A million little things

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

As a new mom, just making it through the day (never mind the nights) can be completely overwhelming and exhausting, and keeping everyone alive in those first few days seems to be the only end goal. But, all of a sudden your tiny, helpless baby looks at you and smiles! Your heart skips a beat because she’s grown up so much in the last few weeks and isn’t quite as fragile as she was. You know her hunger cues and that her little whimpering cries mean that she’s tired, and you know a million other little things about her already.

I’ve been reading various articles and mommy blogs since giving birth to our daughter 8 weeks ago and the general message that comes across seems to be this:

  • Being a mom is the hardest thing you’ll ever do
  • Blink and you’ll miss it, and before you know it, you have a sassy toddler on your hands
  • You can’t spoil your newborn baby with too many naps on your chest or letting them sleep in your bed all night
  • Breastfeeding is not always easy or possible. Don’t judge formula moms, you have no idea what they’ve been through
  • Mom guilt starts to set in the minute they are born and we all worry ourselves sick about a million little things
  • This journey called motherhood is the most beautiful gift, and we want our babies to stop growing and wish time would slow down

Well time is a total motherf*#@er. The newborn baby smell, the endless hours up at night, the hard-earned breast milk, spilling all over the fridge, the tiny fingers wrapped around yours, the first heartbeat you see on the ultrasound scan and a million other little things all fade away into memories in what seems like a spilt second. While you are living the raw madness of having a new baby it seems like those moments will never end, but they will. Live it, breathe it, feel it all and know that you are a damn goddess woman. No matter how you’re doing it. You grew a human and now you get to carry on watching her grow and be there for all the “firsts” and all the “lasts” and a million other little things.

To the moms whose arms are empty – the desperate-to-be-moms – my heart aches for you. Every woman who wants to be a mom thinks that it’s easy to fall pregnant and have a healthy baby. In our close circle of friends we have seen too many tears to know that this is not always the case. Hold your little ones a bit closer and tighter and cherish the million little things, everyday.

Sitting here in my dressing gown with a bad pony tail and last nights baby spit-up on my shoulder, breast pump on one side and baby on the other, luke warm coffee somewhere waiting to be drunk, and a million little things to get done today, I couldn’t be happier. Shout out to all the mamas out there!


Cover photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The best of times, the worst of times…

I wake up, panicked, realising I’ve fallen asleep. It’s somewhere around three AM, the morning after my emergency Caesar. Becs left me in theatre shortly after 01:45 to go up to NICU with Fletcher. She isn’t back yet. 


I wake up again, Becs is back. She tells me it’s around three thirty. She’s finally managed to open a file with the hospital’s main reception and Fletcher has been admitted to the NICU. He’s on a CPAP machine because he has fluid on his lungs – “very common in Caesar babies,” she assures me. I nod, only half taking it in. I close my eyes and a tear rolls down my cheek. 


It’s about 9AM, I’ve had my catheter removed and am waiting for the nurses to come and take my drip out so I can shower and go to NICU to see my baby. He’s nearly 8 hours old and I still haven’t held him. 

One of the nurses comes into the room, she stares down at me with accusing eyes, “Your baby is starving!” I blink, usure how to respond – I can’t get to him, I’m sitting here, desperately waiting for them to take this drip from my arm so I can see him. “What must I do?” I ask her, pleading. “You must sign the consent form for us to give him formula!” Still aggressive, still unempathetic. “Okay! Babe,” I say to Becs, “sign the form!” Becs signs the form for me because I can’t walk to where the nurse is standing. Unwittingly, we sign away my breastfeeding experience. 

A few minutes later the same nurse returns, this time to “milk” me. She begins the extremely painful process of hand expressing my colostrum. Tears stream down my cheeks. 


10:21. The drip is finally out of my arm, I’m clean and can now enter the NICU and hold my baby for the first time. He has tubes coming from everywhere. He’s off the CPAP, but still has oxygen prongs in his nose and a feeding tube down his throat. My heart breaks. The NICU nurse explains the various cables and tubes and passes him to me. My heart bursts with love like I’ve never known before. It also breaks a little more. 

A little later, the feeding tube is removed and we try breastfeeding. He latches like a boss! I’m ecstatic. This is going to work. 


The nurses explain the NICU routine. We’re allowed to come at 09:00, 12:00 and 15:00 for an hour each time – feeding time – then we have to leave. We are there religiously at 09:00, 12:00 and 15:00. But, often when we arrive, the nurses tell us he was crying, so they’ve already given him a bottle and so he’s not interested in taking the boob – he’s full. We cuddle him, kiss him, and fall more and more in love until we are kicked out again. We don’t realise that breastfeeding is fading further into the hazy distance.

The following day, I am discharged and we have to leave. It’s Christmas Day, so after the 12 o’clock visiting hour, we head to my parents’ for lunch. It’s awful leaving him behind, but we’re doing the best thing for him, giving him what he needs to thrive. Because it’s a Sunday, grandmothers are allowed to visit in the NICU for half an hour in the afternoon, so we take our mom’s back to the hospital to meet their grandson. Because of numbers, we have to wait outside while the grannies are there, during which time he is given a bottle. A little further, a little hazier. 

The next day, at home without a baby, I’m in excruciating pain. My milk has come in and the pressure is awful. Becs comes to the rescue with two giant cabbage leaves and the pressure subsides. I grab the breast pump and gather those drops of gold for our little boy. At 09:00, we are at the door of the NICU with a bottle with 15ml of breast milk – it’s all I got from about 40 minutes of pumping, but it’s better than nothing. When we put him on the boob, he fusses and screams, he won’t latch properly and when he does, he gets frustrated quickly – it’s not happening fast enough for him, he’s hungry. Ultimately, he’s given a bottle. Still further, still hazier. 

This cycle continues for two more days. I pump and take what we can to the hospital (generally, only around 15ml), we try to feed at the hospital, he screams blue murder and is ultimately given a bottle (after he’s had what little breast milk I’d been able to express). Even further, even hazier.

After 5 days in the NICU, he’s discharged and we bring him home. This is our reality, and each time we cave and give him a bottle. At no point do we consider giving him a small bottle – to calm his rampant hunger – then trying him on the boob again. In our minds, bottles are “top-ups” – they come after the boobs. Every feed is a whirlwind of tears, frustration, devastation, giving in and, ultimately, failure. That’s how I feel anyway. I’ve failed him. The one job my body was meant to do, it failed at. 

We tried everything to boost my production. I drank litres of “Jungle Juice” (which I’m pretty sure just made me fat(ter)), I took Eglonyl, at the behest of my gynae, I pumped for hours to try and boost my production. Nothing worked. After a full month with not one successful feed, we gave up. 


After Becs’s (also emergency, although better timed) Caesar, Stevie came into the world – screaming, pink and perfect. Because it was an emergency procedure, we hadn’t done our COVID tests, so we were admitted to the “yellow” ward for “persons under investigation”. That meant that Becs didn’t go into recovery, but was brought straight back to the ward after they were satisfied she was stable. Forty minutes after Stevie came screaming into this world, she was on Becs’s boob and doing her thing like an absolute little boss – they both were. My heart was filled to bursting with pride and love, for both my girls. 

As our hospital stay progressed and the number of Stevie’s successful feeds increased exponentially, I began to reflect and compare. My labour story was, up to a point, almost identical to Becs’s. Both of us were losing amniotic fluid, neither had contractions. We both contacted our various healthcare professionals – me, a midwife, Becs, a gynae – who then advised a course of action. My midwife – obviously being an advocate for a (preferably safe and frictionless) vaginal delivery – advised us to go for induction. Becs’s gynae – only being an advocate a safe and (as) frictionless (as possible) delivery – did a scan, assessed the risks and advised us to go for a Caesar. From then on, our journeys could not have been more different. 

During our 48 hours in the hospital, I experienced every stage of grief, except acceptance. As I watched Becs feed Stevie, I bounced between wild, green-eyed jealousy and wide-eyed awe, all the while with a deep undercurrent of immense love. I felt desperate sadness as I began to mourn the experience I had lost, but didn’t know until then that I’d lost it. 

Only with Stevie’s birth – a textbook Caesar delivery with a perfect post-op latch and a great in-hospital feeding experience – to compare our NICU feeding fiasco with, did we realise we had been robbed of something truly special and utterly “un-get-backable”. 

At the time, we knew no better. We were brand new moms who were just happy each time everyone survived another night. We didn’t know anything about “breastfeeding super foods” or other meds we could’ve tried to increase my production. We assumed my production was so pathetic that is wasn’t enough to satisfy Fletch’s appetite, because when I tried to express we’d get 15-30mls, max. We didn’t know that breast pumps often yield far less than a successful feed. We couldn’t understand why my boobs were constantly leaking but there wasn’t enough milk to satisfy our son. We never considered quenching his hunger with a bottle, then trying the boob. It just never occurred to us. And no one advised us. We also never thought about the fact that an experience that is meant to be fuelled by love and oxytocin was actually riddled with anxiety, fear and stress, and that those emotions were, without doubt, exacerbating the situation. 

As I reflected and compared, I was filled with anger – anger at the nurse who came in and yelled at me about my starving baby, instead of trying to help me express, or better yet, getting the drip out my arm so I could see my son. Anger at the lactation specialist at the hospital for not taking the time to explain a NICU feeding journey and prepare me for what was to come. Anger at myself for not bloody Googling it. Anger at Becs for letting me quit (I know how that sounds and my rational brain yelled at me too, but emotions are not rational). I bounced between rage, desperate sadness and numbness. 

I also struggled to understand my place – my role – in Stevie’s life. With Fletcher, it was easy – I was “Parent A”, the birth-mother. My job was to feed, nurture and love him. But with Stevie, I was “Parent B” and suddenly it was all new. I assumed Becs must’ve felt the same things, but our experience was so different with Fletcher. Because he was bottle-fed from day 1, we split everything down the middle. He was our first child, so we had no previous experience to compare it toI didn’t want to encroach on Becs’s experience (most especially, I didn’t want to taint it with my negative emotions), but . I just wasn’t sure where I should fit in.

Becs and I spoke at length about our feelings, both in the hospital and in those first few days at home when the hormones and emotional roller-coaster are so raw you actually don’t know which way is up. We briefly discussed non-gestational feeding and how (if?) it might work, given that we hadn’t planned it and prepped my body in advance. The irrational, emotional-and-hormone-fuelled part of me was all for it. The rational, semi-sane human being underneath all of that immediately yelled at me about not being selfish, about not taking this from Becs, expecting her to have a lesser experience because mine was crap. It’s like going to a restaurant and both ordering desserts, but when they arrive, yours is a bit of a let-down. You eat yours anyway, then ask your partner if you can have some of hers too. 


Almost 6-weeks later and I’m a far more together mom than I was in those first few days. I tried hard to live in the moments, to experience them for what they were. I couldn’t help comparing, but I tried not to let those comparisons sour this experience. I’ve formed such an amazing bond with Stevie; and despite not being breastfed, Fletcher is an amazing little guy – he’s smart, strong, fit and healthy, what more could we actually ask for? The “pain ball” is still there and some days it’s bigger than other days, but mostly I’m just in awe of Becs and in love with my beautiful family. I gave myself time to grieve – importantly, Becs gave me time to grieve too – and when the hurt flares up again, I will continue to give myself time. Because that is all we really can do, give it time. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

It’s like Billy Joel said…

Amateur Mommies you're only human

“You’re only human after all.” Wise words from a brilliant man. We tend to forget this when we become parents. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect mom or dad, to be the biggest supporter and best advocate for our children. We read thousands of blog posts that tell us what to say, what not to say, how to hold our babies, how not to hold our babies, when to change their nappies / formula / daily routines… We try to push so much information into our heads that it often feels like they’re going to explode. But at the end of the day, we are only human and we are going to make mistakes, we’re going to have melt-downs, we’re going to want to kill our kids (probably daily), but we won’t because we do actually love them (deep, deep down).

Since our stint in the hospital, we’ve struggled to get back into our routine with Fletcher, especially our nighttime routine. I suppose he got so used to being held and rocked in the hospital that since we’ve been home, we have struggled to settle him without rocking. So much for sleep training. We were back at square one. Actually, we were somewhere about 25 squares backwards of ‘square one’ because, thrown in with Fletcher’s sudden insistence on being rocked, was a 10-month sleep regression. He also seemed to be making up for lost time (or rather missed meals) and was back to at least two feeds during the night (that’s over and above his bedtime and breakfast bottles).

This meant we’d fight with him from 6:30pm until anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30pm to get him down, then he’d wake between 11:00 and midnight for his first bottle and again between 3:00 and 4:00am for his second bottle, then he’d most likely be awake – like a-bloody-wake – from 5:00am! This meant that we were getting a grand total of about 4 hours sleep a night, if we were lucky. Although it has been steadily, if slowly, improving, this has been our status quo for almost a month and last night, I cracked.

I was up at around 2:00am to give Fletcher a bottle and when he woke up again at 4:00am, I couldn’t believe that he wanted another bottle, but sure enough giving him back his dummy did nothing to settle him – in fact, it seemed to piss him off! He flung my hand away and began screaming in, what can only be described as an aggressive tone. He was mad as hell. I raced to the kitchen (tripping over the dog in the process) to make (and warm) another bottle (because his highness no longer drinks them at room temperature). By the time I got back to his room he was virtually inconsolable. Every time I tried to get the bottle in his mouth, he’d push my hand away. I eventually got the bottle in his mouth and he immediately began to calm down. Until he exploded again and screamed blue murder.

Then I caught a whiff of something and thought, Ok, so that’s why he was so PO’d, he’s got a poo nappy. I whisked him out of his cot and over to his changing mat as only a practiced professional can, ripped open the poppers, pulled open his nappy… Nothing. And then more screaming. That’s when I lost it. I gave him my reply in the same manner he was delivering his – at full volume, “but what is your problem?” I yelled.

At that moment, Becs appeared, bleary-eyed in the doorway with a look of what on the gods’ earth is going on? on her face. I explained he didn’t want his dummy. Or his bottle. Or his nappy changed. And now I was out of answers. She took him from me and held him. Almost immediately, he began to settle. Oh, I thought, a cuddle, that’s what he wants. Why didn’t I think of that? Becs walked across the passage to our room and I searched for his discarded dummy in the carnage that was his cot.

By the time I returned, silently sobbing, to our room, Becs was sitting serenely on the edge of our bed, bouncing with our giant son in her arms. I apologised for my irrational outburst, feeling terribly guilty for having dragged Becs from bed on her night ‘off’ (because she was meant to run this morning – my bad).

The more I thought about my reaction, the angrier I got with myself. Why had I flown off the handle like that? Why had I lost control so completely? And then it struck me. Exhaustion. Did you know, a human being can live longer without food or water than they can without sleep. Ja, I’ll give that a minute to sink in. Once more, you need sleep more than you need food and, as new parents (or parents of sleep-regressing babies/toddlers/kids), we’re getting way less sleep than we’re used to (and probably less than we really need).

I don’t really have a moral for this story, other than perhaps to say: rely on each other – take turns and get a night off, if you can, so you can be a better parent and partner. Also, it’s important to remember that you are actually only human. Cut yourself some slack.

Has it been 6 months already?!

Amateur Mommies: 6 months in

It’s hard to believe, but our little man is six months old already. Six months ago on Friday, Fletcher was born. As we went through our busy weekend routine this past weekend, thoughts kept popping to my head, like: six months ago, we were sitting in the NICU counting the hours until Christmas, hoping against hope that our little boy would be home for his first Christmas. And six months ago we were going home, leaving Fletcher in the NICU.

Six months ago today, Fletcher came home, so we have officially been full-time parents for six months today. It’s one of those paradoxes of time – “has it only been six months?” but at the same time, “woah, it’s been six months already?!” In that time, so many things have happened. Our little boy has grown and changed in unimaginable ways. When we look back at the photos of that time in the NICU and those first few days at home, it’s hard to believe it’s the same little guy. He’s grown into this absolute thug of a human – way above average in height and weight and strong and sturdy! A real rugby forward in the making (or ballerina, or scientist, or whatever he wants to be!).

Over the last six months, Becs and I have come along in leaps and bounds too. Six months and five days ago, I’d never changed a poo nappy, and now I’ve changed two just this morning! Six months ago, I thought I’d still be breastfeeding him when he was six months old, and we all know how that worked out. Six months ago, we were floundering along, with little-to-no clue what we were doing, and now we’re bounding along with a moderate clue that maybe we’re doing OK. Motherhood is a tricky thing, you never know at the time if what you’re doing is right – I mean we thought we were doing the right thing in swaddling him, and that worked out dismally. But, when you do get something right (and we must be getting something right, because Fletcher is a rockstar of a human), it is so gratifying, so rewarding, to know that you are (at least in part) responsible for shaping the awesome little being in front of you.

Six months down the line, I’d hardly call myself an expert. I still question every decision we make a thousand different ways. I still look to Becs and ask, “do you think I should…” instead of confidently saying, “I’m going to…” almost every time because I want the reassurance that her agreeing with me brings. We both lean on each other through difficult times and we both fall down some times, but at the end of the day, it’s all been such an incredible experience and one I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

The rewards are great!

Amateur Mommies: the rewards of parenthood

So I don’t want you all to think that there is no sunshine and there no roses when it comes to this whole Mommyhood thing, there are. Really. Ya ok so at the moment our theme song is one from the legend Billy Joel and the words are “in the middle of the night… I go walking in my sleep”, because some nights we are up every other hour with our tiny human but the joy he brings to our lives and the little things that he does daily are so rewarding.

The first few months are terrifying that’s for sure. And as cute as they are when they can fit all snuggled up onto your chest, you get very little in the way of interaction from your tiny being in the first few months of their lives. You’re up all night with them, washing and sterilising bottles and breast pump apparatus all day, doing loads of laundry (how something so tiny can produce so much washing is extraordinary), changing nappies, giving bottles, burping, rocking to sleep and repeating every 4 hours, and somewhere in all that you are trying to remember that you are married to that other ship passing by you in the night, and fitting in visits from all the aunties and actually your tiny bundle does nothing more that lie there and be a tiny bundle. A tiny, pooping, crying bundle.

6 months down the line we have a strapping baby boy who smiles and giggles when we do the silliest things. He thinks his mamas are the most amazing people in the world! It’s the grandest feeling when you are rewarded after a long sleepless night with a big gummy smile from inside the cot and out stretched little arms, and the little face almost saying “pick me up mama, I love you and I want to give you a sloppy kiss.” Everyday his little eyes see more and he learns and grows more. He tries new foods and reacts to his favourite toys, giggles when he splashes water on himself from his wild kicking in the bathtub, discovers new noises that he can make and is very happy to show them off to us. We have a little wonder being growing up in our home, and it is a privilege to be able to grow with him on this journey. You feel much more like a mother when your little person starts reacting to you and giving you soul food.

For those who are in the early stages with your bubs, enjoy them being so tiny, don’t wish away a single moment, they really do fly by! But hang in there when you feel a little down, your tiny human will start feeding your soul in the most  nourishing and heart-warming way so soon, and all hard times will be forgotten. Otherwise parents would never move on to baby number 2.