Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The ugly, unspoken truth about postnatal recovery

When we’re pregnant, all our focus is on how we will get through the next nine months, how long the morning sickness will last, and finally, how we will give birth at the end. We spend hours obsessing over the pregnancy, writing up useless birth plans, and finally watching videos on how to look after your baby from moments after they are born up until their first birthday. Problem is, no one tells us to read on how to look after ourselves post-birth.

After giving birth, I, as all women do, went through a physical and emotional rollercoaster that no one prepared me for. I finally understood the hidden physical strain new mothers would hide behind their smiles when greeting visitors hours or days after giving birth. It wasn’t tiredness from sleepless nights or annoyance with breastfeeding struggles, it was far worse with far deeper and darker reasons.

It all starts in the delivery room. As soon as the final push is made and the baby is pulled out there is a sudden tearful symphony from the baby and the mother. Is it a cry of joy? Relief? Happiness? Or an overwhelming mix of all those emotions and more? I’m not sure myself but I have come to think it could be a cry of fear of the unknown. The pregnancy is over. Your baby is here. What you have been reading about has become a reality. So what next?

Whether you gave birth naturally or via cesarian, you will most likely have stitches from where the baby was pulled out that will burn and sting for days or weeks, and sometimes months. You suddenly wonder how you are possibly meant to look after a tiny helpless screaming baby when you can barely walk. Going to the toilet becomes a struggle. Sleeping becomes painful. Fevers, chills, and breast engorgement from milk production whether breastfeeding or not become a day-to-day reality. It is not pretty. You will be a mess. And on top of that you will be left with a saggy belly that still looks like it’s carrying a baby, stretch marks, and a line across your abdomen from the pregnancy. You will no longer recognise yourself when you look in the mirror.

It is all but a small price for bringing a human into this world, but it is also no wonder that so many of us fall ill post-pregnancy. And no, I don’t mean struck down by a cold or a flu. That would be a walk in the park after pushing out a baby. I mean mentally ill with depression or even psychosis with hallucinations and delusions. According to a 2014 report by the Maternal Mental Health alliance, one in five women experience mental health problems during pregnancy in the first 12 months of giving birth. For some, it could bypass as a few tearful hormonal outburst for unreasonable reasons. For others, it could be as dangerous as suicidal thoughts and even acting upon them. And it can strike at any moment with no prior warning signs.

Recognising something isn’t right is crucial, not just for the mother but also for the baby. It is family and friends’ responsibility to act upon any clues they might come across of a mother’s suffering. With many mental health problems, they are silent killers and the one affected is least likely to realise something is wrong. The father has the biggest job of all in this, from small things like giving words of encouragement in the delivery room to bigger things like helping to calm the mother during break-downs and reassuring her that she is doing a great job. It’s sad that so many fathers are absent or don’t realise how important their jobs are.

The road to recovery is long and full of hurdles. The first month after giving birth will be the hardest and worse than the whole pregnancy and birth. The next few months will be sleepless and tiring. The months following will be combined with excitement of all the things your baby is learning and shock over the amount of hair you’re shedding. Taking a shower will have you running out every single time to wipe the steam off the mirror to check you haven't gone bold yet. I am here to tell you that it will all pass and become a distant memory. Your baby’s first birthday will be the end of the postpartum race to recovery. Enjoy this day. Enjoy one of your greatest accomplishments, your child, and reaching the end of your postnatal rollercoaster how ever hard or easy it was (just remember to use protection when celebrating). And if you know of someone who just gave birth, be sure to ask how they’re doing and offer help in any (reasonable) form.

Twitter: @Ola_Salem
Instagram: olamsalem

Friday, February 12, 2016

Postpartum weight loss: How I lost all the baby weight and more

Today, I reached a milestone. I stepped on the weighing scale and saw a number I have not seen in so many years! As of this morning, I am 57.7kg (127lbs or 9 stones). That means I have lost 25.3kg in the past fourth months since giving birth to Daniel. It has not been easy and I did not lose it all naturally! I've reached this stage after a lot of determination, hard work, and sweat. Here I'm going to share how I managed to go down from a UK size 16 to a 10.
First off I want to stress that four weeks postpartum I had stopped breastfeeding for health reasons and would strongly discourage any breastfeeding mum from following my diet as it would interfere with milk production. However, the work-out routine you can certainly do.


Breakfast- a slice of brown bread or bread crackers, smoked turkey or salmon, and a small spoon of low fat cottage cheese. Water and diet coke.

Midday snack: An apple and water

Lunch/dinner: I would combine these two and have a late lunch/early dinner.  Most days I had a chicken breast and veggies in tomato sauce, all roasted in the oven. If I was still hungry I'd have a plain salad. Water and diet coke again. When sick of chicken, I would have oven roasted salmon in soy sauce with mushrooms, bell peppers, and a spring onion.

Weekly cheat meal: You can have one cheat meal a week. Go as crazy as you want.

Just to note these meals worked for me, and they suited me best as they were the quickest things to make. There are thousands of recipes online of low-fat meals if you need inspiration. The aim is not to exceed 1,200 calories a day.


My beloved sister, Ness, introduced me to a workout app on the Apple store that has become my home gym. All workouts can be done as home and need no equipment. The app is called Sworkit. There are free versions and a Pro full version for GB2.99.

Daily I would do a total of 30 minutes of strength exercises. Ten minutes of lower body exercises, 10 minutes of core exercises, and 10 minutes upper body exercises. Some of the workouts were hard to begin with (like burpees and push-ups) so I replaced them with squats. A month into the exercises I introduced weights for squatting and upper body workouts. These exercises are high intensity and make you sweat. You will feel sick afterwards and like someone has beaten you up. That's a good thing! The beauty of this workout is that you don't have to do 30 minutes straight, you can do as much or as little as your time allows. For myself I found waking up early and doing the workouts before the kids woke up was best, or during their afternoon naps.

Now that I have exceeded my goal I am only doing 10-15 minutes twice a week of core exercises to get my tummy into shape after having two kids.

Honestly, mums, don't bother with slim-fast snacks and all those junk 'low-fat' food and certainly don't get any belly belts, they are a waste of money. There's no easy way around it. You will need to sweat!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mummy problems in the UAE

As a mum, there are two things that I hate, HATE, more than anything in the world, both only discovered recently (well, since I had a baby).

I have to tell you the story first so you can get a feel of all that anger and pain.

After waiting for what felt like an hour outside an elevator at Dubai Mall (Dubai’s busiest and biggest mall) with a very fussy baby, three people see that its about to arrive and come barging in front of me. After that, there was very little space for me and my pram to go in. The three people that went in made sure to spread out and completely ignored my existence so I don’t even ask them to budge. So then I had to wait for another billion years until their majesties got off on their floor and the elevator came back around.

I just don’t understand why anyone who is perfectly capable of taking the escalator needs to take the elevator. Especially that where I was in Dubai Mall, the escalator was RIGHT NEXT TO THE ELEVATOR!

I think priority should be for anyone unable to use the escalator, which includes people using a pram!! Every time this happens I have to hold back my anger. My husband, too. I think one of these days we will both explode. I fear we will explode on the same stranger.

The second thing which annoys me even MORE are people using handicap/baby changing toilets when they clearly shouldn’t be.

These are designed for a) anyone handicapped and b) mummy’s who want to change their baby’s nappy. Just because there is a long queue for the loo does not mean people who do not fall under category a) or b) should EVER use these toilets.

I’m not sure if mummies in other countries encounter the same problems, but these are my biggest mummy problems in the UAE.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An open letter to my son

My boy,

Your earliest memories of me may be tearful ones. Ones of me letting you go as you squeal and squirm to clench on. Ones where it seems like going to work is more important to me than you. Nothing is more important to me than you. Nothing. Not the job, not the career, not the house, not the car, not the world. You’re my world. You may sometimes think or be led to think that those who left their work to be with their babies full time, to attend to their every call and cry, must love them more than I love you. That’s not true. I love you just as much, if not more. Let me tell you why I made this unbearable and sometimes shameful decision. A decision I regret several times a day. A decision my heart cries over and I'm left overridden with deep guilt and self hatred.
Days like today remind me of the reason I chose to continue to work. There are things you won’t understand until you’re much older, and I hope you never need to deal with. You were born in a world where women believe they are equal to men, but some men still don’t think so.
I want you to see your mother independent and fully relying on herself. I want you to know that the words independent, Arab, and women can coexist in one sentence. I want you to feel you can always lean on your mum and she will never have to lean on anyone else.
You see, my boy, that’s why I have to work. The easier option is to stay home. The easier option was to quit work when I was two months pregnant and curled up in a ball of pain, or when I was seven months pregnant and standing out on the curve for what seemed to be forever, dripping in sweat, waiting for a taxi to take me to work, or when you were two months old when I had fallen absolutely and utterly in love with you but had to return to work because my time with you was up. I want you to know that I am sad for every second I am not with you. That I think about you always. That building a shrine of you at work has not helped ease the pain. But I will do everything in my power to make it up to you. And if I don’t, then you can stop calling me your mum.

Yours truly
Your mum

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Social life after the baby

Two months ago Hassan (my hubby) and I were invited to a colleague's house for a movie screening. We had this idea that maybe our then 3 month old would be kind enough to sleep for at least half the movie and give his parents a much needed break. A break to feel normal and that we weren’t missing out on anything. But as soon as we reached said house, Omer could not stop screaming. It could have been the lighting at the place, the change in surrounding, or just the sheer volume of change in the world - a world little Omer is yet to come to terms with.

After a few minutes (which felt like a year) we decided to leave because nothing would calm Omer down. He had screamed to the point of no return. So we went home.

I am sure that everyone else there who heard about our failed attempt felt sorry for us and probably happy that they don’t have to deal with that just yet. They might not have felt that, but that’s what I imagined went on in their minds. I could be wrong.

Anyway we get in the car and Omer still wont came down. Me and Hassan are panicked and stressed, until it happened.

“Ekko,” Omer cooed, then he smiled. Then it was all OK. It totally made up for everything. EVERYTHING!

A baby changed our life, but not the worse. True, our social life has turned into play dates and returning home after a huge poop explosion, a baby meltdown, or for Omer’s oddly timed bed-times, but it has all been compensated by family life.

I don’t miss going to the movies, I don’t miss going out with Hassan when I want, where I want, or not having to worry if a place is baby friendly. I love waking up at night to a playful Omer. I love hearing Omer’s dad try to imitate animal sounds and fail miserably. I love hearing other parents talk about their kids, I love always having something, rather someone, to talk about. I love it all, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I know a few who would not be ready for such a dramatic social change, but I think deep down me and Hassan were ready (even though we will always say we weren’t).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pregnancy weight: Gaining 32kg then dropping 20kg

If someone had asked me what my weight was a year ago, I would've found a way to get out of answering. Even though I weighed way less back then, now I have no trouble announcing it to the world because my weight gain is but a small price to pay for being a mum.

When I got pregnant I was 53kg (116.8 pounds). I’ll admit I had just lost a ton of weight for no apparent reason (well, I was 58kg (128 pounds) so only 5kg(11 pounds)). The only change in my life was that I had cut fizzy drinks out of my diet, a decision that regrettably has since been reversed.

So I was 53kg and I was pretty happy, why? Because if I gained the average 14kg (30 pounds) I would reach 67kg (148 pounds). That seemed like an easy gain to handle. I’ve been 67kg before so I knew what to expect. But not to my surprise thanks to my North African genes, I reached 67kg very early on in my pregnancy! I gained weight like crazy in the first trimester, which made no sense since I was throwing up a lot of the time.

I started dreading weighing myself before my antenatal appointment. I knew I was gonna see a horrendous, unjustifiable increase. I was gaining half a kilo to a full kilo a week (how crazy is that?) but I didn’t go on a diet since my doctor seemed OK with the weight gain. I knew I was not over eating so I didn’t lower my intakes. I ate my fish and vegetables as normal, and yes OK I had the occasional chocolate bar. (I admit! it was two a day).

By the end of the 9 months I was 85kg (187 pounds). That’s EIGHTY-FIVE KILOGRAMS!! And the baby was what? 2.7kg (7 pounds)? Say the placenta and everything else around the baby were another 2kg (they weren't, but let’s just say they were). That left me at over 80kg when I gave birth.

Was I depressed about my weight? Naturally. Jumping from a UK size 10 to 18 in 9 months was not easy, but I wasn’t going to let my new body weight eat me up. I knew I was still in there, under all that fat. I knew (hoped) I would lose it eventually. And although I’m still 12kg more than I was to begin with, I’m happy with my current weight of 65kg (143 pounds) at four months postpartum. That means I lost 20kg (44 pounds) in total. Not bad.

So how did I get here?

After giving birth I breastfed exclusively for a month. Even though my mum was stuffing me like a Christmas turkey everyday to produce enough milk for her grandson, I still lost around half a kilo a day for two weeks. I’m guessing that was just extra body fluids. By the end of the second week I was down from 81kg to 74kg. Pretty good for someone who did nothing to lose weight.

But after that my body just didn’t seem to want to lose anymore weight on its own. I barely lost two more kilos over the next two weeks. I was 72kg one month postpartum. That meant I lost a total of 13kg (You see if I gained the average amount of weight during pregnancy I would have probably gone back to my postpartum weight by now. Thanks, genes, thanks.)

I had two months before I needed to go back to work and I did NOT want to end up buying all new clothes. Shopping for a pear-shaped body was never easy, and now with all that weight gain I looked like a disproportional joke. I was determined to reach at least 65kg so I could fit in Medium/Large and keep certain body parts under control. You all know what I’m talking about here.

I started going to the gym in my building. I went for 30-50 minutes three times a week for two weeks. I lost around 2kg. It was still far from ideal but everyone said I should cut myself some slack. So I did. When I reached 69.9kg I stopped going to the gym. I was officially in my 60s! (yes, 69.9kg is in the 60s. It starts with a 6, doesn't it?!).

And slacked I did, for several weeks. I did watch my food intake though, so instead of eating a cake, I had a banana. I continued eating and drinking (not alcohol, breastfeeding mothers) as usual. I weighed myself daily just to make sure I wasn’t gaining anymore weight. By three months PP I was 67kg. That’s another 3kg down by doing little more than switching foods.

After returning to work, I slowly lost more weight. After the first month I reached 65Kg, which is where I am now. I’m not sure why, possibly because working distracts me from eating, or I just find little time to eat now. But it happened, I’m happy.

Could I have lost weight faster? If I wasn’t breastfeeding then yes, absolutely, but I  wasn’t going to switch my baby to be exclusively being bottle-fed for my selfish desire to fit into my old clothes. I could have also done a bit of research and followed certain diets to lose weight, but I barely had time to do anything other than looking after my boy.

The point of this post is to tell you all that you will probably lose the majority of your baby weight by the time you are 3 months PP, even with stubborn genes. So don’t stress, you will shrink down. So don’t throw out any of your pre-pregnancy clothes just yet. There is hope!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

14 things to do when your wife is pregnant

I was delighted to hear that I’ve had some male readers! So for those out there who plan on starting a family, read on.

1. Get excited! When she tells you she is pregnant, you better show her that you’re ecstatic. Just remember your wife will be watching your reaction and will probably never forget this moment. She is also buried under a mountain of fears and excitement. Do NOT add to the fears!

2 . Show interest Read with her. I’m not saying go and buy daddy or pregnancy books, but show that you are genuinely interested in that tiny little fetus. 

3. Do the nursery 
If you are planning a nursery, be the handy man you like to think you are. Your wife may want to do everything herself. If so, then just offer help. If it’s clear she is too tired to work on the nursery, tell her to kick her feet up and you go do the work.

4. Buy everything she craves
Don’t question her cravings. Even if she tells you she wants a pickle and nutella sandwich, you go do it for her! And just so you know, pregnancy cravings are unlike any other cravings. Pregnancy cravings are more like if-you-don’t-get-this-for-me-now-I-will-destroy-you.

5. Buy her a mother’s day gift If it’s mother’s day and she is pregnant, buy her something. She will be touched. She might even curse you less, if you’re lucky.

6. Buy her more gifts She will tell you she doesn’t want anything, or that she wants to save the money for the baby, but buy her something small every now and then. She might feel ugly and disgusting, so make her feel special. Surprises are nice and anything to take her mind off the morning sickness/stretch marks/acidity/labour is always good. 


7. Be a house-husband Do the chores. Do NOT wait for your pregnant wife to tell you to go wash the dishes, trust me, you don’t want to anger it. Once your wife tells you she is pregnant just have it set in your mind that you will be doing everything: the cleaning, the dusting, the vacuuming, the dishes, the laundry. Everything! for at least nine months, then a couple after that.

8. Book a couples' maternity massage 
Pamper her, do whatever it takes to make her happy. A couples' massage could be a great treat for both of you. If in Abu Dhabi I recommend the Zen Spa at the Beach Rotana (it is DIVINE). A pregnant woman won't be able to go in her first trimester, so make sure it's safe before booking an appointment.

9. Let her win every fight Your wife is pretty much a walking steaming hot incubator. Don’t add to the fumes. Plus, stress isn’t good for the baby.


10. Let her name the baby She carried it for nine months while you did nothing! And what's coming next will make the pregnancy seem like a walk in the park. Let her have this!! 


11. Keep your fridge well stocked She will be waking up in the middle of the night, hungry. To avoid having to make trips to a 24/7 supermarket, make sure the fridge has everything she could possibly crave in a 24-hour period.

12. Don't expect a pregnancy glow What you see in movies is not real. Pregnant women in those movies are not pregnant. SURPRISE! They are photoshopped models with a pillow up their shirt. The pregnancy glow is mythical. Just appreciate the fact that your wife is growing a human and compliment her once in a while. That's all we want.

13. In the labour room Your role here is vital! Your encouragement and telling your wife what’s really going on is so important, I can not stress this enough. It will give her the drive to keep pushing. A woman who reaches this stage of labour will be exhausted and will need all the encouragement she can get. Plus, she cannot see what's going on down her.

14. Finally, let her curse You may find that your wife has lost some of her.. let’s say femininity. So if she wants to curse just let her get it all out now while the baby is still inside.