Honouring my Mother on this day of her Birth

Posted by on Dec 5, 2019 in Writings

Honouring my Mother on this day of her Birth

My mother is an obvious connector to birth for me – she birthed me after all. But the imprint my mother left me with around birth runs deeper than that. And today, 69 years since she was born at home in Athlone, and 12 years since she died in a car accident, I would like to honour her and the deep lessons of birth she imprinted in me.

My mothers’ own birth story sounds like something from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. She was born at home in Athlone, on a hot windy Cape Town day, the second child to my grandparents. While my grandmother sweated and grunted and birthed the large round baby that was my mother, across the street, a house burnt to the ground, consuming not only the entire house but a woman inside it too.

Birth and death in the same street on the same day.

Because she was born so close to Christmas, she was named Carol. A huge relief to my mother when she found out that that the alternative had been Julie.

The Little Green Statue my mother clutched while she birthed me

After generations of birthing their babies at home, my mother was the first in our maternal lineage to birth in a hospital. She wanted to birth at home but she was far from home, a single pregnant woman living in a communal house in Switzerland. She wanted to birth at the communal house but the man whose house it was, stamped his feet and proclaimed that under no circumstances would that African girl squat down and birth in his house. She was too far from the alternative midwife run birth centre she felt would be a good alternative and so some friends chipped in to pay for the nearby and very exclusive Stefanshorn hospital where my mother was induced a week before my/her due date. She was left to labour on her own, on her back with a fetal monitor strapped to her. She held onto the little verdite statue, a bust of an African woman she had been gifted back in South Africa by a grateful woman when she was a rape counsellor. This little statue was her doula, her birth companion, her connector, back to South Africa, as she birthed me far away from home.

My sister’s birth 3 years later, was a planned home birth in Bern, the birthing pool set up in the lounge. but my sister decided to trigger her labour early and emerged on Easter Sunday while the midwife was away on holiday. So we drove with my mother’s friend to the hospital and I remember sitting on my haunches, colouring in at a low table, while my mother laboured and birthed in the next room. I was expecting a little brother called Michael. I had been singing to him for months and was surprised when I was introduced to a little sister called Kate.

Six years later, we were living back in South Africa, this time on a farm an hour outside of Ceres and we had to do the long three-hour drive to Mowbray Maternity hospital so that my mother could birth my little sister Gypsy.

For my sister Jasmin’s birth, I was at school. It was 1991 and what had once been the ‘whites-only’ part of the local Ceres hospital, had recently been opened for all South Africans to use. Jasmin’s claim to fame is being the first coloured child born in that section of the hospital. My mother said she slipped out like a bar of soap.

Living rurally, we lived far from hospitals and so, one night, my mother ended up catching the baby of one of the farm women who had refused the offer of transport to the local hospital.

(You can read that full birth story here.)

After that birth, all the women refused to go to the hospital, trusting what they called my mother’s healing hands to catch their babies. My mother had never trained as a midwife; she had a background in psychology and had recently made the transition to becoming a farmer.

But they say midwifery is a calling and it sure as hell called her!

I call her the accidental midwife.

Honestly, growing up, I saw this catching of babies more as an irritating hobby.

I see now, that growing up around pregnant bellies and suckling infants, my mother disappearing in the night while we were asleep (a bit like Father Christmas really), and then serving us freshly baked bread for breakfast bleary eye (when did she find the time to still bake bread?!), left an unconscious imprint in me that pregnancy and birth were normal, that it usually happened in the middle of the night and that life went on…

So it was only normal and natural that when I fell pregnant at 20, that my mother would attend my birth. At the time, I lived on another farm around 2 hours from her and she travelled the distance to sit quietly with me while I moaned and complained my way through labour.

My mother was the first person to touch her grandson.

My first birth instilled in me a deep sense of trust in the birthing process and I am forever grateful to my mother’s quiet and solid presence throughout. I also finally woke up to what my mother had been doing all these years for the women on our farm – what had seemed like an irritating hobby suddenly became the coolest job on the planet.

Is that what’s she’s been doing all these years? I wanna do that!

(You can read my first birth story here.)

My mother played more of a background figure at my next two births, taking care of my children while I laboured and birthed. By the time I gave birth the fourth time, she had passed away.

My mother wasn’t physically around when I finally officially began my midwifery apprenticeship journey after my youngest was born. But I like to think she has been with me every step of the way.

And I like to think she is proud.