An’ Nooi’s Birth Story

Posted by on Mar 16, 2015 in Writings

An’ Nooi’s Birth Story

Before my mother began attending the births of the local women on our farm, a woman in labour would be driven to Ceres Provincial hospital to give birth. This is the story of a birth which took place one year on Christmas Eve. I must warn you that this is not a happy birth story.


It was the night before Christmas and the house was dark.

There was a soft tap tap tapping on the window. Chaka the dog jumped up from his designated place at the foot of the bed and growled.

Baas (my stepfather and a paranoid sleeper) sat bolt upright and jerked towards the window behind him. There was a candle burning softly on the window sill.

Oom (Uncle) Jiems was peering in through the window, his face pressed right against it, his breath, steaming it up.

My mother, Carol, with my sleeping sister Gypsy at her breast, lay still. My mother was awake now but she did not stir, not wanting to wake her baby.

Baas, irritated, opened the latch and tried to swing open the window but the drunken man outside continued to press his face against the window, looking in; not seeing Baas. Baas quietly motioned for Jiems to move, waving his hand. Jiems noticed him and stumbled from the window, falling over.

Poepdronk (literal translation: fart-drunk; meaning: incredibly drunk).

Baas pushed the window open and peered through the window at the man sitting drunk in a bed of African marigolds.

Wat issit?” (“What is it?”) Baas hissed.

“Baas, Nooi is besig om the kraam. Die baba kom vanaand,” (“Baas, Nooi is in labour. The baby is coming tonight.”) Jiems mumbled.  

Jiems looked dizzy and confused, his large bottom lip protruding. This was not the confusion of a first-time father though. This man was well into his fifties and already had three teenage daughters and one grandchild. This was the confusion of someone who was hopelessly and helplessly inebriated.

Baas sighed, closed the window and dragged himself out of the comfort of the king-size bed. He pulled on a T-shirt (he always slept in his jeans) and slipped his feet into his mud-caked Dakotas. He fumbled for his cigarettes (Gunston, extra strong ) and lit one, then coughed. He was awake now and wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.

He looked at my mother who was watching him, her head propped up on one arm. He could see in her eyes that she was wondering what he was going to do. 

Baas coughed and left the room, his cigarette cupped in his left hand, gangster-style.

My mother gently lifted Gypsy’s head from her arm and turned my baby sister onto her tummy and covered her well. My mother gave the little girl child’s face a little stroke. Then Carol buttoned up the front of her nightie and got out of bed. She pulled on her brown striped towelling dressing gown. My mother lifted  the candle from the windowsill, yawned and then made her way to the kitchen.

The kitchen door was open. Baas was outside talking to Jiems. She could hear their low mumbling.

Men’s voices.

My mother filled the aluminium kettle with water and lit the gas stove. Then she took three cups from the cupboard and filled each one with two teaspoons of Ricoffy and sugar and milk. Then she stood next to the gas stove and waited for the kettle to begin steaming and rattling. 

Baas came back inside, rubbing his hands. Jiems was gone.

Jiems was gone.

The coffee was not ready yet.

Baas walked past my mother and through to the back of the house. He was gone for a while but came back with his friend Piet Slang, who slept in the back room.

The coffee was ready and stood steaming on the kitchen table. Hot. Milky. Sweet.

The two men stood, smoking cigarettes (Baas: Gunston, Piet Slang: Rothmans), slurping their coffee loudly, and mumbling in soft men’s voices.

My mother was tired. Sleepy. Tears streamed down her face every time she yawned. She sat and waited, exhausted, at the table, alone. Left out of the quiet men’s conversation. Needed but not needed.

She stared into the darkness of her swirling coffee. Bitter. Untouched. Unwanted.

Jiems arrived back. This time with his labouring wife. She was as drunk as he, if not more so. Both mumbling and stumbling.

My mother, finally feeling that she could be of use, jumped up and put her arms around the tiny drunken woman with the crippled arthritic hand.  An’Nooi was in labour and yet she was not feeling it. She was numbed by the cheap booze and the dagga. My mother steered An‘ Nooi towards the table, offering her a coffee. Baas stopped her.

Piet vat vir hulle hospital toe.”  (“Piet is taking them to hospital.”)

My mother felt silly for not having silently understood the plan that had so obviously taken place around her and she felt irritated for having been left out of the making of it. Baas handed Petrus the bakkie (pick up truck) keys. Piet took a last swig of his coffee and walked out the door, the two drunken farm labourers stumbling after him.

My mother heard the rattle of the diesel engine as the bakkie started outside. She yawned.

Ek gaan weer gaan slaap,” she said, “môre is mos Kersfees…” (“I’m going back to sleep, tomorrow is Christmas”)

Baas shrugged. He was sitting on the table, his feet on the bench. 

My mother picked up the candle and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Baas in a comforting darkness of smoke. She walked back to her warm bed and her sweet smelling sleeping baby.


Piet drove as fast as he could on the bumpy dirt road to Ceres. Jiems was next to him, stiff and quiet, staring ahead. Jiems stank of stale booze and cheap Boxer pipe tobacco. Piet wished desperately that he was back in the warmth of his bed.  An’Nooi sat, groaning softly to herself. With each contraction her waters dribbled from her and on to the floor of the bakkie.

Piet felt irritated that these drunkards insisted on going into labour on Christmas Eve.

Bump bump bump.

An’Nooi groaned. Jiems sat; staring ahead. He did nothing. An’Nooi bucked like a horse. A soft little baby’s body plopped out of her and onto the floor of the bakkie in a gush of blood and goo and water and a moan of relief from its mother. She fell back in a daze, almost asleep. Jiems sat still, as though he hadn’t noticed. Staring straight ahead, in a drunken daze. The baby lay silent on the floor in its pool of birthing fluids, alone, saying nothing. Then softly, as though part of the engine, a soft crackling wail became a part of the journey.

Nobody did anything.

Tel die fokken kind op!” (“Pick up the fucking child!”)

Piet croaked, the cry breaking through his dry throat. Jiems turned to face him, as though hearing a far off sound. His large bottom lip, swollen, protruded. His eyes were glazed.Piet looked back at him. Disgusted. Exasperated. Infuriated. Not knowing what to do.

Piet turned onto the tar road and stepped on the accelerator. He drove down through the pass, faster than he would normally dare.

The newborn babe continued to lie on the floor, wailing softly. Untouched. The mother now asleep, snoring softly. The father, rigid and staring ahead. Piet, driving; speeding, panicking.

They arrived in Ceres and drove to the hospital stopping at the non-whites entrance. The baby had stopped crying by now and had turned blue. Piet jumped out of the car, diesel engine still running and ran into the hospital. He grabbed a nurse by the arm and dragged her, protesting outside and opened the passenger side of the bakkie. Water and blood and meconium poured out onto the nurse’s white shoes. She quietly looked at the scene.

Julle mense…” (“You people…”)

she said disapprovingly and rushed away. The nurse returned with a hospital blanket and after clamping and cutting the cord, scooped up the wet blue baby.

The nurse was the first person to touch it. To hold it.

Dis ‘n meisie,” (“It’s a girl,”)

she said, to no one in particular, before making her way into the hospital.

Once inside, a doctor tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the baby. 

Outside, dawn was breaking and Piet paced up and down, smoking his first cigarette of the journey. He longed for a joint and a coffee.

An’Nooi sat, slumped, sleeping, and snoring, in the bakkie.

And Jiems, rigid and stiff, stared ahead at nothing.


An’Nooi sobbed over the tiny grave.

The little coffin stood next to the little grave. Jiems had unscrewed the lid of the coffin. The little baby inside. Everyone filed past the little body. She was a perfect pale little baby, with perfect pixie-like features. So perfect. So pure looking. Dressed in pale violet. Eyes closed. As though asleep.

An’Nooi wept, held by her daughters. Her withered, arthritic hand clinging to her bony bosom. Her leathery face streaked with tears, drool hanging from lip.

My mother stood at the head of the grave with a straw hat on her head, a black bible in her hands. The summer sun beating down. She read out loud, conducting the sermon.

While the stony-faced farm people listened and looked on.