Today, I want to tell you a story. It is the most important story of your life. How, you ask? That’s because it is THE story of how your life started on earth. This is your birth-story.
Let’s begin with the backstory. It was the 27th of May, 2015. A Wednesday. I was exactly 38 weeks pregnant which means you still had two weeks left of your time inside your watery world. Your Papa and I were at Dr. D’s clinic where things were, as is customary, running late. When we finally had our chance and were taken for the regular biophysical scan, I was excited. Those scans always got me excited as I could hear the quick zhug-zhug-zhug-zhug of your heart and catch glimpses of your feet, your hands or even your nose. These scans reassured me because every single time, Dr. D looked at your measurements and said, everything’s perfect.
Not this time, though.
He informed us that the water or the amniotic fluid sustaining you inside was quite low. I kept waiting for him to reassure me with his characteristic lopsided smile, to say it’s normal but all I could see were his frowns. He asked me to get out of the scanning bed and join him in his room for a chat. That’s where he mentioned the need to induce my labour or the process that will get you out.
I will spare you the details. All you need to know is that the doctor was planning to get you out of my tummy and get you to my arms earlier than what you were planning on doing. When he checked me, he realised you had made no preparations for the journey, snugly tucked inside. So he decided to intervene.
He told us to come back the next day to give me a shot of gel that would get my body ready for your birth. The process is known as ripening. He was certain one shot wouldn’t be enough. So he planned a second one for the following Monday. If you still wouldn’t come, he would start to use force. Why was he being so mean? Well, he wasn’t, actually. He realised it was safer for you outside than in the cramped compartment inside. Hence the preparations.
Thursday afternoon came. Your Papa & I went to the labour ward of the hospital to get the shot. It wasn’t as simple as the doctor had made it sound. It was a whole deal more uncomfortable. After the shot was administered, I was attached to this machine that told us your heartbeat as well as monitored the intensity of the contractions. Simply put, contractions are tummy cramps indicating that the body is getting ready to push you through the birth canal and help you get outside. I was in quite a bit of pain but the nurse told me these weren’t even the real contractions. That scared me. If the not-real contractions were so painful, what would the real ones be like? I was soon to find out.
We left the hospital after four hours. Both Papa and I were tired but there was no time to rest. Your grandparents, Kaka and Aita, were reaching Cape Town next afternoon. We had to do some shopping, some cooking and some cleaning before we went to bed that night so everything could be perfect for their arrival.
Papa and I also decided to go out for dinner one last time before it all changed for us. Kaka-Aita were reaching the next day and you were to follow a few days later. When would we ever get the time to just be us again? I was so tired (and so heavily pregnant) that at one point in the evening, I told Papa to cancel our dinner plans. In hindsight, I am very, very glad he didn’t.
We decided to go to Italian Kitchen. I was, as I always am, in the mood for some creamy pasta and Italian Kitchen being close to home was the perfect choice. We got a cozy corner table for two next to a bookshelf with old, hardback tomes. The wall behind me was covered with framed, slice-of-life pictures of Italy. A single candle burnt setting the perfect scene. Papa ordered a steak and I, of course, ordered a creamy seafood pasta. Alas! It wasn’t so. The waiter misled me or maybe I misunderstood him. Whatever be the case, what was served to me was certainly not creamy! It was a very spicy seafood pasta that burnt my insides and made me very uncomfortable.
We didn’t let the food ruin our mood, though. We took our time and came home happy, our ordeals of the day forgotten. I changed into my comfortable PJs and got to bed. The spicy pasta that I had eaten was giving me serious heartburn. In fact I felt full to my throat and was thus, very uncomfortable. What I didn’t know is that the pasta was not the only reason why I felt so unsettled. Nevertheless, I got into bed and soon, was fast asleep with Papa lightly snoring next to me.
Something jolted me out of my deep sleep. It was a tummy cramp. One more painful than I had ever experienced before. Could this be the real thing? Should I wake up Papa? I was about to but I was suddenly reminded of the nurse’s face, the way she had smiled at me when I complained about the painful cramps. Maybe I truly have a low threshold for pain, I thought. This must be normal. No point in disturbing poor, tired Papa. And with that thought, I went back to sleep.
A few minutes later, another big cramp rocked me. This time, I couldn’t help moaning. I thought I was being quiet but my grunting woke Papa up. He turned to face me and held me with one hand. With the other hand, he reached out for his phone. Unbeknownst to me, he was timing my cramps to see if they were real contractions.
After a few more came and went, Papa thought it was time to call the hospital. But I was reluctant. What if it wasn’t the real deal? What was the point in driving all the way for these mock contractions? I voiced my apprehensions but Papa was convinced these weren’t the mock ones. But how could these be real, I wondered? Hadn’t the doctor said I would require another shot of gel before I could expect your arrival?
I told him I needed to go to the loo first hoping that getting out of bed and walking about would probably make me feel better. But the moment I stood up, water gushed out of me, wetting my pyjamas and forming a pool where I stood. I screamed for Papa. We looked at each other and we knew this was it. It was time to go!
Quickly but steadily, I got dressed. Papa frantically cleaned the floor, called the hospital, put our ready suitcases in the car while I took my time getting into my clothes. I even put on eyeliner and lipstick at that ungodly hour. Somehow, I felt very calm.
Ten minutes later, after Papa fed me a spoonful of sugar, we were headed towards the hospital. The beautiful roads of M3 were totally deserted. In the eerie light of the middle of the night, the buildings of UCT looked brooding and forbidding. I don’t know how I remember all this because throughout, I kept having cramping terribly. There was a strange mix of urgency and quite calm inside me.
We reached the hospital and were assigned the same birthing room where we were a few hours earlier, getting the shot. The nurse of the afternoon was gone. The new nurse asked me a series of questions and sent Papa to another room to answer some more, almost the same as the ones she had already asked me. I did not and still do not see the point in asking pointless questions over and over again and making him run around when he should have been by my side. But never mind that.
I was once again strapped to the monitor called the Foetal Monitor that displayed your heartbeat and checked for any kind of distress. My idea was to go for a normal delivery with epidural ideally but we were open to a surgery if it meant your arrival would be safer. So far, it all looked good.
My contractions, which had conveniently stopped while we were getting the admin side of things done, returned and were getting stronger. I had heard horror stories about mothers waiting too long to ask for an epidural and having to deliver without pain relief so I made myself very clear to the nurses that I wanted the epidural as soon as possible. Oh, I forgot to mention, epidural is a form of pain-relief injected in the spine. It makes the lower half of the pregnant woman’s body numb and incapable of feeling any pain.
The anesthesiologist gave me the epidural and soon, I lost all sensation from the waist down. The nurse had informed my doctor about my condition who promised to come see me early in the morning. The nurses wanted Papa and me to rest. It’s going to be a long day, they said. So you better rest. Papa liked the plan (when doesn’t he like plans that involve sleeping?) and made himself cosy on the LazyBoy chair. I was far from that. Kaka-Aita would reach in the afternoon. Papa and I were supposed to pick them up from the airport but that was clearly not happening. What would happen? Who would? How long before I could actually expect you?
In retrospect, I should have slept. That my last chance to have some good sleep but little did I know!
After I had had breakfast and watched television on mute, Dr. D came in to check. He checked and informed baby was definitely coming today. Most likely by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. I have never had doctor-related anxiety throughout my pregnancy but at that moment, watching him hover over me and declaring these details so nonchalantly shook me out of my epidural-induced haze. It was then that reality actually sunk in. The drive to the hospital was the last that Papa and I took as a couple. On the ride back, we’d be a family of three!
Massive contractions were rocking my body now. I only know this because the machine I was strapped to told us so. Thanks to the epidural, I could feel nothing! The hours rolled past. Papa arranged to get Kaka-Aita picked up at the airport. I kept speaking to Ata-Abu, your other grandparents sitting tensed in Assam, India, to keep them updated. Soon, lunch was served. I had eaten very little during breakfast and was positively famished. Just as Papa and I were about to begin, in walked the doctor for another check. Having done so, he looked at my ready plate of food and said, “Who is eating that?” When I claimed I was, he said, “You can’t eat it. Baby is on the way.”
For a good few seconds, I could only stare at him. I replayed the sentence a few times in my mind before I asked him what did he mean. It was only around 1230 in the afternoon. Didn’t I have 4 odd hours left? Baby is almost here, she is in a hurry, he said. Once I heard him say that, any hunger I had vanished, to be replaced by absolute fear.
Papa ate quickly and was by my side holding my hand. The nurse got busy, bringing in towels and some very scary looking instruments that I didn’t want to look at. Papa didn’t leave my side. Soon, my legs were on stirrups, the doctor was in his gown, Papa on my left held my hand and the nurse started instructing me on how to push. I started hesitantly but she kept looking at me and saying, “harder” and “longer.” Before I knew it, I was pushing how they wanted me to, longer and way harder. The nurse kept instructing me, the doctor said a few words too but I can’t remember much of it. It was how they show in the movies. The world had slowed down, allowing me the chance to be completely by myself even in company, allowing me to concentrate on the task at hand.
Pushing is hard work. Although the epidural had numbed the worst of the pain, I was still exhausted from pushing so long and so hard. I couldn’t see a thing so I had no clue how far we had progressed, how far did we need to go. Daunted by the constant pressure to push push push, I closed my eyes for a second and pushed with all my might. The next words were the doctor’s. Open your eyes, he said.
I did, laying my eyes on you. For. The. Very. First. Time. Ever!
Tiny, bathed in blood and other fluids, head full of dark hair, you were the most beautiful sight I had ever seen! At the behest of the doctor, Papa cut the umbilical cord with shaking hands and soon after, you were placed on my chest. That’s how I came to hold you in my arms for the first time and hold you in my heart for an eternity.