his banda from under his pillow, untangling his blankie and pulling up his duvet to cover him; trying to gently sooth him out of this disturbed patch. He immediately throws his banda across the room, pushes his blankie away and kicks his duvet off, yelling, “no!” and making some more “eeeeee!” noises at me.

I try everything I can think of to placate him – ask him if he wants to come to our bed, offer him a nice warm bottle to settle him again, nothing works. Eventually, Becs drags her exhausted self through to his room, having heard I’m having no joy from him. I move so she can sit on the edge of his bed. Although he’s still crying, he manages to explain to her that he wants a bottle. I go through to the kitchen to warm one, while Becs supervises a toilet wee in the darkness.

I get back to his room and try to hand him his bottle, but he turns away and says, “other mama!” This is the norm in our house these days. I’m not allowed near him. When I get home from work, he wants nothing to do with me – I can’t talk to him, I can’t feed / bath / change / read to him, nothing. It’s the same in the mornings and during these nighttime visits. The other day, he’d come to our bed in the middle of the night, Becs had an early start, so she went to sleep in his bed for a few hours. When he woke up, he told me to get out. Of my own damn bed!

Don’t get me wrong, I know parental favouritism is a normal phase, I’ve read a bunch of articles about it. Some give helpful tips about changing up the routine, swapping activities so the “non-preferred” parent has more time with the kid. Others tell you to hang in there, don’t pull away, but lean in (fuck, I’m over hearing that expression!). Others still claim it’s a sign of cognitive development, and say he’s pushing me away because he feels safe enough in my love for him, that he knows he can do that and still be welcomed back (great!). One even went so far as to essentially tell me to grow up, that it’s not a child’s job to validate a parent.

All the articles though give sound advice and let me know that I’m not alone, but honestly, I do crave that validation. I desperately want him to let me do things for him the way he lets Becs do them, to cuddle me the way he cuddles her. And when he does… oh, the ecstasy! This is when I glimpse into the mind of an abuse sufferer, when I begin to understand their motivations. He pushes me away at every twist and turn, he uses me as a punching bag – literally and figuratively – he shouts at me, he throws things at me, he breaks my heart. But, when he curls into me, or comes to me with his “eina”, my heart swells with love and joy and gratitude, and hope!

Mostly, it’s the hope, I think, that keeps people coming back. The hope that he’s changed his mind about me, that I’m not a second-class citizen anymore. The hope that he loves me as much as he loves Becs. The hope that he’ll stop pushing me away and just bloody well let me love him! It’s generally short-lived unfortunately, but all the articles do agree on one thing: it’s a phase and it will pass. So, I guess, I just have to hang in there. Doesn’t make it any easier though.


What’s your experience with parental preferences? Let us know in the comments.

‘Tis the Season

This year, give more love and less stuff

“I want that big dump truck!” Fletcher pleads emphatically. We’re rushing (as much as one can with a two-going-on-three year old) down the toy aisle at Dischem, heading for the tills. An error in judgement saw us come down this aisle rather than one over, where the adult diapers and Zimmer Frames are kept. I crouch down to his level, “Maybe you’ll get one for your birthday or for Christmas, if you’re a good boy.” He’s not interested. “Please mama, please can I have that big, green dump truck!?” He’s only two but already he knows how to turn on the charm when he wants something. I pick him up and speak as calmly as I can, “Baby, you can’t have a present every time we come to the shops.” Nice try. “PLEASE!” he yells. “Just because you said ‘please’, doesn’t mean you automatically get what you want. I’m sorry baby, no.” I pick him up and march down the aisle with a thrashing toddler in my arms, launching himself this way and that in a vain attempt to escape my clutches. I leave Becs to manage the check-out and Fletch and I exit the shop. I feel like everyone is judging me as I walk past, but I think I also catch as many I know that feeling looks as I put on a brave smile on my way out.


In the (almost) three years that we’ve been stumbling and bumbling through parenthood, I’ve come to realise a few things. Probably the biggest one was that no-one – and let me say that again, no-one – is getting it 100% right 100% of the time. I’ve made tons of mistakes along the way and I’m sure we’re screwing Fletcher up in new and exciting ways, but all I can hope is that we’re getting it more right than wrong. And when I look at Fletch, and I watch him interact with people and the world around him, I think we mostly are.

For the last couple of years, the Christmas season in our house has been double-trouble. With Fletcher’s birthday being so close to Christmas, we find ourselves trying to spread things out to minimise the damage done to our wallets and stretch the happy as far as we can for Fletch. Most kids at least have a couple of weeks between birthdays and Christmas, but poor Fletch has just two days. We are very intentional about not bundling the two together, making sure he gets the impact of both days for what they’re meant to be.

We’re not religious people, so Christmas is less about babies in mangers and more about love, family and togetherness. This year will be our first Christmas in Cape Town and we’re still trying to work things out. We have to find the box of Christmas decorations in the nightmare that is our garage. We’ve had to buy a new tree because we gave ours away when we moved. We still have to work out exactly where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing (and eating) on Christmas. All we really know is that the three of us will be together. And that is all that really matters.

We don’t want Fletch to be overwhelmed on Christmas morning, faced with hundreds of gifts to open. Especially not when it’s two days after his birthday and the novelty of birthday gifts should still be fresh. So we’ve decided, for our part, Fletcher will get four gifts: something he wants, something he needs, something to wear and something to read. We’ve also decided to ensure that presents from (as Fletch calls him) “Fa’er Christmas” are small, token gifts, not massive expensive things. I read a post last year about the pitfalls of expensive gifts from “Santa” and it changed my perspective a lot.

Viral post about the pitfalls of giving expensive gifts “from Santa”

So, as we go into the Festive Season, bedecked in festive cheer and getting ready to make merry, I hope despite the gifts and the hype, that we can all focus on what’s important this festive season – family, love, togetherness, renewal, joy and – most importantly – happiness.

Merry, happy everything from all of ours to you and all of yours!

It’s not perfect, but it’s ours

life is messy but it's beautiful

When I got home from work and came through the front door, I walked into a total warzone. The dogs are killing each other to get to me, scrambling on the wooden floors, each one climbing over the other in an attempt to get their ears scratched first; Fletcher – yelling at the top of his lungs – is racing his plastic motorbike up and down the passage, wearing his unclipped bicycle helmet backwards; Becs is standing in the kitchen surveying the chaos with a warm smile, our steaming halfway-made-tea on the counter in front of her. Having just travelled 40 minutes on a cramped bus, surrounded by strangers each bringing their own stories, stresses, strains and smells to the journey, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. “Hey family,” I say above the din of the madness that is our afternoon life. My greeting is returned by Becs, Fletcher roars at me and the dogs continue to clamour over each other, vying for my attentions. It’s not perfect – this chaotic, busy, loud life – but it’s ours.

***

It’s 10pm, Becs and I have put down our books, switched off our bedside lamps and are stretching towards the welcoming arms of sleep. We hear shuffling footsteps in the passage and moments later a little voice breaks the night-time silence, “I wanna sleep in mommies’ bed.” Without a word, Becs reaches out and lifts Fletcher, his stuffed Lightning McQueen, his new elephant backpack and his blanket into our bed as I pull the covers back and push the pillows together to make space for a tiny human who takes up more space in our bed than we could ever hope to. For the next hour or two, Fletcher tosses and turns, burrows his feet into our kidneys, talks to us about crocodiles, lions, dinosaurs and all manner of wild beasts and eventually drifts off to sleep. By the time Becs carries him back to his own room, we’re both exhausted (and a little bruised from Captain-flick-en-flack). It’s not perfect – this co-sleeping in a not-quite-big-enough-for-all-of-us bed – but it’s ours.

***

The house is quiet. Too quiet! I walk into our bedroom and find Fletcher next to my side of the bed with the Vicks Vaporub tub open in front of him, one hand pulling his shirt up and the other smearing the multitudes of Vaporub he’s extracted from the tub liberally all over his front. “I putting this on my tummy,” he says as I gasp and leap towards him. He immediate starts trying to evade my grasp, darting left and right, coming dangerously close to wiping the remaining Vaporub on our freshly-laundered duvet cover. I grab the offending arm, hold it high above his head so he doesn’t get any in his eyes, crouch down to his level and say (firmly, but kindly), “this can hurt you boy! If you get this in your eyes it will burn like fire. Quickly, let’s go wash your hands.” He quietly nods his head, almost as if he’s truly comprehended the severity of the prospect of Vaporub in the eye. I keep a hold on his arm as we walk towards his bathroom and climb the step to the basin. All the while, Fletcher recites my monologue (or “mom-o-logue”, as I like to call it, because it’s mostly you, talking to yourself in the hope that some cosmic force is listening and will grant your wishes), “going to wash my hands, this can burn my eyes, burns like fire, big ow, going to wash my hands…” It’s not perfect – this chasing-a-toddler-covered-in-Vaporub madness – but it’s ours. 

***

In the nearly six years Becs and I have been together we’ve seen the best and worst of each other. We’ve propped each other up when we felt our legs wouldn’t be able to carry us under the weight of our grief at the loss of loved ones. We’ve laughed until our bellies ached reminiscing about some silly, trivial early-twenties memory. We’ve cried tears of joy together as we looked down on the face of our fresh, pink new-born son. We’ve changed jobs. We’ve schlepped across the country, uprooting our lives and moving away from (almost) everyone we know and love. We’ve stared, open-mouthed at the sheer beauty and wonder of the world, looking down at the ocean from a perilous height. We’ve danced in the kitchen to music only we could hear. We’ve sung (bad) karaoke in the dodgiest pub in Blouberg. We’ve held our son as he screamed and writhed in our arms after cutting his foot on a broken plate. We’ve paced hospital waiting rooms and slept curled up in uncomfortable chairs in paediatric wards. We’ve seen and done a lot together and this is only the beginning of our journey. Our journey has been messy, it’s been beautiful, it’s been gut-wrenching, and it’s been mind-blowing. It’s been far from perfect, but it’s ours and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. 

Too blessed to be stressed?

Too blessed to be stressed? Living with stress is a guarantee in today's economy. Don't beat yourself up about it! Find ways to deal with it.

The phone rings, it’s our estate agent (or realtor, for our international readers), “Great news, the buyers’ bond (mortgage) has been approved. Congratulations, you’ve sold your house!” I excitedly thank her, exchange excited farewells and hang up. I flip over to WhatsApp and quickly thump out a message to Becs, “Their bond was approved, the house is officially sold!” When I get home, the SOLD signs are up and it starts getting real.

It’s not like this all came as a shock, I mean they made the offer and signed the papers weeks ago, so we knew this was coming. But there is something about that red SOLD sticker on the FOR SALE board that makes it all the more real. Too blessed to be stressed?


With little over two months to go to our move date, I still haven’t got formal approval of my relocation request. Becs has gone from having two really exciting job prospects to having nothing in the pipeline. We have no idea where Fletcher will go to school – or where we will live for that matter. Too blessed to be stressed?


A few days later, we’re sitting outside with our happy little two-year-old. The weather is amazing – that late summer sunshine that warms your soul without scorching your skin. We’ve arranged a braai (barbecue) with our close friends and their 8-month-old son. The fire is lit, I’m busy in the kitchen making marinade for the chicken and then, disaster strikes.

Flash forward 24-hours, Fletcher has had surgery, our afternoon braai plans, like the broken plate at the centre of it, are cast aside. And all this against the backdrop of having just sold our house, planning a move across the country and not having packed a single box. Too blessed to be stressed?


Shortly after Fletcher’s accident, my relocation request was approved and I, at least, had a firmed up job. Becs had been contacted by an amazing new school in connection with a role they hadn’t even advertised for yet. Two weeks later, we had ticked off three out of four of our major checkboxes – I had a job, Becs had a job, Fletcher had a school. Now we just needed to find somewhere to live.

Being a person who craves certainty in my life, I had been silently freaking out for two months, panicking about all the things we didn’t know. I remember saying I couldn’t look at everything all at once, because it gave me a lump in my stomach so big that I couldn’t breathe. I had to separate things, look at them in isolation. Now that we both had jobs and Fletcher had a school to go to, I could focus on finding us somewhere to live. Too blessed to be stressed?


We must’ve looked at over 100 listings. We saw some of the most terrible pictures (I mean, really, what are people thinking?), doilies on toilets, washing on the bed, washing on a clothes horse in the middle of the lounge – you name it, we’ve seen it! Most agents we contacted didn’t even want to talk to us until closer to our move date, which only compounded my stress.

Luckily, we have family in Cape Town who could go be our eyes on the ground, which meant we were able to tick off the final major item on our list fairly quickly. Now, we just have to finish packing our house (which looks like a bomb has hit it, by the way) in the next week because the truck is coming next Monday. Then, I will be driving down (with the cat – for my sins) to meet the truck a week later and start unpacking. Becs and Fletch will follow about two weeks later and will hopefully arrive to something that resembles a “home”.


So, “too blessed to be stressed”? F*ck no! Look, don’t get me wrong, we are hella blessed – we have an amazing marriage, the kind movies are made about, the kind people hate you for; we have a beautiful, funny, special soul of a kid; we are surrounded on all sides by loving friends and family; we have great jobs; we earn good salaries and can send our child to good schools and get him whatever he needs. But that doesn’t mean that we are above stress.

Anyone who tells you they aren’t stressed is a bloody liar! Don’t be friends with them, no one needs that kind of negativity in their lives. Seriously. They’re setting you up for failure, creating unrealistic expectations and lumping pressure on you to try and fit into a “stress-free” ideal that quite simply doesn’t exist.

Don’t kid yourself. Stress will find you at every twist and turn, even when you think everything is plain sailing. In fact, especially when you think it’s plain sailing. But don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re allowed to be stressed. And when you are, talk to someone. Talk to your mom. Talk to your bestie. Talk to a work colleague. Talk to your wife / husband / boyfriend / girlfriend / partner / whatever. Talk to you cat, if it makes you feel better, but get that shit off your chest because it’s poison. It will push you down, it will pull you under and pretending it’s not there will not make it go away. Let me say that again: ignoring it will not make it go away! But saying it out loud takes the edge off. Talking about it lightens the load. It’s true what they say, a problem shared really is a problem halved.

A stitch in time…

amateur mommies a stitch in time

With summer, in South Africa, comes braais – or as most of the rest of the world knows them, barbeques. I had just lit the fire when our good friends arrived with their 8-month old son for a Saturday afternoon braai. Becs had set out a picnic blanket with a variety of toys for young Myles and Fletcher to play with, while the moms and dad chatted and chilled. 

With the fire burning away, I went inside to make the marinade for the chicken, leaving Becs, Lloyd, Ani and the kids outside on the grass snacking happily from a fruit platter Becs had lovingly prepared. While still busy with step one of my marinade (measuring out the olive oil), I heard Becs saying from outside, “Fletcher, don’t stand on the fruit.” A split second later, the follow-up sentence came – and it was one that dropped my stomach – “Babe! Stitches!” My heart sank. I grabbed a dishtowel and ran outside to where Becs was rinsing Fletcher’s foot under the outside tap. It was immediately clear, it was bad. I grabbed his foot with the dishtowel and held onto that tiny foot with all my might. I took him in my arms and Becs went inside to grab the car keys. Lloyd was already reversing his car out the driveway when we climbed into ours and pulled out, leaving our guests to clean up and lock the house. (Thanks guys.)

The calm before the storm

Arriving at the closest casualty with our two-year-old son screaming and crying in my arms while I tightly held his little foot was a surreal moment. We were ushered in by a nurse, who paled somewhat on lifting the dishtowel and quickly fetched the casualty doctor, who took one look at the wound and began issuing instructions about pain meds and calling the orthopaedic surgeon on call. Once the meds had kicked in, Fletcher allowed the doctor a proper look, which confirmed her thoughts about calling in the ortho. 

We were sent down to radiology for a quick x-ray and, shortly returning to casualty, were led to the paed ward for the long wait for surgery (because, obviously, Fletcher had eaten 30 seconds before slicing his foot open, so we had to wait for that to clear his system before they could operate). 

When our little man came screaming and raging out of theatre a few hours later, I went into the recovery room to try and settle him, while Becs chatted to the surgeon. Our dear son has never done anyhing in small measures. When he gets sick, he gets pneumonia; when he gets fevers, he gets 40º fevers; and when he stands on a plate and cuts his foot, he cuts through his tendons! 

Being a parent is a traumatic, wonderful, terrifying and immensely gratifying experience. It will take you to places you never knew existed and show you parts of yourself you didn’t know you had. You will face your greatest fears, every day, and you will stand up to the biggest, scariest demons and smack them on the head with a plastic hammer that makes a squeaky noise. You will look at what you thought you knew about yourself and be amazed at just how far removed you are from it. And you will love every moment of it – even the ones you dread. Seeing Fletcher on the gurney in that casualty department, with tears cutting through the sunblock we’d applied just moments before everything fell apart, broke my heart. Seeing how he looked at me, pleading eyes begging me to help him, watching him look from me to Becs and back with an expression of why aren’t you doing anythingon his small, tear-stained and blotchy face was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It’s gut-wrenching. But at the same time, it shows your mettle. 

Becs and I are both in the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you think about it) position of having been in life or death situations before, so each of us knows that we are pure calm under pressure. Many others aren’t. A lot of people, when faced with life-threatening – or even just slightly hair-raising – situations dissolve into a puddle of hysteria. The trick is to harness the energy that comes from hysteria and channel it, it’s not an easy task but once you master it, cucumbers will have nothing on you in a crisis. 

We still don’t know how many stitches Fletch actually had, but I’d guess no less than 10 (plus whatever had to be done internally). We have a follow-up appointment next week with the ortho to check his progress and are hoping for the all-clear, because keeping a busy two-year-old off his feet for a week is no mean feat. Fletcher himself has been an absolute champ! He’s been brave and accommodating, he’s been adorable and endearing and he’s been such a big boy about the whole incident. He weaves a beautiful tale about how he stepped on a plate and it cut his foot, but then the doctor fixed it, complete with dramatic embellishments and wild gestures. 

All recovered and watching diggers

The biggest thing we’ve taken from this incident is really how quickly accidents happen. Fletcher was less than a metre from two adults when it happened. He wasn’t doing anything naughty or intentional – he was just walking to get a toy for “baby Myles” and he mis-stepped – put his foot down in the wrong place, as clumsy toddlers are wont to do. The thing to remember, when accidents do happen, is not to berate yourself. Every child ends up in the emergency room at some point in their lives, whether they’ve fallen off a jungle gym at school (like I did) or stepped on a rusty nail (like I did) or run into their cousin’s bicycle handlebars and sliced a chunk out of their faces (like I did) – accidents happen. Life happens. Go with it. Be in that moment for as long as that moment lasts. Be present. Be intentional. Be an active participant and not a passenger. Try to remain calm and if you can’t, channel your hysteria, use it to help you focus – you’ll be amazed how well those panic hormones focus your mind. 

Mama, what you doin’?

Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, Becs and Fletcher were in the kitchen. Fletch was perched up on the counter and Becs was standing next to him, giving him his vitamins. I came over to say hi, and gave Becs a kiss hello, at which point we heard a determined little voice saying, “Mama! What you doin’? Why you kiss?” Both of us packed up laughing at the statement, and the vehement nature of its delivery. He looked at us, happily enough, but had certainly decided that those moments should be kept until after he had gone to bed. I gave him a kiss on his chin (because his face was nice and sticky from his vitamin), plonked him down on the floor and the two of us proceeded to race and down the passage for the next 30 minutes, occasionally pausing to “jump” at the kitchen step. 


Standing in our bedroom one morning, trying to quickly respond to a WhatsApp message from a colleague, I was loudly chastised from the bedroom door by our not-quite-two-year-old. “Mama! What you doin’?”
“Replying to a message,” I responded. At which point I received a terse, “no!” Fletcher ran into the room, grabbed my free hand and said, “walk!” And that was that, my response would have to wait, and rightly so. There was no time-sensitivity to the response, no reason that I should prioritise responding to a meme over spending time with my child – who would most likely only be awake for another hour or so. Sometimes, it takes a small, albeit firm, voice to remind us of what’s really important. I can’t remember exactly how we occupied the time that followed, but we were together and he was laughing, and that is the most important thing. 


As Fletcher has grown and his grasp of language has developed, we’ve been amazed at some of the things that have come out of his mouth. He’s not even two yet, but every day, he finds a way to remind me that the important things in life are not always the things I think are important. Watching the news is not important. Replying to texts is not important. Reading magazines is not important. Even cooking supper is not so important that it can’t wait until I’ve done a lap or two of the passage race track, or kicked the ball over the balcony a few times. 

What’s important are the memories we’re making, they experiences we’re giving our son that are shaping the person he will grow up to be. The way we respond to situations, to people, will inform the way he responds one day. Today in the car, on the way to school, we were driving along behind another car, and – to my surprise – I heard Fletcher from behind me saying, “move!” pointing to the car in front of us. It made me stop for a second and wonder how many times I’d unconsciously moaned about the cars on the road around me (or more specifically their drivers). It made me wonder what else I’d done unconsciously that he was picking up on, learning from. 

All I can hope is that the majority of his experiences of the world with us, through us and, sometimes, in spite of us are positive and that the human being those experiences forge is a good one. So far, all signs point to a great little guy growing into a wonderful, kind, caring and empathetic human one day. Fingers crossed it stays that way. 

An emotional melting pot

Emotions run wild when your child is in hospital. Here's an amateur mommies account.

Sitting tucked away at a quiet table, in the corner of the hospital coffee shop, trying to catch up on some urgent work items, I’m struck by breadth of emotions around me. To my left, excited extended family celebrates a new addition, surrounded by “It’s a boy!” balloons and blue teddy bears. To my right, an elderly couple stare quietly at each other, the husband wears a pained expression as he looks worriedly at his wife, who sits motionless in her nightgown, an ominous drip-stand at her side. In the reception area, an anxious-looking teenager, asks her mom a thousand-and-one questions about the surgery she is being admitted for. Behind me, a huddled family, silently mourn the loss of their matriarch.

As I sip my coffee, I begin to consider my own fatigue, concern and stress, all underwritten by cautious optimism. My not-yet-two-year-old son is lying in the paediatric ward with his “another mama”. He’s got some sort of demon bug that only responds to IV antibiotics and comes with relentless, unbreakable fevers. He’s been here less than 24-hours and is already showing significant improvements. He’s doing better than so many of the other kids in the ward and for that I am so grateful. There’s a little girl a few beds down who has the same thing Fletcher has, but she’s been here for three days already and is likely to be here for another three. I’m filled with gratitude at the robustness of our boy, suddenly glad for his insatiable appetite and the way he burns through clothes, for his skimmed knees and all-around toughness. He’s like the Hilux of toddlers.

It’s inevitable, in a hospital, that you start chatting with the people around you – finding out their stories. There are surgical cases – bones that need setting, burns that need dressing – pneumonia cases and mystery viruses – all manner of things bring people together in hospitals. People who you would never otherwise speak to are suddenly your closest confidants. You confide in them. You share with them. You open up to them as you would your nearest and dearest friends. You are bound to them by an invisible thread – your sick or injured kids. You’ll probably never see these people again, and if you do, the chances that you’ll recognise them are slim because they’re out of context. The invisible thread that bound you will be gone – your sick or injured kids will no longer be sick or injured, and suddenly any potential future interactions seem awkward and forced. 

Our two night stint in the paediatric ward was blessedly brief and our thug is recovering well at home. But many of our new confidants were left behind as we hastily bid farewell to the nurses and hospital staff, as we rushed for the door. The overriding emotion for both of us as we made our way to the car was relief. Relief that Fletcher was on the mend. Relief that it was over. Relief that we were all going home, together. Relief that we were all going home. I looked around the coffee shop as we walked out, silently considering the emotions of the people around us. There was laughter – some of it born of stress, some genuine – there was anxiety, there was joy, sadness, grief, elation, relief, resignation and acceptance…

Hospitals are a melting pot of emotion and it is our emotion, in each situation, that shapes our experience of the place. Three and a bit years ago, I was in this same hospital, crying into my coffee as we bid farewell to my beloved grandmother. That day, I hated the place. Last year, around this time, we were there with Fletcher. He had pneumonia and was in a bad way for the first two nights of our stay, but by the end of our stint, I had grown to love the hospital and the people who worked there. This time, I felt like an old hand, experienced, calm, ready to face it all. I hope never to have to be back there, but if I do have to go back, I hope not to experience the darker emotions, the ones that leave you cold.

For now, I’ll take my relief (and my son) and we’ll head home, together.

NBR: Comrades Marathon 2018

When Fletcher was born I didn’t have any major aspirations from a running perspective – I’d been a runner before, having completed a Two Oceans Marathon in 2015, but I didn’t have any particular lofty aspirations once Fletch was born. Until the first time I stood on a scale postpartum. After that, I definitely had some running-related aspirations.

When Fletch was about 6 weeks old, I joined the gym and started running on the treadmill three or four times a week, alternating with swimming and strength training. When I went back to work, when Fletch was four months old, I started running with our club again two mornings a week and once on weekends. I was slowly getting back into it. We’d roped a few unsuspecting friends into doing the Two Oceans again with us (which happened in March of this year, when Fletcher was 15 months old) and we were all training together. Becs was going to do the 21km and I was going to the 56km ultramarathon.

Our year of training passed by in the blink of an eye, mixed in with milestones, teething, learning to sit, crawl and walk, and before we knew it the big day had arrived. On 31 March 2018, we left Fletcher with his aunt and Becs and I completed our Two Oceans journeys. But it wasn’t over… About 6 months before that, I’d (somewhat sneakily, although in consultation with Becs) entered the Comrades Marathon. For those of you who (a) aren’t South African or (b) aren’t runners, the Comrades is grueling (and many will – rightly – say downright stupid) road running race that takes place every year on the ±90kms stretch of road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, each year alternating in directions. This year, was a down run, with the start in Pietermaritzburg and the finish in the Moses Mabida stadium in Durban.

So, after our Two Oceans journeys were complete, the real work started. The two months between Oceans and Comrades were a whirlwind of super early mornings, double-header weekends (which basically means running on both Saturday and Sunday morning), hills, hills and more hills. Becs was essentially a single parent in April and May, giving me the nights off when I was running the next morning (which was almost every morning). As winter got into its stride and temperatures dropped (I know some of you still consider 3ºC balmy, but for us “tropical people” that is flipping cold), running became harder to get up for, but there was a promise that it would all be over soon and our lives could return to normal.

I’m sure Becs has a different perspective on the last two and half months, but for me, it was both very difficult and very conflicting. It didn’t help that my Comrades training was coming to a head at the same time as two big projects at work, meaning I was working late and leaving home early. During May, I felt like Becs and I were ships in the night and Fletcher was a veritable stranger. I’d notice him doing something for the first time and comment on it and Becs would respond, “oh ja, he’s been doing that for a while,” and I’d feel like the worst mother. I didn’t even know my kid anymore. I didn’t know that he could blow bubbles in the bath because I always missed bath time. I didn’t know how many times he woke up during the night or whether he still had two bottles or only one now (I know he doesn’t need a bottle at night anymore, but trust me, it’s easier to give it to him than fight with him – but that is a post for another day). I felt like I was missing out on my son’s life. I felt like I was abandoning my wife, leaving her to do it all on her own. I felt like I was failing them in my pursuit of some achievement, some accolade for myself, but one I desperately wanted.

A week before Comrades, two kids in Becs’s class were booked off with Swine Flu (*face palm* right). Now, ask any Comrades runner and they’ll tell you, there are two things they dread in the final weeks leading up to the race – getting injured and getting sick. Ask any supporter of a Comrades runner and there is only one thing they dread – being the reason their runner gets sick because they’re unlikely to ever hear the end of it. With that in mind, the Tuesday before Comrades, Becs moved into the lounge. So now, not only was she a single parent, she was also sleeping on the couch – wife of the year, right? In my defense, I did offer to take the couch, her response (as always) was, “I’m not the one running 90kms on the weekend.”

On the Friday before the race, Fletch, Chet (Fletcher’s “bestie” and one of our running friends) and I set off in the car to drive down to Durbs. Becs had to work so she’d be flying that evening. When she arrived in Durban, I could see she was in a bad way. She had a fever of 39ºC – ask yourself, as an adult, when have you ever had a fever? – she looked like she was about to pass out. She was pale, pallid and really not herself. Despite how crappy she was feeling, she slept in the room with Fletcher and was on duty – insisting that I needed to get a good night’s sleep. On race night, Fletch went to stay with my folks and Becs (who was feeling moderately better and had at least managed to shake her fever) moved back into the room with me as Chet had moved into what had been Fletcher’s room the night before.

Race morning dawned – OK, no, I’m lying. We got up loooong before dawn. 01:30 actually. We had to be on a bus to the start by 02:30 and our supporters had to get ahead of the road closures to meet us in Cato Ridge – some 30kms into the race. We dressed, we liberally applied bum cream to areas that were likely to experience chaff, and many others that you wouldn’t think of, and we headed to the bus stop.

Arriving in Pietermaritzburg at 04:00, an hour an a half before the start, we began making our way through the streets, following the ±20,000 other runners heading towards the start pens. The atmosphere was electric – abuzz with nervous energy and excitement. We found our start pen and settled in for the long wait, snacking on our sandwiches and bananas while we waited.

Around 05:00, we discarded our Pick ‘n Pay packets of goodies outside the start pens (so as not to become a tripping hazard for other runners) and started shuffling forward with the crowd. Bunched together like that, the 3ºC weather didn’t feel all that cold. As the South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, boomed through the sound system, I took off my cap, closed my eyes and sang along. We continued to shuffle forward as Shosholoza pumped through the speakers, followed closely by Chariots of Fire. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we waited for the cock crow and the sound of the gun that marked the official start of the 2018 Comrades Marathon.

BOOM! The gun sounded like a cannon – I nearly peed myself, but fortunately my instinctive jump was all I needed to start my watch and we were off. Shuffling towards the start line, shoulder to shoulder with our ‘comrades’. The first 30kms passed in a haze, I remember snippets – chatting to one or two people as they passed us, seeing a few familiar faces and almost watching from outside my body as we moved from ‘Martizburg to Cato Ridge. When we saw the black and white balloons that signaled our people, our hearts swelled with happiness! Seeing Becs’s face, everything I’d been thinking and meaning to tell her up to this point went flying out my head. It was now sometime around 09:00, we’d been running for about three and a half hours and if I tell you I remember about 20 minutes of it, it’s a lot.

We set off again, not knowing exactly when we’d see our people again, but knowing that there would be a table set up by our running club close to the halfway mark in Drummond. We chatted happily as we clipped along through the sugar cane plantations, past the chicken farms and dairy farms, and past the porta-loos that smelt like dairy farms. Approaching Drummond, one runs through what is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills – it’s beautiful, with sweeping green hills as far as the eye can see, but it’s tough as nails to run through. We reached Drummond largely without incident, found the Jeppe table and gratefully accepted the goodies they had to offer us (including the advice). Somewhere between Drummond and the infamous Inchanga, we lost my brother, who dropped back to walk off a cramp and I didn’t hear him call out to me. Before I knew it, he was gone. Lost in the sea of pained faces around us. 50kms and almost six hours into the race, our party of three was now a party of two.

Not long after that, I lost Chet. I was now a party of one and I was a party of one who was nauseous and battling a running tummy. Not ideal at all. I popped a Valoid and an Immodium and had some watered-down Coke at the next water table – hoping that would settle the nausea. It didn’t. The 10kms from that point to the next Jeppe table where the longest 10kms of my life. When I reached that table, I was pale and deep in the hurt locker. Jo – one of the volunteers – told me Chet was just ahead and that she would wait for me at 67kms where we were expecting to see Becs and the rest of our supporters again.

In the seven kays that followed, I tried to keep myself moving forward, reminding myself every time I wanted to walk, that the more I walked now, the less time I could spend with Becs when I saw her. I fell into an uncomfortable rhythm. My uterus felt like it was trying to climb out through my Caesar scar. My ovaries felt like they were burrowing backwards into my kidneys. My nausea was horrific and the pain in my legs was searing. I began chanting a mantra to myself of things to get from Becs when I saw her – anti-nausea tablet, pain killer, deep heat spray for my legs, anti-nausea tab, pain killer, deep heat spray… on and on for 8kms. When I eventually spotted Becs and her balloons towards the bottom of Fields Hill, I have never been so happy to see anyone. I instinctively sped up, racing towards her before my legs remembered that it actually hurt to go faster.

I was so happy to see her, I almost forgot my mantra – anti-nausea, pain killer, spray. I’d had pain killers with me the whole time, but was too scared to take it in case I vomited again. I needed the anti-nausea pill first. While I was there, I changed my socks, which made the world of difference. While retying my shoelaces, my stomach muscle cramped – that is a feeling I won’t soon forget! I also got some reassuring news about my brother – he was ticking on nicely, not too far behind us. Grateful that he was OK and knowing he’d see our support bus soon, Chet and I set off again.

The next 34kms were very difficult, my nausea had not fully abated and I hadn’t managed to eat anything since halfway, meaning I was running dangerously low on fuel. At 75kms I had a quarter of a Marmite sarmie, which was like swallowing a clump of sand, my mouth was so dry. I was drinking watered-down Energade or watered-down Coke and vomiting every ±10kms. The last 2kms were killer and I was very grateful to Chet for keeping me going (and for stopping so many times, despite how difficult it was for her to start up again).

After 11 hours and 13 minutes on the road, we ran into the stadium, with our backs straight and our heads held high. We powered across the finish line, hand in hand with our arms raised above our heads in triumph. We had completed the “Ultimate Human Race” in a time of 11:13:37, a race run well above my pay-grade. Gareth came in at 11:40:56, having run almost half of the race on his own. He battled his demons and emerged victorious!

Next year we return to do it all again, this time in reverse (although Gareth is still, at this point, undecided).

On the way home, Fletcher spiked a 40º temperature, we had to stop on the side of the highway to give him an Emperped suppository. His temperature has normalised, but he’s still not a happy camper – coughing and generally miserable. To compound matters, he’s cutting his eye teeth. So with my 2018 Comrades journey behind me, Becs and I continue our parenting journey. Raising a boy obsessed with typical “boy” things – cars, wheels, bikes – the noisier, the better. He’s a climber and a character, strong-willed and headstrong (wonder where he gets that from) with a sense of humour and a loving personality. He’s destined for great things, for big things, bigger and better than anything I’ve achieved. Next year, through my training, I hope to miss less. I hope to be more present, to be a more supportive partner to Becs and a more patient parent to Fletcher. It’s tough when you’re tired and stressed to remember to be present, but next year, I hope to do it better. We can always do it better.

How easy it is to lose your temper with someone so small and innocent…

This tiny human that we have been blessed to parent is one of the most trying and difficult things in the world. We cannot control it, we cannot keep it in the same place (good luck once your little ones are mobile, parents), and we cannot make it listen no matter how loud we shout. Since our little man started walking we have been on a constant marathon of madness around the house. He is SO busy! The cat food, the toilet, the glass cabinet, the T.V remotes, the underwear drawer, the detergents cupboard and all the plugs, and light switches are constantly under attack. And boy, is he on a mission to be a one-man demolition team. The speed at which he manages his destruction mission is also unbelievable! One of us is hovering around him at all times, picking up bits and pieces, stopping him from bumping his head and generally damage controlling as much as we can while the other one of us is doing all the other “mom things” that need to get done – cooking, cleaning, washing bottles, etc. When he finally goes to sleep we are absolutely knackered!

The newfound freedom his walking has bestowed on him, and his curiosity for absolutely everything is awesome! It means we have a little man who is growing and learning and becoming independent and we couldn’t be more proud! But, it also means the frustrations he has in being confined (like when we have to change a nappy or put him in his high chair) are world-shattering for him. For such a little thing, his temper tantrums are huge! The tears turn on, the lip drops, and the pitch of his cry reaches an ear-splitting crescendo. It takes just a moment for him to get to the point of no return when he doesn’t get his way (like when we won’t let him eat the toilet block straight out of the toilet) and it takes me just a moment to absolutely lose it with him. Although we’re not big on hidings, we quickly realised that smacking has absolutely no effect on him. He is already crying and now he doesn’t understand why the person he loves more than anything in the world is hurting him. To say nothing of the fact that he doesn’t understand why he can’t eat the toilet block in the first place, because he’s only 15 months old and logic and reason are far from his mind.

It’s in this moment that you have to take a step back, take a big breath and remember that you are the adult, here to teach your little human the ways of the world and, in order to do that, you will need all the patience in the world (and some wine chilling in the fridge for later). We have found distraction to be the most
effective method of dealing with his tantrums – changing his mind set and getting him engaged in a more suitable activity, away from the “danger zone”. But it takes a lot of self-control not to lose your temper, raise your voice and turn into a dragon. We explain to him why he can’t do it and we know he understands a
lot. They are like little sponges absorbing everything around them at a rapid speed so it’s critical that he absorb the right things – and hitting people is not on the list of things that are “right”. The list of words in his vocabulary increases all the time and soon we will have a little being we can effectively communicate with. But, until then, it’s one baby step at a time, one big breath at a time and one big glass of wine at a time.