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App Mums

First of all, congratulations to Kate Middleton on the birth of a princess, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana!  I am yet again in awe of her appearing coiffed and in high heels outside the hospital just hours after giving birth! Then to be receiving a flurry of family visitors on day 1. Sounds exhausting but I'm sure she continues to manage it all with aplomb.

My kids are big now but a friend made me laugh when she referred to the mums of toddlers and babies nowadays as 'app mums'.  I wish I had been an app mum. No, not really but the odd app on how to get my babe to sleep - whilst driving my newborn up and down the seafront with the windows wound down in Dar in 2000, because there was no power at home (so not even a fan, let alone air conditioning, and soaring temperatures) - might have helped.  The passenger door of my Suzuki was faulty and kept flying open when I drove around corners, so we got our air conditioning one way or another.

Having given birth in UK then left for Tanzania after an action packed 10 days at home which included a delivery related illness, shopping for at least 1 year's worth of baby clothes (I hadn't discovered Mitumba at that point and didn't want to buy too much in advance of the birth in case it was bad luck) and even gliding in a daze through a full blown church christening on day 7 - Just some simple tips on mastitis, sterilizing bottles or weaning would have been fantastic.  I was so afraid of not being able to get anything sterile in that hot and humid East African coastal environment, that I breastfed exclusively for more than 6 months.  I nearly had a nervous break-down when, after a morning out, I found my husband and mother-in-law conspiring to give the baby (her first) bottle of formula. (Fortunately she was rejecting it).  This experience was on a par with my mum handing the baby a chocolate covered biscuit aged 7 months, and when I protested my mum said 'What do you want me to take it away from her now? Wouldn't that be cruel? It looks like she's enjoying it!'

But helpful parents only visited briefly and if it hadn't been for a househelper/ayah at home who had her own children and the experience to guide me, then I would have been on my own, app-less, and relying on information from new found baby group friends (which, to be honest, was a lot like the blind leading the blind at that time).  By baby number 3, this time born in Nairobi, I was far more relaxed - though again, largely because I had the reassuring hands of Gladys and Florence (both of whom still work in our house) who were always only too willing to take, or watch, the baby.

I am reading Alexandra Fuller's 'Leaving before the Rains Come' and her malaria soaked, lonely first months with her baby in Zambia make my experience in Tanzania look very tame.  It's a great book and so worth reading. I can't put it down.

It's often said that you will recognise variety in your baby's cry - whether they are hungry, tired, bored and frustrated, or ill.  Well I had 3 babies and could never distinguish a difference between their cries - only that the sound drilled down into the very core of my being every time it broke out. Does that make me a hopeless mum?

According to the BBC, today, new technology is at hand. Nowadays there are bluetooth pacifiers, smart baby bottles and crying analysers. Read more here:  Baby, baby. The tech that rocks the cradle

But in truth, East Africa was the best place to raise small children for me.  Why? Because there is still plenty of time for babies and small children here.  They say it takes a village to raise a child and certainly, a village was seconded to help raise our 3 children. I stayed at home full time and dabbled in part-time writing work but when I wanted to nip to the shops without a baby or toddler in tow, or to take time out to do some semblance of work on my computer, or whiz up some baby gunk that was supposed to be lunch or even take an afternoon nap, our babies were rocked to sleep or strapped onto backs for sunny walks in the garden. And when they were toddlers, there was never a shortage of people to keep them company as they played in the sand, or splashed in the paddling pool, painted messily. The children were watched judiciously from a close distance as they tottered around the garden, made their first forays by bike or trike, or made their way to the gate to see a passing herd of cows.

Better still, when the children were off colour, I always had a sounding board.  'Is she sick?' I would ask. 'Yes, I think so. She's not herself.' And off I would trot to the doctor. There were no troops of unfamiliar babysitters for the children to endure while growing up. Instead, there was continuity and familiarity. What a privilege. It was and still is, idyllic.

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