Two years in the sandpit 

Two years ago today I held a one way ticket in my hand, and boarded a flight with my husband and 6 month old to Dubai. I don’t think I’ve cried more in my life than I did that day. Putting aside the intense anxiety I felt about flying, and the anxiety I had about flying with Isaac, even the business class seats were of no relief to me. I still remember how sad I felt at the airport that day. God bless one of my cousins who attended the airport with his family to send me off, other than him there wasn’t anyone else from my side to bid me farewell.

Goodbyes are the hardest, to be honest I was never too keen on living abroad. But I convinced myself that moving overseas felt like a chance to start over. A chance to start my new life as a mother away from the noise that was sometimes Melbourne. I didn’t realise this right away though. No, my first weeks were spent hoping that my husband would hate it here.

He didn’t.

Two weeks into living in Dubai, I found out I was pregnant with Laila. My first thought was, ‘surely this’ll mean we will return home?’

It didn’t.

My first year in Dubai feels like a blur now. It wasn’t until well into my second year that I finally found my feet as an expat. I started getting out of the apartment, started to make friends, started taking the kids out to play, finally things were starting to look up. I even looked for a job, almost ended up securing a position until they retracted the offer and gave it to someone who accepted less pay. That’ll happen here, anything to save a dirham.

I remember telling myself before we left, ‘there is no chance I will stay in Dubai for longer then 2 years’, and now here we are. The thought of returning to Melbourne now seems so far away. There so many things I love about my new home, and so many things I cant imagine living without now. Safety tops that list. I don’t remember the last time I felt safe enough to walk the streets at night in Melbourne, I don’t think I ever did. Let alone leaving a car door unlocked, with the window slightly ajar with your bag left inside, you’ll be sure that’s all still there the following day no doubt. You can’t put a price on something like that.

Don’t even get me started on mall trading hours and being able to have almost any café or restaurant deliver your favourite meals to your door, these are just little bonuses which make expat life all the more exciting.

Kite Beach – National Day weekend 2016


Grand Mosque – Maghrib Prayer, Abu Dhabi 


The Sandpit – August 2017 

Diary of a Panic Attack 

6.15pm. She’s had a busy day. Didn’t really have too much much time to think. She hasn’t thought about me once. That’ll make my visit all the more a surprise, I’ll show up around the usual hour.

 

10.30pm. She’s in bed a little earlier tonight. She must be tired. Shame I’ll have to wake her up soon. It’ll be the usual, a pounding heart beat, exactly one hour after she dozes off. It’ll thump so hard in her chest she will hear it in her ears. And then she’ll start to swallow frantically as she feels like a lump in her throat is blocking her airway, her throat will start to close in on her.

 

11.33pm. Right on schedule. She’s already up in the bathroom staring at her pupils. I know what she’s looking for, signs of something neurological, she’ll even lift her arms and repeat her name as she checks for signs of stroke. All she’ll find are tired blood shot eyes as she stares into the lights watching her pupils constrict and dilate.

 

11.34pm. She’s in the kitchen now, pacing. Holding her finger on the dial pad, her other hand checking her pulse. Will she phone the ambulance tonight? Will she lose this battle. She’s going through names in her head on who to call, who could possibly be awake at this hour, who could help her through this one?

 

11.35pm. She’s certain her times up. She’s back in her room begging her husband to phone an ambulance. I’ve managed to get a tighter hold on her chest, she’s describing me to him like someone stepping on her chest with both feet. Her head is spinning violently and by this stage I’ve managed to make both her hands completely numb.

 

11.40pm. Her husbands taken her phone from her. He’s refused to call for help. She feels helpless but knows deep down he has done the right thing. I’m about to leave her now, slowly she’s regaining some sense of normality. A wave of exhaustion hits her, she buries her face and tears into her pillow as he holds her close. She knows she lost that round.

I often imagine my panic in the 3rd person. Giving it a name, a shape, a colour, an image. I imagine a real entity because that’s exactly what those feelings and sensations are to me when they happen, they are real. Not all “in my head” or “made up”, but real physical and bodily changes that I experience on the regular. More than millions of people world wide have experienced the same or similar; that glitch in the system, their fight or flight response kicking in when it’s not required. If anyone reading has ever felt or experienced panic attacks please know you’re not alone – I find some relief in imaging them as an ugly beast that I can kick, punch and throw stuff at, when it does coming lurking in the night. 

More than just the baby blues

My pregnancy with Isaac was relatively easy. Morning sickness lasted around a month and eased off after the 12 week mark, I kept to date with all my OB appointments like clockwork, did all my blood tests and scans on time, discovered at the 6 week mark that I had pregnancy induced hypothyroidism so I started my thyroid meds nice and early and didn’t miss a dose. I was super cautious. 2 miscarriages will do that to you though; every anxious visit to the bathroom had me fearing the worst.

Fast forward 39 weeks, and what I assumed to be the start of my labour turned out to be an antepartum hemorrhage, thus after being induced and labouring for 14 hours to no success an emergency c-section was necessary. There was definitely a sense of failure that overcame me when I was told I needed a c-section, truth be told I was shattered. “You’ll feel better once your out of hospital and back home” said a dear friend, who shared with me her post partum woes, assuring me that it was completely normal to feel like your emotions have just gone through a spin-cycle in the washing machine.

Isaac cried. He cried and cried and cried. And slept and fed and cried. And slept and fed and cried. And slept and fed and cried some more. His screams and high pitched shrills pierced through my heart and soul. Was he in pain? Was his milk disagreeing with him? Colic? Silent reflux? Was something wrong? With him? With me? Why couldn’t I soothe him? Two weeks, four weeks, six weeks passed and it was the moment I found myself weeping heavy tears as I nursed him to sleep that I knew that this was more than just the post baby blues.

Thankfully my maternal health nurse had given me contact details at my home visit for a psychologist in my area who specialised in post-natal depression. That phone call to book my first appointment would turn out to be the first BEST decision I made as a new mother. Not the decision to breast feed or bottle feed, or which organic formula he would drink, or BPA free plastic cutlery he would use, or 1000 thread count cotton bed linen he would sleep on, but the decision I made to recognize that mentally motherhood and I were not seeing eye to eye, I needed emotional help and strategies to get me through one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. At the end of the day a happy mum = a happy baby.

PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia 

 A special message waiting for me in my hospital room post surgery.

Keyboard warriors 

I feel like now more than ever we are trying so hard to find happiness in the most sterile and generic of places. How many times a day do you find yourself scrolling your social media feeds mindlessly, numb to what the images are actually doing to your state of mind ?

If it isn’t a perfectly posed and filtered selfie, a mouthwatering plate of whole-food goodness or decadant chocolate baked goods, to reminders of the pain and suffering of war torn Syria, injustices in Burma and hurricane stricken towns; how much are you absorbing on a level that’s mentally exhausting and downright unhealthy?

I’ll put my hand up personally and say too much. Many times I’ve found myself in this vicious cycle of self doubt and pity. It takes me a while to snap out of this state of mind and remind myself that so much of this social media life is painstakingly doctored and filtered ultimately altering my own sense of reality. What gets me though, the thing that makes every inch of my soul ache is not the perfect face or body that I look at in awe with a little bit of “I wish that was my life right about now” – or the perfect sunset taken along the Amalfi coast while I sit in pajamas at 4pm stained with Isaacs dried up cereal, it’s the commentary some people believe they have a right to make on such posts.

I was always told if you have nothing nice to say simply don’t speak. Sadly though many people believe that just because a person sets their social profile on public that gives any tom dick and harry a right to their two cents. These people sharing their lives, many just doing their jobs, sharing their art or hobbies, are being criticized and torn apart on the daily. Every single part of them nitpicked by these keyboard warriors. It’s painful to read and sad that so many people have lost their human side.

How many of us have taken the time to reach out and actually say something kind and positive about that post we just robotically ‘liked’. To genuinely say, “hey, I see you and although we are worlds apart your post, your image speaks volumes and I truly gain inspiration from your content. And it’s more then just a perfected selfie or pout, you’re a human being like me with thoughts and feelings and you don’t deserve to receive the hate you get”!

Take home message for the keyboard warriors; don’t use social media platforms like Instagram to bring others down in order to make yourself feel righteous and heard. It’s painfully obvious that you’re fueled with envy over the lives some people are fortunate enough to live. Try a little kindness and support, and if you can’t find that in you then don’t follow people who awaken that green eyed monster in you. And to the bloggers, vloggers, content creators, influencers out their who share their lives, their passions, their work, with us common folk, keep on keeping on! Your rawness, your talents, your art don’t go unnoticed!

“To be kind is good. To be kind without expecting anything in return is better.” Tariq Ramadan

Laila 

Not many people admit to this but I had major gender disappointment at 20 weeks pregnant when they told me Isaac was a boy. I actually cried when we left the doctors that morning. How horrible! I still feel guilty when I think back to that day because now when I look into his eyes I can’t think of a greater blessing. Shortly after my scan, I found myself googling ‘gender disappointment’ of course, and get this…it’s totally a thing and totally normal AND it’s a lot more common than I thought.

Everyone who knows me well knows how much I loved the idea of having my own little girl, this became a reality on the 18th of October 2015. Just over two short weeks into living in Dubai I stared down at a positive pregnancy test and just knew deep down this was the girl I’d be dreaming of my whole life. Many emotions filled me that day, the first was excitement that my Isaac would have a sibling so close to him in age. Then a secret part of me thought maybe this would be my ticket home, surely I couldn’t have a baby in the UAE, surely?!

Fast forward 9 months and Laila was born the morning before Ramadan 2016, on a very hot Dubai day. Mama did it!!!! I survived a pregnancy in the sweltering UAE summer with a 1 year old. I was still trying to find my feet in this new city of mine, I hadn’t made many friends at that point, I wasn’t driving, I was still longing for Melbourne, but somehow I did it!

Laila’s birth was effortless! Choosing her name however not quite. My husband and I couldn’t agree on a girls name we had so many options that we just couldn’t commit to. So one day I said, “let’s ask your mum to name our girl?” Hubby couldn’t believe what he was hearing. We knew she would feel so grateful at the opportunity to name her granddaughter so we left it to her. She chose Laila and we couldn’t be happier with the choice. Our beautiful Laila.

I need to address in this post the level of care we received at the hospital where she was born. It was incredible! On another level to be honest! Due to Isaacs emergency c – section only 14 months prior, Laila was a scheduled c -section. She was born at 38weeks and 3 days, and a dream newborn she was. My baby girl, my special girl, I made a promise to her then and there, and a promise to God, I would never leave her side. NEVER. She would always have me, my love, my support, my patience and my prayers. God granted me my second little piece of heaven that day.

Laila Risilia – 5th June 2016 

Bali, Indonesia

Our Wedding 

The idea of eloping had always been a day dream of mine, long before meeting my husband, I often wondered how exciting the notion of running off into the sunset, taking vows along a beach far away from home would be. I didn’t know then that this would be my reality in the summer of 2011. 

All credit to my husband who planned and organised the entire experience. 

We stayed at The Elysian, a beautiful resort in the heart of Seminyak. A total of 7 days were spent with 13 of our guests, lounging by the pool drinking granitas by day, and dining in some of Balis beautiful restaurants by night. 

Our ceremony took place at The Cocoon Beach Club, we had the second floor dining / ceremony area to ourselves. With beautiful views of the beach, we exchanged vows by a Balinese sunset. 

Our wedding ceremony is a memory and experience I will cherish forever. It was a celebration of love even amongst the hardships we faced back home. It was a promise of two people coming together against the constraints of tradition and culture, ultimately for the sake of God. My father may not have been present to give me away, but those who believed in our unity were, and that was a blessing in itself.