Wednesday 17 September 2014

Gateway to a potentially fascinating museum: A review of Seacity Museum, Southampton

I've been meaning to visit Seacity in my hometown of Southampton since it opened but as is often the case with these things, it was only the arrival of family from India this month which actually prompted my visit. In the two years since it opened, the "Gateway to the World" gallery has become British-Museum vast in my imagination, so excited was I, avid researcher of lascars, at the possibilities the exhibit might hold. Southampton, the city that the P&O sailed eastwards from since the 1840s, always cropped up in my archive searches for lascar material (a future research project is brewing away there) but I have never had time to explore further into the entwined histories of migration and maritime labour that characterise Southampton as a city. "Gateway to the World", well it sent a thrill through me when I first read of it.

I've come away with mixed feelings. I'm surprised at how moving and engaging the Titanic Gallery was, as someone who's always refused to watch The Film and who's always been a little bemused by the fanaticism the historical event inspires in some. But the Seacity's take on was  to read the Titanic tragedy through the lives of the local Southampton people who worked on it and on how the city was impacted so profoundly by the tragedy. One exceptionally moving feature was a large map of Southampton that spread below our feet, on which all the Southampton lives lost were marked with dots. So many dots, from my old house in Inner Avenue, to the Shirley fields then on the outskirts of the city, and beyond. The scale of the ship - so hard to comprehend - told through cutlery and food stores. And I loved that we saw the second class berths - which looked tiny - rather than the exaggerated opulence of the first.

But I did speed through the Titanic galleries, impatient to get to the Gateway of the World. With such anticipation, it was always going to disappoint. My favourite element of the "Gateway" theme ended up being the map of the naval routes that papers the walls outside the exhibit. As bits of this map are folded over cornices and the like, a full flat version - or even a large globe - would have been wonderful at the beginning of the exhibit.

Instead, the two and half room exhibit features a chaotic mixture of stories of travels to and through Southampton - Roman, military, medieval and some more recent. No direct mention of the P&O, and not, alas, a single picture or account of lascars working the Southampton ships.

I found the way in which Southampton's twentieth century diasporas have been represented in the exhibition most problematic. These little boxes of migrant history are possibly the worst way to render the rich and diverse multiculture that makes up Southampton, segregating each separate ethnic community in space and time. There's no suggestion of intersections between kinds of identity or of the experience of communities living together, of the city's annual interfaith peace walk, for example, or of the kind of neighbourly activism that has given television producers such a hard time recently when they tried to make an inflammatory ant-immigration documentary in the city. Or the fact that many of the ethnic communities featured have links to Southampton that date back further than the assigned "decade"on the box. The boxes - so slight and stereotyped in their content, so tokenistic in approach, made me feel quite sad.

I do think the curators were faced with a huge challenge - and a small space. Southampton's migration and naval history is such a long, multilayered one, like East London it resists easy chronological tellings. I can see the intention behind the way things are arranged - to view different empires, worldviews, forms of travel comparatively. But when different voices and sounds shout at you from the sides of a relatively small room, when there's no map or dates to anchor you (pardon the pun) it all gets rather overwhelming.

But it's a young museum at just two years old, and I understand that the larger portion of space has to be devoted to the city's Titanic story for pragmatic reasons alone. The space is visually exciting, and makes what could seem dull - maritime history - seem both lived and living. It's great to have such a modern, vibrant celebration of the city at the heart of it's developing new "cultural quarter". So whilst I wasn't entirely satisfied by my trip, I can also see Seacity gradually evolving, remaking itself, much like Southampton continues to do.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Nine Months of Roshan

Hello again. I am emerging from the other side of sleep deprivation, blinking in the light, after Roshu had his FIRST NIGHT OF UNBROKEN SLEEP last night. EVER. After a couple of months of sheer torture when he regressed to waking hourly which led to him sleeping next to me and drinking a sip from his bottle every hour all night, we resorted to controlled crying. As hard as it was, particularly the first night, it worked and Roshu is so much happier and more settled for it. As am I. I felt like I was going mad for a while, but that is simply what intense sleep deprivation can do. I remember a woman in Ikea telling me that she was loving being a mum to a baby the same age as Roshu, and my heart broke because I realised at that point that I couldn't say the same thing. Now I understand that I was just utterly, utterly exhausted.

Anyway, six months have passed since my last update on Roshu. He is still the brilliant, happy, sociable baby I wrote about then. If anything, he's happier and more sociable! He is simply a delight to be around and he loves and is loved by all who meet him. We are still little (we remain snugly on our 2nd centile) and at nearly 10 months, just transitioning into 6-9month clothing with some 3-6 month stuff (M&S your sizing is HUGGGE!) But he's got chubby, rosy cheeks, and is very, very strong (he was kicking on his change mat so hard that he hurt my ankle earlier). 

Roshu's weaning story goes up and down, he does get bored of food quite easily and prefers to move, play and talk rather than eat lots and lots. But in the last couple of days he's started vocalising his enjoyment of foods - particularly oranges, hot cross buns and yoghurt, which are his favourites. But mealtimes have to be accompanied by mummy singing (I have invented many, many verses for The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald has branched out into zookeeping) and many toys as well as finger foods to keep his attention. When he gets a cold (which is often) he goes completely off his food which is understandable, but always stresses me out a bit. I must remember that it sucks to eat when you can't taste anything!

He is chatting away all the time now, with hand gestures and frequent raisings of his highly expressive eyebrows. We are treated to "mama", "bababa" and "da" sounds most frequently, and he definitely says "mama" when he wants something or isn't happy (I suppose I am the person who "fixes" him!). His voice has a unique, rather duck-like quality, with the odd dinosaur/monster growl and very high pitched squeal thrown in. In the last two weeks he has learnt to shake his head, but it's a proper "Indian" head shake accompanied by much smiling as though I'm attempting to haggle with him and offering a ridiculously low price. I love love LOVE the fact that sometimes he hugs me back with his tiny arms around my shoulder, nuzzling into me. We still have no teeth (I feel rather embarrassed about getting excited at the drooling and chewing at 3 months now), but crawling is imminent as he is flipping onto his stomach and pushing himself forward and backwards all the time now. He is also standing quite confidently against furniture. I'm really proud of him for his mobility given that he has spent so much of his young life with his legs braced together, flat on his back, because of the talipes.

He is so brilliantly used to his boots and bar now, though it does concern me how deeply focused he becomes when I strap his little feet into them, as if he is trying to work out how to undo them! His feet are perfect now but need the brace to stay that way, and I have built the boots into his bedtime routine so solidly that I hope he'll just think that boots = bedtime when he's older. Fingers crossed!

Roshu loves books - if you give him a bunch of toys and one book, he'll reach for the book. It's so much fun reading with him and watching him follow my mouth and expressions and eagerly turn the pages. That said, he loves interactive toys, my phone and my netbook with a passion and spends ages just opening and closing the "baby laptop" my mum got him. He loves his jumperoo too but requires an appreciative audience while bouncing in it, which rather defies the point of it. So there's much mumbling of "that's brilliant bouncing, Roshu" that goes on while I try to squeeze some work into my crazy, busy days.

He also LOVES to go out. He gets ridiculously excited when I start to put his coat on, as he knows this is the signal that An Adventure (possibly involving Trying Foods One Shouldn't Really Eat or Making New Friends or BOTH) is about to begin. I've started using the proper seat that comes with my Urbo rather than the car seat facing towards me as he is much more interested in seeing the world than his mum now. On the downside, the view is so very interesting from his buggy that it takes an absolute age to get him off to sleep in the buggy, if at all. (It's so very flattering that I was so boring in comparison!) He loves going on swings (and going alarmingly high) which suggests to me a thrillseeker daredevil type in the making which he definitely does not get from me. When out, he will do his level best to befriend EVERY person in a 10 metre radius, and gets a little irked if they resist his many, many charms. 

Over the last few days I have really found myself enjoying life so much more. I've loved Roshu and enjoyed being with him from day one, and even before, but with the alopecia (I now have no hair whatsoever), the pain and symptoms from my tear, the talipes and the sleep issues, I was finding it so unbelievably difficult to cope and get through each day.  I felt like each day was a battle, that I was just scrabbling to keep my head above water. I'm so glad I had family support and friends to get me through (thank you, grandparents and Hipp Organic formula, combined you have given me many nights of precious unbroken sleep), and a sensible health visitor who enabled me to take steps I needed to get Roshu to sleep better. Because it's sleep that we both needed to get to this happy place, and sleep we are now getting. Finally.

So nine months of Roshu. It feels a strange milestone, I was pregnant for nine months, he's been in the world for the same length of time. We've had so many challenges, and we're overcoming them one by one. He's tough and hardy, so resilient and cheerful even when ill and exhausted that he inspires me to be strong and bright too. He is a magical child who, true to his sunny name, continues to light up the lives of those around him, and I'm so glad I am his mum.

Monday 28 October 2013

FOTD: Twinkly kingfisher blue and peach

Thank you all so much for your support, kindness and love regarding my previous post. I don't want this blog to become a woe-laden space of wailing - so here's a face of the day from last week where my hair didn't look so bad (H&M, your braided headbands have saved me!)

The main shadow shade is a beautiful dusty kingfisher shade by Marks and Spencer Autograph, following a recommendation by that most enabling of enablers, Lipglossiping. I purchased the taupe she recommended and this shade. The shadows are creamy, impressively pigmented and excellent quality for £6. I've also patted on the prettiest microglitter shadow I've come across, Ellis Faas Lights on E301, a beautiful white gold sparkle, over the turquoise. I really love Ellis Faas, the packaging is annoying but the products are incredible - especially the lip shades. I have the driest lips in the world, and the only matte shades I've been able to wear comfortably are EF ones.

L'Oreal True Match concealer in Cafe Creme under eyes

Urban Decay Primer Potion (Original) as base
M&S Autograph eyeshadow in Kingfisher all over lid
Ellis Faas Lights in E301 over Kingfisher
17 Lacquer Liner in black for upper lid lining and flick
Avon Supershock pencil in black on waterline and to tightline
Maybelline Colossal Mascara
Rimmel brow pencil in dark black-brown

NARS Taos blush
NARS Albatross as cheek highlight
Rimmel Stay Matte powder in Translucent

Clinique Chubby Stick in Mega Melon

Saturday 26 October 2013

RIP, Mane: Alopecia Arreata and Me

Today, I finally had an appointment I've been mired in an eighteen month battle with my GP, medical secretaries and NHS booking lines for. It was with a dermatology consultant, regarding the hair loss that has slowing been chipping away at my self esteem, sense of identity and confidence. (Hence no beauty or fashion posts from me for a long, long time).

It confirmed what I already know: that I have severe alopecia arreata, a little understood, barely researched and underfunded condition where (it is believed) that my immune system has attacked my hair follicles, meaning that I have now got large clumps of bald areas all over my head, as well as complete loss of all arm and leg hair (I never thought I'd miss that stuff, but I do, I really do). Along with the physical symptoms, the unknowability of it, and the fact that it affects a part of your appearance crucial to most people's sense of their selves (recall your last bad haircut, or even bad hair day, and think about how it made you feel), it's been fairly harrowing. Every morning, waking up and brushing out the knots caused by hairs detaching themselves overnight, looking down into the sink and seeing a mass of blackness, stomach sinking. Every day, artfully arranging remaining strands to try to cover the bald patches, only to realise in precious photos of me with Roshan that it didn't hide anything whatsoever. Slowly chopping my once waist length hair shorter and shorter in order to lessen the daily strain of witnessing the sheer masses I'm losing. Tears, so many, many tears.

I'll be the first to admit it: I've always been really vain about my hair. I was blessed with a thick, unruly mane, and since the age of fifteen, there's probably only been two or three (accidental scissor-happy hairdresser related) incidences of me having even mid-length hair. It's always been long, it's always been very thick.

But now I'm facing the prospect of it never returning - I have a 1 in 10 chance of a full recovery. And that's very, very hard to take. The problem with alopecia is that you never feel like you have the right to be really upset about it - most people (with the best will in the world) keep reminding me that I could have it so much worse, that it's only hair. But as I await a wig-fitting appointment, I'm struggling to put a brave face on this. I miss my hair. I just don't feel pretty without it.

As traumatic as it has been, the process to even get the appointment confirming my diagnosis has almost been as stressful. After seeing doctor after doctor at my surgery who dismissed my concerns ("there's nothing to be done, sweetie", "it's probably just stress, relax and it'll come back", "it's your pregnancy" - the last completely illogical given it began before I was even pregnant), I finally hit upon one that actually listened to me and agreed to refer me. That was in July. A month later I finally received an appointment - for December. Ringing the dermatology department, I was told that was simply the earliest appointment they had. My GP was outraged (finally found a good one, there) and immediately expedited my referral as urgent. Since then, I've been engaged in a merry (read: not merry AT ALL) dance with rude, huffing medical secretaries who jobshare and don't speak to each other, a bookings department that doesn't ever seem to be able to receive a fax, and GP secretaries who promise to fax things and then don't. It's been hell. I simply do not understand why it has to be this way - the NHS must be the only organisation still running predominantly through faxes (how many of us when on work experience many moons ago used to feel a little ill when handed a bundle of documents and phone numbers, knowing hours of frustration and earpiercing whistles of fax-sendings, or rather, failings, awaited?) Why can't emails suffice? Surely they're more secure, efficient and easy than bits of paper flapping about for anyone to see or intercept?

So after two months of phoning almost every day, I finally got given an appointment for this morning - I think in part because the bookings line manager understood that sheer incompetence had ensued. But again, another harrowing experience awaited me, as the very sympathetic, but entirely helpless consultant informed me there's very little treatment that works, and that the NHS doesn't fund much research into this area because failure is so high. This strikes me as a deeply flawed logic, a horrible catch-22 for anyone suffering from a condition that has been deemed a waste of NHS time. Perhaps I'm not very, very physically unwell - but the emotional impact of losing all your hair as a 34 year old woman is - well, I can't even put it into words. And here, I've really tried.

But I'm considering my options. I've never been able to do fancy 1940s hairstyles, so I've treated myself to this number in order to vintage-up my style. The bonus of having jet-black hair is that it's easy to choose wigs and know that it won't look too fake. I've been using hairbands and braided false hair-headbands, but now it's getting a bit too bad for that, but they've been invaluable and I think will also look nice with wigs. I might venture into the world of coloured hair, which I've always been tempted by, but never had the courage to do. I'm awaiting steroid injections to the scalp (fun!) and my consultant and my sister are looking into research trials I might be able to join. Who knows, I might be that one in the ten who's lucky. But I can't hide away forever and I can't sob my life away if not. So I'm going back to posting beauty and fashion - and my face - here, even if I might look a little different to how I used to.

Friday 11 October 2013

Three months of Roshan

I've been a mum for over three months now. I can't quite believe Roshan's a quarter of a year old! It's certainly been a rollercoaster and I would say the first month or six weeks were the toughest of my life. But since we've sorted feeding and since Roshan's adjusted to the boots and bar that he needs to wear to treat his clubfoot, things have been going really well and I've been really loving motherhood.

Roshan's now laughing, smiling and regularly chatting away in his gurgling-a-gooing language. He is always, always in motion (even in sleep) - flapping his arms, kicking his feet, always a little out of breath with at least one limb blurry in all photos. He loves his jungle play mat and actively flicks the toys and follows the lights. His favourite way to fall asleep is resting vertically against my chest, with his little arms wrapped about my neck (what I call koala bear or froglet style). He looks really, really cute in dungarees. Whilst he hates wearing most hats (ruins the hair dontcha know), he doesn't mind a hood (obviously, because he's DJ Gangsta Sparrow). He still doesn't give me more than 5 seconds to get a bottle into him, but I've got fairly good at reading the signs as to when that moment of intense hunger approaches. He likes to smack his top lip really loudly, and suck his whole fist but he's getting less interested in dummies.

Within a week of getting them on, he got enough strength in his little legs to kick his 1/3rd of a kilo boots and bar right up in the air. Sometimes he gets to overwhelmed with joy and laughter he has to flap his arms as he laughs, it's the most delightful thing. His voice reminds me a bit of the aliens from Toy Story, a bit of ET. When he's worn out he lets out the most plaintive, tearless cry, like he's weary of the world. He can stare at me for minutes on end without blinking, and follows me around the room with his gaze. My heart soars each time.

He's truly a delight to everyone who meets him and gets a lot of attention any time we're out and about (I've found that middle aged men are surprisingly soft when it comes to cute, cheeky babies). He's very sociable but knows who his mum and dad are and saves his best smiles for us. He's on the small side (though he's chubby now!) but so are we. His name means light and they are his favourite thing - he'll gaze up at a lightbulb for hours. In the last couple of days he's become tickly though I haven't quite identified where the spot is, it is somewhere around his neck or shoulders as he giggles uncontrollably when I change his top.

When he looks up at me and smiles, there's no better feeling in the world. I can see him developing in alertness and he's so interested in the world, I feel quite proud that I'm able to help introduce it to him. He now gets up once in the night, drinking his bottle and falling straight back to sleep most nights. The only major issue I have with him now is that he can't fall asleep on his own but needs lots of rocking and cuddling even when he's totally exhausted. But he's a brilliant, happy, happy baby, and I'm so proud to be his mum.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Formula feeding - my story

Please help. I have six packs of Boots Breast Pads taking up room in Roshan’s nursery and I don’t have a clue what to do with them.

And that’s because despite best intentions (as pregnancy bulk buying of above breast pads should indicate) and a lot of effort, Roshan is a formula baby. I am a formula mum.

I started a version of this post with a guilt-laden, confessional tone. And then I scrapped it. Because, you know what, there’s far too much guilt and judgement of formula mothers as it is. It’s suffocating. And last week, at the health visitor clinic, I mentally turned a corner. The HV asked me how Roshan’s feeding was going and I apologetically shrugged my shoulders and said “well he’s a formula baby now”. The HV responded “oh that’s fine! But how is he doing on it?” – and I realised that she wasn’t interested so much in what he was feeding, but the quantity and quality of his feeds. I realised that I was loading the guilt onto myself, projecting the judgement of others onto myself when sometimes there was none (though many times no such projection is needed). And then I decided – no longer. I’m not apologising for bottle feeding anymore, to others, or to myself.

For every mother I know that has sailed through exclusive breastfeeding (a term I really hate with a passion, designed to make us “lesser” mothers feel like we’re being refused admittance to some elite club we’re too rubbish to be part of) I know of at least four who’ve struggled, mixed-fed or formula fed. There’s plenty of support for mothers to facilitate breastfeeding in the form of groups, lactation consultants, community breastfeeding assistants and so on. But that support network is ripped away when you decide to formula feed – and there’s nothing in its place.

So I wanted to write a post that’s, as controversial as it might seem, positive about formula feeding. I want to write down the things I’ve learnt, two and a half months on, mostly through trial and error, for other women in my situation – things I wish I’d been told in the many, many classes and workshops I attended during my pregnancy but which were never spoken of for fear of inciting women to formula feed.

Incitement to formula feed. The present climate in the UK regarding breastfeeding is such that any lone voice that comes out in support of formula does indeed seem like a pariah. But really, is formula such a big, so very moral, deal? As Anne Maxted points out in what I found to be a saviour of an article, in the developed world, not really. So why the fuss? In my opinion, the hysteria around breast/formula is just an another way for women to judge one another, to load even more pressure on each other, to create another impossible to achieve goal of perfection for us all to strive towards and endlessly beat ourselves up about.

Don’t get me wrong – I think breastfeeding is fantastic. I was deeply committed to it throughout my pregnancy – I set up cosy nursing places, bulk bought those wretched breast pads, and was generally so excited at the prospect of nurturing and nourishing my child.

Two and a half months on, on formula 100%, I am doing that still – but just not in the way I anticipated, visualised, dreamed of. But Roshan’s thriving now, crossing centiles, getting stronger, longer and louder and we are both so, so happy.

It wasn’t always this way. When I say I tried to breast feed, I don’t think I could have done anything more to try to establish it for Roshan. To the extent that I almost put his health at risk. And it still didn’t work out. And what they don’t tell you in those pregnancy breastfeeding workshops is that sometimes that just happens.

I’ve written about my frankly terrifying birth experience. After all of 5 minutes of “skin to skin” (continually interrupted by paramedics trying to keep Roshan alert), I ended up being apart from Roshan for over nine hours due to my surgery. So, it wasn’t surprising that it took some time for my milk to come in and when it did, that it came in tiny, tiny amounts. But I persevered and I mastered latching Roshan within a couple of days. But he couldn’t get much from me, and as I’ve found out, he’s not the most patient of babies even when he’s happy. He began to get so very hungry he’d work himself into a complete state, so much so that he couldn’t feed, flapping his little arms, delatching himself in complete fury. I would sit with him latched for an hour at a time, as he would fall asleep after five minutes of drinking. One night, I recorded my feeding and I had had him latched for a total of five hours overnight. But though he latched, he would fall asleep and stop suckling almost immediately, and then he’d wake up and delatch in hungry fury. It was a terrible, emotionally devastating cycle. He ended up losing 1/6th of his birth weight, going from 6lbs to 5lbs. He looked like a little prune, drawn and shrivelled, and he couldn’t sleep for more than half an hour at a time because of his gnawing hunger.

In retrospect, I can’t quite believe I held on with the breastfeeding for as long as I did. He did have the odd decent drink, and when I wasn’t around in the intensive care unit, he was given formula with a cup or syringe. But he still wasn’t putting on weight, and when we were discharged I was left with a starving, dehydrated, sleepless baby who couldn’t feed and couldn’t settle. Add my pain from my tear into that mix, and the first two weeks were the hardest of my life.

My health visitor ended up basically ordering me to mix-feed. I also started to express, to help my frustrated, cross little baby consume the “good stuff” he refused to take by breast. But as Roshan was a demanding baby during this time, this meant that when I wasn’t feeding/settling I was expressing and I had simply no time to do anything else. After five weeks I made the decision to stop mixed feeding and switch Roshan to EXCLUSIVE formula feeding. Given that by this stage he didn’t like the taste of breast milk and wouldn’t take from the breast at all (too much hard work!) he didn’t complain at all about this.

But it wasn’t plain sailing – even on bottles, he’d struggle, wriggle and take in lots of air so he was full of wind and in lots of pain from it. It took a switch to Hipp Organic (I feel like such a Hampstead yummy mummy feeding my child an organic formula!) and anti-colic bottles for me to get the happy, smiley and THRIVING little baby I have now. But looking at him now, all chubby cheeks, bright eyes and flapping, strong limbs, I know I made the right decision and we’re all brilliantly happy. So I’m not going to apologise anymore for what was right for Roshan and right for me.

Things I’ve learnt – you can master all the techniques of breastfeeding, but if you don’t have an easy/simple birth experience and/or your baby doesn’t have the right temperament, then it might not work out. Don’t underestimate the power of switching formula – I was sceptical, having read that all formulas now are pretty much the same, but I’ve seen a dramatic change in Roshan’s ability to digest his food. We have no back arching, no pained crying, no hours of coaxing burps out of him anymore. Infacol is a useful thing if your child is colicky. So are wide necked bottles – but for me, Tommee Tippee ones ended up drenching Roshan because of leaks (googling I found this to be a common issue) so we’re using Avent Natural. Teats also make a huge difference – some bottles come with teats for older babies, but don’t make it clear on the box that this is so. If your baby is spluttering out milk – check if the teat’s right. Formula dispensers are ace if you have a crazily impatient child like I do (Roshan would work himself into a frenzy before I’d measure eight scoops into a bottle if I dared to do that when he’s hungry). Burping is important. Some babies don’t like bibs – muslins are softer and more easily tucked into chubby neck rolls (neck rolls! We have neck rolls!)
The benefits of formula? I know how much food Roshan takes, when, which reassures me given his weight struggles. He feeds regularly, and in consistent quantities, so we’re getting close to having a schedule established. He stays over at his grandparents’, giving me time to sleep and time to do other things (gosh, that makes me sound less than devoted, doesn’t it? But it’s important too, I think, for Roshan to have a happy, rested, and fulfilled mother). I feel we – me, Bartimaeus, grandparents, uncles and aunts – co-parent Roshu by all of us being able to feed him. And whilst expressing worked, it (literally) sucked so much time from my day, I couldn’t even play with Roshan between pumping, feeding, settling him and housework. He’s developing brilliantly now I can actually give him proper attention.

So here we are. Happy Roshan, happy me. On formula. Exclusively.

Any tips on how to use up those breast pads would be more than welcome.

Monday 12 August 2013

A Rather Unusual Delivery: My Birth Story

The spot

Much has happened in Poco Bunny Land over the last few months, most obviously the arrival of the mini Bun at the end of June. To say we’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions during this time would be an understatement. There’s been profound joy, but it’s also been incredibly challenging, physically and emotionally. In part that’s because of how the mini Bun R actually arrived in the world. One of the first questions you’re asked during medical exams as a new mum is “did you have a normal delivery?” By which they mean, did you have a c-section or not? I didn’t have a c-section. But I also didn’t have a normal delivery, by any means.

Roshan Arjuna Pathak was born on Friday 21st June at 14.52, exactly a week before his due date, weighing 6lb1.

In the weeks running up to my due date, friends told me that just before he’d come, I would get a huge instinctive drive to organise and nest. Both Bartimaeus and I scoffed at the very notion that I would ever have the urge to organise anything. And yet on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to his arrival that’s exactly what happened. I even cajoled my father in law into building a chest of drawers for me so that I could finally sort out our clothes storage and Roshan’s. So when on Thursday afternoon back pain presented alongside the sciatica in my hip I'd been suffering from in the last week, I didn’t think anything of it, and carried on writing my draft conference paper sitting on my gym ball.

At about 4.30 in the morning though I woke up with some twinges and cramps and thought that was rather intriguing so downloaded a contraction timer. The contractions were 20 min apart so I tried to sleep and didn’t wake Bartimaeus. At about 7 the cramps were starting to annoy me and I’d read you have to use your TENS machine early on so I woke Pathik up to set it up for me (I’d only ordered it on Wednesday and received it earlier that day! Which is lucky as it ended up being the only pain relief I got throughout the process until my spinal anaesthetic for my stitches).

I kept timing my contractions but they were erratic – some were 16 min apart, some 5. I called the hospital at 9 and they told me it was far too soon to come in and to wait until the contractions were regular and 3-4 min apart. I wandered about eating cream crackers and telling Bartimaeus to leave me alone. At 12 I started to feel the urge to push and called the hospital again but my contractions were still all over the place and the nurse said the pushing was probably just “the position of the head” and not to come in. (When I recounted this to my midwife her eyebrow shot up and she rolled her eyes, so I’m guessing this was wrong advice.) I was in a fair bit of pain during the contractions and the times I wanted to push (I threw up a couple of times) but I kept thinking it’d get worse because I’ve never given birth before and it wasn’t unbearable (in hindsight, it may be that I share my sister’s incredible and slightly problematic uber-high pain threshold). I figured it’d get a lot worse before I was done. I do remember feeling quite tired at about 1 and telling Bartimaeus that if this was going to go on for another three days I didn’t think I could handle it because I wouldn’t have the energy to keep going, and that I would need the epidural I hadn’t originally ever wanted. (ha!)

Then at 2pm my waters broke and I rang the hospital again and they said that I should come in now. But I was upstairs (and unbeknownst to anyone, actually in full blown labour) so it took me 20 minutes to get down the stairs. My father in law arrived to take us to the hospital but by the time I got into the car, I had a huge urge to push and he crowned. I was totally bewildered and had no idea what was happening. My mother in law and Bartimaeus were shouting that he was on his way and that I needed to push again so I did, and he was born, in the back of my father in law’s car, just outside our house. I was screaming at them to make sure he was ok and for them to give him to me. Bartimaeus gave him to me, wrapped in a towel whilst in the process of also ringing 999. The ambulance arrived in minutes and we were “bluelighted” to the hospital, sirens and all. It was all very dramatic. Roshu was breathing erratically and very blue because it was such a shock entry into the world, and the paramedics were looking concerned all the way there which really terrified me. From the time he crowned to when we arrived in hospital, I didn’t feel any pain. I was just praying to God for Roshan to be ok all the way there and couldn’t think of anything else. He, subanAllah, heard my prayers.

When we got to the hospital Roshan was rushed to intensive care and I was rushed to an exam room. I was fairly distraught at being separated from Roshu and not knowing what was going on with him but I was examined and sent for surgery for the severest degree of tear (the price of not having a midwife about to tell you when and when not to do things!) But the surgical team were very reassuring and kept checking on him for me throughout my surgery so I could stay calm. Once I was stitched up and stabilised, after 11pm, having spent over 7 hours apart from my tiny beloved son, I was actually wheeled in my bed into ICU to see my Roshu, beautiful, tiny, and asleep in his incubator, needle pricks all over his tiny hands and heels, and wires everywhere. I stretched out my hand and held his perfect little fingers (mirrors of mine) in my hand and I cried, a lot. Happy, shaky and overwhelmed tears.


Roshu spent the next few days in ICU and I spent them on a ward healing up a bit, with Bartimaeus wheeling me down to see him and spend time with him for hours on end. But he got stronger very quickly, and we finally got discharged after 6 days. Coming home was the best feeling ever – whilst the neo natal nurses are AMAZING I had both great and hideous care on the wards and I was desperate to go home to the point I was just going to walk out if they didn’t discharge us that night (more on that in another post).

I’m still in a fair amount of pain (especially if I overdo things) and I face the prospect of having any further children by c-section (which is a shame, to say the least, because given how quick my first labour was there’s a good chance I would have had very easy natural births). All this, because as a first time mother, the signs my body was giving me weren’t taken seriously by the midwives on the labour ward. They assumed that all first time births take a long time, that as a first time mother I was bound to be overreacting, that I had no idea what my body was doing. I wish I had been in the right headspace to have just gone in anyway, but my mind was a blur (hell, I was in full labour without pain relief!) and I trusted the midwives implicitly. I think back to all that might have gone wrong that didn’t, and I’m thankful – but it was a trauma I’m still recovering from and one which made the first month of Roshu’s life very, very hard for us to enjoy.

Now, though, we are just revelling in our beautiful, wonderful boy. I see the joy he has brought to both our families, how much younger all his doting grandparents seem since he has arrived, and how every day he delights and amazes us in new ways, and I just feel so very blessed to be his mother. Roshan, which means light/sunshine, born on the summer solstice, the bringer a beautiful sunny summer to us all, the light of all our lives.

About Me

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Rabbit-like in a nose that twitches when I laugh and front teeth not 100% rectified by 7 years of braces, postcolonial in being of British-Bangladeshi heritage (and reading many many books thereon). Books, tea and dresses: these are some of my favourite things.