Category Archives: family

We All Bleed Red

As I write, Minneapolis is on fire. Georgia is on fire. New York is on fire. I am in Birmingham, UK. Thousands of miles away. Yet I feel like my soul is on fire.

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man was accused of writing a bad cheque at a store. Unarmed and unresisting, he was handcuffed on the ground. Officer Derek Chauvin, who we now know worked with George on security jobs in the last year, knelt on his neck. Despite George’s protests and pleas from onlookers saying clearly that he could not breathe, Derek knelt on his neck, compressing his windpipe until he fell unconscious. Floyd died. Derek was fired along with the 3 other officers who allowed this to happen. Nothing more was done until protests spread. Now Derek has been charged and is in custody. Only because the eyes of the world are watching.

Read this piece on Floyd, telling us how his family want us to remember him. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/27/us/george-floyd-trnd/index.html Let us remember him and let not his death become just another name on the long list of non-white Americans killed by the very people meant to serve and protect them.

Why do I care?

Because I am black. I have members of my family living in the US. All of them people of colour. Lots of different shades but none are pure white. All potential targets of all those who think white is supreme and that they have a war against us non-white folk.

More importantly, I care because racism and hatred transcend borders. It affects us all. The racists and those they are racist against. The anti-racists (I have just learnt this term). As a human being, I care deeply. As a mother, I care even more powerfully. That my beautiful daughter, with skin the colour of delicious smooth milk chocolate, is hated by some people. Just for being alive. That someone who does not know her might seek to do her harm. Scary thought. It makes me want to wrap her up and relocate to my dream Island paradise filled with only the people I love and trust.

Watch this little boy sing these heartfelt words. https://youtu.be/UIuSLBX74Ac What business does a 12-year-old have with such sorrow? Why must he beg to be allowed to live? We must remember that this is a boy living in America. Not Somalia, Russia, Colombia or Nigeria. America – One of the wealthiest nations in the world. Supposedly one of the most civilised and sophisticated in the world. Problem is that all I see coming out of America these days is tainted by racism. Amy Cooper last week. The almost weekly other white person using race to oppress ordinary black people going about minding their business. America, and indeed a huge swathe of the West, is showing its true colours more and more. There is hatred, racism, islamophobia, ignorance, white privilege.

But there is also love, solidarity, knowledge and people fighting for equality. I know it is there. And today, so many of those voices are speaking out publicly. Just go on any social media and white people are speaking out everywhere. Finally, it seems the tide of protest is loud enough maybe to inspire some change. The change that is needed is not small. The Police and the rest of Judiciary needs top down reconstruction. Institutional racism needs to be consigned to the bin. Discrimination needs to be stamped out. Until law enforcement and Justice is more equal across all people, there can be no real equality. We can and must be the generation that pushes for this to happen. We must keep our eyes open and keep calling out the injustice. We will not be silent any longer.

Finally, I want to leave you with Rihanna’s speech: https://youtu.be/fZiyZ2rDdv8

And the quote from the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (who died in 1797 by the way), an Irish MP:

‘The only necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing’uk is not innocent

Abdul-Ra’ufu Mustapha: 24.07.1954 to 08.08.2017

This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I have been wanting to write it since I came out of the acute grief that I felt when he died. It’s hard to order my thoughts and feelings for my uncle Ra’ufu even today, 2 years and 7 months after he left us. His death has left a big hole in my life. Today, the grief is as fresh as on that sunny August day. Other days, I can rejoice in the good times we shared. First, I am grateful he died pre-Covid-19 because it would have destroyed me and his wife and kids not to be there with him in those last days. Thank God for small mercies.

I have decided a letter to him directly is the best way to do this. In between paragraphs, I will add names of songs that remind me of him or make me think of him now. He loved music so I am sure he would approve of the inclusion of music in my tribute to him. You’ll read it in the words below but I’ll say it now: I loved him so much and I miss him every day. He will live on forever in my heart and I am so thankful for the 16 years of consciously knowing and loving him. He was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he was generous in all the ways it counted and he is one of the best men I have ever known. My father in all the ways it matters.

Dear Uncle Ra’ufu,

In 2000, I had a little brown address book. In it, I wrote the landline numbers, addresses and email addresses of the people in Nigeria that I didn’t want to forget after I emigrated to England. In it, I wrote in blue ink your name, phone number and address. My Mama said to call you if I was in trouble in England before she joined my sister and me. That was the beginning of my journey of knowing you. Of course, you knew me as a baby but for me, this was my first contact with you. I remember looking at your university of Oxford address and thinking ‘wow! He must be amazing to work at Oxford uni’. I had wanted to study medicine there, so it was like a fantasy institution for me. I didn’t need to call thankfully.
‘Light Up’ by Leona Lewis

We met in December 2000. Mama, Charo and I came on the Oxford Tube to Oxford and after a bit of confusion, on a cold dark December night, we found our way to Edmund Road. My memories of that night are a jumble. The sound system and shelves of music CDs, the Christmas tree, the smell of Nigerian food, the kids. Asma’u and Seyi – they were great kids. Despite the fact we had booted Asma’u out of her room (or was it both of them in that room?), they were both so warm and welcoming. As you and aunty Kate were. In the overcrowded living room, it was evident that this was a family where love resided. For the first time since moving to England, I felt relaxed and happy. My tummy was full of Nigerian food. I could be myself.
‘One Sweet Day’ by Mariah Carey and Boys 2 Men

So many memories but the singing stands out. You’d sing Barry White in your lovely baritone and the kids would groan and be embarrassed especially when we were out. You loved Robbie Williams ‘Rock DJ’ and every time it played on the radio (it was a big hit that year so they played it A LOT), you’d sing along. You pretended he wrote the song about a northern Nigerian woman called Dije (nickname for Dijatu, particularly in Fulani parts). The kids would argue until they were blue in the face that it was about a DJ. You stood your ground and I chuckled at the family drama.
‘Over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Hand in hand with the singing was your cooking. Your cow leg pepper soup special was blow-your-head off hot with chilli, but I could never resist it. I also learnt your efficient way of chopping okro. You took me alone to a bookstore in an ancient Oxford building one day and bought me the hardcover of the complete Lord of the Rings book. It was mahoosive. I hadn’t ever heard of it and I wondered why you chose that book. I hefted it back to London with me and it was a transformative read. That was the first of many presents you generously bought me. I will treasure that book forever. And I will die a LOTR fan. What a book! You knew me so well even in those early days. Your house was full of books and my visits became defined by how many books I could read in my waking hours. I’d stay up all night finishing book after book. You and aunty Kate never got fed up of my laying about reading. I don’t think I helped around the house as I should have, so focused was I on devouring all those lovely books on your shelves and in piles all around the house. It’s not a surprise your home quickly became my 2nd home. How could I resist a home where music, books and good food were so central?
‘Hey There Delilah’ by Plain White T’s

Fast forward to 2013, I called and asked if I could bring George to meet you all. As always, there was no hesitation. He was my boyfriend, so he was welcome. You validated him. You and aunty Kate might have had reservations, but I was never made privy to them. We were in the kitchen alone one evening and you asked me if I was sure he was the man I wanted to marry. I said yes. You said ‘ok!’. That was it! Without you, I don’t know how we’d have organised the wedding. I asked you to be George’s representative when none of his family or friends would or could come to Nigeria to stand beside him. You organised the religious side of the wedding in Kaduna, bore all the costs without question. You even paid the sadaki on behalf of George. I wasn’t there so you organised for a photographer to record the day for me and delivered me a beautiful album. In March 2014, you were George’s father. You did a marvellous job and I know George will be forever thankful to have had you by his side during all that. Thank you.
‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins

As if that wasn’t enough, I asked Asma’u if she wouldn’t mind if I borrowed her father to walk me down the aisle. She said yes without hesitation. She figured that you could practice being father of the bride on me before her wedding day. Little did we know that I would be the only bride you’d walk down the aisle. I asked you if you would walk me down the aisle. Yes, you said without hesitation. You asked me what to wear and I asked for traditional Nigerian. When I saw you outside my bridal room on my wedding day, preparing to walk me down the aisle, I felt so proud. You looked so wonderful in your green outfit. You said something calming to me (it’s all a blur now) and you walked me down the stairs and then down the aisle. One of my best memories of the wedding was when you and aunty Kate broke into traditional Yoruba dance. I was so happy in that moment and so proud to have you all by my side as I started my new chapter.
‘With You’ from Ghost the Musical

Every Christmas or NYE I could, I spent in Oxford with you. You taught me about music, about politics and religion, about caring for the world around us and giving back. The trips to Bicester shopping village on Boxing day was a tradition I loved. Even if I didn’t have much money to spend and I wasn’t a big fan of shopping anyway, I loved it because we spent that day together. Getting out of the house was always a mission. We were never out at the planned hour. We’d then struggle to find parking but we would find a spot eventually. We always had to stop in the Bose shop and listen to their demo. We always stopped at Eat for lunch. We’d finally traipse back to the car laden with shopping bags, exhausted. Then spend the 27th recovering from our exertions. When I started working for the NHS, these traditions were invariably interrupted and I only partook in them partially. It was the only reason I minded working over Christmas to be honest.
‘Happy’ by Pharrell

In June 2014, I remember jumping into my car and driving down to Oxford to escape the house where my in-laws were staying after the biggest fight I’d ever had with George. I was so upset. I sat at the table with you and aunty Kate trying to hold back tears. I didn’t want to share it all with you to be honest. I was always mindful of the advice not to share your husband’s worst faults with parents because they won’t forget long after you’ve forgotten. I remember you seeing my red eyes and you looked angry. Angrier than I’ve ever seen you look. You clenched your jaw and you hurriedly walked away from the table. Aunty Kate and I talked for hours. She cried with me and consoled me. You came down when she had worked her magic and I was calm again. When I left the next day, you hugged me tighter than you had ever done. It helped.
‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna

In November 2016, I came for a visit a day after my birthday. I had spent most of my birthday alone. George had gone to Abu Dhabi for the formula One. I was left with my Velcro baby, exhausted beyond belief. Tete (Lorraine) and Kudzi took her off me for 3 whole hours whilst I treated myself to a child-free meal and a whole-body massage. I came back feeling better than I had since giving birth and they surprised me with a birthday meal. It was lovely. But the next day, I wanted to be with my family so I got on the train and came to Oxford (Savannah hated being in the car so it didn’t occur to me to drive down). You were at the station to pick me up. Savannah must have had the sense that you were my people because she went to you and aunty Kate and let me rest my aching arms. I had tummy issues so couldn’t have your cow leg pepper soup. I remember your crestfallen expression when for the first time ever I turned down your offer to make pepper soup. It turns out that was the last time you’d offer it to me. I haven’t eaten it since.
‘All of Me’ by John Legend

My tummy issue turned out to be a treatable condition called microcolitis which when it was finally diagnosed was treated. I didn’t admit to you and aunty Kate that I was worried I had cancer. I had lost more than 10% of my body weight in the 6 weeks since onset of symptoms, I was exhausted and felt very unwell. I was worried about dying and leaving my infant without a mother. When aunty Kate called me 3 weeks later to discuss her concerns about your reflux, cancer was already on my mind. I remember telling myself not to be stupid even as a corner of my mind became anxious. Aunty Kate called back the next week to say you’d gone to your GP and were on anti-reflux medications only but your symptoms were worse. I remember talking to you then, urging to go back. You were reluctant as it was over Christmas with reduced GP hours. I had a bad feeling in my gut, it didn’t go away. Still there a bit now. You went back and they put you on the 2-week wait pathway, confirming my fears of cancer were reasonable. I had a heart to heart with aunty Kate and admitted to her that although other things were possible, cancer was the most likely and for her to prepare you for that possibility. Now looking back, I wonder how she bore it. She was so calm in the face of the turmoil she must have felt internally. I remember coming off the phone after one of those talks and crying. I knew then that you had cancer.
‘You Make Me Wanna’ by Usher

It was confirmed on histology weeks later but the appearance of the ulcer and description was quite conclusive and I told you both. I was devastated. I hadn’t been able to see you during this time between working and trying to get some rest with the Velcro baby. I regret not coming down anyway. I should have been there in person. For you and aunty Kate. I should have come with you to the appointments to ask all the questions I felt weren’t being answered. Relaying my questions via aunty Kate felt inadequate and cruel to be honest. I was working hard to keep your hope alive whilst I was losing all hope myself with my medical hat on. I had seen this story play out with my patients. Little did I expect to be on the other side, living the nightmare.
‘We Are Here’ by Alicia Keys

Eventually, we realised that the cancer had spread more than we first knew so it wasn’t a curable cancer. We started looking into trials for you. Things didn’t go so well clinically and chemo was recommended by your oncology team to slow down the progression. Once chemo started, you went downhill. I think I was afraid to see you in person so I put off seeing you for months. I saw you in February 2017 and the change in the 3 months was shocking. Aunty Kate had been kind in her descriptions of you. You were clearly gravely ill. The chemo rendered you ineligible for trials. Aunty Kate and I talked about trials in India but by April-May, it was clear you were too weak from the chemo. I cried and raged when I was alone. One day, it was just me and you sitting down on the dinning table and you apologised to me about not making my biological father step up and be a father to Charo and I. I was so sad at your words. I remember saying you had nothing to apologise for. He is an adult and it was his failing and not yours. You insisted that you could and should have done more. I was angry that you were taking on his failing as a father. I remember lying in bed that night angrily wishing that it was him with the cancer and not you. It is not a charitable thought I know but I still feel that in moments of anger that I feel for losing you.
‘Castles’ by Freya Ridings

At this point, you were in and out of hospital as your vomiting and poor oral intake was becoming an issue. I was at a loss for words to make it bearable so I took to sending you videos, jokes and photos of Savannah. You always replied and that reassured me that even if physically things were bad, mentally you were with us. On another visit, I sat with you and you admitted the worst thing about the chemo was your mouth soreness and how dry and tender your hands were. Asma’u gave me some Vaseline intensive lotion and you let me massage that into your hands. You smiled at me and it felt good to give you some comfort, even if temporary. In May or June, you called me out of the blue and in your weakened voice, you asked me directly if it was time to get your affairs in order. It was the first time you and I had talked about your death. I remember closing my eyes as my heart broke once more. After the longest pause, I said yes.
‘ABC’ by the Jackson 5

You stopped replying to my phone messages shortly after this conversation and couldn’t speak on the phone so most of our communication was through aunty Kate between visits. She and Asma’u told me about how hard it was for them to watch you not eating. They told me how grumpy you were about taking the medications. In July, with the agreement of the oncology team, most of your medicines were stopped and palliative care started in earnest. You enjoyed lying on the lounger in the garden, soaking in the sun. You were cold despite the heat of the summer sun. You barely spoke. Your words were few and far between. The most alive part of you were your eyes. Sunken into your face. I couldn’t look at you mostly because when I did, I had to face the reality of your impending death. Still I remained fully at work. I should have taken time off at the end of July. Why didn’t I come for your birthday? Even if it was a full house? I could have driven down for the day. I knew it would be your last with us. I didn’t come then. The next week, I woke up one morning and the feeling in my gut was stronger than ever. I called George to ask him to pick Savannah up from nursery. That I needed to see you that day. I spent the day with you and I knew your days were numbered. I tried to warn aunty Kate. I think she knew anyway. I sent George down to see you that weekend and say his goodbyes. I didn’t want him not to have the chance.
‘Alive’ by Sia

On the 7th of August, I came down again, without Savannah as I wanted my focus to be you and you alone. You were bedbound by then. I sat downstairs chatting with aunty Kate and Asma’u about the funeral and where you were to be buried and how to navigate the conversations with your family in a culturally sensitive way. We all knew that the end was nigh. Seyi left us to it. I guess he wasn’t ready to talk about it. Selfishly, I argued for you to be buried in Oxford so I could keep you close. I had to concede your preference was probably Ilorin even if you left the final decision to aunty Kate. Aunty Kate was due at the Nigerian High Commission the next day to apply for her emergency visa so she could come with you on your final journey home. I went up finally, alone, to sit with you. That morning, my intention was to thank you for being my father and to reiterate that you weren’t to carry the guilt of my father’s failings. I even practised what I would say to you on the drive down. When I sat next to you, you roused yourself to answer my formal greetings in Hausa. You were breathless and so weak. I couldn’t say my practised words to you as it would mean admitting to you and me that I was saying goodbye. Instead, I held your thin hand in mine and told you about Savannah. When you started to drift off to sleep, I whispered thank you and I love you. I stood in the doorway composing myself and watching you snooze.
‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran and Beyonce

I planned to be back on Thursday with Savannah. As I left the house, I didn’t think that would be the last time I saw you or touched you or spoke to you. The next day, I got a message from Idris asking me to confirm the news. It was then I realised you had left us. I text aunty Kate: ‘is it true?’. She text back ‘yes’. You had left us. The rest as they say was history. I came on Thursday with George. We helped aunty Kate prepare to take you home. We talked. We cried. We listened to Josh Groban’s Take me home as per aunty Kate’s request before they got in the car without me and accompanied you on your final journey. I was on-call that weekend and the NHS doesn’t give leave for non-immediate family member. Aunty Kate hugged me tight before she got in the car and said, ‘I will look after your father for you’. I should have told the NHS that you were my father. I didn’t. I should have gone to Ilorin with you. I will regret that forever.
‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child

I hope you knew how much you meant to me. How much I love you. How much I valued your love and all the time you spent with me. I hope you know how much you have helped shape me. How I am planning my hospital because you inspired me with the philanthropic work you did. I don’t know if a part of you is here. I hope it is. I feel you here. Whenever I see okro or cow leg, whenever I hear a deep belly laugh like yours or hear someone speak with your accent. I feel you whenever I see the Bose logo, when I hear 70s and 80s music you introduced me to. You will be part of me forever. You will never die fully as I hold a piece of you in me and it will live on as long as I live. When I show her a photo of you (which I do often), I asked Savannah ‘who is that?’. She always answers ‘Uncle Ra’ufu, your father’. Right out of the mouth of my baby. Rest well my father.
‘Missing you’ by Puff Daddy

Your daughter.

What Women Want: Easy as 1,2,3

Okay! Okay! Maybe I should title it: what Deejoda wants. I am well aware that there are 3.8 billion women in the world and with all the other factors that go into shaping a person, having an XX chromosome doesn’t make us all the same. This is what women I know want. These women are my friends and work colleagues so share something in common with me. We are all 30-50-year-old women, mostly working mothers living in the UK (and a few in Nigeria, the US and India). We women talk about relationships a lot. The below is what I have concluded having listened to all the discussions and pondered the matter over the last 6 years of my marriage

  • Be Decent
    Treat your woman as you would want to be treated. I refer not just to the big things like not sleeping with another woman or spending your joint money on booze or a lads’ night out when the mortgage and fuel for the car isn’t taken care of. It is the little things.
    For example, your woman comes back from work and cooks you a hot meal, perfectly timed so she is dishing up as you walk in. There is no reason decide to make a call that can wait whilst the food goes cold. Nor is it vital that you say aloud that you were actually in the mood for chicken and not beef tonight.
    If your woman tells you about a funny encounter at work in the spirit of sharing, please don’t grill her about the one man that might appear in this funny story. No, his name is not important, neither is his age, how handsome he is or whether he is married. If this story is what your woman chose to tell you about, it is because she found the situation interesting and not because she has a crush on someone at work.
    Listen when she says she is struggling with X and if it is within your power, offer her help. She might just need someone to listen. It might help here if you put your phone down, look at her and actively listen. Then maybe give her a hug or say something witty to lift her mood.
    If you have done something to upset her, intentionally or unintentionally, and your woman reflects calmly that what you did upset her, the best response is not to react with anger. Either you apologise (gold standard) or at least you acknowledge that you can see what she means and that her feelings are valid even if the hurt was not intended.
    In most relationships, it is considered common courtesy to tell the woman you live with roughly what the structure of your day is. So, she knows whether you are having dinner together or when to send out a search party. Unless in exceptional circumstances, call or text her if you are stuck at work for hours longer than usual. It is also common courtesy to let her know if a friend or relative has called unexpectedly to ask you for help and you’ve said yes. Or even if you bump an old friend you haven’t seen in years and decide to go for a catch-up coffee.
    Remember back when you started dating, how much effort did you put into making her laugh or make her feel special? I bet you bought her little gifts like flowers or a book or surprised her with a thoughtful outing to the cinema for a special showing of her favourite childhood movie. Just because you have been together 2 or even 20 years doesn’t mean that she isn’t worth all that effort occasionally. Of course, it’s not sustainable to do it as often as in the beginning but make the conscious effort to do something nice for her once a week or even once a month.
    Reading back, I guess most of it focuses on communication. Perfect! According to relationship experts, communication is the key to a good partnership.

  • Be Reliable
    Your words should be your bond. When you say something, your woman should be able to trust it will happen.
    When you say you’ll fix the broken window latch, do it the next spare time you have. If you are forgetful (let’s face it a lot of us forget), pop a reminder on your phone for the weekend when you know you’ll have an hour to work on it.
    When you promise to organise your child’s birthday cake, please do it without prompting from your woman. To avoid forgetting, refer to the previous point. If you do forget, run out of the house at the earliest opportunity and buy one without grumbling.
    When you have a party or appointment to attend together as a couple and you have agreed to go, it is your job to turn up when your woman expects you to. Sometimes delays are unavoidable. In this case, inform her what’s happened then call whoever is expecting you and apologise if appropriate or reschedule.
    In short, anything you say you will do, endeavour to do it. If you are not sure you can deliver, keep your plans to yourself so you don’t disappoint her. If her expectations are low (or even non-existent), her disappointment will be kept to a minimum and she’ll be happier for it. In general, we will make do with what we have for the man we love unless we are promised more.

  • Share the Mental Load
    To be an equal (or equal-ish) partner, you must take on some of the thinking and planning that goes into running your lives. It is hard work for a woman to organise her own life, juggling work, childcare, friendships, voluntary work, family etc. It is even harder to have to organise another (adult) man’s life plus all the children’s lives and coordinate it all so that it works seamlessly.
    The least you can do if she has gone to all that trouble is to pay attention if she shares the planning with you and help her come up with practical solutions. Keep an eye on the shared family planner or wherever the plans are written. Set reminders on your phone if you must so you can turn up where you are needed or buy gifts for the people you know better than she does. If you can see your (joint) child is due to go for a dental appointment on a day she is working, say to her ‘honey, I’m taking Jack to the dentist’. Don’t wait for her to ask you and make her feel like she is being a pain by asking you to do your share of childcare. You made the child together. It is your joint responsibility.
    If you get a joint letter about sorting out life insurance or renewing the mortgage, instead of adding it to her pile of life admin, how about you sort it and then tick it off on the list? If there is no list, just send her a text to say its sorted. No drama. Don’t expect an ode of gratitude either. A simple thanks will suffice. Let’s face it, do you always remember to say thank you for all the little jobs she does every day? Offer to organise your child’s first school trip abroad or to take them to the open day for the college they want to apply for. Then do it without being prompted. Ask if you need advice though. She wont mind. Infact, it might reassure her to know that you’re thinking about it and planning it all in advance.

This third point is by far the most important thing to get right. If the mental load becomes too much to carry on her shoulders, she will lose her cool. She will not be full of sunshine. She won’t feel as warm and loving towards you. She’ll be too tired for niceties and her appreciation of you will diminish. Your relationship will suffer. It is a biggie.

That’s it. 3 big things to work on. None of it is complicated. It is about treating your woman as you would treat your best friend. With love and kindness, generosity and appreciation. Remember, happy woman = happy home. Also, happy woman = happy child(ren). Happy woman + happy child(ren) = happy man. So, you’re not doing this only for your woman. You are doing it for you. Step up to the plate. Be what your woman needs.This article on mental load is worth reading: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic

Physician Heal Thyself

Yet another doctor has committed suicide recently. The 3rd in the past year in the UK that I know about. There are probably more. It is so sad. On the face of it, many people might think what do doctors have to be so depressed about? The public still imagine that being a doctor comes with a good job, good income and the respect of the population in general. Those of us in the profession and our loved ones know better. For most doctors, the work is relentless. The NHS is no longer fit for purpose. There are too many patients with less resources to care for them. There is more and more paperwork borne out of the NHS having too many ‘managers’ who analyse medical errors and harm and feel that creating another form to fill in will prevent future incidents. They fail to realise that what is needed is more funding to employ enough staff for the numbers of patients we treat. They fail to realise that they need to invest in their staff and make them feel appreciated and valued for their hard work and for doing more than they are contracted to do. They need to examine the levels of sickness and absenteeism and realise that burnout is real and so is depression. Above all, they need to realise that without preventative measures, doctors will continue to work themselves until they simply can’t.

Although the UK rates highly in a lot of economic and living standards indices, being a rich developed 1st world nation, it doesn’t do so well with mental illness. The positive news is that the UK had made it into the top 20 of the world’s happiest countries in 2017 (it was previously 23rd and is now 19th) for the first time since 2012 when the world happiness report started being published annually.

In March 2017, the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a survey to look into prevalence of mental health in the UK and to identify the factors about individual that make them vulnerable to suffering from a mental illness. It found that 7 out of 10 women, those aged 18-34 and those living alone had a mental illness. Only 1 in 10 of the whole population are happy most of the time. Women are 3 times as likely as men to suffer a mental illness. Stress is a growing problem. Majority of people suffer from either a generalised anxiety disorder, depression or phobia. Self-harm and suicide are not classed as mental disorders but are a response to mental distress usually cause by mental illness that has not been recognised and treated.

With these statistics in mind, it is easy to see why young female doctors are at risk of mental illness. Couple that with the fact that medicine attracts people with a type A personality who are high achievers and do not like to admit they have a ‘weakness’ or that they need help. I have already described working conditions in today’s NHS. No wonder so many young female doctors are struggling and every year, we lose a few to suicide. What I find particularly difficult with this is that when colleagues pay tribute to those who have died, there is always a huge sense of shock. Unfortunately, these women hide their illness so well that often even their closest confidants have no idea how much despair they are in. Their friends often describe them as ‘superwoman’, someone who ‘has it all’, always helping others, taking on incredible amounts and managing to ‘juggle it all’ somehow. They give so much to others that they forget to give their selves.

Caring. Freedom. Generosity. Honesty. Health. Income. Good governance. These are the things that increase happiness and promote mental well-being according to the Mental Health Organisation. I would sum it up as friendship. I think human beings are social creatures (yes, even the introverts) and need to have at least one good nurturing relationship. This is intrinsically linked to self-worth. Many people who have attempted suicide and lived to tell their story say that depression and anxiety eroded their self-worth to such an extent that they felt useless and that the world would be better without them in it. Depression interferes with rational ordered thinking. When it is severe, it is like being in a deep dark hole, full of doubts and lacking in any hope. Far from being selfish, I believe people who contemplate suicide are (in their warped thinking) being selfless and believe in that moment that they are un-burdening those around them.

So is there anything we can do to turn the tide? Most experts agree that by the time a person has planned to commit suicide, it is probably too late to do anything. The depression has taken over and has them fully in its grasp. Where we can make a difference is at a much earlier stage. We need to prevent people with low mood going on to develop depression. We need to be that friend who validates their self-worth. The one who lets them know in words and action that their presence is very much appreciated in your life. We need to talk about mental health more so that someone at the early stages of depression feels able to confide in someone and seek help. If mental illness is so prevalent, why do we not talk about it more? Why are we ashamed to say, ‘I am depressed, I need time off work to get treatment/rest to get better’? Would any of us feel ashamed to call in sick at work if we developed appendicitis, had to have surgery and needed a few days to recover? Just because mental illness is invisible doesn’t make it less valid. I think this ultimately is what will turn the tide. Talking about it, admitting we have a problem and asking for help early, taking time out now to prevent getting to the point where all hope is lost and we feel like we have no other option other than suicide.

If you are reading this post and can identify with the desperation that mental illness can induce, please reach out to somebody. Ask for help and support. If you are in the UK, there are some very good resources. Your GP should be your first port of call. If you are feeling suicidal, call the Samaritans on the free phone 116 123. Mind has help pages online that can be accessed at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/helping-yourself-now/#.WX8lFojyvIU as does Turn2Me at https://turn2me.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvKCtr8Sz1QIVT5PtCh2D7QnCEAAYAiAAEgKyyPD_BwE. The Mental Health Foundation has some great guides for promoting mental wellbeing which can be accessed on https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health . The app Headspace comes very well recommended for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.

If you are a medic, there is a wonderful Facebook group called Tea & Empathy for peer support for all those working in healthcare. It was founded after we lost another one of our young doctor colleagues a couple of years ago and is a brilliant space full of supportive caring people. The Wales Deanery has published a booklet specifically aimed at helping medics cope with the stress of the job. You can access it here: https://www.walesdeanery.org/sites/default/files/bakers_dozen_toolkit.pdf.

Finally, I want to say to you all: You matter. You are loved. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself x

 

The Things I Never Knew About Childbirth and Having a New-born

I love to read so during pregnancy, I signed up to a few baby sites. They sent information through weekly and I read it all. I like to be prepared. I felt prepared but still I have had many surprises that I am going to write about. Mostly so when my daughter asks me in 25 years’ time, I will have a reminder of those ‘whaaaat?’ moments.

  1. The Pain: I already mentioned in previous blogs about birthing positions but it was such an eye-opener that I feel I must mention it here. First, I will acknowledge that pain is subjective and every woman experiences it differently. Having said that, the labour pain I felt was manageable despite being induced and on a syntocinon drip (which is meant to make it more painful). Until I made the mistake of lying flat on my back. Those minutes of being in that position where the most painful, second only to the post-birth examination. Upright was a million times better. Again, I’ll reiterate the hell the post-birth examination was. It was the single most painful part of giving birth and nothing to do with the baby. When the midwife had to examine me for tears/lacerations, it was all I could do not to scream the house down. After 8 hours of labour where I barely made a peep. Horrible. Steel yourself. Don’t be like me and mentally heave a sigh of relief once the baby is out. Hold it for that final examination to be over and pray you don’t need to have stitches.
  2. Inability to make decisions: even before the exhaustion and sleep deprivation peaked, I struggled with making the simplest decisions. Specially to do with the baby. First, I couldn’t decide what the room temperature was. I’d spent most of pregnancy feeling like I had a very hot water bottle strapped to me. I simply couldn’t tell if the ambient temperature was just right or if it was cold but that suited my constantly hot self. And it was important as there was a little baby who couldn’t tell me how she felt and she didn’t have much fat to insulate her in those first few weeks. I also struggled to decide what to dress her in, what to eat and when to eat it and when it was best to ask my mama to have her for an hour so I could try to have a nap. It took roughly 3 months to reset my brain into first gear. I’m nearly back to full capacity 9 months later.
  3. The sleeplessness: I thought I understood that a baby sleeps for short periods initially day and night but as time goes on, the intervals get longer and longer until you can manage some (few hours of) deep sleep. My baby never seemed to need much sleep. First two months, it was mostly 1-2 hours sleeps for her which means less for me as I was feeding, putting her to sleep then laying down and listening for too long if she was going to stay asleep. By the time I drifted off, she was beginning to surface so I was barely getting any quality restful sleep. Daytime was worse because whilst at night she would let me put her down, in the day time there was none of that (there still isn’t). She seems to have an internal sensor that is on in the day time. This sensor alerts her when she is asleep that she is being removed from human arms. As soon as her head touches down, her eyes spring open and all traces of sleep are gone. My mama was here for the first 6 weeks and she found a way to put her down for 1 nap a day. The idea was to give me the best chance of some sleep. Did I sleep? Not much. I would lie down and listen to even the minutest sound in the house. Eventually the exhaustion would come over me but usually I would have wasted an hour so that if I got 1 hour, I was lucky. By week 2, I felt like a zombie and that feeling didn’t leave until she was over 3 months old.
  4. The guilt: every time she cries, I feel guilty as hell. I can’t seem to rationalise the fact that babies cry. You can do your best and do everything you can think of and then some and still, they cry. Even when I ignore her and carry on with my essential tasks, my heart feels so heavy with guilt hearing her cry. Even when I can see she is faking it (they learn these tricks way too early) and there are no tears, I feel this overwhelming guilt. I spent the first few months focusing all my energy on her and avoiding her cries. So much so that I would forget to eat, drink or have a wee until my body was desperate. A couple of months after my mama left, I had to have a word with myself. It was only after I reminded myself that a few tears wouldn’t harm her that I started to get on with everyday tasks. In the early days when I was trying to get her to sleep in her basket, it was tough. She would wake every hour and I was exhausted. Lots of people advised just letting her cry herself to sleep once I was satisfied she was fed, had a dry nappy and the room temperature was just right. I struggled on and on until I thought I had to try it. That night, I settled her down in the basket and lay in bed next to her. She was up within the hour so I didn’t pick her up. I let her cry. She cried and cried and cried some more. She was not stopping! I lay awake listening to her and after about 5 minutes, I started to cry myself. I rocked her basket but didn’t pick her up. I left her for as long as I could (probably 15-20 minutes) and the guilt nearly killed me. I didn’t try that again for a month. Again, she just continued to cry until I gave in.
  1. The joy: so many little things that I always thought were cute in babies now bring me the most intense joy. When my daughter wakes up, searches for me and smiles the biggest happiest smile because I am there. When she reaches out her hand to touch my face as if to check I am real. When she laughs joyfully, as only children can. When she fakes a cough to get my attention. When she notices I am off-guard and pulls my glasses off with glee. When she grabs my sleeve/hip/belt as I walk past her highchair. When she splashes in the bath. When she comes back in from a walk with daddy and her face lights up on seeing me. My heart is always full to bursting with all the little joyous moments each day. And full of dread for when I must leave her and go back to work.
  2. The pride: Every time she does something the first time…the first social smile, the first proper belly laugh, the first babbles, the first time she rolled over, the first time she sat up without support, the first time she crawled, the first time she pulled to stand. I watch her figure out how do something the first time, the intense concentration on her little face as she works it out. I watch to see the triumphant expression on her face when she succeeds. I watch the surprise on her face when she falls over or bumps into something and how hard she tries not to cry. I was so impressed that when she was immunised on 3 separate occasions, she cried for less than a minute each time. Same with when she got her ears pierced. I know I am biased but she is such a brave little girl. Her joy, her determination to learn new skills and her bravery make me such a proud mama.

Our journey together is at its very infancy so I am certain I will discover many more unknowns along the way. Suffice it to say, I am loving motherhood and I cannot wait to see what our tomorrows will bring. What fun!

WWF, footie and Ayo

Three words you wouldn’t usually find together in one sentence. Ayo is a game played in Nigeria. In Hausa, the same game is called dara. I was taught how to play it whilst visiting a relative’s house and I fell in love with the game. One day, my mama travelled to Lagos and came back with one for me. It is one of the best gifts I have ever been given. It comes in a wooden case and inside are 12 holes. The exterior of mine was embellished with hand-carved patterns in the wood and it was beautifully stained a deep brown/red. It smelled of the oil used to stain it and the playing stones were seeds from a tree native to the South of Nigeria. There are many variations of it, as with all the best games. Classically, at the beginning of the game each hole (called a house) would have 4 stones and each player takes turns to pick up the stones of a house belonging to them and place a stone per house until you got to the last stone in an empty. After the opening play, the aim is to reform a hole of 4 stones which is then won by a player. This sounds dead boring but I promise you it is not. Because all the holes don’t start out empty, there is a lot of dropping and picking stones, forming big ‘houses’ (holes with lots of stones) and when you learn the patterns, you can win a lot of houses. A bit like Monopoly where the better player acquires houses and eventually the losing player has no house to play with. Watch it played here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1M7qf05ud4

Like I said, I fell in love with the game so I studied it and worked out all the winning patterns over time. Eventually, like a chess player, I could read the game 2 or 3 moves ahead of my opponents. My stepdad was a competitive and passionate man. In the evenings after dinner, we would sit in the living room, either playing Ayo or watching his favourite show WWF. When my Ayo first came, I wasn’t very good. Neither was my sister or the young cousins who lived with us. My stepdad was familiar with the game so in the first few weeks, he won pretty much all the time. My sister and I were competitive too so losing wasn’t easy for us but we took losing with grace. Not my stepdad. He would whoop and fist pump after each round he acquired someone’s house. The more he won, the worse he was. He would goad us, laugh in our faces and even did this thing where he pretended to wipe your face. Oh, we would get so frustrated! I remember having to fight the tears so hard and I think I complained bitterly to my mama behind his back too. Bear in mind, I was probably 6 or 7 and my sister about 10 years old. However, cultural rules were strict and we could not behave badly when we won. Neither could we refuse to play when he wanted to. As the days passed and we lost game after game and had to endure his behaviour, our determination to become good grew. Slowly, we began to win more rounds. Then more matches. Happy days when we got so good that we won most of the time. The tables were turned. We tried to be respectful children but it was impossible to hide our victorious smiles. We sat politely but inside we were doing cartwheels and fist-pumping. We had a good old giggle as we lay in bed after lights out, relishing getting our own back. Before long, he grew bored of losing and lost interest in playing with us.

My stepdad didn’t watch a lot of TV but he enjoyed sports, wrestling in particular. WWF used to be on TV on weekend evenings. My sister and I became keen wrestle mania fans. Back in the day, we liked the Undertaker, Tan Tanka, Yokozuna, Bam Bam Bigelow and the Hart brothers (I forget the name of the cute blond one every young girl was in love with). As soon as the opening credits played, we would leave whatever we were doing and sit in front of the TV with my stepdad. My mama would shoot us disapproving glances and find somewhere else to be. There was something brilliant about the deep voice over the loudspeakers announcing each wrestler then their ‘theme’ music would be played and the wrestler would make their grand entrance to chants and boos from the audience. The Undertaker was for me the unforgettable one. He dressed all in black, never spoke, never looked up and had long greasy hair covering his face. His music was creepy and he came with a coffin! Woah! That blew my mind back then. I used to imagine he came with a coffin that had a dead body in it. On the rare occasion, he would glance up, his eyes shone with an other-worldliness. I was scared and excited in equal parts. On special fights, not only would he beat the opponent, he would put them inside the coffin. What?! Awesome!!!

My stepdad’s favourite WWF wrestler was 1,2,3 kid. Young man, slight frame but very athletic and won a lot of fights. I remember his name clearly because my stepdad would get very excited if it looked like his guy was in danger of losing. He would passionately bang on the table and shout ‘c’mon’ at the TV. When the excitement got too much, he’d be on his feet and would literally jump on and down as 1,2,3 kid got on the corner ropes and flung himself down at his opponent. In the excitement, he would forget his name and call him 1,2,3,4. That made my sister and I laugh so hard and we would try to correct him in between gales of uncontainable laughter. We needn’t have bothered, he couldn’t hear us over his shouting at 1,2,3 kid to finish the other guy.

Whilst on the subject of TV excitement, international football was something else we shared with my stepdad. The most memorable footballing moment for me was Atlanta ‘96, the Olympics when the Nigerian Super Eagles won gold. This was the Kanu, Samson Siasia, El Rufai era. The golden years of Nigerian football. The first few games were good but as we all started to believe in our team, the matches became bigger and bigger. The final few games were epic. The whole of Yola was talking about the Super Eagles and there was a festive atmosphere everywhere. On the evening of the final, everyone had plans for where they were going to watch. People congregated in homes that had generators so that if NEPA (electrical supplier) cut power, we would still see the match. Our home was one of the congregation points. There must have been about 20 of us crowded around the TV. Even mama had caught football fever by then. At kick off, there was absolute silence. It felt like all of Yola was holding its breathe. I cannot remember what the score was but with every goal, you could hear the cheers echo across town. The winning goal came very close to full time. I remember we were collectively leaning forward and whispering go go go! A genius footballer, one of our eagles got the ball and dribbled it past a few defenders and then blasted the ball into the back of the net. And we all erupted!!! I don’t think I have ever felt electricity like that since. Every cell in me was vibrating with joyous energy. The cheers kept coming all around the town in waves, late into the night. We were all screaming and crying with joy. There was hugs and kisses all round, even for my stepdad who didn’t do public displays of emotion as a proper Fulani man. Now that is one moment I will never forget. One of my fondest memories of my stepdad.

Baby Now What?

I wrote about the day I gave birth (blog entry called Childbirth) and described the physical process. Harder to put into words is the emotional process that day and the next few days as my baby and I started on our journey together. I’ll start at the beginning. When I woke up bleeding that day, I knew Savannah (that’s my baby’s name) would soon be here. I was scared. That labour would be painful, more painful than anything I had ever been through. I was scared that when it came to it, I wouldn’t be able to physically push her out and might end up needing a caesarean section. I was scared that Savannah might run into trouble and have complications. I was scared that I was going to be a mother and I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it. The main feeling that morning was fear and anticipation. I could not wait for the scary bits to be over, to hold my baby in my arms, to be a mother.

I had a scan printout from 28 weeks of pregnancy which captured her face. The shape of her face was clearly outlined and you could make out where her eyes and mouth were. I must have built up an image of Savannah in my head although when I thought about it consciously in the days leading up to her birth, I couldn’t quite see a clear picture. It was a bit of a shock when she finally popped out and the midwife bundled her into my arms. I looked at her and I couldn’t quite compute what she looked like. Not like my subconscious imagined because every time I looked away and back, I felt a dart of surprise that this was Savannah. The face I was looking at was the face belonging to the baby who was moving about inside of me just a few hours earlier. She looked like her dad and she had lots of curly hair.

I handed her back to her dad as I delivered the placenta and was examined for tears (thankfully none!) and given a little clean. When she came back to me, she was rooting about so I got into position and stuck her to my still-normal-feeling breast. Lo and behold, she opened her mouth and started to suckle. That almost blew my mind. It was the reality check I needed. My brain was starting to connect the dots. I had a baby. For real. Trying to get milk out of my boobies.

So, did I fall madly in love at first sight as people often describe it? Not quite. Naturally I loved her but it wasn’t a sudden flood of emotion. Perhaps it was the exhaustion of the day but it was all a little muted. I was dirty, exhausted and hungry. At my midwife’s suggestion, I mustered up all the energy I had left and shuffled to the bathroom, half hanging onto my husband as my mother held her granddaughter. As I stood under the hot shower (which annoyingly kept stopping whenever I stood still), I started to feel less drained. When I was washed, and dressed and smelling of the lovely shower gel I’d used, I had tea and toast (inhaled it more accurately) then I sat half asleep on the comfy armchair and watched my mama hold Savannah.

3 hours after her birth, the wheelchair was brought in to transfer me up to the ward where I was to spend the night. I sat in it and was handed Savannah. This was when I felt an almost overwhelming feeling of protectiveness. She felt so small, so fragile as I held her close. I pressed my face into the side of her face and felt the warmth seeping into my soul. Up on the ward, my husband and mother settled me in and said goodnight. With the curtains pulled around my bed, it was the first time I was alone with Savannah. As she lay in the cot, I lay down and closed my eyes, my hand resting on her cot. I found it difficult to sleep. Every fibre of my being was attuned to her and I was listening for the tiniest sounds from her. I didn’t sleep much that night (or any night for the next few months). When we were discharged, I sat in the backseat next to her and watched her carefully as her dad drove us home. This watching continued for the next few days until I got used to her face.

So, in the first few days, I felt warmth, protectiveness, love and fear. The falling in love bit came later. The first time I felt that exciting, blood surging, butterflies in the stomach love for her was weeks later when she started smiling socially. Every time she smiles, I feel a surge of in-loveness that makes my knees a little weak. When she smiles deep into my eyes, especially first thing in the morning, I fall in love all over again. She looks at me the way my mother looks at me. With an unconditional deep love that is incredibly humbling. When she reaches out her chubby fingers to touch my face or grabs me when I go past her highchair, I fall more in love. When she laughs with pure unadulterated joy as I tickle her or throw her up in the air, it’s love like no other. Now many months in, as Savannah learns to express herself and her personality is starting to take shape, I feel love for her like I never imagined I would love. I thought the love I had for my mother was unmatchable but it is. It is the same yet so different. Every day, I fall more in love with this innocent, beautiful child. Every day, I feel her essence seep into my very core and wrap itself around all that I am. I know that this love is the forever kind. The I’d take a bullet for her kind. The I am all in and so vulnerable to be hurt kind. The best kind of love. I am in love with her. Totally, madly, deeply.

Boarding School…In the Beginning

Here in the UK, when one mentions boarding school, you evoke the image of an old stately building sitting in vast manicured lawns with the occasional 200-year-old oak tree and outdoor tennis courts. The sort of private institution attended by the children of the wealthy and the odd scholarship working class kid. I went to boarding school. Of a totally different class. In Lagos, Nigeria. Yes, I was in Queen’s College Yaba (QC or QCY we fondly call it). QC is one of the best public secondary schools in Nigeria. It is also infamous for a breed of QC girl – stereotypically loud, someone who puts on airs and is into their material wealth. In reality, most of us are normal down-to-earth girls. However, there is a certain QC-factor many of us carry with us for life.

My mama is an ex-QC girl but my (older) sister was in a reputable military school in the north so we all expected that I would join her. I was all geared up for it. I sat their specific entrance exams and went on a week-long interview. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t make the grade (my parents weren’t military enough apparently). Luckily, I did well enough in my national common entrance exam to have been offered a place to Queen’s College. As my mama considered whether to appeal against the decision of my sister’s school to change the rules after a gruelling recruitment process (which I excelled at), I had one of my vivid dreams where I saw me checking into QC. Weird because I had never been or even seen any photos of the school. It felt like a vision of my future and I told my mama I was happy not to fight for my place at the other school. I was going to Lagos.

We got to Lagos a week before and had to go through a series of tedious administrative processes…full medical, bank tellers, school uniform outlets, book purchases. Mama even braved the markets (she hates markets) to buy the endless required items on our many lists. I was excited and nervous and already, I missed my sister and home. A big positive was that my grandparents still lived in Lagos then and their home at least felt familiar. On that first Saturday, we all had to get to QC before 6pm. We left home after lunch (which I barely ate) and as we got onto the 3rd mainland bridge, we hit traffic. My heart sank into my shoes. I felt a darkness descend over my soul and I thought I was going to be sick. To make matters worse, the traffic was all headed in the same direction so the agony of anticipation was prolonged.

It was utter chaos. Have you ever been on a farm when cattle have to be corralled and branded/tagged? Being the granddaughter of a farmer, I have and I can tell you it’s not a nice scene. Cows are not docile like sheep and I think they are cleverer too so once the first lot have been through, they moo a message back to the herd and the rest all go a little wild. They start to struggle against the humans try to feed them through the metal paths. Their nostrils flare and dribble and their eyes take on a wild rolling look. It is not pretty! Combine that with all the shouting men, the mooing, the smell of branded flesh, cow pee and poo…you get the picture. This was how the scene I was faced with felt.

Parents were giving up waiting in the long traffic queues leading up to the school gates. There were people everywhere in the streets surrounding QC as everyone but the drivers disembarked and grabbed luggage, buckets, school bags, brooms and mops. Irritable drivers honked as people staggering under all that load wandered in and out of traffic. Older students spotted returning mates and there were squeals of joy and excited chatter as friends were reunited after the long summer holidays. In the middle of all the chaos were the newbies. Me and my fellow JS1 girls. Silent, quivering wretches whose young faces bore expressions of doom. In our shiny new uniforms and shoes. Taking it all in, dragging our feet, praying for salvation. At least, that was how I was feeling.

First, we had to find the administrative block and queue to submit bank tellers, get registered. All JS1 queued to get to a marquee to be allocated a house (I drew orange for Obong House and not the blue for Obasa my mama had been in). Then we had to find our House station where we had to hand over the cleaning supplies, sign in and be told our dorm and then the senior girls had to root through our bags to fish out any contraband. This process took ages! By the time I was fully processed, it was approaching 6pm and the dean had reached a climax as parents/siblings said goodbye and tired senior girls continued to check everyone in.

I had to make two trips across (dormitories, dining hall and library were separated from the administrative, class rooms and staff quarters by a gated wall). I found Obong 6 (dorm 6 in Obong House), dumped the first lot and hurried back to find my mama. It was time to say goodbye. I gave my mama the longest hug, inhaling her familiar smell and fighting back the tears the threatened to fall. Mama was misty-eyed too as she kissed me and promised to be back on visiting day 3 or 4 weeks later. I gathered up my bits and pieces and with leaden feet turned and crossed over, using up all my will power to stop myself running back and begging mama to take me home. At the gate, I turned and waved one final time and I swear I felt like a dead man walking to his execution. I made my way back to Obong house, claimed an empty bunk and sat on it.

I don’t know how long I sat there for before Zara, my lifesaver found me. Zara is actually my mother’s second cousin but for ease of explanation, in QC she was my cousin. She was a senior girl, in SS1 when I started in QC. She found me in all that confusion and gently guided me through the process of finding a mattress for my bed and making the bed, finding an empty locker and arranging all my belongings in it and putting my bathing things together in my bucket. She sorted out my life and earned my eternal gratitude and then she disappeared back to her House (Obasa, on the opposite side of the dorms). I can’t remember if I had dinner that evening but I remember meeting the other junior girls. The JS1 girls all looked as lost as I did and that made me feel a tiny bit better. I was relieved when it was lights out. As I slid into bed onto my crisp new sheets in my crisp new nightie, I was overcome with sadness and homesickness. I didn’t think I could bear it. I wept into my pillow until sleep swept me into oblivion. I wonder how many other JS1 girls did the same?

Childbirth

I did it! Au naturel thanks you very much! I was so worried that my android pelvis would not be able to naturally deliver a baby, especially a baby who wasn’t small. Of course, had I been incapable of pushing the baby out, a caesarean section would have been okay by me but I really wanted to do it the ‘normal way’ so that I could get on with bonding with my baby and be back on my feet as soon as I could. The day before I had the baby, I had a scheduled scan to make sure the baby’s growth was on track. Everything looked great and her estimated weight was not a small baby. Worse, looking at the growth charts, if she carried on growing at the rate she was, she would be a large baby by the time I got to 40 weeks. I said prayers and I spoke to the bump for the rest of the day, urging her to come on out as soon as she could. Anytime now. I was 38 weeks pregnant. I felt huge and ungainly. I was getting breathless with minimal exertion. I wasn’t sleeping well. Mentally, I was geared up for labour. I had completed my antenatal classes and I knew what to expect including the ‘ring of fire’. I just wanted to have my baby in my arms. That night, just before midnight, I had the strongest craving for an ice lolly. Of course, there was none at home so I roused my hubby and we went to the nearest 24 hour shop.

I woke up in the wee hours of her birthday, bleeding lightly. I had lower back ache that had been there for days but otherwise I felt fine. Baby was moving about as usual. I called the delivery suite and was asked to come in. I had to tell the hubby a few times to get a move on, get ready and drive me to the hospital. I think he was completely unprepared for me to have the baby that day. My mother on the other hand only needed telling once. She was dressed and downstairs. The waiting hospital bag was placed in the boot and off we went.

In Triage, the baby was monitored and she was absolutely fine. I was examined and my cervix was 3cm dilated and thin – the official landmark marking the start of active labour. I got a room and settled in. 3 hours later, my cervix remained at 3cm and the obstetricians were twitchy because of the bleeding so I was induced and then placed on a drip to help the labour along. As the drip was cranked up, the contractions intensified. At first, I was comfortable enough sitting up in bed, doing controlled breathing. 2 hours in, I started to walk about and that helped too. Another examination and I was 6cm dilated. Progress. Another hour and I needed the gas and air. I think it helped but to be honest, the light-headedness was all I could process. I kept feeling like I would fall so I had to stand by my bed and hold onto the headrest. I ended up kneeling on the bed, grabbing the headrest for balance. As a side note to those of you who are going to have babies after reading this, the pain of my contractions was 10x worse whenever I lay on my back to be examined. My advice is, being upright either standing if you can or kneeling on the bed. It honestly made a huge difference in the experience of pain.

5 hours after the drip was started, the pain changed from a rhythmic contracting vice-like pressure to a feeling I can’t describe. I felt an uncontrollable restlessness come over me, like I needed to ‘do something’ other than just breath and bear the pain. This was the urge to push. I told my midwife who tried to keep my mind off the feeling as she was expecting it to be another hour before I was fully dilated. I could keep still and I said again, I think I am going to start pushing. She examined me this time and in a surprised voice, she said ‘You are ready to start pushing.’

My first few pushes were ineffective. I felt like I was pushing but I was directing my energy wrong. When I finally bore down and pushed into my bottom, praise came from my midwife. She wanted more of the same. With my husband’s arm to hold onto, I remained kneeling and I pushed with everything I had with every crushing contraction I got. About 15 minutes in, I suddenly thought ‘what if I can’t do this despite my best efforts?’ I watched the midwife examine me and asked if I was making progress. She was all smiles. ‘Oh yes’ she said. ‘ Do you want to feel the head? It is full of hair!’ I declined to release my hold on my hubby. I was still woozy from the gas and air but I was given a new lease of life by that news. ‘Ok baby,’ I whispered to the bump. ‘We can do this.’ I was sweaty and dizzy but I was also very excited. It was nearly over. I pushed and pushed until every muscle in my body was trembling from the effort.

Then came the ‘ring of fire’. This is the bit where the head comes out and your pelvis is at maximal stretch plus your perineum (the skin) is stretched to tearing point. It feels like you are on fire down there. Luckily though, this is when you don’t have to push any more. You just ‘pant. Breath, breath.’ The fire subsided somewhat as the head came out then it felt like everything paused for long moments then more stretching (baby rotates, shoulders born, one at a time). Then a hug gush as the rest of the baby and fluid pops out. She cried as she hit the mattress and I felt the biggest lift. All the worry and stress was gone. We had come through labour. The relief was a little premature. The placenta came a few minutes later. Then the midwife had to examine my insides and perineum for tears. Now that hurt. Like I was being stabbed by a thousand sharp knives. Despite the gas and air the midwife made me have before. Good Lord! I was prepared up to the point. That pain is the only pain I remember with clarity today. The contractions, the pushing, the ring of fire have all faded away mentally but I am scarred by the post-delivery inspection.

As I stood on shaky legs in the shower under a warm spray, watching the blood wash away, I could not believe that I was now a mother. This morning, I had a large bump. Now, I had a jelly-like bump and a baby to hold. Back in bed, I drank tea and ate buttered toast. Never had a simple breakfast tasted so delicious as I stared at the bundle my mother held. ‘This,’ I thought to myself in amazement, ‘Is the first day of the rest of my life.’

The Power of Dreams

My aunty forwarded one of those inspiring videos about life and happiness. One particular message struck me. It said something about having a dream then making it happen. Of course, it is easier said than done. It is not quite that easy to turn a dream into reality but those people who are the happiest are those who had a dream then put their all into making it a reality. I have many dreams. Through hard work and luck, many of my dreams are already a reality. I got into medical school, I graduated. I applied and got into speciality training and I am gaining experience as a paediatrician. I met a man with a big heart, fell in love and married him. We bought our lovely first home, a permanent abode after my many years of moving from flat to flat.  I fell pregnant when we were in good place and the baby has been growing well with the easiest pregnancy. I am getting ready to realise one of my biggest dreams – giving birth and being a mother. So yes, my bucket is overflowing.

This is about my professional dream.  I used to think I would be happy to graduate, specialise as a paediatrician, get a consultant post and settle down to a routine. With the recent political shenanigans and the more I work in the NHS, the more I realise I want more. I want more out of my life and I also want to contribute more than the daily grind. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my current role I do make a difference to lives. There is nothing more satisfying that when I have done a good job and I know that parent or child’s life has been changed for the better, no matter how small that change is. However, many days I look back after a busy day and think was that worth it? Those days which are all about paperwork and administrative tick-boxing exercises that contribute nothing except to some faceless manager’s satisfaction.

The part of the world where my life started (Yola) is lovely in a lot of ways but there is a significant poverty. In terms of economics but also in healthcare terms. Nigeria as a whole fails to cater to the healthcare needs of its population unless you have lots of money to go private. The North-East of Nigeria is one of the poorest when you look at health outcomes. In particular, looking at childhood. The statistics (where there are any) are shocking. Nigeria, for all its wealth, regularly features at the bottom of tables for health outcomes. We are in the bottom 5 for most outcomes including maternal and under 5 morbidity and mortality. For the non-medics reading this, morbidity refers to how much ill-health and disease (sickness there is) there is and mortality refers to how many are dying.

Mothers naturally should come in a low-risk group. Most should be healthy young women doing what is most natural – getting pregnant, growing a baby and then delivering the baby. Young children, although fragile because they are not mature yet biologically are despite all of that resilient on the whole and have bodies that are full of strong healthy organs with endless potential for healing. What we are failing to provide is basic care. Basic antenatal care, trained birthing assistants, hospitals to assist in difficult deliveries and facilities for emergency caesarean sections (surgery) for those women who cannot do it naturally. Infections, on the whole preventable and most totally treatable, cause a lot of the morbidity and mortality in Nigeria. Many of the other things we provide here in the NHS is simple supportive care, allowing patients own bodies to heal themselves in a secure environment.

So here is my dream. I would like to set up a women’s and children’s health centre. Big dream I hear you say. Yes, I am aware. It will be a huge task. I worked at the FMC in Yola for 4 months in 2012. I saw how much need there was and the things that were missing. I know a lot of the patients we couldn’t help were those who lived far away from town and did not come to us until their disease was too advanced for us to be able to do anything. Mothers died in childbirth because they did not have adequate antenatal care so predictable problems were not discovered until it was too late. Preterm babies died because they were born out of hospital in environments not hygienic enough and did not get simple breathing and feeding support and early treatment with antibiotics. Term babies were born too small because their mothers were undernourished and unwell with treatable conditions during pregnancy but were not diagnosed and treated. Very few of the patients we couldn’t help needed fancy expensive medicines or surgery. It was simply too little too late.

On the positive side, those that did come to us in time had better outcomes than those suggested by the statistics I read about on WHO and the likes. Those preterm babies born at FMC Yola thrived and majority survived until discharge. Sure, their progress was slower than here in the NHS because of a lack of basic equipment and provisions like oxygen and breathing support, working incubators, labs, fluid pumps, parenteral nutrition for those too young to feed by mouth or through the stomach. But survive they did because they are little fighters.

So what I dream is to provide all those basic things to the mothers, babies and children free of charge if I can manage to raise funds or at the very least at the smallest prices possible to give those with little the chance to quality healthcare. To go with that, I would like to provide an outreach service to those isolated villages. Run clinics, provide immunisations, antenatal vitamins and nutritional support, teach about prevention of infections and when it is vital to seek early medical help. Central to that idea is to train some of the villagers to provide safe simple birthing assistance, supportive care for new-borns and how to diagnose and treat the most common infections and provide first aid. All little things but added up should cut the numbers of mothers and children suffering unnecessarily and prevent the many preventable deaths.

My grandfather listened to me talking about my dream and was (rather unexpectedly) downbeat about it. He pointed out that it wasn’t as easy as I was making out. Actually, I know it will be difficult to do and as I have never done this before, it is a monumental task. There is so much to do to get this off the ground. However, here is my plan. I will start small and do this project in stages. I will deal with the complications as I get to them. A journey of a thousand miles has to start with that first step. I have taken my first step. I have dared to dream and I have written down my dream in black and white. Now onwards and upwards. Watch this space.