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.

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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 black phone. I know he irritated my mother and that she was relieved when he had to go and she could return to her own rhythm. She had found a way to relieve her pain by breathing out for as long as possible and making her lips loose while she did that.

After twelve hours, she gave birth to me. A girl. I weighed five kilogrammes and I took to the breast easily apparently.

My father wasn’t at my birth.

But he arrived the following day and examined me thoroughly. He was concerned that my toes would be bent and gnarled like his and he was comforted to find that this was not the case.

He then announced with relief that I was only slightly pigmented.

(My mother was classified Coloured, my father was classified White – their relationship had begun in South Africa and the fact that they were a mixed race couple now with a child made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to continue their relationship in South Africa and was one of the reasons I was born and raised in Switzerland. We only moved back to South Africa after the Immorality Act was repealed in 1987 ).

My father wasn’t at my birth.

I did not grow up with him in the way most children grow up with their fathers. I never lived with him except for a short stint when I was seven and the Apartheid government had changed its laws and my parents came to South Africa and rented a house  and tried living together – this did not last long. 

He was always a regular part of my life though and he visited and sent gifts and we visited him and he phoned on birthdays and Christmas and I know he prayed for me.

Twenty-six years later my father was dying of cancer. It had spread to his bones and his blood. I found out two weeks before he died and I spoke to him on the phone. He was jolly as ever and told me he loved me. I was pregnant with my third child at the time and I could not fly to be with him. I had not seen him for six years and he had never met any of my children.

My father wasn’t at my birth.

And I wasn’t there when he died.

That was ten years ago today. The day before his 80th birthday.

My father wasn’t at my birth.

But he was very much part of my life

And he always will be.

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