Sonali Shah: My Precious Moments
The TV and Radio 4 presenter talks about being a mum and how great grandparents are
Did you always want to be a mum?
In a way yes, but I never really thought about it too much to be honest, I just assumed that I would have kids. I've never been broody or gone gaga over babies, but I did grow up surrounded by a big family and always thought having them was just how life is.
Describe birth in one word!
So what happened?
A couple of days after my due date, I had some clots so the hospital told me to come in and get checked out. I naïvely thought, we'll go into town, I'll have a check-up, we can have lunch and then I'll come home. I didn't realise they'd break my waters and induce me so I'd give birth that day. I simply wasn't prepared. My mum was with us too, not as the main midwife although she is one, but because I trust her years of perspective. It was pretty straightforward but I had wanted a water birth and that didn't happen. I also had an epidural. My mum was encouraging me not to, but my husband was like, 'No, your body's shaking, you can't take the pain, do it!' Because I had gas and air, there were many moments when we were just having a laugh too. It was quite fun – I wasn't scared about childbirth, because I grew up hearing all about it. I'm more nervous about the next 18 years.
Who's your biggest parenting influence?
As well as mum being a midwife, my dad had a pharmacy so I've picked up loads from them over the years. I've grown up listening to the advice they've given other family members and friends. I remember my dad having to get up and go and open the shop if anyone called needing something for their child. They were the go-to people.
How did you decide on your daughter's name?
We chose Ariana because we wanted something with a nod to her heritage, and it's a Sanskrit name. I also loved a character called Ari Gold in the TV show Entourage, so it's slightly because of that too!
Did you find it easy making the adjustment to being a mum?
I'm really lucky, I've had so much help. My mum and mother-in-law came over every day for the first six weeks of Ariana's life, bringing meals and helping me with the practical things. I really needed that – it's hard in the beginning. I would've given up breastfeeding for sure had my mum not encouraged me through the tears. Now the grandparents' bond with Ariana is so strong. She has a cot in each house and goes to stay with them when I work. We even moved so we're two minutes away from them, and I couldn't do it otherwise. I think Ariana thinks she has six parents!
What's the best advice you've been given?
It's all the practical advice from my mum. People tend to think she's quite harsh – because she was a 1970s midwife and an extremely strict mum to me – but what she says actually makes sense. She told me you should be the boss and not let your children be the boss of you – they've got to fit around you and not the other way around. We don't do bedtime stories and that's because of my mum; she said 'Don't lock yourself into bedtime stories because if you ever want to go out or do anything else, there'll be a palaver.' So we read together all the time, but just not at bedtime – and mum's right, she goes to sleep quickly and easily.
Best thing about being a mum?
I never thought I'd be so into all the different stages – but I do find it really interesting how Ariana's evolving. I've always had an interest in learning about children and psychology, but having your own little person to watch it happening to is just something else.
What does she do that makes you laugh?
Dance! She shakes her shoulders and wiggles her bum – the girl's got rhythm.
Does she have a favourite toy?
I've put a toy box in every room so she crawls from room to room and gets her things out to play with by herself. But she has just as much fun getting all my shoes out of the wardrobe and putting them back again. I have to watch her though, because she empties my handbag too. She's an independent little girl.
Most embarrassing mum moments?
I took her to nursery one time and totally forgot the changing bag. I didn't have anything with me and she did a massive explosion that leaked everywhere. All over her, all over my coat. And I had nothing. Guess this is just what happens now. You have bodily fluids over you all the time.
What's your perfect family day?
We take Ariana out to eat at least once a week – I like getting her used to eating out and it gives us a bit of a social life too. We have 5pm nights out at our local burger place. They play R&B (she loves it), we drink cocktails – and then we're home and all ready for bed by 8pm. We also spend a lot of time with friends who have children too – it keeps you feeling sociable and stops you being trapped in the monotony of chores.
Anything that your husband Ardash does better than you?
He's a great, hands-on dad, but I do feel envious that men don't suffer from guilt when they go to work. They're good at that. He just laughs at me when I say I feel guilty for leaving Ariana.
How do you relax?
I'm very strict in that I don't take Ariana out and then let her just fall asleep in a buggy somewhere, so she'll be in bed most nights by 7pm, and then it's my time. I'll have dinner with my husband, and maybe some wine, and we'll sometimes watch a movie. Our time starts at seven.
What will you pass on to Ariana?
Confidence, and not to put limits on what she thinks she can achieve.
Sonali was chatting to Ali Horsfall. Catch her on BBC's Escape to the Country.