Writings

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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There is hope…

Posted by on Jun 20, 2016 in Writings

There is hope…

Two weeks ago I came back home to South Africa after a full and busy tour of teaching and presenting in various countries in Europe. I don’t think I quite realised what I had signed myself up for when I said yes to all the commitments I had made but for three weeks I ended up either teaching or travelling every single day. This was my itinerary: 14-15 May, Additional Skills and Information Session Weekend for Doulas at DO-UM in Istanbul, Turkey 17-18 May, Helping Babies Breathe and other obstetric emergencies for home birth at Da a Luz, in the Alpujarras, Spain 20-24 May, An Introductory Course to Midwifery at Vale dos Homens, Portugal 26-31 May, book launch of Italian translation of my book, The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour, in Rome and various towns on the island of Sardinia. I flew to Istanbul mid May to teach doulas and student doulas at DO-UM, a space run by Nur (the first ever doula in Turkey) and Sima. These two doulas are pioneering and bearing the torch of birth through education and birth attendance in Turkey. Turkey has a rising caesarian rate which matches our own here in the private sector in South Africa. The majority of births are attended by doctors and most end in caesarans. But DO-UM and other places are trying to shift this by offering doula courses, as well as childbirth classes for expectant couples. Then I went on to Spain where I spent two days teaching the last workshop of Da a Luz Midwifery School’s second year in operation. The school, is the vision and idea of Vanessa Brooks, a British home birth midwife residing in Spain. It is still a work in progress but what I have seen in visiting the place twice  in the last two years, is that it is coming together very nicely, and growing as a course which supports women in choosing the path to true midwifery. Students sign up for a year’s apprenticeship and have the added challenge of having to provide completely for themselves in terms of accommodation (living in tents, vans, yurts, caravans, and one student even building herself a little cob hut), living off the grid and living communally. The school building, is slowly being built and has gone from being a pile of stones to taking on a majestic presence of its own. I look forward to seeing it when it is done but for now, classes still take place mainly outdoors, on rugs, on the grass, under the olive tree. I am very inspired by what Vanessa is doing at Da a Luz because we all know that there is something lacking in midwifery training nowadays, and that is often a lack of trust of the birthing process. Da a Luz aims to instil a sense of confidence and faith in birth. Last year I taught the Helping Babies Breathe course to a group of doulas in Portugal. After that course, there were numerous requests to build on that and for me to provide a longer, more detailed course, exploring some of the skills of midwifery. Hence,An Introductory Course to Midwifery  was born. At the beautiful venue at Vale dos Homens we spent five days discussing, exploring and mostly laughing our way through basic midwifery skills, sharing birth stories and discussing what birth and midwifery meant to us. You can see more pictures from the course on the True Midwifery FaceBook page. After the course in Portugal I had to catch a plane to Rome where the Italian translation of my book, The Basic Needs of a Woman...

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My Father Wasn’t at my Birth

Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Writings

My Father Wasn’t at my Birth

My father wasn’t at my birth. My mother had hoped for and planned a home birth for my entrance into the world, but she was a single mother living in a communal house in Switzerland at the time. She was considered to be an older mother (She was 29 when she fell pregnant with me) and was advised against having a home birth by her doctor. The man of the house she was living in was also dead set against having her birth in his home – there was no way that African girl was going to squat down and birth in his house. My mother then found out about a natural birthing centre in the neighbouring canton of Graubünden, and while she drove to take a look at it and loved the pink rooms and the deep birthing pools and the midwives in attendance, there was no one who was willing and able to drive her there once she was in labour (which I have now worked out via Google maps is only 1 hour and 23 minutes away!). So she settled for the very fancy and exclusive private hospital at Stefanshorn. My father wasn’t at my birth. I was a planned pregnancy. Very much so. I was very much hoped for and wanted, but it was an unusual arrangement of sorts. I’ll let you in on a  little secret. You see, my father was married to someone else when he met my mother and he stayed married to his first wife (my parents actually never married) while embarking on a relationship with my mother. My mother was a staunch feminist at the time and had all sorts of theories about different ways of having relationships and so they embarked on an ‘open relationship’ – which my father’s wife was actually rather reluctant about. So the plan was for my father to impregnate my mother and that she would be a single mother and that he would be a long distant parent and visit once a month or when time and travel allowed him. My father lived in England and in South Africa at the time. My father wasn’t at my birth. He was in England at the time, at home with his wife. My mother was admitted a week before her due date to be induced for no medical reason other than that her doctor was going to be away on holiday. She was admitted on my father’s wife’s birthday, which his wife always saw as a personal affront to her and made her resent my presence even more. My father wasn’t at my birth. A friend drove my mother to the hospital, but my mother was alone when she went into labour with me. I know that she laboured for twelve hours and that she had the latest in foetal heart monitoring technology strapped to her while she laboured. I know she laboured on her back. I also know that she held on to a little green Verdite statue. A little bust of an African woman. It had been given to her by a grateful woman my mother had counselled when my mother had volunteered as a rape counsellor in South Africa. I know that this little statue was a lifeline back to South Africa for my mother while she laboured. My father wasn’t at my birth. He was in England at the time, at home with his wife and while she hung out a load of wet laundry he snuck a call to my mother and shouted instructions on how to breathe through the heavy...

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