Category Archives: All things health-related

Learning to eat … as a family


This week, we started eating all together, at the dining room table, like decent human beings.

It’s something I’ve wanted to start for a while. I’ve read so much about the importance of shared mealtimes away from the TV – what it does for family cohesion and establishing eating patterns and healthy habits in small children – but it’s just never really come together. Lil A has been eating supper at 6, usually haphazard meals thrown together. Scrambled egg sandwiches with raw carrots has been a favourite, and baked frozen fish with leftover sweet potatoes. She’s been eating her main meal at lunchtime and so supper’s always been low-key for her, in her highchair, while her dad or I cook our dinner, or send work emails, or feed the dogs, or exercise. Then once Lil A was in bed, my hub and I would scoff our food down in front of the TV.

But no. This was the week that that was going to change, hopefully forever.

I knew this would change what and when we ate, but I didn’t foresee how difficult the change would be. Firstly, getting a meal from scratch on the table by 7pm means starting at 5, especially because Lil A wants nothing more than to “help me cook” – in other words, putting her step stool in front of the counter and using her tiny whisk to stir sugar into water and then eating bits of everything I’ve chopped up. And then, once we’re all finally sitting and ready to eat, she doesn’t really know what to do with herself. Having been left to feed herself and get on with it, she’s suddenly confronted with both of us willing and able to give her attention while she eats, which, of course, means she just doesn’t eat. And after five minutes of picking, she hops off her chair – because she can.

We’ve not found the answer yet. We’ve just decided to only attempt this family-at-the-table thing three times a week, and have had to accept that, at first, she’s only going to be able to sit with us to eat for a few minutes at a time, and hopefully she’ll be able to tolerate it for longer and longer as she gets older. Whatever she doesn’t finish on her plate, she gets for lunch the next day and, left to her own devices, she’s been polishing it off. I suppose we should give her smaller portions for supper, too, seeing as she’s still getting a cooked meal at lunchtime.

But the main thing I’m struggling with is not commenting on what or how much she eats. I’ve read that this is the best (possibly only) way to keep food from being a source of guilt or reward for your kids. I don’t want her to attach as much guilt to food as I did as a teenager and young adult, and I also don’t want to use it as a reward or punishment for her. I don’t want her to attach emotion to it. I don’t want her to become an emotional eater as an adult. i want her to enjoy food and to respect it. So once she’s said she’s had enough at the dinner table, I have to bite down hard on my tongue and quash my instinct to say “No, you haven’t. Just one more bite”, or “How about you just finish your carrots, then you can watch TV?”. I’m trying to get better at simply making sure that everything on her plate is healthy, so that no matter what or how much she eats, she’ll be getting something good. Toddlers are really good at knowing when they’ve had enough to eat and eating only when they’re hungry, and I really don’t want to mess with that. When we leave her to eat by herself and get on with it, I’m confident that she eats as much as she needs, but with eating at the table, I’m worried that she’s just saying she’s had enough because she’s got bored with sitting still. So I need to keep reminding myself that she’ll eat if she’s hungry, and that she will probably finish her food the next day when she gets her leftovers for lunch. It’s hard, though! So many of us were raised under the “you can’t leave the table until you finish your food” philosophy that it just comes naturally to try to encourage your kid to eat more than they would otherwise.

As far as what we eat goes, so far, we haven’t had to change very much, actually.

If you’re curious or want some inspiration for what to feed your tot (especially if you eat the same food, don’t want to eat too much meat, and don’t want to overload on carbs at night), have a look at the dishes we’ve made so far – they’ve all got Lil A’s approval. And that’s not easily won – she’s two-and-a-half and very particular about what she eats!

Spinach, mushroom and feta crustless quiche

Quinoa taco bowl

Jack Monroe’s spaghetti puttanesca

Greek fish tacos

Italian Chicken Caprese

And here are the resources I like to use to find tot-friendly family food:

Dinner vs Child on the Food52 blog (makes for pretty hysterical reading and has great ways to introduce complex flavours and “exotic” dishes to kids)

Jack Monroe in the Guardian (a bonus is that her recipes are also really budget-friendly)

Feel free to follow my yummysuppers board on Pinterest for some free inspiration – I cook 80% of the dishes I Pin onto it, and lately they’ve all been appropriate for family dinners. I’m not ever going to be dedicated enough to be a food blogger, but I think I’m getting to grips with the (relative) “art” of knowing which blogs to visit and which recipes to recreate.



Yes, I’ll admit it – I was one of those insufferable people who went on a bit of a health-kick in the month of January. But – and these two qualifiers are crucial – I didn’t refer to or think of my new eating plan as a detox (nature has given me kidneys and a liver for that purpose – phew!); and somehow I managed to carry my new eating plan through into February without even realising it. 

I thought I’d share some of my favourite virtuous, health-kick meals here: they’re meat-free, grain-free, “whole-food” dishes with interesting textures and big, brash flavours.

The pictures below are mine, but the ones on the original sites are obviously much better (not having been snapped on a cellphone by a non-food-professional in the last desperate minutes before eating and then edited using the AUTO setting on a free photo app).

Click on the links to the blog posts and websites in the picture captions for the recipes.

[Scroll down for reasons I chose the meals below and for more ramblings about eating.]

Grapefruit-roasted beetroot, greens and pinto beans with cashew butter

Grapefruit-roasted beetroot, greens & pinto beans with homemade cashew butter and pink pepper: adapted from The First Mess


Indian tomato curry with mushrooms and tofu, from Vegetarian Gastronomy

The Greenest Salad, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

The Greenest Salad, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Spicy baby aubergine stew, from BBC Good Food

Spicy baby aubergine stew, from BBC Good Food

Slow-cooker chana masala, from Cooking in Westchester

Slow-cooker chana masala, from Cooking in Westchester

Courgette ribbon salad with almonds, snap peas and feta, adapted from Proud Italian Cook

Courgette ribbon salad with almonds, snap peas and feta, adapted from Proud Italian Cook

Crushed lentils with red onion and cumin, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's lentil recipes in the Guardian

Crushed lentils with red onion and cumin, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s lentil recipes in the Guardian

Some notes on how I chose these dishes:

  1. Vegetarian: I tend not to eat meat at all during the week anyway, so my January meals had to abide by a no-meat clause. Healthy eating seems fairly easy to do if you include lean meat – fish and veg; chicken and veg; grass-fed steak and veg; et cetera. But the majority of the vegan and vegetarian recipes I see online are for things that are not far above fat-and-carb-laden junk food, really – pasta bakes, quesadillas, soy-sausage hot dogs, pizzas, nachos and wraps. I wanted to put the emphasis on fresh vegetables and nuts/seeds or legumes for protein.
  2. Whole food: Because cheese is delicious, I was okay with including it, but part of the health kick was about eating whole foods – definitely no soy or quorn meat-alternatives (I made an exception once, for tofu, when I was getting really sick of lentils) – and so I tried to use cheese sparingly, and actually ended up eating vegan about half the time without really meaning to.
  3. “Low-carb”: I also wanted to cut the carbs out of dinner. But I didn’t go so far as to count legumes, pulses or orange vegetables as “carbs” because their protein components and high levels of vitamin A, for example, mean their health benefits far outweigh the fact that they are made up of starch, to my mind. Essentially, I cut out grains (including bread, pasta, rice and – *gasp* – wraps), sugar and potatoes from my evening meal. Where a recipe called to be served on rice or couscous, I used sweet potato mash (including the skin, with no butter, milk or cream added), because, yum.
  4. Cheap: It being January, I didn’t want to have to spend a fortune on exotic pastes and spices, so the recipes I needed to find had to be fairly cheap, familiar, and with easily accessible ingredients.
  5. Satisfying: I have a huge appetite, think about food almost constantly, and my stomach will not be fobbed off with grilled vegetables night after night (or even for one night, come to think of it) – so I needed to find interesting, appealing, tasty recipes that relied on spices and texture for flavour (rather than loads of salt, cheese and/or croutons).
  6. Quick: I can only really start cooking after 7pm every night, so I couldn’t afford to tackle anything elaborate or time-consuming.
  7. A note to parents reading this: hardly any of the recipes I found were toddler-friendly – well, not when it comes to my toddler, in any case. They’re either not palatable to her because she’s not super-keen on munching her way through a bowl of raw vegetables, or because she can’t handle spicy curries; nuts are a choking hazard (and if you leave them off some of these meals, they don’t have enough healthy fats to satisfy a toddler’s nutrition requirements); and tofu isn’t something I want to put into her body just yet. The one recipe I found that satisfied all of my requirements as well as Lil A’s tastebuds was the lentil and mushroom bourguignon on TreeHugger. (I didn’t get a photo of my version it because I was too hungry.) I halved the amount of wine it called for to make sure I wasn’t plying my child with booze (this dish doesn’t spend long enough on the stove for enough of the alcohol to be cooked off – not for a toddler to be eating, anyway). I made a big batch of this a couple of times (with trusty sweet potato mash), froze it in portions, and Lil A is still getting it for lunch a couple of times a week.

In the process of revamping my eating plan, I discovered some really good taste-centric, health-focused food blogs in the process. But if you have any recipes to share that will fit this eating style (or even if they don’t, but are still delicious and healthy, and especially if they’re also toddler-friendly), please share them with me – after six weeks of eating like this, I’m definitely open to new ideas.

Things I’ve lost. Thanks, exercise.

Obviously I look nothing like this when I run (thank goodness) - for one thing, this silhouette woman's bosom has a superior pillowy quality when compared to my own).

Obviously, I look nothing like this when I run. For one thing, I tend to wear clothes.

I started properly “working out” (ugh) three months ago to the day, and to commemorate this milestone in my life, I weighed myself properly for the first time today. It would appear that my running (do note that when I write “running”, I mean shuffling and, at the very most, gentle jogging) has shaken about 5 kilograms off me. This is significant for me, considering how hard it is for me to shift my weight and that the last time I lost any weight in a similar length of time was in the first trimester of my pregnancy (although that was a much more effective weight-loss strategy, kilogram for kilogram. I should write a book about it: excellent weight-loss tip: get pregnant, get morning- evening-sick, stop drinking alcohol and don’t eat anything after 2pm for about 13 weeks. Like most fad-y, dubious weight-loss strategies, the effects of this one would be disappointingly short-lived.) So I went from a BMI of 21 to a BMI of, like, 20, which must be worth something. Not that BMI is necessarily a good indicator of being in shape. My 6’4″ husband is really slim and trim, thanks to a combination of Jujitsu and kick-boxing and our largely vegetarian, low-GI dinners (though he’s still quite broad-shouldered, it must be said), but keeps getting BMI results that put him in the “pre-obese” category – as if it’s his destiny to be obese and he just needs to keep trying. He is not carrying any extra weight, so it’s clearly a ridiculous indicator that is most likely skewed to shorter people and those of average height.

But I’d never really wanted to lose weight. When I do, it all goes off my face and chest first (FFS). I’ve never been overweight except for that one year at university when it was probably touch-and-go, and also, having had a baby, I think it’s quite respectable to carry a little extra junk in the belly region (not that there’s anything wrong with having a belly if you haven’t had a baby – I just mean that since having Lil A I’ve been less conscious of my weight).

What I had wanted to lose by starting my foray into running was my fear of the thing I’d stigmatised for the last, oh, 20 years: exercise.

And it’s done exactly that. In three months, I’ve run the fear of exertion right out of my mind and now I’m signing up for a trail series, going for runs on the weekends, spending my savings on trail running shoes and a spare pair for running, and forgoing after-work drinks so I can hit the treadmill. This is the biggest victory for me: losing a long-nursed fear. I suppose I’ve also gained something, too (win some, lose some): an alarmingly fierce addiction.

Not that I ever run further than 5 kms, you understand. I’m still a bookworm with couch-potato tendencies at heart, after all.

Life. Just – life.

Certain events in the last few weeks have brought home to me how very weird the world can be. Things move in mysterious ways, guys (all things, not just that woman that Bono was jones-ing on). Sometimes even as a secular person it can be hard to believe that things happen the way they do just by chance (while knowing that, of course, they usually do).

If you’ve been following my last few posts, you’ll know that I recently went through the process of doing an egg donation.

Well, it didn’t work out. If you want the long story, read on. If you want the short one, here it is: I have pretty much run out of eggs. And I’m not even 30. And everyone thinks you’ve got til 35 or even 40 to have kids, but I will be lucky if I have another baby ever, and I’m 29 freaking years old, dammit.

Here’s how I found out:

I had zero response to the Gonal F injections – not a single follicle did grow. This got the gynae very worried, especially considering my age. So after a number of scans, off I trundled for more blood tests.

The egg donation was cancelled after the blood analysis showed that I had very low estrogen levels. I was quite devastated. I’d so badly wanted to help my recipient, and I was really emotionally invested in the process – I was totally committed. The gynae then went above and beyond his duty to me as a “failed” (I can’t think of another way to put it) donor by requesting an AMH test on my bloods. Apparently this test, which is quite involved and advanced, tends only to be run on women who have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for about a year.

The results came back two weeks later, and the upshot of all of this is that, relatively speaking, I have a much lower ovarian reserve than most other 29-year-old otherwise completely healthy women. Which means that, basically, my eggs have almost all run out. As in, I don’t have many more left – even if the ones that are there are all good eggs (as evidenced by the perfection of my Lil A).

So the gynae advised that if I plan on having another child, I shouldn’t waste any time.

But! But! I do want another baby, but not until, like, 2015. That was the plan! I’m not ready for another baby yet! I’m not ready for another pregnancy, we’re not financially ready for another child yet, I want to spend more time enjoying Lil A as she grows more and more into her own person, I don’t think I could handle another 6 months of breastfeeding and no sleep and I was just getting into shape again and what about all the fretting about miscarriages and what about my 30th birthday party and and and and. You get the idea. Basically, I’m not ready for all of that again right now.

But in a few years, when I feel I am ready, my biological clock will have struck 12 and my ovaries will have turned into pumpkins.

So I’ve got to either seize the day and try to make use of my few remaining eggs and adjust to the idea of having a second baby sooner than planned, or settle on the idea that there might never be a second baby. Although, when you think about it (and I’ve been trying not to, to be honest), I’ll probably have to do both of these things at once.

Emotions and all of that aside, the irony of this whole situation is just astounding. I’m caught between being a bit angry, a bit relieved, and really awe-struck at the weirdness of the way things work.

One week til E-day

One week away from the retrieval procedure, my thoughts on egg donation have changed somewhat.

One week away from the retrieval procedure, my thoughts on egg donation have changed just a little.

 I’m five days into the 12-day Gonal-F injection cycle. Tomorrow I go for the first of three scans to check that the right number of eggs are growing at the right pace. A week from today, I’ll go into surgery to have the eggs removed from my ovaries using a tiny suction probe. And, as so often happens, all the things I was so worried about before (detailed here) were totally not worth worrying about.

Physically, I feel absolutely normal. Some people say the injections make them put on weight, cause mood-swings. Not me, thank god.

And the injections themselves really don’t hurt. The first time I used the pen and plunged the long, thin needle into my belly roll, I got such a fright that I pulled it right out again immediately. Then had to go through with it all over again. But after that first time, it’s got a lot easier and takes no time at all. I always thought I’d never be able to be diabetic, I just wouldn’t be able to inject myself all the time, but after just five days, it’s already become so routine. So maybe I would cope as a diabetic (let’s hope I never find out, though).

What I have struggled with so far, though, is the sense that all these other people have a warped kind of right to the workings of my reproductive organs. You get this feeling when you’re pregnant as well – suddenly your body doesn’t belong to you any more – but you’re okay with it, then, because your identity has suddenly shifted for you as well. But with egg donation, I still feel like my body is mine, and that I have a right to my privacy.

The thing is, I don’t. There’s a recipient couple out there who have forked out a lot of money to an agency and a fertility clinic to make sure that they make sure that I produce some good, healthy eggs to grow into a good, healthy child, so I’ve got to sacrifice my privacy and shelve my pride, and do my very best to cooperate.

I had to keep reminding myself of that last Saturday.

I was instructed not to start injecting until my menstrual cycle started. If it hadn’t started by the date I needed to start injecting, the fertility clinic coordinator told me to phone the clinic’s gynae on his cell, just to be on the safe side. They didn’t want me injecting myself with fertility drugs if something was wrong.

So I found myself, at 9 on a Saturday morning, phoning a man I’d met briefly once on his personal cellphone to tell him that my period hadn’t started yet. I’m sure I’m not the first woman who’s had to go through with such a cringe-worthy call, and my circumstances were admittedly a lot less scary than most people’s who find themselves doing the same, but still. It was very awkward.

The gynae emailed me a form to take to the Path Lab for the blood work I’d need (hormone tests and, of course, a pregnancy test – my second since starting the egg donation procedure), so off I schlepped to get poked by the world’s most gentle nurse – come to think of it, I’ve never met a Path Lab nurse I didn’t instantly trust – and have three vials of my blood taken.

At the end of Saturday afternoon, while I was on an unprecedented husband’s-wardrobe shopping spree at the mall, the gynae called and said the test results were all normal and I wasn’t pregnant “or anything”, he said (and I thought, flipping through a rack of on-sale hoodies, “Anything what? What would the ‘anything’ be?!”), so I had his go-ahead to start injecting.

I also had to send the clinic coordinator an email to keep her in the loop after all this, and for the second time in my life I had to send an email to a virtual stranger (the previous one was to her as well, about two months ago) containing the words “bleeding”, “period” and “not pregnant, obviously”. It wasn’t any less embarrassing the second time.

When it comes down to it, though, this kind of correspondence about my reproductive health will all be worth it, if for nothing more than the feeling that I’ve done something that’s really quite selfless (and for this reason, I don’t believe pure altruism exists) for someone I’ll never meet.

Still – I’ll be quite relieved in a week when it’s all over.

I’m running. And I’m not even being chased.

Exercise regimens are like the things people dream at night: I don’t want to hear about them because they are boring.

But sudden mental shifts and new habits that end up changing the whole texture and feelings of people’s lives? That’s okay. I can write and read and talk about that for at least, like, 15 minutes (unless it’s about how adding spinach or kale to your breakfast smoothie will “make you glow”, because that frankly is just crap – I’ve been adding green stuff to my smoothies a lot lately – including rocket, which I do not advise – and I have noticed exactly nothing different about myself as a result), which is an age in Internet-attention-span time.

So, here’s how moving to a new office has changed my life (in a quite unexpected way).

At my old job, every lunchtime was an event for me and my colleagues (who were also my actual friends). There was always a cute new eatery to try, or a new place to get sandwiches from – or an old but trusted place to get sandwiches from. There was shopping to do (mostly at factory shops and for baby clothing) and, on sunny days, lots of strolling around the city that just had to get done. And other than the few blocks of (very laid-back) strolling I’d do just about every day, and the odd day here and there that I walked the four flights of stairs to my desk, during the three years I worked there, I did absolutely no exercise.

Then, a month ago, I moved to an office where none of my actual friends work. Where all my colleagues smoke, and use up their lunch hour in four 15-minute smoke breaks (this is what I assume – they take long smoke breaks and then eat lunch at their desks – I’m not sure if there’s a proper system to it or not). So at lunchtime, because I can’t bear not to leave the office all day, I go to the gym four days out of five.

Yes. Me. I go to the gym. Four days a week. Me!

Three of the days, I warm up for 10 minutes on that pully-runny-eliptical machine and then run two to three kilometres on the treadmill (I’m trying to do between 8 and 10kms per week, a distance I chose because it seemed kind of achievable). On the fourth day, I do something resembling “cross-training” (which is apparently important but I don’t really care enough to look up why and how to do it properly) – I do some leg weight things and climb the stair machine and do the ergo-rowing thing that makes me feel like I look really stupid but it makes my arms stiff, so it must be doing something. I suppose.

Thirty minutes four times a week is a bit less than is recommended as a minimum time spent exercising – and it’s certainly not a lot for people who are “naturally” athletic, or proper runners. But for me, this is major, because my whole life I’ve hated exercising, especially running, and now suddenly I don’t.

I’ve hated exercising basically forever.

I don’t remember ever actually choosing to get my heart rate up (not by exercising, anyway). I had quite bad asthma as a kid and teenager, which made pretty much any amount of field sports really tiring and really unpleasant. And because I was (and am) such a co-ord, ball sports made me feel really bad about myself. We used to play rounders in primary school on a Wednesday afternoon as part of our academic timetable (which I still think of as being discriminatory to bookworms like myself who had to suffer through compulsory sport five afternoons a week as well – and yes, I know sports is hugely important for kids, but, I argue, so is self-esteem) and I was always the last person chosen to be on a team. Being forced to do something I was really bad at did not compel me to be any better at it, or to enjoy it, and the stigma against exercise stuck until I hit my early 20s and suddenly wasn’t skinny anymore.

So I tried running.

I ran the Two Oceans half marathon when I was 25 after far too little training, but made a decent time mostly because my future mother-in-law literally dragged me the whole way and fed me a lot of pills on the route that I’ve never had the nerve to ask about (Amphetamines? Schedule 1-million painkillers?). After bursting into tears at the finish line (aches all over my body making their presence known as soon as the mystery pills wore off), my stigma against exercise in general and running in particular returned with a vengeance.

Then I tried yoga.

About a year later, I started going to yoga three times a week, and I really loved it – finally, I thought, a form of exercise that’s perfect for me. It’s non-threatening, nobody really looks at anyone else, I don’t have a team to let down, there’s very little pain, no asthma, and it’s really relaxing, which exercise has never been for me. That continued for a year, until our class got a new instructor. The woman, whose face I’ll never forget, used a microphone (great way to kill the zen vibes, lady) and in her first class asked me if I had scoliosis while I was in the middle of a back bend. The whole class dropped out of posture to assess my apparently crooked-looking spine. Just for the record, I don’t have scoliosis. Nobody’s ever asked me that before or since. But yoga had been ruined for me – I was that girl again, the one who looks awkward doing things that other people do with ease, the one standing in the middle of the field all by myself while two groups of girls standing in front me snicker or look away because they feel sorry for me but are also really grateful that they’re not me. Maybe this sounds overdramatic. But if I hadn’t been so sports-averse as a kid, I’m sure I’d have been able to brush off the instructor’s comment.

A year or two later, I’ve been to other yoga classes, but I don’t feel it anymore. It’s intimidating. I imagine that I look crooked all the time, and that really obstructs my inner peace.

But now, because I have nothing better to do at lunchtime, I’m running again. This time, on a treadmill.

And I kind-of love it.

Not enough to make me enter another race ever again. And definitely not enough to make me want to do it on the weekend. But I’m finally not worrying about my weight anymore, I feel pretty darn good about myself, I’m full of energy in the afternoons, I’m satisfyingly bone-tired at night, and apparently I’m adding some years onto my life expectancy.

“It’s a good life” (as Augustus Waters said), so I’m pretty stoked about that.

Vaccinations: the science and also the philosophy

I just had to share this. Two really good opinion pieces on childhood vaccinations, quackery and pseudoscience published online on the very same day (ie: today). Day: made.

I came across both of these pieces thanks to Dr Rousseau, who is out to thwart quackery and pseudoscience in her blog. Dr Rousseau trumps any of the other anti-quackery writers I follow because she’s local and she shares my view on dubious trends like the anti-vaccine movement and the Paleo diet – except that she actually knows the science-y reasons why they are poppycock, and can articulate that way better than I can. And I won’t lie, the fact that she’s a she makes her doubly interesting to me – I can probably count on one hand the number of women I encounter online who write about science.

So, here they are:

Post one

Post two

The first: the “surgeon/scientist” blogger known as Orac on the science blog Respectful Insolence goes into great detail about what a travesty it is that Jenny McCarthy, most outspoken celebrity voice behind the MMRs-lead-to-autism codswallop of 2008, has recently been named as a regular on the popular daytime chat show The View on ABC in the States. It’s a long piece, but it’s rich with links that provide plenty of context for the damage that McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement have done over the years.

An extract:

“Even though The View is fluffy infotainment, it’s fluffy infotainment with millions of viewers, many of whom are young mothers who might be wondering whether it’s safe to vaccinate or not. If Jenny McCarthy is allowed to let her antivaccine freak flag fly again in this venue, the damage could be severe, as questions of science are presented as manufactroversies in which pseudoscience is presented as science.”

I especially love the term “manufactroversies”. It is most excellent.

The second: a Daily Maverick opinion piece by Ivo Vegter, the columnist probably best known for his criticism of “environmental exaggeration” (especially related to fracking). I always read his stuff with interest – and love that he questions things that most people take as a given.

My favourite bit:

“Preventing reckless actions that cause clear harm to others does not contradict any principles of liberty, as far as I know. This, the scientific evidence that it works, and the unusual fact that it can only confer ‘herd immunity’ if as many people as possible are vaccinated, seem like perfectly sound reasons to support mandatory vaccination.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me why I’m wrong, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids, I’m going to judge you like you’re still wearing a Power Balance bracelet.”

All I can say is: yes.

And also: if you think your kid is special or different enough to not need to buy into herd immunity, then your kid is also too special and different to go to school/creche/hockey club/the mall/the movies/basically anywhere in public where they will come into contact with mine.

Does anyone reading this have any insight into how strict South African schools are in demanding Road to Health cards for children before they enrol? How can I make sure my kid doesn’t end up in the same school as a child who’s not vaccinated against, say, the frighteningly contagious pertussis, aka whooping cough? Because that un-vaccinated child could very easily contract pertussis (and because it lasts a very long time, chances are, they will not be kept in quarantine at home the entire time they’re sick), as so many children and adolescents in the United States have in the recent outbreak. And it’s not hard to imagine a circumstance in which that kid could pass it onto my kid’s (future but as yet non-existent) baby sibling who is too young to be vaccinated. And, as most deaths from whooping cough occur in infants under three months of age, that tiny baby of mine could die. And this is not an exaggerated example, by the way. This is what is happening in some of the most developed, educated states of America – so it’s not a stretch to imagine it happening in some privileged, middle-class enclaves of South Africa.

So, basically – vaccinate your kids. Thanks.

Side note: Here is a great resource on the anti-vaccination movement’s body count so far: www.jennymccarthybodycount.

Things about being an egg donor

eggs 2

Not this kind. Obviously.

1. But why?

I want to help people. I want to use my body to contribute to the world. I want to use the things my body can do, and just does without any help or my control, to give back to people whose bodies can’t do those things.

I’m an organ donor and a regular blood donor, and this just seemed like the natural progression.

I love my little girl so deeply and passionately and singularly that, since she was born, I’ve lived in more or less constant elation (and also fear), and if I can play a role in another person feeling that way, it’s something I feel I have to do.

2. “Aren’t you scared?” (Add “Will it hurt?”, “Wow, you’re brave/mad” and “But what are the side effects?” to this one.)

Not really – I don’t mind being under anaesthetic, I’m not scared of needles, and I don’t mind being poked and prodded, within reason. The egg-retrieval process itself involves injecting yourself with fertility drugs (a very mild/small dose) for 12 days in your abdomen, having three scans to check on the growth of the eggs, and then a half-hour operation that is done while you’re under general anaesthetic. The op uses a little suction thing that is like a thin straw, so there’s no cutting or stitches or anything.

What I am scared of is the effects that the drugs will have on my body. I have had to go on the contraceptive pill, and will stay on it for about 8 weeks, so that the recipient and my cycles can get into sync. Then I have to go off it for a week, and then start injecting. My body is very reliable, generally, so I’m scared that putting it through these hormonal changes will mess it up permanently. My head knows that this won’t happen, but I’m still nervous about it.

The risks are numerous but also extremely unlikely. The Cape Fertility Clinic is a world-class facility, and the doctors who are working with me have done this so many times before and know exactly what to look for. They are also extremely cautious, which helps.

I’m only midway through the process as I write this, so I can’t be 100% sure how I will feel while I’m on the fertility treatment, or how I’ll feel after the op – I’ll keep this section of my blog updated as I go through it all. But, for now, I’m pretty comfortable with everything the procedure entails (except for the being-scared bit I mentioned earlier).

3. What happens if the law changes and one day this kid knocks on your door and tells you that he or she is your long-lost child?

Even if the law does change, that kind of sudden contact will never happen, firstly. The agency I’m registered with will be the ones to receive a message that the recipient or child wanted to connect with me (and this is only if the law changes – anonymity is top, top priority at the moment, so even this wouldn’t happen) and we’d take it from there.

From where I stand, I don’t want to meet the child. I don’t want to meet the recipient. As far as I’m concerned, I am not giving anybody a child – I’m giving them the material with which they might (there’s a 60% success rate) create a child after adding a whole lot of other important ingredients – bits of the Dad, lots of pre-natal care, and a tonne of love and support once the hypothetical child is born. I am more than happy to know that my donation helped somebody, and not to ever know who they are.

4. Do you get paid?

Not in South Africa. You get “compensated” a few thousand Rand – mostly for petrol to get to and from the appointments, and for your time. In my opinion, the figure could be doubled or tripled, and it still wouldn’t be enough to make the process a financially viable option. I guess it’s all about economics – for me, messing with my body’s hormones and putting it through quite a taxing process is not worth any amount of money.

OK, maybe if we were talking, like, hundreds of thousands of Rand, it might feel worth it. But anything less than that, and, financially, it’s really not.

5. How does your husband feel about this? 

People really do ask this, and it always leaves me feeling quite bemused – firstly because it wouldn’t affect him at all if he didn’t know I was doing it, and then because I wouldn’t go ahead with something like this if he wasn’t happy with it – so I’m like, well, obviously he’s fine with it because I wouldn’t be going through with it if he wasn’t, but on the other hand, it’s my body and not his so it doesn’t affect him anyway.

Anyway … He supports me and thinks I’m doing a good thing. We had to talk it through a lot before we came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to do – he is not the kind of person who accepts things at face value. He thinks, he does research, he questions himself and his feelings. So I know that when he does give me his support, he’s not just saying it – he really does think it’s the right thing.

6. What prompted you to apply to be a donor?

I read this blog by chance, and two-time donor Nicki totally inspired me. She was registered with Nurture, and so I went through them too. This agency is a wonderful group of women, and they have supported me at every point of the journey so far.