My husband and I go away at least once a year. We (mainly I, Husband isn’t too fussed) are great believers that travel is essential for soul nourishment and it gives us something to look forward to all year. We spend a lot of time deciding where to go, choosing the perfect hotel with a nice pool and so on. We usually go away in the Autumn months as the weather tends to go a bit murky and soggy, purely so we can send pictures to our family and friends of our “wish you were here” moments. I know, we are complete and utter *expletives of your choice*. I’m not even remotely sorry.
Maternity year arrived and I was desperate to get away. On recommendation from family, we chose to go to the Titanic Lara Beach Hotel in Antalya, Turkey, The hotel is genuinely beautiful and externally looks like a ship. Any Titanic fan would be in heaven. I was hoping it would be just like the film on the inside, but sadly not. As I learned very quickly, you can’t have everything. Nevertheless the first two days were perfect. Samraj loved having both his parents’ undivided attention. It was so lovely to see him blossom. We hadn’t realised how social he was. At the age of 9 months he was smiling and waving complete strangers over, would babble at them and made many friends. As he was of weaning age, he had full access to the hotel’s buffet restaurant. To us adults the buffet was repetitive and although it was a massive restaurant, it didn’t offer much in variety of cuisine nor customer service. (For my fellow Coeliacs, don’t bother going there. They offered only GF bread which I couldn’t get my teeth into and all the food was incorrectly labelled.) For Samraj it was unlimited food of everything Mummy and Daddy didn’t cook at home. He was having a ball!
Unfortunately on our second day, immediately after dinner, we took Samraj up to bed. Uncharacteristically he was screaming and wouldn’t settle for bed, nor drinking his bedtime bottle properly. I had left his cup in the patisserie so Husband went to collect it. When he returned he saw that his wife, his son and his side of the bed were completely covered in vomit. We have been very lucky with Samraj, and up until that date, he had never been sick like this, so this was a real shock. He vomited a number of times that night, and Husband stayed awake all night to ensure Samraj didn’t choke on his vomit. Nicer man than me obviously. I crashed out after all the drama.
The next day we reported the incident to Guest Relations, as we had concerns that the sickness was related to what Samraj had eaten at the buffet an hour before he was ill. On our way back to our hotel room, I could smell that Samraj had done his morning poo. What I didn’t expect was arriving in our room and seeing poo all over the floor. It had leaked from his nappy. It had also leaked from the pram all up the hallway. It was horrendous. I’ve never seen anything like it. Yet there I was, calmly picking up the Dettol wipes and getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing the hallway, whilst Housekeeping staff watched me.
The morning after, Samraj came down with a fever of 39+ degrees. We were rushed to the hospital for further tests and thankfully we were back to the hotel by the evening. They advised keeping him hydrated with water and Turkish equivalent of Dioralyte and a course of antibiotics for his “bacterial infection”. That was probably the most terrifying experience we have had in our parenting lives. Hurtling down roads and watching other cars move out our way, the blue flashing lights reflected in their windows whilst the driver talked in a language we have no understanding of.
The rest of the trip was spent managing Samraj’s (and then my husband’s) symptoms. This was not helped by the hotel we stayed at. The service was shocking to say the least. Considering we had had a very distressing experience, we expected some compassion. However that was not to be the case. Incidents included:
- I wrote a note to say, “baby has been sick here” with a big arrow pointing at the vomit stain. The housekeeping staff changed the duvet covers but covered up the sheet. When I saw that the dirty sheet was still on the bed, I alerted the staff member in the hallway who was visibly angry that I had called her back. She appeared to be hostile, huffing and puffing throughout the time she was in the room with us.
- The next day, Samraj was sick on the bed again. A member of staff happened to come to our room to provide minibar snacks. We notified him and requested we had support to clean up the room. At this point Samraj had a fever so we could not take him out the room, but couldn’t put let him play either because the room needed cleaning. It was hours before Housekeeping came to the room which was very distressing for us.
- The soaps and toiletries in our bathroom were not replaced by Housekeeping, and we made specific requests to get them replaced. This compromised hygiene standards and we really had to make a little soap stretch far. It was disgusting to say the least.
- Samraj had stopped eating and drinking fluids, which was distressing for us as parents. I had somehow convinced him to take a sip of water and at that exact time, a waitress snatched his highchair away from me so that they could clean under the table. Yes, you heard right, they were cleaning under our feet WHILE we were eating. I am all for cleanliness, but this was getting slightly all or nothing.
- I am a Coeliac and require a gluten free diet. I always email the hotel ahead of any holiday and notify them of my dietary requirements. I received a lovely and timely reply saying that there will be GF bread available, and to speak to the chefs directly. When I got to the breakfast buffet, I was handed a frozen block that they called bread and was told to warm it up in the microwave. When it came out, it still had the texture of a brick and I physically couldn’t get my teeth into it. I spoke to around 6 chefs who kept shouting and pointing at the dietary requirement chart, telling to me find my own way with identifying GF food. I was trying to explain that the labels next to dishes were incorrect e.g. a pastry dish (blatantly gluten) was labelled gluten free, but the chefs seemed to take this as criticism and shouted at me to just not eat it then. Helpful(!)
How to Keep Mentally Healthy in Times of Stress
As you can tell, our first family holiday was far from our idyllic expectations. I managed to keep my cool through most of the holiday, with a few wobbly moments. I surprised myself actually, and most of all my husband. Aman, pre Samraj would have cried, and shouted and had a meltdown. With a baby, comes great responsibility and you soon learn that a baby mirrors your mood, so me being crabby wasn’t going to help the situation. I chose to fight off the negative thoughts like “why does this happen to me” and reinforced the positives in the situation such as we were finally having some quality time with no distractions, and the distractions were even less frequent when we were room bound for most of the holiday. I technically got what I wanted.
In times of stress, it’s even more important to look after yourself. Especially as a parent. I couldn’t afford to get sick, so I did what I could to self care. This included eating regular meals even if I had to eat alone, because Husband and Baby were sleeping off their respective illnesses and making sure I was sleeping well. As I was on holiday, I gave myself permission to nap, as there were no household chores to catch up on. When one has enough sleep, they can then think clearly and respond appropriately to stressful situations.
My husband and I also allowed each other breaks. If you remember from my IG stories, we had an hour break each per day whilst Samraj had his morning and afternoon naps. In the morning, I would nap with Samraj whilst husband did an activity of choice. In the afternoon I would do an activity of choice such as reading in the hotel lounge with a coffee or relaxing in the hammam. This was harder to do when both Samraj and Husband became sick which meant no respite for a few days, but the intention was always there.
When problems arose, I wrote down what the problem was to work out whether I was being unreasonable to expect more from the hotel staff. In most of the incidents I wrote down, I was able to separate my frustration from the problem at hand. This allowed me to be assertive and make reasonable requests which conveyed my level of upset too. I was able to build a good relationship with staff at the Guest Relations Desk who were so helpful in supporting me to read Turkish medicine labels.
Building relationships with key members of staff was very helpful too. Samraj formed a bond with Valentina, the lovely lady at Guest Relations. With her support we were able to get a doctor to the hotel and she spent significant amounts of time trying to support us read medicine pamphlets. Did you know that medicine comes in powder form and you have to add sterile water to get it to be the liquid form we have come to know it as? This is what takes so long at pharmacies!! I am so grateful to Valentina and her colleagues, the only friendly faces at the Titanic Hotel. Unfortunately they could not convey our upset to the mass of staff employed to the hotel who appeared to be sullen and made no attempts to converse with their customers.
I like to keep a journal of sorts during my holidays, a little list of what we got up to on each day so the holiday keeps in our minds for that little longer. This was helpful as it formed most of the formal complaint I wrote against the hotel to my holiday provider, TUI. We are still waiting on correspondence from TUI, although it has been over 28 days since the formal complaint was made.
In terms of social support, we chose not to disclose Samraj’s illness to our family back home. We have lots of family who would have been so so worried and would have wanted minute by minute updates. This would have meant that we would have spent more time on our phones catching up with family than looking after our sick baby. Instead we relied on our NCT buddies who could best advise us on how to manage baby sickness as well as giving us a space to vent.
Most of all I needed to challenge negative automatic thoughts. I had to remind myself that this was a temporary moment in our lives and Samraj would be better soon. I employed mindfulness exercises to stay in the moment and detach from negative judgements that naturally came about when my seemingly reasonable expectations were not met. I’m glad I did, because I was right. It was a short term situation, and a week passes very quickly, even when you are not having fun.
Learning points for future
Take a medicine cabinet boys and girls. We had thankfully taken Calpol and teething bits, but had never thought to take Dioralyte. This will be essential for our future trips.
Be careful what you feed your little ones when abroad, especially meats and fresh fruit which would have been washed with local water. We are sure the sickness came about after Samraj ate chicken nuggets, a food he had never tried before.
Don’t stop challenging yourself. Just because it went belly up the first time, doesn’t mean it will next time. Our thoughts will tell us that holidays are dangerous and its natural to be anxious about the next holiday. Nevertheless it’s important we book something ahead soon.
What a palaver, eh? It truly was a horrendous experience. Samraj lost a lot of weight and he has only caught up now, two months later. As a result, the worry regarding his wellbeing has been ongoing. We are back on track though. What I found funny was how torn I was about posting pictures on Instagram. Although we were having a terrible time, the pictures I was taking were beautiful. A little bit of sunshine goes a long way, and makes the baggiest of eye bags look smooth AF. So I leave with you a few gorgeous pictures to commemorate quite possible the scariest week of my life.
Lots of love