Writings

The Little Green Statue

Posted by on Jul 27, 2017 in Writings

The Little Green Statue

As a midwife and a mother, I cannot help but contemplate my own birth when the Earth circumnavigates the sun and reaches the 22nd of July each year. The little green statue is a little object which has always been a part of my life and has always stood either next to my mother’s bed, or balanced on her bed’s headboard, or stood on her dressing table, or was hidden in her cupboard. No matter where we lived, the little green bust of the African woman made of Verdite, was there, watching over our family.  Ever present and always there. When I was 15, I travelled to Switzerland, the land of my birth, as an exchange student. As a parting gift, my mother pressed the little green statue into my hands. She told me that it had been presented to her by a woman she had counselled in the late 70s. My mother was volunteering as a rape counsellor in Cape Town at the time and the woman showed her gratitude by presenting my mother with this gift. My mother also told me that when she was pregnant with me in July of 1980 in Switzerland and was due to give birth, she took the little green statue with her as her birth companion. She was a single mother and had been booked for an induction at the fancy private hospital at Stefanshorn. In essence, the little green statue was her doula. My mother had wanted and planned a home birth. She had been born at home, as had her mother and her grandmother before her. But the man of the house where she was renting a room banged his fist on the dining room table and made it quite clear that there was absolutely no way this African girl was going to squat down and give birth in his house. The nearest birth centre was in the next Kanton and so a compromise was reached that she would birth at the private hospital at Stefanshorn. ‘My’ due date was the 29th of July but the doctor was going away on holiday during that time and so my mother was booked in a week earlier to be induced. Coincidentally, she was booked in on my father’s wife’s birthday, something his wife insisted was done on purpose to upset her (It wasn’t. Long story. Read here if you want more background info on this). She was driven to the hospital by the sister of a friend and induced in the early hours of the following morning. She laboured on her own, a monitor strapped to her, using the breathing techniques she had learned and practised from her natural birthing books. My father snuck calls from his family home in the UK, shouting breathing instructions at her. He probably considered himself to be a bit of an expert, being the father of three children already. (Fucking mansplaining childbirth to a woman in labour! No wonder she hung up on him!) In the end, my mother huffed and puffed and sweated and heaved whilst clutching the cool stone statue in her hands. She held it against her burning cheeks and sweaty forehead and it reminded her of home. She said that in that cold and sterile hospital, the little green statue was her connection back to South Africa. My mother birthed me fairly easily it seems. She never made a fuss of it when she told me about it. I do know that she did not tear and that I weighed 5kg (11lbs). I was loved and breastfed and carried on her...

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I’ve Come Home

Posted by on Dec 5, 2016 in Writings

I’ve Come Home

Today is my mother’s birthday and on her birthday, I usually like to share this story of her first catch as an accidental midwife. I thought of sharing her birth story, as I know she was born at home, in Athlone, as was the case with most Cape Coloured births at the time. I know that when she was born, the house across the road burnt to the ground and that a woman was trapped inside it and died. Birth and death in the same road on the same day. Recently I held a ceremony of healing for myself , a circle of strong women who held me emotionally and spiritually while I let go of old shit and allowed the new to be birthed.  And there I read this story to everyone. It is a story about my mother, a story she told me a long time ago. It is the story of when she, after twenty years of living in Switzerland, living a very Swiss and white existence, was led by a friend on an inner guide meditation which hauntingly reminded her of where she had come from.  Her roots. A story which very much altered and shaped our lives. As births do. So today, on this day when she would have been 66, I share the story of her rebirth. “Close your eyes, Carol,” Matthias said. Matthias was a tall skeletal gay man. A Buddhist psychologist friend who worked with Carol at the psychiatric hospital in Bern on floor D2. Carol was lying on her back in Matthias’s sitting room. She lay, surrounded by a pile of Indian silk cushions, one under her head. The sun streamed in through the window and onto her, making her feel comfortable and sleepy. Her children were with their father, he was down from London on one of visits. Single parenting was hard, but it was also what she had chosen. She was enjoying this much needed and uninterrupted break. “Relax, just breathe. Let everything go. Forget about everything. Just be…” She felt the air move in and out of her nostrils. She felt her body relax and she felt her breath becoming more regular and prolonged. I could stay like this forever, she thought, her tired body tingling. And with each out breath, she felt the weight of her body sink into the floor. Aaaah… “Now, imagine yourself in a landscape…” She saw herself standing in a grassy meadow. She was high up, high above sea level, with the most marvellous view, rolling hills and snow-capped mountains. Blue skies. Blooming flowers. Bright green, dotted with buttercup yellows and pinks and whites. The air felt warm and she wanted to lie in the grass. She listened; the air was busy with the work of insects. A stereotypical Swiss summer scene. How positively blissful, she thought. She felt herself drift off. “Imagine an animal walking towards you from a distance. It is heading straight for you. Looking very determined.” She found this disconcerting. There was no animal and she felt that the presence of one would be irritating. How dare Matthias bring up something so silly and disconcerting? Then unexpectedly, a great big elephant’s head arose from behind a hill and its body crashed through the tranquil scene she had created in her consciousness. She panicked and wanted to run but her legs wouldn’t move. Where the fuck did that come from? It headed straight for her and yet seemed oblivious of her presence. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck! Just as she thought she was going to be trampled, it...

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Her Father’s Song

Posted by on Oct 26, 2016 in Writings

Her Father’s Song

Beneath the hustle and bustle of the busy theatre there is a soft hum. It is her father’s song. It is a song and voice she recognises. She stops to listen. It has been a busy night and day. She and her mother have worked hard and now she has been cut from her mother’s womb. Her cord severed. A pipe stuck in her mouth and nose. Voices. Smells. Strange hands. Bright lights. Cold. And then placed on her mother’s chest and a towel placed over her. Her mother’s sweet smelling chest. Soft. Warm. Comforting. Soft touch. Gentle, loving voices. And then the song. A soft hum. It softly penetrates the clatter. The chatter. The competitive banter. The jovial joking. The hustle. The bustle. Green fabric. Beeping machines that seem to breathe. Bright lights. Fast, efficient movements. Talking. Instructions. Splatters of blood? Shiny instruments.Flashing. Pipes. Sucking. She is placed on her mother’s chest and the rhythm of her mother’s heartbeat is so familiar. And the smell so sweet and delicious. She looks around. She sniffs. She smells. She drools. She nuzzles. She is protected by her father’s song. A soft hum which seems to weave a protective spell around the mother, father and child. Even the doctor performing the surgery notices the magic of the father’s song and stops his chatter to listen.  ...

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After the Birth…

Posted by on Aug 30, 2016 in Writings

After the Birth…

“Your feet must not touch the ground for 40 days…” I remember my grandmother’s voice crackling over the phone the day after giving birth to my first baby. “And no visitors, unless they are coming to help.” Words of wisdom which carried me through four babies and which I treasure still and pass on to new mothers. I have Greek and Indian family and both these cultures, amongst others around the world, afford this time of healing, protection and bonding time to new mother and baby. While my grandmother did not mean that my feet were literally not allowed to touch the floor, she was giving me permission to take my time in finding my way as a new mother. She was reminding me that I was a new mother. A new mother with a new baby, finding a new way. And that I was allowed protection. Because I was wide open. My heart, my body, my mind and my soul had been opened in ways I had not known were possible. And I had been given the honour of cradling a perfect, innocent being in my arms. Outside influence may or may not be beneficial but in the same way that pregnancy and birth need calm and sense of safety, so do mother and baby need this after birth. Dr Silvana Montanaro, who wrote Maria Montessori’s conception to age 3 programme and who is the author of Understanding the Human Being, eloquently stated that the first six weeks outside the womb should mimic those within. The arms of the mother should be as the womb and the breasts like the umbilical cord. It is a sleepy, dreamy, other-worldly time. It think it helped that I lived rurally when I first gave birth, this helped to keep visitors at bay. But more than anything, it gave me the time and space to find my way as a new mother. And despite sore nipples, aching breasts, and bruised body, I found my way… We found our way. This confidence carried me into me being able to trust myself as a mother, and to understand the needs of my babies. It also helped me to know, that that time with my babies was too precious to give away to visitors. It is such a special time and gone so quickly. Watch this video of Jacqui Roche sharing her thoughts on the woman’s needs after the birth. I was honoured to be at her birth for her second baby. I think she summarises those needs very well here. And then, as I finish writing this, I read this article by midwife Mary Cronk “The First Time the Iron Entered My Soul,” and it resonates so strongly. Protect mothers so they can be strong mothers....

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A Story I Wrote as a Young Mother

Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 in Writings

A Story I Wrote as a Young Mother

Today I walked through the entire length of Plumstead subway and didn’t even notice. What I was thinking about when I walked through it, I cannot recall. I arrived at Checkers and realised that I had suddenly arrived. I must have gone through the subway but have absolutely no recollection of having done so. Last week I walked through the subway, telling myself that this was the reality I had created for myself. I had created the hardness of the cement steps, the starkness of the walls. I began to imagine that they were soft, that their atoms gave way from my foot. I put my right foot down. Whoosh! The step beneath my foot was like water, and pinkish. It made a sound like a water drum. I panicked and reality returned. I tried to play the game again but my mind was either too scared or too convinced of the hard greyness of the steps and walls. I laughed and continued on my way to Checkers. Sometimes I feel ‘grrrr’ with the world and on those days the subway is the stinkiest and most ugly of places. I’ll be pushing the pram and Sai will be screaming as we roughly go bump bump bump down the stairs. There’s vomit and piss on the steps and green sludgy water has flooded the bottom. The bottoms of my jeans drag through it. Yuk. Broken glass. Bergies (homeless people) are sitting on the steps, suiping (boozing). They say, “hey girl!” but they don’t offer to help with the pram. Bump bump bumping angrily up the other side.  Sai screams.  ‘Grrrr.’ Sometimes I walk ever so mindfully through the subway, slowly and smiling at the world. Before I enter the subway I smile and look at the world. A cool breeze blows and lifts my spirits higher. I breathe deeply feeling my lungs expand. I push the pram carefully and slowly down the stairs. I notice the starkness of the walls, but I also notice the soft light of the sun on them. I notice the plants growing in the cracks. The small coloured gardener who cuts the grass across the road appears and helps to carry the pram through to the other side. I thank him wholeheartedly before he runs back to work again. Again, I stop and smile at the world. I notice the honeysuckles beginning to bloom. I look up at the block of flats across the road.  I notice an old woman looking at Plumstead from her balcony on the third story. She has long grey hair, clipped back at the sides and is wearing a bright pink jersey. I watch her for a while, smiling at her, hoping she will notice me. She doesn’t, although I stand there watching her for quite some time.  As I walk away though, I feel connected to...

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Big Baby

Posted by on Aug 15, 2016 in Writings

Big Baby

I have a tendency towards giving birth to large babies. It seems to run in the family. I was 5 kg (11lbs) at birth and my three younger sisters were between 4-4,5 kg (8,8 – 10 lbs) at birth. Growing up I was always tall for my age (my nickname was High Tower at school) – I am 1,83 cm (6ft) tall as an adult and I have been this height since I was twelve years old. I inherited long legs from my father who had to duck his head to walk through doorways and my paternal grandfather’s nickname was Giraffe. So when I gave birth at 38 weeks pregnant to a 5kg (11 lbs) baby boy (over an intact perineum) with my mother in attendance as my midwife, no one in my family blinked an eye at his weight. Life went on. It was only during my second pregnancy when I met with my new midwife and she nearly fell off her chair at the mention of my first baby’s birth weight, that I realised that perhaps my story was slightly unusual. My second baby, a girl, was born 9 days past her ‘due date’ and was ‘only’ 4kg at birth. Even though she was a whole kg lighter than her brother, she was much harder to birth because she had decided to emerge facing sunny side up. Ouch! (But she too was birthed over an intact perineum). My third baby decided that he quite liked it in there and decided to incubate more than two weeks past his due date. Ten years ago today, I was heavily pregnant with him, waiting for him to trigger his labour. His head sat low and I waddled my way very slowly through my day. There were many false starts  and false labour alarms and by the time the twinges began, I and everyone else in my circle of friends and in family, had decided that I was going to be pregnant forever. Ten years ago today, I would still have to wait another five days before labour began. It was a sunny Sunday morning, during my morning yoga session, that the sharp twinges in my cervix began. These twinges propelled me into a mad nesting frenzy – I hung curtains (I remember hammering nails furiously into the window frame) and I scrubbed floors on all fours until the wood gleamed. I washed, hung, folded, and packed away laundry. I even cooked a massive pot of vegetable stew – enough to feed roughly 15 people! And in-between doing all of this, intense surges would slam into my cervix, opening me up to the bliss of heaven and agony of hell simultaneously. I remember rocking my hips in the sun whilst hanging the fluttering laundry, and as the contractions grew, so did my strength. I had to channel that strength somewhere or else the pain of it would overwhelm me. So I pushed against a wall with all my strength, willing, believing, that I could push it over. That is how strong I felt. And yet, I was an ant trying with all its might to push over a brick. At some point, children were fetched. The midwives arrived. Counter pressure on my hips eased the intensity for a while. The birth pool was filled. I remember stepping into it and feeling as though I was stepping into the warmth and privacy and comfort of the womb. What bliss! What calm! What peace! Then I was overwhelmed again, drowning in surges of unbelievable pain. And with each surge the pain was ten...

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