(Thank you so much Ena, for kicking my beeeee-hind into writing this story. It’s way overdue xxx)
My eldest, Shaman, was ‘due’ on the 24th of September 2009. Due according to western medicine that is. My little Viking had his own ideas regarding birth. When there was no sign of him yet on the 28th, my beloved, Alber and I decided to go and housesit for my parents-in-law in Pretoria. We walked. A lot. There is a nature reserve close to their home in Lynnwood Ridge and we would buy water and walk steep hills. Then go back and watch endless films and birth stories on the Reality Zone. By the 30th I thought I ought to let my midwife know that we’re out of town. The midwife lost it completely when she realised where we were.
“Haibo, Anél! Tsk tsk…wena! Make sure you can feel the baby moving at least twice a day! You are 45 minutes away from Genesis! When are you back?”
I decided to ignore her hysteria…instinct will take over where all the antenatal classes and visits to the midwife left off. There is a lot to be neurotic about during pregnancy if you listen to the eternal chatter of your intelligence. To me pregnancy is something instinctive. If you go with your biology it leads you calmly. We are mammals after all. And so, calmly and fervently the nesting instinct took hold and I washed my baby’s clothes and finished off the nursery once we were back.
On the 2nd of October, it was a Friday – Alber and I were summoned to Genesis Clinic where the baby was due to be born. I was attached to a foetal heart monitor. I told the midwife that there would be no inducing my son and she coolly let me know that, that would depend on his condition. A staff midwife brought me a cup of rooibos and commented on how calm I seemed. Actually, no. It was disconcerting having that machinery so near my baby for so long. It struck me as very invasive! I kept on thinking of the midwife’s threats to have my child induced and had to breathe deeply in order not to upset my baby. Also, it was really uncomfortable propped on my elbow for what seemed like ages. It was amazing hearing Shaman’s little heart thump away so maniacally. My baby was fine, no thanks to this stupid device and this woman and her threats.
My beloved and I spent the Saturday finalising the baby’s furniture arrangements and his wardrobe and on Sunday we went to Blubird whole food market in Melrose. It was a beautiful spring morning in October. I dressed up in a white cotton dress with red and fern green embroidery. A preggy belly has ruined that dress forever! I’ve attempted to turn it into a skirt but it looks worn. I can’t get rid of it though. It’s connected to such a momentous day in my life…
The organiser of Blubird, Robyn Higgins, is a good friend and we spent the morning shopping and eating and the early afternoon listening to Robyn’s vast knowledge on Rudolph Steiner – his thinking and philosophy regarding children. It was blissful.
On the way home we decided to go for a movie at Rosebank. Then the world slowed to a near halt and it started sounding like everything around me was at the other end of a hollow pipe. I needed to get to the ladies room STAT. Floating my way there I thought the whole world could see that there’s a presence the size of a football between my thighs and I must be waddling, bow-leggedly at that. I sat on the loo and felt a tremendous pressure bearing down on me and still it did not occur to me that I may, in fact – be going into labour. Tina Otte, our amazing antenatal coach said that one experiences a denial of your condition and that birthing partners ought to take that as a sign…
I waddled back to where Alber was awaiting me and his face changed. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing!” I exclaimed. “Is the baby coming?” he smiled. “No man, I just feel weird. Let’s go home please.”
I don’t remember the drive back to our home in Northcliff. The first recollection after that was me in a hot bath and Alber on the phone to the midwife. On the way to Genesis we stopped for sweets and PowerAde, labour energy enforcements. I know – how unhealthy. I wasn’t thinking straight ok! All the time Alber was in the garage shop buying me crap I was in the back seat of the car attempting to keep my limbs arranged to no avail. Doubled over in agony I tried to remember how to breathe…
Things started getting weird around 4, at the movies. We arrived at the clinic at 7.15 p.m. The midwife arrived at 7.45. I had this little ritual. Lie on the bed curled up in a little ball, walk up and down – attempt the Pilates ball and sit on the loo. Round and round until the midwife wanted to see how far I was dilated. I attempted to lie on the bed as still as a good patient, but couldn’t and told her, teetering on hysterical, to HURRY UP. At some stage a staff doula came to offer her services. I dismissed that poor girl very coldly. I think my words were: “Did I spend a nano-second getting to know you before this?” She lit some candles for the birthing bath, a huge, beautiful contraption that I highly recommend for any mommy to have her baby in. The doula left, without a word.
Round and round my little ritual went. I sweated and chewed on jelly babies and breathed best I could. Agonising. Time something one cannot measure. Even at that stage this pain had gone on for too long. I got into the hot water. A miniscule, itsy bitsy tiny fleck of relief.
As my waters had not broken, the midwife decided to break them. Which is why she won’t ever be my midwife again…but that’s another birth story.
The amniotic fluid ran clear into the warm water. The midwife said: “Clear.” A huge relief. There are so many stories of babies in distress, the meconium (foetal faeces) in the amniotic fluid. That inevitably leads to a c-section as the baby can ingest his/her own faeces and meconium aspiration can kill your baby.
The huge relief was short-lived. Labour commenced in earnest as Shaman’s amniotic sac was broken. I still have a physical response of bitter anger over this. Shaman and I would not have been thrown so acutely into the deep end of labour, so to speak. He would’ve been perfectly fine born within that sanctuary he lived in for almost 42 weeks. “Met die helm gebore”* as we say in my native tongue. Lore has it that those children are particularly psychically sensitive.
I thrashed around in that water like a stuck pig. No. Really. There is no other way to describe how violently I splashed about. “Walking through the valley of the shadow of death” as Tina called labour drawing to a close. And we laughed at that analogy. Little did I know…
I begged for mercy. I begged for death. Anything. Anything that could help me escape that hell. All I met were cool faces. It was time to start pushing. Every time that violence of a contraction would crash over me, I would push and lose the ability. Then scream! Then howl. Then try again. Then suck on the happy gas I begged for, along with all the other painkillers it was too late to introduce. I sucked on that little mask until it wheezed.
I was holding on to the edge of the bath, squatting – as is the natural position we are designed to birth (and yes, poop) looking at Alber and IMPLORING him to deliver ME from this evil. He had his business voice. I wanted to kill him! No mercy for me…this baby had to get born.
The midwife’s assistant, Gail, crouched down and levelled her eyes with mine. I saw an angel with Caribbean blue eyes. She said to me in Afrikaans: “Anél – druk daardie skreeu binnetoe. Druk alles binnetoe en druk hierdie babatjie nou uit, sweetheart.” **
Fuck! Finally. A friendly face. Real support. That is why she was our midwife when we had Sufiye, but this is also part of that other birth story…
Closer and closer the contractions, until it felt like one long awfully drawn out last breath.
I screamed: “I want to throw up”. Magically the little bean-shaped dish appeared. Then an icy sweat. Oxytocin, come to save me!
The midwife asked me to turn around so that she could help with Shaman’s head. So there I lay on my back attempting to birth my son’s head. Reason no. 2 she’ll never be my midwife again. Then mercifully, and with a pain I can only and not adequately describe as…feeling like your thighs are being grabbed from the inside and forced into the splits but at more than a 45 degree angle. Like you’re breaking open from the inside… Alber said: “Pant for the head” and I panted and Shaman’s head started crowning. And it burns, burns, burns – that ring of fire! Let me tell you! Another sharp pain as his shoulder zigzagged out.
Someone said: “11a.m.”
There under the water my little pink and blue and purple Shaman floated. On Sunday, 4 October 2009 at 11a.m this breathtaking little boy arrived in our lives.
I lifted him up, his skin so slippery I almost dropped him to “OOHS” in my ears everywhere. He screamed in a way that I can only describe as a warrior winning a battle. So telling. So like Shaman. I put him straight to my breast which he refused… He just lay there looking up at me with his pale blue baby eyes, his white, white skin and his white, white hair. That only started halfway into his scalp, like a balding old man’s…hiehiehie.
There he was, in my arms. The elation, the sheer ecstasy of that first contact with your first child, (with every child) is worth every moment of birth’s agony. I loved Alber again. And differently. What a strong birth partner. My baby boy’s daddy. Crying.
Then they abruptly took him from me to be Apgar scored and fuck knows what else. Which is the 3rd and final reason that woman will never be our midwife again. That first hour of skin to skin contact is vital for mom and baby to bond.
I delivered the placenta with the aid of a shot…pushing was over for me that eve. And was told to go get in the shower. Somnambulistically I did as I was told, looking over to Alber and Shaman on the other side of the room. I didn’t have my toiletries in there with me and stood under the water with chattering teeth, my reflection in the mirror showing me large pupils and raccoon eyes. I was utterly unable to ask anyone to bring my things. My lips wouldn’t make the words. I remember wondering how some women look so perfect during labour. I saw a picture of another woman at Genesis Clinic in labour. Sitting on the Pilates ball with a perfectly painted face and her husband stroking her perfect pony tail. Arbitrary things running through my mind in that state of shock.
Someone must have brought me my white robe, soon to be blood smeared robe and helped me into the huge bulge of sanitary ware that never quite stops the crazy bleeding afterwards.
Because I was somehow in that get-up when I phoned my Mom.
Alber was sitting with Shaman on the bed. He had been with him the whole time when they took him and that was a comfort. I fed my baby and I didn’t care that I couldn’t sleep. I was high on all the other hormones my body released for birth, absolutely fascinated with the workings of the prolactin making the milk flow from my breast into my baby’s clever little mouth. Just besotted – BESOTTED with the wonder, the WONDER – of this incredible new person in my life. He fought his way into his fresh world and made me an ensorcelled mommy.
Mamma lief vir Shashi ❤
*Lit. ‘Born with the helmet.’ Which means the baby will be very psychic.
** “Anél – push that scream inwards. Push everything inwards and push that little baby out now, sweetheart.”