A Flop

I was scheduled to have an interview at my workplace today for the job of a “Communication Specialist”. A colleague and I decided to apply for the job when it was advertised almost a month ago and we wondered since whatever happened to our applications since we did not receive anything, not even an acknowledgement.

The complication was getting someone to babysit Robbie for the morning while I was at work. Lucy works in the morning for Jackie’s mom and of course my only choice was to ask Mrs. L. if she can look after Robert (with Lucy of course) for the morning. I am not on very familiar terms with Mrs. L. but she does like Robert, and she often sends him baby food and toys with Lucy. Although I was prepared to get out on time, I had to rush back into the house when I realized the Robert needed a nappy change. In consequence I had to run all the way to Mrs L’s place pushing the pram (I have thanked heavens many times for the new lighter version). When I finally arrived at Mrs L’s block I noted with dismay that the lifts on her side of the building were not working, and I had to make a long turn to another foyer where I caught the lift to her floor and then run back to the side of the building where her apartment was located. I had no idea how to get there in the maze of hallways so it was really lucky that she came to get me from the lift. She knew I was there because I had to notify security at the entrance.  The adventure with the lifts cost me a few precious minutes, and despite all my efforts I arrived a few minutes late.

The person in charge of recruiting for the position was a former duty manager I worked with on the floor. As a DM he struck me as subservient to high management and not overly enthused or supportive to co-workers. But he wasn’t the worst we dealt with, I mean he was just traditional top down manager and not a worker’s manager, no big deal.  I was told that the interview consisted of a written assignment followed by a face to face question and answer session. The written assignment required about an hour and a half of work, after which D. will come and do the face to face session.  After my ordeal of the day I was in an extremely cynical mood and I found myself completely incapable of writing corporate spin and memoranda. One assignment asked me to write a notification to staff about the death of a colleague, another wanted me to write a speech for a station manager promoting our services, but when I arrived at writing a piece to inform workers that there will not be a pay increase this year due to the situation in the air travel industry I was completely demotiviated. I thought to myself, heck, they should have called this position “corporate spin doctor” I am not sure I am cut for this type of thing.  I like to think that I am honest by nature, and I only write things I belive in.  As a translator I come accross Arabic rubbish which I am required to translate from time to time. Writing it in English doesn’t cause me any discomfort or guilt because I am insulated by my role as a messenger, and my honesty is channelled into faithful transmission of the text, regardless of my mental attitude towards it, but I cannot bring myself to write from scratch about things I do not believe in.  This Friday morning I couldn’t anyway, so instead of sticking with the script I used poetic license and invented reasons and justifications that weren’t even part of the briefing in the assignment. I was still pondering the wisdom of what I wrote when D. arrived signaling the end of my allotted time, and once the face to face meeting got underway I came to the conclusion that what I wrote in the sheet didn’t matter anyway. My superior was obviously in a hurry to leave and I was given the impression that the interview was just a farce. I think by then they had made up their mind that they needed someone from outside.  I hurried home thinking what a terrible waste of time.

Mrs. L. said that she enjoyed Robert’s company and took him out for a walk on the promenade. She even showed him off to some of her friends who thought that he was a grandson. I was relieved that he did not give problems although Lucy told me that his diaper rash is still bad. Later this evening he cried bitterly when warm water touched his bottom and it was a very stressful time getting him to quieten down then to sleep. I experienced an episode of intense misery, cried, screamed and blamed the universe and my ex husband for everything that was going wrong in my life.  My situation hasn’t improved in over three months since I moved out and my life is in chaos, I just wanted order back in my life any way possible.

Once Robert got to sleep I had time to reflect a little bit normally on what is happening. For Robert’s problem in the nappy area I blamed the chocolates I copiously consumed in the past few days, so I promised him that I will stay away from chocolate. As for my problems though, they are more complicated and they need a lot of patience to fix.

Post Scriptum : The job of communication specialist was later assigned to a lady with a higher degree in journalism, who used to work as a crime reporter for one of the national newspapers.  Makes you think about people’s choices and career moves.

Thank God for Friends

I went with Jackie this morning to drop off Kirsten at the airport. The sun is just starting to rise over the Atlantic and it is going to be another gorgeous day on the southern tip of Africa. Last night I had a chance to go out with the girls for a little farewell dinner, and we all had a nice evening.

Robert’s adventures during Kirsten’s visit to Cape Town included his first time at a restaurant with mom. Kirsten invited me and Jackie to a Sushi lunch at Saul’s. It was a special occasion for me because I haven’t had sushi in over a year. Robert was mostly obliging but needed some attention midway through the meal, where I had to take a break and give him a feed. It was great that we decided to go out during lunchtime, the restaurant was not too busy and we could pass the baby around and entertain him between us, without much disturbance to the patrons.

During the past week I spent a lot of time with the girls either visiting at Jackie’s or at the park. Kirsten came over to dinner one day, and stuck around many times for feeding sessions, bath and bedtime, while I was home on my own. Her visit was a godsend for me; it helped me deal with the current stress of my life at the moment. I am still trying to get re-licensed for my load control work, and Ron is proving to be a reluctant child-care provider at home. Things are not going to get any easier for sure. I still haven’t heard from Miriam, and if I contemplate the emotional and financial cost of having a nanny it makes me sick, but that is the way things are going to be in the future. From the moment of conception, a baby is by and large a woman’s problem, and this is proving true in my case as well. But no matter how things turn out, having Robert in my life is worth it. He is the reason why I wake up every morning; he simply makes my life worth living.

Ron deals with problems differently. He has now a new constellation of friends, with whom he hangs out frequently. I am not needed in this arrangement, and I don’t think he wants me to ever meet his friends. It is his way of having his own life. He pointed out to me once that I should never try to pursue other interests while looking after Robert or breastfeeding him. “You have to understand that you have no life anymore, your life is the little boy”, he said. Of course, I knew that from the moment Robert was born. He is my life, and I am happy to have it that way. The way Ron said it, however, makes it sound like a prison sentence. At the moment I am trying to come to terms with this attitude, but our relationship has taken strain as a result. Caring for Robert is not a chore, and it makes me really angry when he views it as such. It is a privilege to be around and care for a healthy, happy, and intelligent child. It is wonderful to look into his innocent eyes and see the unconditional love and trust he bestows on us as his parents. I would give anything in the world to be able to care for him myself rather than hand him over to a nanny. In this respect, our priorities and attitudes – as they are over almost everything else- are vastly different.

I am glad that Robert is still blissfully ignorant of the stress. He is mostly happy and contented. If ever he is fussy, then it is because of his itching gum. I noticed also that putting him onto solids is giving him some constipation, and I bought him a natural laxative which the paediatrician recommended. On my next visit to the nurse I need to ask whether it is advisable to use it regularly.

Today’s funny pictures: I tried to catch him on camera in the middle of one of his razzing sessions, and the result is what you see here. It looks like the symphony of razzing requires a lot of concentration. This week also he is starting to make up babbling syllables. I am very excited that he has mastered: ma ma ma, and is starting on ba ba ba. We await the first incident of da da da any day now.

First Weight Assessment

Today we wanted to take Robert for his first weight assessment at the Well Baby Clinic. Sister B is available for walk-in consultations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, whereas on Tuesdays and Thursdays she is only there by appointment.

Robert woke up this morning with a wet nappy which completely soaked his clothes, so we used the opportunity to give him a bath. This time everyone –including Robert- had better control over the situation. Ron had the idea of using a wet flannel to cover baby in the bath, and that helped keep him warm in our chilly bathroom. Robert did not complain about bathing at all after that.

When Robert had his feeding we headed straight to the clinic. This was our first ride in the car with him since coming back from hospital, and Ron had to revisit his strategy for buckling and unbuckling the car-seat. He got the procedure figured out after a couple of practice runs, and I do not think he will have to wrestle with an anaconda seatbelt again. Unlike our trip from the hospital last week, it was overcast and rainy today, but I still took the backseat next to Robert. I needn’t have worried because he slept as soon as the car started moving, and was still asleep when we carried him in his chair into the clinic.

It was amazing to see all the little babies with their moms and dads. Our little one was by far the youngest and the most fragile-looking. The five and six-week olds looked huge in comparison.

He weighed in at 3.24 kg, which is still less than his birth weight. According to the nurse his weight gain of 140 grams is on the slow side since breastfed babies are expected to gain between 150 to 250 grams per week. I explained to her the mishap I had with feeding earlier, and she said that this could have affected his weight. I showed her his left eye where the yellowish discharge was getting worse. His eyelids were glued shut because of it. She advised regular washing with sterile cotton dipped in salt water. She also recommended some ointment for sore breasts, which I planned to get then forgot with the confusion that accompanied our departure from the clinic.
Ron and I did not have the moves quite right; I got on his nerves with my usual slow and deliberate dressing and undressing of baby, which in turn made me fumble even more. I don’t think anyone else noticed, and if they did they would have just put it down to the obvious lack in experience. Sister B. advised that we should come in next week for another weight assessment to check again on Robert’s progress.

Robert’s little outing did not alter his good mood, and he kept on his feeding and napping schedule, which gave me another chance to go for a walk on the promenade on this cloudy afternoon. He was also sleeping in time for supper, so Ron and I could enjoy our nice steaks and then tea and cake. We are so lucky to have such a good baby.

Cold but Happy Spring Day

I think Robert and I are beginning to work out the kinks in this breastfeeding saga. Every time we changed his diaper today there was a mighty big package, and he is a much happier baby. He is also latching at the breast correctly with much less fussing and moaning, I am starting to feel a little more confident about this.
Today is a spring day in South Africa , but there is no sign of the season yet in Cape Town . It is raining and cold, and I am still wearing my sweater, fluffy slippers and fluffy socks around the house. The feeding at night is complicated because I have to put on many layers of clothes before I answer Robert’s calls.
At midday we decided that it was time to give Robert his first bath. There was nothing against it since his weenie is now fully healed. His umbilical stump hasn’t fallen off yet, but according to the modern literature we read, there is no harm in bathing baby with the stump still intact. The bathtub I got from my friend Britt makes bathing the baby a little less intimidating, as it has support for the body and the neck. The baby sits in a kind of reclining chair, formed around his body, so there is little danger of slipping under the water. Still, it was somewhat of a challenge for both of us, and Ron got a little impatient with my slowness. “You have to work quickly with the baby” he always says. My rationale is that if I work slowly there is less chance of mistakes or accidents. Well, two people can have different approaches even when they are a married couple. In the end we did not break baby, and the bath was completed. However, it was too close to call whether it was baby or his parents who found the episode more unnerving.
This morning Ron and I also took turns waiting in a telephone queue. Yes, we had an unresolved query with our ISP, and had to contend with listening to their recorded message: “We are experiencing a high volume of phone calls, please hold. Your call is important to us”. It carried on endlessly, and unfortunately every time we got through to a “human being” on the other end of the line, we were transferred somewhere else, and we had to repeat the whole story all over again. In the end Ron managed to resolve the issue. Apart from waiting on endless phone queues, there was the added stress, because Ron had to reconfigure the internet access on the hardware and software side. He wore his IT guru hat for a few minutes and got it all done without difficulty, but before that he had to behave like an IT guru for a while and get us all very nervous and apprehensive of the gargantuan task.
In the afternoon I got a phone call and a greeting from my friend Britt. She was on her way to the Cape Winelands with her husband and the two little girls. I had a vision of them in the big car, with baby car seats and bags bulging with diapers, formula, and everything else. I thought to myself it will be a while before we have the nerve to venture anywhere outside the city. Heck, at the moment I still had to find it in me to venture outside the house.
As it happened, today was the day when I actually did venture outside the door for a few minutes. In the evening I went to the 7/11 at the bottom of our street and bought the Saturday Paper. At about six in the evening I had just put baby to bed and Ron was preparing dinner. I am starting to learn now that I have to move quickly when baby is resting, because their time of shut-eye is the one small window of opportunity for me to sleep, eat, shower, or escape. I put on my raincoat, which I could easily zip around my waist this time- and went into the wet and darkening evening breathing my freedom for the first time. I skipped down the steps unburdened by a pregnant belly, and bounced down the hill. Ron and I rarely buy the Saturday Argus because it is big and bulky and has three huge sections of property ads, which we have no use for. Today however we had to buy it because it has Robert’s birth announcement. It was one of the free services offered by Cape Town Medi-Clinic which we took advantage of.
My outing lasted for only ten minutes, and I was back at home after that. The walk up the hill was a little laboured, I would have thought that I would be able to run up the hill as soon as I gave birth, but it looks like I have to give myself more time to recover and get fit. Ron and I had our first quiet dinner together. It was a delicious chicken curry with spinach, coconut rice, and carrot salad with ginger and sweet chilli sauce. We enjoyed every bite. If baby is going to carry on this pattern, then we are very lucky. He is a very good baby.
Pocahontas was the early Saturday night movie and for once we were both interested enough to watch. I always thought Disney movies were great fun, but Ron usually has hardly any patience for kiddies stuff. I cannot help but think that having a little baby in the house is already changing our personalities. I had to smile when Ron said that Disney movies were educational. The tiny fingers of baby Robert are casting their spell on our hearts.

Onset of the baby blues

The day started as usual at 05:00 with the tea tray. At the hospital you get a choice of normal tea, rooibos (Red bush tea) or coffee. For the early mornings I just stuck with normal tea. I was hungry as usual. Last night’s dinner of Lasagne left a lot to be desired, and an empty gap in my stomach that had to be filled with a “black cat” chocolate and peanuts bar. This morning my stomach was growling, and I had to grab for the energy bar with my tea, even at this early hour. My hunger was probably due to my hours of wakefulness while nursing. Robert showed more interest in feeding, and I hoped this was going to be a good sign for his future eating habits. I still did not have proper milk, but according to what I read, it will come in on the third day postpartum, which is today.

Today was also the day when boredom with the hospital started to get to me. I was anxious to get out, go home to my own space. I missed Ron, and felt like a prisoner in my hospital room. My attempts at completing the baby jacket I was knitting were futile, there was rarely a moment of quiet peace in this place.

The nurses made their usual rounds, taking blood pressure and temperature, and asking about the bleeding. My gynaecologist showed up again to inspect his handiwork (my incision), and I told everyone that I was anxious to get out of here tomorrow. The lady from catering came in again to ask about the menu for tomorrow, and settled with me ordering only two meals, breakfast and lunch. At the time I figured they will have to chain me to the bed if they wanted me to stay until lunch. But the day hadn’t even begun to take a turn for the worse yet.

Sometime around 08:00 a nurse came into the room and asked me whether I asked for a private room, and when I said no, she informed me that I am going to have company. Suddenly I found myself having only half a room; the curtains were drawn around the other bed near the door and another woman was wheeled in. She was accompanied by her mother and husband or partner, the latter took over the armchair in the middle of the room and I was cut off from the door, this added significantly to my feeling of claustrophobia. I spent the rest of the time trying to distract myself from being an unwilling eavesdropper on conversations, and phone calls. And because of the new arrival I did not get a chance to have a full shower, and made do with a quick sponge bath instead.

When the nurse came with Robert for his first daytime feeding, she told me that they will do a show-bath today, to show me how to bathe baby. I told her it would be nice if we can do it when baby’s dad is also present, she obliged as there was no rush.

Ron showed up just before lunchtime. He had to make his way to me past the curtains and visitors of the other patient. He brightened my day somewhat when he handed me a little package of goodies. As if he knew my trials and tribulations with the hospital food, he had brought me slices of wood-fired pizza from our favourite takeaway, along with a big gold delicious apple. I started immediately to complain to him about the day’s breakfast which consisted of a minute muffin with a sample of jam and a teaspoon of grated cheese. I also announced the demise of my emergency rations. My good husband has really saved me with the pizza. We had our bites of pizza while feeding little Robert, and trying to maintain our privacy from the next patient and her visitors. This day was going to be hard for me I thought and Ron agreed.

Robert was almost done with his meal, when the paediatrician showed up. Ron pointed out to him a largish red spot on the little one’s head. It is a stork-bite, the paediatrician said, and it should go away by itself. These types of spots are common in newborns, and they appear anywhere on the body but especially on the head and around the eyelids (those are called angel kisses), they are immature small veins that eventually fade as the baby grows. I asked him about the baby’s frequent sneezes, and he said that it is also a normal reflex, and baby’s only method of clearing his nose. The spots on his face are also normal and no reason for worry, as well as the little yellowish discharge from his left eye. He said that the eye should clear by itself, once the tear ducts are open. He would only prescribe antibiotic drops if there is a sign of infection such as redness, and swelling of the eye. It was good to know that Robert was perfectly normal, especially that today he has this operation to look forward to. The paediatrician said that he will check on him sometime this afternoon after the circumcision.

Lunchtime came and went; they served Chicken a la king with grated carrot salad with raisins. I found the salad interesting because it was dressed with orange instead of lemon juice. Ron shared a few bites of lunch with me, and then the coffee after lunch. It was the first time I had coffee at the hospital, and I must say that it tasted suspiciously like our famous brand of coffee-chicory blend.

We were informed that Dr. K. was running a late with a series of other circumcisions. Apparently he also has a number of cases that come into his practice as outpatients. Ron and I decided to go ahead to the nursery and take a look at the baby bath.
We wheeled Robert’s crib into the nursery. I should mention here that the nursery cribs all look like clear plastic tubs that are lined with mattresses, and they actually double up as bathtubs for babies. The bottom part of the trolley is full of baby stuff: Diapers, lotions, rubbing alcohol, Vaseline, cotton, cleanser, baby powder, a small changing mat and even a baby bag. All these things are given to parents when the baby is discharged from the nursery. There are no clothing items in the bag of goodies, but there are two cotton hats that will come in very handy to us. One of those hats is the little white hat Robert wore a few minutes after his birth.

The motherly nurse who bathed baby was very sweet, when Robert cried protesting at being stripped naked, she spoke to him soothingly: “Oh, we know it is cold, but we are going to give you a very nice bath… Don’t worry”. The bathing demonstration was very slow and deliberate for the benefit of the ignoramus parents (in this case myself and Ron – although Ron might have some edge on me in experience). First washing the eyes and ears, then the head, and lastly dipping baby’s body in the warm water. Robert was very slippery to the touch and trying to hold him was quite difficult, I don’t know how I would manage this at home.

By the time we finished the demonstration it was past two in the afternoon, Robert was fed, clean and very happy, and still no sign of Dr. K. Ron and I decided to leave Robert in the nursery and go for a walk. We walked around the terraces, looked over at Table Mountain on one side of the ward, then over to the terrace of the adjacent wing overlooking the city bowl. We talked about the wonder of being parents, and I had tears in my eyes when I spoke of my growing love for the little one. I think both Ron and I were still in awe. When we went back to the maternity ward there was still no sign of Dr. K, so we walked down to the ground floor and to the wings where the doctor rooms are located. On our way back we were told by one of the staff that Dr. K was looking for us, and we had to hurry up the steps to the maternity ward on the third floor.

Dr. K was waiting in the nursery, where he was going to perform the operation. He showed us the instrument he was going to use, a cylindrical widget around which the foreskin would be pulled and clamped. He also showed another medieval-looking instrument he called the Jewish harp; a blade which looks like the instrument, and has a vertical notch right down its centre. He said that it is used in the ritual Jewish circumcision. I did not take much of that in; I was beginning to get worried and fearful about the whole thing. It looked like this is going to hurt my baby, and hurt him bad. Ron had many questions to ask and seemed satisfied with the answers. Dr. K. was matter of fact about the whole thing, he said that circumcision is performed routinely in North America (80% of males are circumcised if you can believe him) and there are many arguments for it, and probably just as many against it. But in the end it is a cosmetic operation, I now tend to agree with this last statement.

Everything was finally ready. And after making sure he had the sterile pack he was going to use (there was lots of confusion about the number of sterile instrument packs he used today), Dr K. and Sister T took positions by the crib. Dr. K asked us to leave him to it and have a cup of coffee or something while he finishes. He said that it is highly emotional for parents to watch the operation. He had done only one operation in the presence of the parents and it put him under so much pressure that he would never do it again. I was running to the door myself, but Ron needed this final argument to be convinced.

We went out again toward the terraces. My melancholy increased tenfold; I was on the verge of tears and I could not understand why. I hoped that I was doing the right thing for my son. I don’t know how much time we spent outside, it was another sunny day, but I had no eyes for the beautiful weather. We went back to my room and waited, and soon enough Dr. K. showed up. He said all went well, and that Robert was good. He gave us some advice about caring for the circumcised penis. We should keep sterile gauze and Vaseline around it until it heals. No washing with water before the wound completely heals. Do you want this? He asked and showed a piece of bloody tissue wrapped in plastic and gauze. At the sight I think Ron and I both blanched. It was a little piece of human flesh, a little piece of our baby, and it was bloodied. Ron said later that seeing it made him realise that the operation is more barbaric than it is made out to be. Dr. K said that Muslim parents bury the piece of foreskin; I simply wanted it out of my sight. I wanted to forget about it.
We went to see to little Robert in the nursery, he did not look to bad, although we did not have the heart to look at his parts, yet.

Ron left shortly after that and the full measure of my desolation kicked in. I walked again to the terrace overlooking Table Mountain and bawled my eyes out. Sister T met me as I was walking back into the lobby; she asked whether I was okay. I started babbling something about how much I love my baby and how much it hurt me to cause him pain. Tears flowed like a waterfall, while the kindly woman just held me and let me cry on her shoulder for a minute. You have got the blues, she said. It is all your hormones coming back and it is hard, I know it, I have been there. It took me a couple of minute to realise that I had to get a grip. I will be okay, I said. I just need a breath of fresh air, and I will be fine. It is okay, she said, you needed to let it go, but if you still feel sad and depressed let us no, we do not want you to go into post-natal depression. At the mention of the word “depression” my back stiffened, and I thought, no way, I won’t let myself sink into THAT! I walked outside took deep a few deep breaths of spring air, and decided that the worst was over, for me and for Robert. There was no point in moping; I needed to focus on the future. I am a very lucky woman; lucky to have a beautiful healthy child and a wonderful husband. My family has a wonderful future ahead, and I should only be grateful. With that in mind I walked back to the ward, past the same nurses who eyed me warily after my emotional outburst, but I responded with a smile and announced that I was feeling much better.

In my now divided room I sat a little on the bed and read in my baby book. The Paediatrician came and assured me that Robert is okay. His penis looks fine, he said, and he is now asleep. He had prescribed some Panado drops for him should he be in pain later today. I told him that I took a little bit of strain on my son’s behalf; he must have seen that, because my eyes looked awfully red and puffy.

In the end Robert behaved better than I did and woke up promptly for feeding in the early evening. He was nodding off to sleep in his bassinet when the visitors for the woman in the next bed started arriving. First it was the mother and the partner whom I saw earlier today, and then there were other family members and friends. Soon enough the room was full and people were starting to drift over towards my side of the room. Little eyes peered at me from behind the drawn curtains. After some time I found that I could not handle it anymore, my senses were bruised enough as it is today, and I did not think I should stay in this hubbub any longer. The next door festivities were evolving into a full-fledged oriental bazaar – or so it sounded to me at the time.

I wheeled out Rob’s bassinet between the jostling crowds of visitor and headed towards the nursery. I don’t think I was very coherent when I tried to explain my predicament to the nursery staff. One nurse thought it strange that I am bringing the baby back to the nursery while family is visiting, and I had to explain to her time and again that it was not my family who is visiting, but that of my roommate. Once however they looked across towards the corridor they immediately understood as the visitors have already spilled into the hallway and were queuing to view the newborn baby-girl. In the end, I was given a chair in front of the television, and one of the nurses switched the channel to some entertainment program. In my state of mind though I could not care less what was on. I just nodded off in the armchair in front of the television. When I got up half an hour later I was happy to find out that visiting hours were over.

I returned to the room alone as Robert was still sleeping, and was greeted back by my roommate, who apologized for the number of her visitors. I told her that of course she could not help that she comes from a big family who came from all over the peninsula to congratulate her on her first child. In truth, the woman was alright, and kept to herself for the rest of the night, nursing her child and her various aches and pains (she was also a c-section case). The rest of the night was quiet, punctuated only by the muted sounds of the television, which I could hear from her headphones, and her quiet conversations on the cell phone with the father of her baby and other relatives.

The only entertainment that I had to look forward to was dinner, which was waiting for me forlornly on the bed tray; A single baked potato with cheese and some nondescript salad. I was glad I still had the big apple Ron brought me this morning, which I devoured immediately. I was ripe and ready to go home.

During this evening, my milk came in. My breasts were engorged and sore and I waited for the breastfeeding sessions more anxiously than ever. Robert’s enthusiastic nursing relieved some of the pain and I spent most of the night going hot and cold with the onrush of milk. The nurses however assured me that this was normal, and all I had to do was wait for the supply to diminish gradually and become more or less equal to the demand.