Writings

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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When you Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock!

Posted by on Aug 9, 2016 in Writings

When you Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock!

Sixty years ago, 20 000 brave South African women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the pass laws. The pass laws insisted that all black South African men under the country’s Population Registration Act had to carry these ‘passports’ when outside their designated areas. Up to this point, black women had been excluded from carrying the ‘dompas’ (literally dumb pass), but the change in this law is what triggered this protest march. Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (When you strike a woman, You strike a rock!) Was the song that the women chanted after standing in silence for thirty minutes and leaving bundles of 100 000 signatures in the doorways for the then Prime Minister. (He apparently never saw the petition, he was away and the papers were very quickly removed before he could see them). Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (When you strike a woman, You strike a rock!) These words, first chanted in 1956, have come to symbolise women’s resilience and courage in South Africa. This march and these words made a big impression on me when I first heard about them as a girl and these words often float through my mind when attending a labour and birth and seeing a woman ‘s strength and resilience surface. Women will put up with a lot in life. See them go without, for their families, for their children,  for their husbands. But push a woman too far and she will push back with a previously unseen inner strength . There is that point in labour; when a woman has reached that place where she seems to give in and the act of giving birth seems insurmountable. But then it is as if something inside her pushes her to stare Death defiantly in the face with a strength not even she knew she had. And that is why women are scary. Because we all have it. Wathint’Abafazi...

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When did Breastfeeding Become Such a big Deal?

Posted by on Aug 4, 2016 in Writings

When did Breastfeeding Become Such a big Deal?

I know that I was breastfed until I was two and my younger sister Kate was breastfed until she was three. We lived in Switzerland and we went to the creche on the property of the psychiatric hospital our mother worked at. Our mother would pop down every few hours to breastfeed us. I remember her coming down to the creche to do that for my sister. I know that when my sister turned three, our mother had had enough and she left us with our dad while she went with a friend to France and my sister was left to go breastfeeding cold turkey. I remember our mother telling us about how when she woke up with rock hard breasts, she massaged and squeezed them until milk squirted all over the walls. When I was eight, we moved to South Africa and when I was nine, Gypsy was born. Jasmin’s birth followed 16 months later. Gypsy had to stop feeding while our mother was pregnant because the milk had dried up but as soon as the milk flowed again, both babies were back on the breast suckling away. Even whilst driving! That image has got to be one of my most prominent breastfeeding memories; our mother driving the bakkie (pick-up truck) on the bumpy dirt road in the Bokkeveld near Ceres with a baby straddling each leg and suckling away at a breast. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of this wonderful scene but I do have this one which is the two of them asleep post feed so you get the idea. Growing up, breastfeeding was normal. Like giving birth. If you had a baby, that is what you did to feed it until they were old enough to eat other things. The women who lived and worked on the farm also popped out their breasts to feed their children, most of them until their children were two or three, and one woman until her child was seven. When I was eight I saw a white woman cover her baby while breastfeeding. It’s funny because up to that point I had never stared at anyone while they were feeding their baby but this drew my attention. I thought it was an odd ritual and I wondered if the baby wasn’t hot in there? I got a fright the first time my baby suckled away at my nipple after giving birth – Ouch! I thought the hard part was over, no had told me that breastfeeding could hurt. It took me about three weeks of engorgement, tears, frustration, mastitis, pain, irritation, beauty, bliss and bonding to get the hang of the whole breastfeeding thing. But I have to admit, that for me, breastfeeding was like learning to ride a bicycle – I had to fall off a few times before I got it and I got some scrapes and bruises along the way. And it wasn’t just the first time I struggled with breastfeeding, it was a struggle every time I gave birth. Four times I struggled. That was my reality. Labour and birth were hard but give me pushing out a baby any time over the first three weeks of breastfeeding. I would feel that little jaw working away at my nipple and I would inwardly groan as I thought, “Oh no…not this again!”. I am well aware that there are all sorts of techniques to make all of this much easier. And I tried them. And sometimes they worked. And sometimes they didn’t. There is nothing like exhaustion and engorged breasts in the middle of the night...

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