Tag Archives: Victoria Scott

A letter to all expectant mums: Five things I wish I’d been told before giving birth

 

Photo: Teilhard Scott

Photo: Teilhard Scott

As the birth of my first child approached, I knew I had it.

I had it nailed, motherhood. I had read every pregnancy and childbirth book I could find. I’m a journalist – I read constantly and research things for a living, and this was no different.

I’d researched my birth plan (gas and air first please, epidural a last resort, try to avoid an episiotomy); the right equipment (the bouncer, the play mat, the Baby Bjorn and the buggy I didn’t yet know how to fold); and the strategies (at all costs, avoid rocking your baby to sleep – shush, pat, shush, pat in the cot ad infinitum instead.)  I was clearly onto a winner.

And yet, twenty four hours after my son had been delivered by caesarian  – that section in the back of What To Expect on breech deliveries had come in handy – I felt like I was on the losing team.

Despite my detailed examination of breastfeeding diagrams, I had completely failed to get my son to latch. He lay in a cot next to me crying, and the nurses said he’d probably need to be given a bottle.

All of the depictions of childbirth I’d read about and watched were a million miles away from an operation I’d found frightening, and post-operative pain worse than any I’d previously experienced. I’d almost fainted trying to sit up, and my husband and a nurse had pretty much had to carry me to the toilet. After which, they’d fanned my face as waves of nausea gripped me and refused to let go.

When friends visited in hospital I pasted on a smile and I look reasonable in the photos of the event, but I know the truth. I was drowning in what I perceived to be my failure. I was not ecstatic and full of the joys of my new-found motherhood; I was petrified, out of my depth, and finally facing up to an unavoidable truth – my life had just changed absolutely, and there was no way back.

I remember feeling very angry with the mothers I was close to. Why had no-one told me this was how I would feel? The books I’d read focused largely on the pregnancy and the birth, but stopped abruptly after the delivery. I realised I knew loads about growing a baby, but pretty much nothing about how to keep one alive. Or, when it came to it, how my life was going to change, and how best to deal with it.

Recently, a close friend in her 40s told me she was expecting her first baby. I was delighted for her, of course; almost six years on from the mind-fog surrounding my son’s birth, I know that motherhood is a glorious gift, one I’m incredibly lucky to be experiencing.

But I also decided to tell her the truth. As she sat opposite me in a restaurant, eyes sparkling with delight, I made a choice to be honest. And she’s still talking to me, luckily.

So, here it is. Here’s what I wish someone else had said to me before I became a mother. If they had, I’d have realised that I wasn’t alone, and that’s a powerful thing.

It’s ok to be a bit crap

Some mothers just look amazing. There’s a woman who drops her child off at my son’s school every day, whilst carrying another one in a baby carrier, and pushing two more in a buggy. Four kids, and she still wears nice clothes and manages to look like she hasn’t got dressed in the 60 seconds between nappy changes and cleaning breakfast from the floor.

Meanwhile, I know my clothes are often covered in child-detritus, our buggy is covered in mud, and my brain is so addled that I regularly forget things and have to return home to get my son’s gym kit, despite the fact that he needs it on the same day every week.

Letters from school asking for costumes for assemblies and plays make me come out in a rash (I feel sufficiently guilty to still attempt to make things rather than buy them, but I’m not sure how long my son will continue to tolerate this – my last attempt at a beard was an airline eye blind with cotton wool buds stuck on it.)  And then there are birthday cakes. I try to make these too, and I have cried Every.Single.Time. Mostly with laughter.

The thing is, most mums feel like this most of the time. That mum with four kids probably feels the same, and Lord knows, she definitely has an excuse. Be gentle with yourself. Love your kids with all your heart and they’ll forgive you most things (hopefully.)

Breastfeeding is very hard for some people

Both my mother and mother-in-law were breastfeeding advocates, so I felt an enormous pressure to feed my baby myself. And of course I’d read the books and knew the significant benefits. But Lord, I found it so hard.

I know women who’ve sailed through the whole thing.  I guess they have nipples that point out perfectly to help the baby latch, a baby without a tongue-tie and a lot of support in the beginning stages.

It turned out that my journey was a hell of a lot more complicated, though. It was only with the help of a dedicated midwife, silicone nipple shields and a breast pump that I managed to keep it up for nine months. I also turned to mix-feeding – supplementing with formula twice a day – and it worked for us. Sometimes it’s reassuring to see the milk disappear from a bottle – either formula or pumped – and absolutely know that your baby is getting the nutrition it needs. They don’t say that in the books, but there you have it.

Your career will probably to take a knock

I remember thinking that having a baby would be a great break from my career. I know! How bonkers is that. I had a very demanding job working shifts, and I was tired and stressed. I believed that having a baby might give me a new calling, and a reason to step off the treadmill. Little did I know that I’d actually miss it. I discovered that my job had defined me far more than I thought; I’d worked hard for years to get where I’d got to, and it really meant something.

By contrast, I realised my new job was motherhood, and that I really wasn’t very good at it.  It’s a 24 hour job, seven days a week, which you can never resign or take a sick day from. It’s poorly paid and it’s pretty thankless until your little one begins to interact with you, so that’s quite a few months of mopping up sick, poo and wee without so much as a giggle.

The realisation of all of this made me want to return to my old job quickly, but I also realised that motherhood had made that tricky. If you earn less than your partner (and of course individual situations differ), it’s natural that you will probably be the one who has to find a job that works around childcare.

One of you has to, at any rate, and in my case, it was me. You’ll need to find a job that allows you flexibility for kids’ sick days and school holidays, and that works around childcare options. Often, those jobs are not as well paid as your previous one, or as high-ranking.  On the plus side, stepping off the career treadmill can turn into a blessing – you get an opportunity to reinvent yourself, and that can be lots of fun.

Great expectations, March 2010

Great expectations, March 2010

Your night life is dead for the foreseeable

When my son was a few months’ old, I ventured out to a mums’ coffee morning. Everyone else seemed to know each other and they were densely packed together in tight groups, but I managed to perch on the end of a table and the two mums nearest to me gaily asked if we were planning to have another baby. I looked aghast. One of them laughed and said “Well, my life was ruined already, so the second one was easy”. She and her friend roared with laughter. I didn’t find it funny.

Now of course I wouldn’t say my life has been ruined (reader, we had a second baby, and I still have friends and a job) but golly, my social life is unrecognisable.  

To give you an idea – we just went to the cinema for the first time in FOUR YEARS.  In order to go out after dark, we now need to kid our five year old son that we’re staying in (he has the ears of a bat – he can detect a babysitter from miles away) AND justify the cost of someone coming. Plus we can’t leave until the children are in bed, because they are very fussy about who does their bedtime routines. So anything that starts before 8pm like, you know, concerts and plays – they’re out. For years.

Anti-depressants are not an admission of failure Motherhood is the biggest adventure of your life, but like all adventures, it’s full of highs and lows, and for some, those lows are intense. The muddy cocktail of hormones you experience immediately post-birth causes many women to weep, but if it lasts longer, seek help. Several months after my son was born, it became clear that my baby blues were something of a permanent feature. A doctor put me on a low dose of an anti-depressant, and while admitting I was struggling made me feel like a failure, the pills themselves made me feel hugely better, very quickly. I was a better mother because of it, and I now strongly advocate more provision for mental health support for young mothers. Post-natal (and ante-natal) depression are both very real, for many women. Don’t feel embarrassed. Please.

So there you have it. That’s what I’d have like to have known before I embarked on motherhood. It’s certainly true that some women, the lucky ones, find only joy in motherhood, and that is a wonderful thing. But this is for the others, the ones who stumble a bit, who trip and fall before finding their feet.

Two very important things I’ve learned: Motherhood is a constantly evolving skill that cannot be learned from a book, however much you read. 

And it’s also an incredible gift – but one that may just take a little longer to unwrap than you imagined.

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Filipina expat: Being jailed with baby in Qatar ‘blessing in disguise’

Mary's son, William

Mary’s son, William

Earlier this month, I wrote an update for Doha News about ‘Mary’, the Filipina expat jailed in Qatar for giving birth out of wedlock and her son, William. They both ended up spending a total of three years in jail together in Doha, and Mary gave me a very honest and insightful interview about life behind bars in Qatar.

The conversation we had about her arrest in her hospital room four days after her son’s birth will stay with me forever, I think.

Click here to read the story on Doha News, and here if you’d like to contribute to a family fund raising money for Mary to hire a lawyer.

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Qatar Airways 777 sees ‘substantial’ damage after takeoff incident

Peter Russell / Flickr

Peter Russell / Flickr

Earlier this month, a Qatar Airways 777 hit the Approach Lighting System at Miami’s airport on take off, causing “substantial damage” to the aircraft. Despite this, the crew continued the flight as normal and the aircraft landed safely in Doha. Significant damage to the aircraft’s belly was discovered by ground crew afterwards, and the accident was reported to the USA’s FAA, which is investigating.

My resulting story for Doha News was incredibly popular. Click here to read it.

(Although I’ve now left Qatar, I’m still working for Doha News as Editor-at-Large, which means I’m still contributing stories, particularly those in which I have a special interest.)

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Expat life in Qatar has made me treasure my vote

polling-station1-300x164One month after my arrival back in the UK, the country went to the polls for one of its most unpredictable general elections in living memory. My participation in it made me realise how much I value the ability to influence the way the country I live in is run, and also brought a lot of aspects of expat life in Qatar into sharp relief.

Edited, September 2016: As the Telegraph as now removed its expat blogs section, here is the post in full:

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There are many differences between Qatar and UK life that I’d anticipated; things that were so obvious they weren’t even really notable, like the safer roads, the cooler but frequently disappointing weather, readily available booze, hayfever, tutting pensioners, tax.

Then, there are the more unexpected ones.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day in Surrey; trees laden with white and pink blossoms, grass lusciously green from recent rainfall, crowned with a polished blue sky. The sort of day you pine for when you’re an expat, but then quickly deny the existence of, guffawing about how it always rains, nay, drizzles everyday in England.

We were driving past a local park on our way back from a sojourn at the supermarket, gawping at the aisles full of ready-meals, bacon and locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, as Gulf-based expats (and recently repatriated ones) are wont to do. And there, reclining in the shade of a tree in the park, was a solitary woman reading a novel. And I realised that in our six years in Qatar, I realised I’d never once seen anyone lying down in a park reading a book.

This is probably because we’d usually frequented Aspire Park in Doha, where lying down is actually banned. Unaware of the rules (which aren’t actually written down anywhere, and which are given to frequent change) we’d attempted to rest in the park in the early years, only to be instructed by the ever-present security guards that it was in fact verboten.  It’s also because single men aren’t actually allowed in Aspire Park, unless they’re dressed in sports gear and running or speed walking, so that’s half of the human race also excluded from the whole reading in the park thing.

The right to vote

Thinking about Aspire Park and its plethora of opaque regulations, I realise one of the things I most appreciate about being home. I am simply grateful to live in a country with transparent rules, and for having the right to speak out about, and vote for, the way in which the country in which I live operates.

I’m writing this just after the UK’s general election, and my Twitter feed is a mix of jubilation and downright anger. The UK has spoken, and naturally for some, it’s not the voice they wanted to hear. As a former expat, my feed is populated with lots of Qatar based Brits, and I’ve spotted several tweets along the lines of  “we’ve got a few rooms free if anyone wants to escape Britain.”

For aggrieved British expat voters who, we must assume, primarily voted for a socialist party which believes in a strong welfare state, an enthusiasm for Qatar’s way of doing things seems to me to be an anachronism.

Qatar is far from a democracy, and the voice of the many is not heard. The country does hold elections for its Central Municipal Council, but its role is only advisory, and only Qatari citizens are entitled to vote. And barring royal intervention, no single expat in Qatar will ever be able to vote in these, because Qatari citizenship is only passed on via the male line. There is no qualifying residential period, no citizenship test to pass.  My two children were born in Qatar, but they are not Qatari. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in the country or how much you’ve contributed; you will never be a citizen, and it will never be your home.

Immigration restrictions

Indeed, Qatar’s immigration policy is a UKIP dream; every expat’s life there is tied to a particular job, and they must leave when it ends. The country also stops immigrants bringing their families into the country unless they earn more than 10,000 QR (£1782) a month, a simply unobtainable amount for most of its low income workforce. And those workers – toiling for six days a week in the burning sun, many in debt to people traffickers, not seeing their families for two years at a time – have no minimum wage and earn less in a month than most Brits would spend in one trip to the supermarket. Additionally, a vast swathe of them, the country’s domestic workers, are not covered by Qatar’s Labour Law and can theoretically be forced to work seven days a week.  A Labour heartland Qatar is not.

But perhaps this reaction to the election is not so surprising. After all, life in Qatar for the average British expat is very comfortable on the whole. Equipped with a well-regarded passport and qualifications that are highly prized, most live in larger homes that they could afford in the UK,employ a cleaner or a nanny, dine out regularly and travel to exotic locations for holidays without a second thought.  At its best, it’s an easy, luxurious life for those lucky enough to have the right job and the right passport.

But I realise now that during my time in Qatar I was constantly anxious about the ever-changing rules, which were like shifting sands underneath my feet. I was also aware that I had very few real rights. All expats in Qatar know that they could be on a plane in a matter of hours if their sponsor decrees it should be so. Many are also so worried about the power of shadowy, apparently omnipotent, forces policing the internet  that they won’t openly criticise the country on social media at all.

Shifting regulations

Expats also know that many of the issues that affect their daily lives – like the curriculum taught to their children, their access to government healthcare, visa requirements for family visits, their alcohol license, their ability to leave the country when they choose – could be altered or rescinded at a moment’s notice, often with no official announcement being made.

Simple things like private school term dates are often altered by the government at the very last minute, for example. Last year, my son’s school was forced to move its half term break with just a month’s notice.  And until recently, several private heads of British schools were telling me that they feared they’d be forced to scrap their Christmas holiday entirely to bring themselves into line with Qatar’s state school semester system. There have now been promises made that this will not be enforced, but as with everything in Qatar, this could still easily change.

Of course, Qatar has every right to run its country how it sees fit, and to decide who is allowed to live and work there, and for how long. I’ve just realised that I’m not very comfortable with the way it operates, and that the UK suits me more.

I’m in the honeymoon period of my return home, of course. Sooner or later my country’’s determinedly bureaucratic “computer says no” attitude to paperwork will get me down, I’m sure. However, I’m also pretty certain that my ability to put a pencil cross in a box in a booth in my local primary school, thereby influencing the election of a candidate to represent me at parliament – such an historic act, unchanged for generations –  will never get old.  Similarly, my rights to protest and to speak my mind without fear are dearer to me now than ever.

We may now have less cash, a vastly smaller place to live and an eye-popping fuel bill, but we’re home, and in control of our own destiny. I might go and grab a book, take it to the park and have a snooze there to celebrate.

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Four new Telegraph blog posts and a big announcement

dunes2

There’s big news from me in my most recent Telegraph blog post. It turns out that almost six years to the day after I first stepped off a plane in Doha, I’m going to be flying back to the UK for good. It’s been an incredible adventure, and I’ll miss all of my friends here tremendously, but as I say in the post – it’s “time.”

Some other recent Telegraph posts for you: My reflections on Doha’s horrendous road congestion; my views on the country’s litter problem; and my opinion on the difficulties facing expat women who want to work in Qatar.

Enjoy!

Update September 2016: Since the Telegraph blogs have been removed from their site, this is my post about our decision to leave Doha in full:

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The end of our expat adventure is nigh

When I arrived in Qatar for the first time in March 2009, I pretty much wanted to leave immediately. If you’d have given me an airline ticket and told me to head straight for the airport, I would have done it. After all, I’d just resigned from a job I loved, had bid farewell to many people I loved, and had flown thousands of miles to begin a new life in a country I’d never visited before. It’s understandable I found the early days rather tricky.

We were accidental expats. My husband’s previous company had gone bust towards the end of 2008, and as the credit crunch hit the UK, potential new employers stopped hiring. This meant that job offer from Qatar, a country with supremely solid financial credentials (and that’s an understatement), was too good an offer to turn down.

The fact that we both knew it was the right choice didn’t make our expat early days any easier, however. I was homesick, culture shocked, baffled and lonely in equal measure.

To be frank, I’m a rubbish expat. I’m terrible at change, and I need routine and familiarity to feel secure. I remember feeling back then that it would somehow have all been easier if I’d known the date of my eventual departure from Qatar. Granted, I knew our time would be counted in years rather than weeks, but I still felt that knowing the expiry date of our expat lives would give me comfort.

As time went on, however, I learned to live without my cosseted departure date. I ceased to view my stay in Qatar as an extended holiday, and began to put down roots, albeit shallow ones. Tick-tock went the metaphorical clock as we moved homes, travelled, made new friends, had first a son, then a daughter, and generally went about making a new life for ourselves. Before we knew it, six years had passed, and I’d stopped thinking about how long we had left here. We were just focusing on the present.

But now, that clock is about to be stilled. In less than three months, we’re going to be boarding our final flight out of Qatar and heading home to the UK, where a new job for my husband awaits. Our expat adventure – and that’s certainly what it’s been, an adventure – is nearly over.

As we’ve broken the news gradually to friends and family over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself saying, over and over again, that “it’s time.” I do genuinely feel as if we’ve reached our own personal expiry date in Qatar, a phenomenon that many of my friends can relate to. Whether it’s for a short while or a very long tenure, everyone has their own personal limit, and I know that we’ve reached ours.

That’s not to say that we hate the place. On the contrary, I’ve grown to feel that Qatar has become my adopted home, appreciating its charms and benefits whilst simultaneously acknowledging its pitfalls and faults.

The clock was always counting down to our departure, though, whether we willed it to or not. Even if you are born in Qatar and live here all your life, if you’re an expat, you must leave when you retire. The phrase ‘adopted home’ implies permanence, but under the country’s (soon to be revised) employment laws, you have no choice but to leave if you lose your job and you’re not given permission to apply for another one. Any feeling of security and stability in Qatar is more a badge of your own innate optimism rather than something rooted in reality.

It’s an odd feeling, living out my final days as an expat. The countdown clock is finally reality, and as soon as my husband’s resignation was submitted, the country ceased to feel like ‘home’. The protective film I’d layered around me to represent security peeled away, and I started feeling like I’d already moved on.

Now, my head is full of British things – houses, schools, cars, mobile phone contracts, furniture, and that rather alien concept known as tax. In an echo of how I felt when I first arrived, part of me wishes I could skip the notice period and hop on a flight tomorrow, but the rest of me knows that’s not what I want at all.

This final three months will be an opportunity to say goodbye to all that we’ve built up over the last six years, not the least of which is an incredibly tight circle of friends – that much fabled ‘expat family.’ It’s also an opportunity to fulfil our Qatar ‘bucket’ list, the things we’ve always meant to do here, but haven’t ever got around to doing.

It also gives us much needed time to shed most of our possessions, as we’re aiming to return to the UK with just suitcases. We’ve giving a lot away, but also experiencing the flipside of the expat “I’m just popping over to see what you have that I may want to buy” phenomenon, so often the source of second-hand finds in our own home.

It’s also an opportunity to eat our way through our kitchen cupboards, although I don’t reckon we’re ever going to finish the buy-one-get-one-free two litre bottles of vegetable oil I bought before Christmas. My husband also pointed out that I’ll need to drink at least three cups of tea a day between now and April if we’re to finish all of our supply. No problem, I said. I’m British; that’ll be a doddle.

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An expat’s possessions, and Doha’s ‘broken’ roads

Muhammad Kamran Qureshi/Flickr

Muhammad Kamran Qureshi/Flickr

Here are two more Telegraph blog posts for you – the first about the true value of an expat’s possessions, and the second about Qatar’s ‘broken’ roads, a post I wrote following a particularly depressing week on Doha’s dangerous streets.

The first post was also published in the Telegraph Weekly World print edition.

Enjoy!

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Two new Telegraph blog posts: Giving birth in the Qatari desert, and The arrival of winter

mangroves

I’m now back writing again after a rather momentous event, the birth of our second child – a little girl – at the beginning of August.  Luckily she’s a very good baby and allows Mummy some time to dedicate to her passion. I love motherhood, but I also love having a creative outlet, so I’m enjoying blogging for The Telegraph about expat life.

My first two posts following my daughter’s birth have been about The Cuban Hospital (the rather unusual location for her delivery) and about the very welcome arrival of winter in Qatar.

Footnote:

The Telegraph recently deleted all of its expat blogging content. So here’s the text of my  “Giving birth on Mars” column, pasted here for posterity. 

“My daughter had been born on Mars. Or at least, that’s how it appeared when I looked through the window of my hospital bedroom. Admittedly I was somewhat spaced out after an unplanned general anaesthetic and some tremendously welcome pain killers, but still, my vista of sand and rocks as far as the eye could see, stained rusty orange by a desert sunset, did have an otherworldly quality to it.

My hospital bed, whilst not actually on another planet, was located in Zekreet, about an hour’s drive from Doha, near the coastal town of Dukhan.  Barely more than a tiny settlement, the area is distinguished by a plethora of unusual limestone ‘mushrooms’ and sculptor Richard Serra’s new installation of his work “East-West/West-East,” four towering steel monoliths located in the wilderness. Zekreet might not actually be extra-terrestrial, but let’s put it this way – it’s not Epsom. Or even Doha.

Most Doha residents rarely venture out this far, except for occasional jaunts to admire the sunset from Dukhan’s pleasant beaches.   The drive, along what must surely be one of the world’s least-used motorways, is by and large a study in beige. Beige sand, beige rocks, beige buildings – what buildings there are, that is. The most exciting part of the journey is the section that passes through Shahaniya, home to the country’s enormous camel race track. (If you can’t spot a camel from your car, you’re not looking hard enough.)

Now, however, an increasingly large proportion of the country’s pregnant women are choosing to make the lengthy journey on a regular basis, spurred on by the reputation of Dukhan’s local hospital for excellent care.

The Cuban Hospital of Dukhan is far from your average local general hospital. As its name suggests, it’s staffed by hundreds of Cuban doctors and nurses, transplanted more than 7000 miles and deposited in the Qatari desert.  Opened in 2011, it’s funded and run by Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Qatar’s public healthcare system.

Medical Internationalism

The Cubans employed at the hospital, around 400 in all, are just a small proportion of the tens of thousands of Cuban medical practitioners who are currently employed overseas on fixed term contracts, through the country’s policy of ‘medical internationalism,’ which often sees its doctors being sent to war zones to carry out humanitarian work.

Qatar clearly doesn’t fall into this category, but Cuba’s Ambassador to Qatar recently said that the deal they’d struck was an example of the “excellent” relations between the two countries.

It certainly seems to be working well for both sides – Cuba benefits financially, and in return, Qatar has staffed an entire hospital from a guaranteed pool of well qualified staff who live in purpose built accommodation on site.

My plan to deliver at The Cuban was met with many a raised eyebrow and a discrete cough, particularly from friends and family who weren’t familiar with Qatar’s healthcare system. I’m not surprised. The place sounds fantastical to me too, and I’ve actually been treated there.

My choice, however, was a logical one. I was attracted by Cuba’s reputation for excellent medical training, the attractively designed, well-equipped modern hospital (with single en suite rooms as standard), and the fact that it came under the umbrella of Qatar’s public healthcare system, meaning that I received heavily subsidised care.

Cost saving

This was a tremendous bonus, as I’m one of a significant number of expat women whose employer-provided health insurance doesn’t provide maternity cover.

The cost of private healthcare in Qatar is increasing rapidly. When I gave birth to our son in Qatar in 2010, a private birth cost us around £2500, plus significant sums for all antenatal check-ups and tests. This has now more than doubled. So, the cost of my c-section at The Cuban – a mind-bogglingly brilliant 400 Qatari riyals (around £70) was a no-brainer.

Four years ago, none of Qatar’s public hospitals allowed husbands beyond the maternity hospital waiting room. So, despite the cost, we decided to deliver our son at a private hospital so that my husband could be present at all appointments, as well as at the actual birth.

This time around, however, we were attracted by The Cuban’s reputation for having a “more western” approach to maternity care than Qatar’s other public hospitals, allowing husbands to be much more involved, including welcoming them at all appointments and scans. My husband was not present, however, at my c-section – birthing partners are strictly not allowed in the operating theatre here, something that upsets many.

So, not quite the midwife-led units, multiple birthing partners and birthing pools of home (attitudes towards childbirth in Qatar do, on occasion, have a worryingly 1970s-UK, over-medicalised whiff to them.) It’s to be hoped, however, that Qatar’s forthcoming Sidra hospital for women and children will do much to change the childbirth experience here. For now, however, residents are seeking out pockets of medical care where they feel most comfortable, and for me, The Cuban was it.

The other huge plus was the hospital’s well organised appointment system, which meant we hardly ever had to wait. Even in Doha’s private hospitals, it’s not unusual to have to wait up to two hours to see an obstetrician at each antenatal appointment, but at The Cuban, I never waited more than 10 minutes.

I’d far rather drive an hour each way to my appointment, than wait in a characterless room decorated with plastic flowers, thumbing through years-old copies of Hello, for the same period of time – whilst paying through the nose for the privilege, of course.

Helpful nurses

Having given birth under both the private and state systems in Qatar, I must say I rate the latter more highly. My first experience – which I also wrote about for Telegraph Expat – was characterised by a lack of support from nursing staff. In particular, the absence of information about, or practical help for, breastfeeding was woeful.  Based on this experience, it comes as no surprise that Qatar has a very low breastfeeding rate.

By contrast, the Cuban doctors and nurses were very encouraging, with the paediatric nurses in particular providing a shoulder to cry on and proper practical help in the wee hours of the morning when I was ready to throw in the towel.I also enjoyed getting to know more about their daily lives in Cuba, and finding out about their families, who they’d all had to leave behind – a decision made by Cuba, and not by Qatar, they said.

One nurse in particular told me about her baby son, who was three. She’d left Cuba when he was a year old, and she could tell me the exact number of days she had left until the end of her contract, when would be reunited with him again. She had less than a month to go until her flight out, so six weeks on, I imagine her now, souvenirs unpacked, suitcase stowed and forgotten, relishing her return to motherhood.

I’m so grateful to her and all of her colleagues for making my second experience of childbirth in Qatar a positive one. I loved the Cuban music I could hear being played at the nurse’s station in the evening; the bursts of “que Linda” (how beautiful) whenever they saw my daughter (I was convinced for a day that they thought she was called Linda); and even the odd Cuban coconut pudding I had for lunch.

Qatar and Cuba – an unusual partnership, I grant you – but at this hospital, it definitely works. I’m not planning on any more children (you can quote me on that) but I must say, if I did end up doing it all again in Qatar, I’d head back to the eerie, Martian landscape of Zekreet, and its Cuban inhabitants, every time.

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Mother and child in jail for debt – a follow-up story for Doha News

sarahkoller.com

sarahkoller.com

Recently, I wrote a follow-up to a very popular Doha News story from last year, in which I focused on women who’d been jailed in Qatar for giving birth outside of wedlock.

In the latest story, I write about Mary (not her real name), who’d originally been sentenced to a year in prison with her baby for sex outside marriage, and was still in jail, more than 15 months later, due to debts, most of which she had accumulated after borrowing money from a loan shark.

The story went viral and got shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. It’s co-authored with my Doha News colleague Peter Kovessy, who provided the sections on the legal framework in Qatar.

You can click here to read it, and the comments underneath – 122 to date – are well worth reading, too.

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Precious family time in Doha during Ramadan – my first Telegraph blog post

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I was recently asked to become a regular blogger for The Telegraph’s expat section. My first post is about Ramadan, and the surprising upside to being stuck indoors with very little to do for a month.

I’m expecting our second child very soon, and I’ve realised that Doha’s heat and Ramadan’s restrictions on day time activities have led me to focus even more on my little family – a real blessing.

Update September 2016: As the Telegraph has now removed all expat blogs from its site, here is the post in full:

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Precious family time in Qatar during Ramadan

Many non-Muslim expats choose to leave Qatar for Ramadan. The reasons for this are myriad: almost all food outlets are closed during the day, and it’s illegal to eat or drink in public; the entire country essentially shuts down every afternoon, with most shops and offices closed; alcohol sales are banned; and road conditions around sunset require rally driving skills and nerves of steel, as fasting drivers speed to reach their iftar meal.

We’ve done similar in years past. Primarily, we’ve flown out to escape the furnace that is summer in Doha.

Ramadan moves annually, migrating backwards in the calendar by around 11 days each year, and for the past six years or so, it’s fallen in the most uncomfortable of Qatar’s seasons. From June to September it’s far too hot to go outside for the much of the day (our garden thermometer is currently reading 42c in the shade), and given that Ramadan this year falls neatly at the beginning of school summer holidays, you can see why a non-fasting family might choose to exit stage right.

Not us this year, however. Due to the impending addition of another Scott to our current family unit of three, I’m grounded. Quite literally, as it happens – pregnant women are unable to fly late in their pregnancy, so in Doha I must stay until our little one makes an entrance.

I’ve had plenty of people commiserating with me about the “miserable timing”, and I must admit to some pangs of jealousy caused by photos shared on Facebook and Twitter of Wimbledon, green hills, rural pub lunches and garden barbeques.

And yet, despite Doha’s oppressive heat and the restrictions of Ramadan, there’s a certain magic about this time of year here, even for a non-Muslim expat like me. Muslim friends of mine say they see this month as an opportunity to step off the hamster wheel and pause for a while, focusing on family life and reflection, and I must say I’m also beginning to see it that way.

As we enter the final few weeks of our life as a family of three, I’m beginning to appreciate the lack of distractions. Faced with nowhere in particular to go in the afternoons, for example, we’ve baked cookies, walked (waddled in my case)around empty (but blessedly air-conditioned) malls, and simply sat down to watch TV together, taking in the tennis whilst munching on ice-lollies.

And when my son helps me to mix the dough, holds my hand on the sofa or screams with laughter when my husband throws him in the air (and this happens frequently in our house) I am remembering to treasure that moment, to tuck it away and keep it safe.

I’m learning that a period of what essentially amounts to house arrest can have its benefits; when you’re about to embark on a period of huge change, being made to stand and stare for a while can be a blessing in disguise.

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Saving money while working in Qatar – a two-part series for The Telegraph

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I recently wrote a two-part series of articles for The Telegraph giving advice to expats about how to save money in Qatar, a country which is becoming an increasingly expensive to live in.

I offer lots of suggestions to keep spending in check, including:

  • Making use of all available discounts when eating out by seeking discount clubs, books and websites – like QgrabsThe Entertainer and Voucher Clubs;
  • Timing big purchases like a second-hand car for the end of an academic year, when many expats leave Qatar for good;
  • Being wary of reductions in the value of car insurance coverage as your car ages –  this can make buying an old car a false economy in the event of an accident;
  • Taking a trip to the seasonal farmers’ markets with friends to save money by buying produce in bulk, then splitting it up;
  • Making full use of the second-hand market in Qatar, which is always busy due to the high turnover of expats here. Online groups like Buy It, Sell It, Swap It, Qatar on Facebook, classifieds on Qatar Living and garage sales are sources of many gently or barely used items;
  • Planning to buy expensive items like clothing, children’s shoes and specialty foods while traveling outside of Qatar, to save on costs (depending of course on baggage allowance)

You can click here to read the first part, and here to read the second.

Credit: Photo by Patrick Gage / Flickr

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