International Bureaucracy


I am posting this today, as it is a monumental day in the Bear household. Nkosinathi finally has his British passport, see…

We have worked so hard to get to this point when, really, we shouldn’t have. It has taken 3 months to get this passport. 3 months of going back and forth with the Passport Office. And all because of some bloody plastic.

Plastic, you say? OK, let’s go back to the beginning. Brace yourself, as it’s a long story…

My son Nathi, as I’m sure I have mentioned before, was born in Manzini, Swaziland, in December 2016, rather unexpectedly and dramatically. It took us a number of weeks to obtain the correct documents for him to be returned home to the UK (via South Africa) and, to be honest, you’d have thought he was a middle-aged convicted criminal what with all of the paperwork, phonecalls, emails (which was very difficult in rural Swaziland) and appointments, and downright faff we had to deal with at the various Embassies, Home Affairs and High Commissions.

We received Nathi’s papers upon leaving the hospital, including his medical record card and various letters from the hospital that were required in order to extend my own visa, which had expired while I was in hospital recovering from the birth. We needed the record card and other documents in order to obtain the birth certificate from the Registrar in Mbabane, which we managed to do soon after leaving the hospital.

In terms of getting Nathi home to the UK, we needed to travel via South Africa, so then had to work out which visas, passports, documents we needed to apply for, and where we needed to go to get them (and how long it would take).

So, for entry into South Africa, we needed to have an emergency passport (which would actually get him right through to the UK), as well as a visa for Nathi to enter the country at the border. We found out that there weren’t any emergency passport documents available in the whole of Swaziland, as they were waiting for a shipment from (guess where) the UK, which wasn’t due until after Christmas (They had outsourced the printing). This issue was affecting a lot of people in Swaziland right before the Christmas holidays, especially newly-graduated students who wanted to continue their education in South Africa in the new year, and anyone travelling to and from South Africa to see family at Christmas. So, we really thought we were at the end of a very long queue at this stage, with no idea of when we could obtain the travel document for Nathi. So, for the time being, we were staying in Swaziland indefinitely.

Now, I can’t remember exactly how this happened, but the Swazi Home Affairs were actually willing and able to help us with our request, despite the lack of papers in the whole country. We were given an appointment with the Chief Immigration Officer at Home Affairs. Before we arrived, we needed a photograph of Nathi, as well as all of the documents and birth certificate. A photo with his eyes open. He was literally only a couple of weeks old. We tried everything to get him to open his eyes – Removing clothes, splashing water in his face, shining lights on him, sitting him up, making loud noises. Eventually, we just about got the photo we needed. So, we took it to Home Affairs. We met the Chief Immigration Officer, a rather strong woman with a natty uniform, and a plaque with her title on the door. She had the bigger desk in the office, which she shared with her assistant. I remember the assistant joking that she thought I was just carrying a bag when it was, in fact, a sling which held a very teeny Nathi. The CIO wanted to see him, to check the photo was a true likeness, and even take his thumbprint for the document. We even had to determine his eye colour. But, one thing that the CIO did which was extremely kind, and I think very rare, was to leave the date blank on the document so that it could be completed once we knew when we had Nathi’s visa from the SA High Commission, therefore knowing the date we would be arriving in the UK. She asked us to come back once we had our UK arrival date confirmed, and she would fill in the date for us. On the form, it stated that the document expired upon arrival in the UK.

Are you keeping up? (I don’t even know if I am!)

So, my partner then went to the SA High Commission and applied for Nathi’s visa to get him through South Africa. It would be valid for 30 days, so we had a bit of leeway in terms of when we could travel. He waited for hours at the High Commission, who only open their doors for 2 hours each morning, then close them in order to spend the rest of the day dealing with all the people who managed to sardine themselves into the lobby before the doors were locked behind them. Most of these ‘sardines’ had been waiting in a queue since the early hours of the morning. My partner was successful after hours of waiting, and was told to then come back in 2 weeks when the visa would be ready. He had submitted a lot of paperwork to them, including the original travel document from Swazi Home Affairs.

Then, my partner had a job in Malawi for 2 weeks. In his absence, I had to sort out an extension on my and Khaya’s visas. In order to get this extension, we needed a letter from our host, Mamkhulu (my partner’s amazing aunt), explaining that we were in her care during our stay in Swaziland. Mamkhulu is almost completely blind, and can’t read or write anymore. I handwrote the letter, after discussions about what should be included, and then Mamkhulu signed using her thumbprint and an inkpad. I made sure we had all of the documents we needed for the visa extension, even putting them in order, and then we had to get a photo of myself and of Khaya to complete the application (By now, they knew us pretty well at the photo shop). I was having a particularly bad time coping with everything, and I think I was looking for a release, which came in the form of a lady at the Home Affairs who was not very welcoming. She actually made me cry. But, my wonderful sister-in-law stepped in and made it all better! She spoke to the lady in siSwati, and mentioned my partner’s name, then all was well with the world (He tends to have this effect on people). The lady had met him recently, and remembered him. She demanded that we have two copies of the letter from Mamkhulu – One for my application, and one for Khaya’s. I was distraught at the idea of having to go back and do the letter one more time, and bother Mamkhulu for another signature. But, after seeing another applicant, the lady then told me that I could just photocopy the letter at a stall outside the building. Which I did. I still have no idea why she didn’t say that in the first place. She then gave us some temporary documents, and told us to come back in a couple of weeks when the proper documents would be available. I don’t think they ever asked us for payment for these extensions. Clearly we were being looked down on that day. It didn’t feel like it at the time, I must say (but, that’s another story altogether – It was my biggest ‘meltdown day’ to date).

We then tried to go to the SA High Commission to collect the visa for Nathi, but it was closed. It ended up that my partner went to do this once he returned from Malawi, so it would have been about a month after the application was made (ie. plenty of time for them to process it). He managed to get in to collect the visa, but they told him that there was no record of it being processed, and they didn’t have the Swazi emergency travel document any more. They had lost it. But, they still said that they couldn’t process the visa because the date on the travel document was left blank. No-one had bothered to contact us about this. It was like something out of a very frustrating sitcom. I remember that phonecall from my partner so well. So, we didn’t have a visa and we now didn’t have the emergency travel document. We were essentially right back at square one, after two months since Nathi’s birth.

I told the British High Commission in South Africa all about it. In fact, here is a snippet of my email to them:

“We are currently reconsidering our options in terms of applying for the emergency travel document or the full UK passport for Nathi (which we know we will have to do at some point anyway). We, today, have had a major setback regarding his South African visa, meaning that we will have to apply for not only the visa again, but the emergency travel document from the Swaziland government as well. Talk about going back to square one! It means that we still cannot leave Swaziland with Nathi, and will more than likely have to delay our flights even further.”

We had already been in contact with the British High Commission but, as they were based in Pretoria and really only seemed to deal with Brits in South Africa, not Swaziland, we thought we had to sort out the paperwork first to just allow us to get Nathi into South Africa so that we could then focus on the SA-to-UK leg of the journey. We were trying to get ahead with that part, using the wonderful internet to send copies of documents to the British High Commission for the application for an emergency passport. They needed my birth certificate as part of the application, a copy of which my dad had to obtain from Southampton Register Office back in the UK (which would have been quicker than looking for the original copy in my flat), and send it to me in Swaziland, which ended up only taking 5 days. We also needed to confirm our flight dates, which we ended up booking for a way in advance, as we had big reservations about how long the application process would take for this document (especially after our fun with the SA High Commission losing documents and not keeping us up-to-date about things). After the conversation with the British High Commission about the loss of the visa and travel document, I had a call from them. The lady I had been chatting to on email was called Marilena and, well, she may as well have been wearing a halo and wings. She simply said ‘We can get him a document which will cover his travel from Swaziland to the UK via South Africa’. She had originally misunderstood who the visa was for and, when she realised it was for Nathi, she basically said everything we wanted to hear. I remember exactly where I was when we had this conversation. It was the most amazing phone call ever – I’ll never forget it. The clouds literally parted. I even asked, ‘But, what if we need to spend a few days in South Africa?’ She replied, ‘That’s fine. Just give us the date you’re leaving Swaziland and the date you’re leaving South Africa, and we can add them to the document’. So, we planned our leaving date (my birthday) and kept flights booked for the following week. It turned out that my partner and Khaya didn’t come home with us, resulting in a 6-week separation, which was hard, especially as it included Khaya’s second birthday. That was heartbreaking. But, we couldn’t imagine me flying with two under two with only one seat between us. It made sense for Khaya to stay with his Baba and for Nathi and I to travel on our own together. His emergency passport arrived within the time that they said, and we had to collect it from a very nice British Commissioner who was based in an office near Mbabane. Sadly, when Nathi and I arrived at Heathrow, they retained his emergency passport, as it was only valid for that one journey. I wish we could have kept it. Luckily, I had a note of the passport number which we would need for the British passport application once we got home.

So, this seems like a good time to revisit the plastic. What could that all be about, I hear you shout? Well, Nathi’s birth certificate was presented to us in Swaziland as an A4 blue piece of card with the details printed on it, then signed by the Registrar. It had also been laminated. It is something that they do as standard, and it is a way of preserving the documents and making them more robust. It’s a very, very good idea for a document that has to last you a lifetime. Especially in a hot country where ink can smudge over time (I don’t know if that last bit is necessarily true; it was just something logical that I thought up to make me sound like I know what I’m talking about).

We found out, about a week after sending off the passport application here in the UK, that they don’t accept laminated or photocopied documents. Supposedly, even if they’re the originals. This was the only birth certificate we had for Nathi, and the only certified copies we had were photocopies. After the initial letter telling us that the birth certificate was unacceptable, we sent them everything we had, and told them as much. It still wasn’t acceptable. Then, in the second letter, they said something that just made me laugh through the livid teeth-grinding, as follows:

“If you are unwilling to travel to Swaziland to obtain a replacement document that is unlaminated then we will accept a letter from the Swazi authorities (eg. from the Swazi embassy in London) confirming the enclosed laminated document as authentic.”

UNWILLING?! We can’t travel to Swaziland without a passport for our infant son, which we are trying to obtain from you (mainly for the purposes of travelling to and from Swaziland), but you’re saying that we need another, unlaminated, birth certificate from… yep… Swaziland. We can’t just leave him at home on his own, can we. He needs me to feed him, amongst other necessary things to remain alive. And, what if the next original copy we get is laminated as well? What if they won’t allow us to have an unlaminated one? Believe me, if we could have done it, we would have by now (My partner even tried when he went back to Southern Africa a month ago, but found out we both had to be present). We certainly weren’t unwilling! (So many italics, I apologise). I felt like writing back to them, saying something like ‘Please think about what you just said. How about, instead, you accept that some countries’ birth certificates are different to the ones issued in the UK, which can include laminated A4 blue card ones’. If only I’d had the guts. Instead, we made an appointment to see the Swazi embassy in London (who were amazing, and said that this happens A LOT), and we managed to finally get the passport granted with help from our letter from the embassy.

PHEW. I started this process in March, after being separated from my partner and eldest son in order to get back to the UK to get his passport sorted ASAP. It took longer than if we’d applied through the British High Commission while we were still in Swaziland, which was an option at the time. But, it’s all done now. You live and learn. And, by golly, have we done that!

Anxiety (That Thing We’re Not Supposed to Talk About…)


I have been really touched by the feedback I have received about my blog so far, especially from people who have either suffered with anxiety themselves, or are close to someone who has/does. Hearing about the different ways it manifests itself, too, has been a real eye-opener. From intrusive and unwelcome thoughts to muscle tension – I had no idea that anxiety could cause such a range of physical and mental symptoms.

I am shocked at how common it is, and how little it is talked about. For example, a good friend of mine had suffered with anxiety a couple of years ago, and I never even knew. She never talked about it (You know who you are – I hear ya, sista). But then, I haven’t ever really discussed it with anyone else before, either, which is why I feel it’s important to now open up the discussion of this subject publicly. It’s almost like an unwritten rule that you don’t share the fact that you’re suffering with anxiety. Is it seen as a sign of weakness? Are sufferers made to feel that way about it? Because I actually see it as a sign of great strength that has been pushed to its limit.

Humans have to have a regulated balance. If there is rough, there has to be smooth. We have a highly capable ability to hold things together and deal with fantastic amounts of stress and, it seems in today’s society, this is expected of you. People working all hours, and not just the ones they are paid for; the constant pressures placed upon parents to do things the ‘right’ way, or it may harm their child…

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this at some time in your lives – When you have a break from work or school, you find that you become ill. Our bodies just give up battling it any more, and the only time we have to rest, we have to then deal with an illness! It makes logical sense that, if we all give ourselves a bit of relaxation time more regularly, we could avoid these extremes. But, really, who has time for that? So, the body and mind have no choice but to go into some kind of physical meltdown when the opportunity presents itself. A head cold. The flu. Maybe a migraine, or worse.

Is there too much stress in our daily lives, or are humans just not made to cope with it? If it’s a case of looking at our current lifestyles, I believe that the introduction of having everything available at our fingertips has a lot to do with the pressures we all feel, especially if these things fail us. Kids no longer have to walk down to the end of the street to call their parents from a phone box when they’re going to be late home from the park. Instead, now, parents worry more when they can’t get hold of a child who has a mobile phone, which should be with them and switched on 24/7. How many conversations have you had where someone says ‘Let’s Google it’ instead of relying on collective memory and knowledge to get the answer to a question (or looking it up in a book)? We no longer have to try. It’s all given to us instantly – Information, comfort, safety, entertainment. Back in ‘the day’ when we didn’t have this constant stream of information at our fingertips, I wonder if life was less stressful. There were no alternatives. Even now, in some countries, this is the case. For example, nobody in Swaziland felt frustrated or anxious when the internet or electricity went down. It happens regularly enough for the locals to be able to manage around it. They have other light sources ready at the drop of a hat, and (in some households) gas cookers or braai pits in case the electricity fails. And, despite it being very expensive, everyone has mobile data on their phones. But, for me, it was extremely frustrating. But, that’s because I have been privileged to have these things constantly available during my lifetime in the UK, and always in good working order (Well, except when Virgin screw up). I remember being in hospital when I was having Nathi in Manzini, Swaziland, and not being able to contact my family back home in the UK. There was no wifi anywhere in the hospital (despite it being a private hospital), and every time someone tried to call my Swazi mobile number, I couldn’t connect to the call. I finally ended up being able to call them, but it cost a lot of money to do so. I really missed that ease of communication that we have in the UK, and I knew my family were worrying about us (My mum thought we’d died at one point, after not hearing anything for quite a while – Sorry, mum, that must have been horrible).

Do all of those little day-to-day frustrations we experience so often really lead to full-blown anxiety, though? Is there an anxiety spectrum? What if you’ve had to deal with something bigger than these day-to-day stresses? Do people have different levels of coping? Could one person’s loss of a loved one equal another’s work worries in terms of how it affects them mentally?

I had a fantastic lightbulb moment about my anxiety last Saturday while chatting to a good friend of mine (which was the inspiration for this post). I realised that it comes up more when I’m not busy or active. How’s that for an oxymoron? The one thing you want to do when you feel anxious is relax but, when you do, your anxiety flares up. I get a tight chest and shortness of breath more often while breastfeeding my son, or sitting with my thoughts and nothing else to occupy my brain, my senses or my limbs. I have found myself trying to find time to relax more often since the anxiety has taken a hold of me, and it seems that I have made the wrong choice. So, what’s the alternative? I just have to stay busy all the time, for the rest of my life? Stay strong, be active, have things to do all day long? Where do I go back and get that ‘regulated balance’, mentioned above, so as to avoid the anxiety flare-ups that I get now? If I’d have known what I know now, would I have been able to save myself? My conclusion is actually to make a more conscious effort to concentrate more on things. Distraction is the key. When I am on the verge of an attack, I need to occupy my mind with something else. Or go for a walk. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. It’s really helping me to deal with my anxiety in a healthy and rewarding way.

If anyone has any comments or answers to some of the questions I have posed in this post, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts, ideas and experiences. Please comment, or contact me privately.

And, if anxiety is something you’re dealing with, know you’re not alone, and you are not weak. It’s OK to let it come to you, and I hope you’re able to get the help you need to manage your way through it. Please talk about it. And, also know that it won’t last forever. Nothing ever does.

NSG xxx

(Photo credit: Fernando Cferdo at

Public Displays Of Parent Solidarity


You always knows who else is a parent when you are out and about. Right? Case in point: When we went to a cafe with my son in a buggy, the waiter found the perfect table for us so that the buggy could be near us, and he even got a high chair for us before we asked for one. My first question to him was “Are you a daddy, by any chance?”. Turns out he had three young children.

That’s just one example of what I call ‘Parent Solidarity’. It’s one of the many things I look out for when I’m out and about with the boys. Sometimes it’s just being helped on or off a bus. Sometimes it’s checking out the buggy and, in some cases, even asking questions about it.

Parent Solidarity often occurs when children are having a tantrum, or are being particularly loud in public. There’s a look. A look of ‘I’ve been there’ or ‘Don’t worry, we’re not judging you’. It makes a change from the looks of those who are judging you (often not parents, or too old to remember what it’s like to have little ones!).

Sometimes, I want to wear a sign that explains what people are seeing. My eldest son, who is just over 2-years old now, still uses a dummy. But, only when he’s ready for sleep. He also carries a muslin as a comfort blanket. Again, only when he’s ready for sleep. The amount of looks he gets when he’s in the buggy with the dummy… I just want to scream, “He’s only got it because I’m trying to get him to sleep!”. I have even had people asking him why he has a dummy. I remember a staff member at our local Sainsbury’s almost taking it out of his mouth, saying “You don’t need that” (In case you’re wondering, she was one of the older variety of judges). It’s really hard to explain to total strangers that you have a system and you know what you’re doing. And, what’s the problem with dummies anyway? I think they have been a lifesaver on many occasions!

Anyway, just have a look out for Parent Solidarity next time you’re out with your little ones. You’ll be surprised how much you see. It’s always nice to notice the Parent Solidarity when all you think you’ll encounter is negativity from strangers. And when your child has a tantrum in public, just think of those looks from other parents – It will help you cope!


NSG xxx

(Photo credit: Daniel Cheung at



In my original post (for those who are following!), I mentioned that I suffer from anxiety. It’s a strange thing, as I have never got to the bottom of whether it has come as a result of certain things that have happened in my life, or whether I have always been susceptible to these mental health issues. All I know is that I feel it when life gets a little hard to handle.

Now, I know we all have it. It’s life, right? We have to deal with such tough things and, it’s true, they do make us stronger. But, as I have always said, there has to be a crack somewhere. If you’re strong for too long, the weakness will come. And, sometimes, it’s overwhelmingly shit. Not only are you weak, you’re incapable of coping with anything remotely tough.

In my case, I have suffered from anxiety a few times in my adult life, all at a time after having to be strong and hold things together because I didn’t want to admit to how crap my life was underneath my happy armour. I have been surprisingly good at holding things together and putting on a front, but then I just have a mental and physical crash, and I am unable to cope. With anything.

Becoming a mum was one of the toughest challenges I have ever faced. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, but I never felt the way I should have. I didn’t have that instant bond with my first born son, and it took me at least a year to feel like his mum. Does that make sense? I actually felt as if he was someone else’s child for that first year, and it was just my job to look after him. The breastfeeding never worked out, sadly, so that didn’t help. But, I kept it together. I remember the day we were doing some filming for my grandparents’ TV show (They invited us to be a part of the filming when Khaya was 6 months old). I spent the whole taxi ride there thinking ‘I don’t want Khaya anymore’. I was in a very bad place at that time. And there was no real reason for it. Khaya was, and still is, an angel. He wasn’t hard to look after. He was completely gorgeous. I just wasn’t feeling it. At all. I didn’t feel like his mum.

Now, with Khaya and with Nathi, I am totally there. I feel very close to both of them. Along with their wonderful Baba, we are a very close family who show love for each other all the time. The boys have everything they need, and I have a lot of support from my partner and our families.

It is only now, or from soon after my second son’s birth, that the anxiety is making itself known, and I feel constantly on the verge of an attack. My chest is tight most of the day, I get pains in my chest, and feel exhausted and stressed a lot of the time. But, I amaze myself at how I can stay calm through the harder times, like when my toddler was sick in the car a couple of weeks ago, or when I am alone looking after one son with a tummy bug and one son who is teething and won’t let me put him down anywhere except my lap.

It’s important to note that I have been to see my GP, who referred me to a local psychology service, and prescribed me some beta blockers, which seem to be doing some good. I actually think they numb the stress and emotion, as I’m less able to cry now when things get hard.

That is until I have a proper meltdown.

Something will trigger it. Two simultaneously screaming children, perhaps. Or something really small like spilling something on the floor, or biting the inside of my lip. And it’ll be just the icing on the cake. There may have been about 15 other small things that have accumulated over the course of a day, which just add up to make something larger.

I might shout, or cry, or both. Khaya has this sweet thing where he just calmly keeps saying ‘Hi’ to me over and over to stop me from crying (He repeatedly says words until you repeat them back to him). The worst thing I do is shout around the kids. Or cry in front of them. I hate it, and always feel so guilty afterwards. I don’t want them to be sad. I don’t want them to see Mama like that. I don’t want them to grow up like me. But, I have nowhere else to facilitate these meltdowns. I am with the children 24 hours a day.

Another symptom of my problem is not having any enthusiasm to do anything except veg out on the sofa and watch TV or check my social media feeds. I sometimes just switch off from engaging with reality. I know I keep saying ‘sometimes’ because, on some days, I am totally on the ball and organised. I can even get us out of the house before midday on some (rare) occasions!

Now, I am sure there are plenty of parents who feel the same stresses, and I fully commend all single parents for doing this without someone else being at home when you get in from a trip to the shops or the park. I have been alone with the children for 4 weeks now while my partner is away, and I am counting down the minutes until he returns. I can’t imagine what it is like to not have that to look forward to. I also commend working parents. Especially if you’re in a job you hate, and all you want to do is spend time with your babies. I realise how lucky I am to be in this position as a stay-at-home mum, and I just so want to feel 100% happy in my role as a mother to my two beautiful and sweet boys, and to see the positives instead of the negatives. I just need to get some help to deal with the anxiety, and to be able to manage my anger and stress levels. Maybe, then, I will enjoy life as a mum a little more, and be able to breathe properly again.

Or, there’s always yoga… #andstretch

(Photo credit: Gabriel Matula at

Why We Need To Vote To Save The NHS


With the general election coming up this week, I can’t help but think of the future of the NHS, which is something I never thought would ever be an issue in the UK. It is something I have always taken for granted, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Until now, that is. Well, until December 2016, when my youngest son, Nkosinathi (or Nathi for short, pronounced nah-tee) was born. In Swaziland. 5 weeks early. Totally unpredicted.

In fact, he didn’t want to be born. He had no say in the matter, and neither did I! (SORRY – TMI) My sac ruptured during the night when we were staying with my partner’s aunt in Lobamba, a VERY beautiful, rural part of Swaziland, right near the Mlilwane Game Reserve. We called a private hospital in Manzini, who told my partner to bring me in. I was seen by the doctor, who told me that I had “earned an admission to hospital”.

We had to pay E10,000 before I could be admitted, which included the fee for the consultation with the doctor. That’s about £600. Just to get in. We had to scrabble together all of our money from various cards, cash, even digging deep into the pockets of our bags for any notes and coins. It took a while, transferring money from accounts that we couldn’t take money from to accounts we could. And, bear in mind, I’m now worrying about going into labour with a baby who isn’t due for another 5 weeks and two days, and we have our toddler with us, who is getting really bored in the waiting room (as were we, especially as they only had wrestling showing on the TV).

We eventually got taken to the ward. The doctors hoped I would go into labour naturally but, after an overnight stay, nothing had happened. Nathi was clearly not wanting to come out. So, I was induced once in the morning, which did nothing, and then again at lunchtime, which finally started the contractions. By 5pm, I had only dilated 1.5cm*. The doctor explained that she didn’t think I would dilate any more than that. I was already fully effaced, which apparently is the last thing to happen in labour before the baby is ready to be born. So, my cervix was just not ready in time, and they needed to get the baby out asap.

At this point, they told me they’d have to prep me for surgery. I was going to have to have an emergency ceasarean. I was so nervous and disappointed. I went from being really excited and happy (so much so that the doctor wondered why my contractions weren’t hurting enough, and why I was able to laugh so easily!) to being so scared. I had never had any kind of major surgery before. Anywhere. Let alone in a country I didn’t know very well. My partner is from Swaziland, and I knew deep down that everything would be absolutely fine, but I was really nervous. I would have been just as nervous if the same thing had happened here in the UK. I remember being mostly worried about the spinal injection. I was afraid it would be really painful. Turns out it wasn’t that bad at all.

So, I was prepped for theatre. Catheter and everything. It was a wholly unpleasant experience. Nathi was born at 7:24pm on a Tuesday, and he was hauled over my head before being brought over for a quick kiss from mummy and daddy, then whisked off to the ICU. He stayed in there for 1.5 days. I had to recover on the ward, which included not being able to raise my head for 24 hours, and to lie on my back with no pillow for that whole time, which was to reduce the chances of getting very bad headaches after the anaesthetic wore off. The first time I had to get up was one of the most painful experiences of my life, as well as the headaches that I still got despite laying down for those 24 hours post-op!

Eventually, after a day and a half of not seeing him, except for little videos that my partner took on my phone for me, Nathi was brought back to the ward and we started the feeding process as well as the other therapies that he needed before he could be discharged. Every so often, someone would come and take a blood sample from him and demand money before they took the sample away to be tested, saying that they wouldn’t test it until it had been paid for. It ended up that my partner had to leave some cash with me so that these processes could be completed quickly. It was a very strange feeling to have to give cash to a nurse. We also had to buy all of the painkillers and other tablets from the pharmacy on site. I just remember feeling, by a few days in, that every minute we were in there was being paid for. And, sometimes, the doctors really dragged their heels on their decision-making! I felt very stressed knowing that any delays would cost us more and more money.

This went on for a whole week. I was discharged first, then Nathi was discharged a couple of days later. On our way out of the door, my partner received our bill. All 10 pages of it. Lists of every item used in my surgery as well as all of the drugs used to help both of us recover and stop us feeling any pain. Even every pair of sodding latex gloves that they used. Everything was itemised.

It came to almost E100,000 (That’s just over £6,000).

My very long-winded, and quite personal, point is that we would never have thought about the cost of the care if we’d been in the UK. Even with the exact same procedures and aftercare, and the same amount of latex gloves. And yet, the care would have probably been just as good (and it really was very good in Swaziland). It’s probably fair to say at this point that we could have gone to a (cheaper) government hospital, but you get what you pay for. In Swaziland, they have Medicalaid schemes but, if you can’t afford that or don’t have a job, this is the only financial option. I even heard that people have been turned away from a hospital because they cannot afford to pay the admission fees. They may have been really sick, or even dying. And they are refused treatment because of bloody money. I have also been told how expensive it can be when your babies are born early. My partner’s cousin had to pay around £80,000 for care for her premature twins, born 3 months early. It is such a far cry from what we are used to here in the UK. And we are the only nation who have this healthcare service, funded through our compulsory National Insurance contributions. But, under a continuing Tory government, who knows what the future holds for the NHS?

We all have the power to make sure the NHS is able to continue its incredible service for its citizens, and to be able to afford to continue to give great care to people without a huge bill at the end. But, also, to not have to turn sick or injured people away, just because of money. Take this as a warning from someone who has experienced the alternative.

Happy voting this Thursday! #dotherightthing

(*The reason? Apparently, it was as a result of a LLETZ procedure I had done on my cervix in July 2015, when my eldest son, Khayaletfu (or Khaya for short) was about 4 months old. I had an abnormal smear test result after his birth, so needed a colposcopy. During the colposcopy, they noticed the abnormal cells and performed a procedure to remove them. My cervix obviously scarred over after the procedure. So, the doctors in Swaziland believed that my cervix would not soften enough to be able to give birth naturally. I am now looking into whether, if I want a third, it might have to be a c-section again.)

(Photo credit: Luis Melendez at