Disclaimer: this is part three: very long and erm, laborious.
After the walk Xoli puts on her rubber gloves again and I try not to punch her lights out while she fiddles around in the heart of the storm. Eye of the storm is what they say though, isn’t it? Still not, she tells my sinking heart. Then, she’s frowning…Sorry…her fingers probe my depths and I want to cry. She looks at me. She’s released something. There was a clench. Or something. I just went from 0 to 3 in under a second. They give racing drivers medals for stuff like that.
The next hours are a blur. Images through smeared glass. Some vomiting, some walking. Some squatting. And then: you have only progressed one cm in three hours. The world flattens out when I hear this. It’s truly discouraging. Everything is through thick sheets of glass. Underwater.
These are your options, she is saying. We can wait, walk some more, keep active. Or break the membranes … put you on an oxytocin drip to speed up the contractions. I don’t want to do that but you may have to. Something about Dr Mia and the length of time you are “allowed” to labour before they want to intervene.
They call in Elizabeth, she’s a doula. Her touch is angelic. Hands on my sacrum. Feathery stroking of hair and shoulders. Ntombi is here now. Angel. Music, sitting on the ball. Light touch brings relief, endorphins. How do you feel, asks the gentle Elizabeth. I feel like I’m on drugs. Good, she says. Beautiful, these amazing women. Bernd is relieved too, I’m aware of his unclenching. Elizabeth says I’m holding it in my shoulders each time (Of course I’m fucking holding it in my shoulders). On the ball, leaning forward. Easy. Oh, this is good, can I stay here….
This sitting business. On the ball, on the stool, leaning forward, the contractions ease off. It feels good. But, um…its not bringing the baby any bloody closer is it? I’ve got to walk again.
Bernd walks me with the patience and humour required to support a doddering geriatric. From the white wall to the hedge with yellow flowers. From the hedge with yellow flowers to the metal pole of the washing line. Step. Grind of bowlingball on pelvis. Step. Surge. Lean. Breathe. Or round the jungle gym outside, sunlight braai-ing my eyeballs. Walking around a jungle gym the size of a small bathroom feels like the Otter Trail.
Writing this now, looking at the notes I wrote a few days after, the writer in me is asking me to edit, cut, package, put in sub-headings. But the teacher in me wants you to feel it – how boring and protracted this birthing business can be.
When they check me again I’m about 5cm. We’re trying to get to ten, remember. And my waters still haven’t broken. But always, every time they check, the baby’s heartbeat steady as it was in all the weekly check-ups. Patient fellow. Another walk to Zoo Lake with the gentle Ntombi. Dimly aware of how this must appear – this strange slow animal presence, a woman squatting on the side of the road. I feel invisible though, like I’m in another dimension.
Back in the cool dark of the Genesis room (I’m hot, then cold, then thirsty then hungry then vomiting. And very very tired.) I squat. And suddenly there’s a gush. Waters breaking at last. But I’m still only five cm and only one layer of membranes has broken. Ntombi’s voice is serious now. We have to get these contractions to progress. She has to break the second layer. And the oxytocin drip. She’s worried I won’t have enough energy for the push. The push? What’s this push everyone keeps talking about? Oh yeah, I remember now. There’s a baby coming. I’m going to have to push a baby out of me.
She says to have a sleep. An afternoon nap, as it were. Bernd suggests the rainbow relaxation CD. Good idea. I sleep, dimly aware of the tickticktick of Bernd playing Quadrapop on his phone. When I wake I am determined, fresh, clear. I am going to walk around that jungle gym one more time, dammit.
Actually my sequence is totally out. I don’t know in what order this happened: sleeping, walking, Ntombi breaking the membranes, Bernd’s tense voice saying I must walk when all I can do is lie there and moo like a buffalo. Hushed voices around me. Deep in my sleep remembering Ntombi saying I must get my head in the right place for the next phase.
Yes, that’s it – that echoes in my sleep and when I wake I go walking, on my own this time. Get back to the room and the clouds part in my head. Of course. There’s a next phase. I have to do this. No one else can do this. The drip. I need the drip. Lets do it.
As she’s getting needles and tubes lined up I say, I’m scared. I have some fear.
Ok, she says. What is the fear?
That it will get too intense for me to handle.
Yes, the pain. (yes, I will use the word. The Pain)
She tells me my Plan A pain relief is the bath: getting in the water helps.
Plan B – I can ask for Pethedine. But remember, you need to welcome the pain. You have to have the intense contractions, that’s what you need.
Ok. Ok. Lets do it.
I waddle to where Bernd is sitting outside. I’m going to do the drip, I say.
Good, he says. Everyone is concerned. I’m concerned.
Its ok, I say. Its going to be ok.
Ntombi tells me I am surfing very close to Dr Mia’s cut-off point. Or, his cut point, as it were. I don't want to be cut. Lets have tried everything, she said. I’m prepared to push it a little past that point because I know this is what you want.
Yes. This is what I want. And always, the baby’s heartbeat, so steady.
Within minutes of having the needle in the back of my hand the waves come thick and fast. Yes, its intense, but I realise that what was wrong before was that they were so irregular. Now each one lasts for exactly three breaths: the first is the gathering swell, the middle one is the peak, the third helps to ebb it away. Its just me and my breath now. No sightseeing on this heavy weather surf. Ntombi’s voice saying you need this pain its helping you. Welcome the pain. My voice, at some point, saying everyone switch off your phones. Now.
In no time, I get that need-to-poo feeling they spoke of. I want to push. And waiting for them to bustle around and fill the bath seems to take longer than the whole labour so far. I need to push Now guys, like really Now. Hurry the fuck up.
I don’t know how I got into the water but I’m here now. Candles. Cool. Yoga CD. id I ask for that? Oh look that’s weird, there’s Monica from the health store, what’s she doing here? Doula on duty. She has a night job. Hi Monica. Bernd and I touch fingertips, lock eyes. Here’s another one. In out in out in out. Done. And again.
Ok, work with the contractions, use all your energy to push as if you are going to do a poo. I hear Miranda’s voice in my head: chin into your chest and puuuuush. I breathe in and make a kind of grunty rattle sound. Ntombi says that one was in your throat. Push right down into your bum.
I’m getting it now. Three pushes per contraction and a tiny rest in between. Actually, no rest in between. Just enough time to refuel on oxygen before the next ten-footer comes bearing down on me. Bernd keeps shoving the straw in my dry mouth. I want to drink but need the air first. It takes about ten rounds before I manage to make the words: breathe first then drink.
Ntombi’s voice my anchor: “brilliant Tamara, you’re doing so well. Keep going.” The repetition bouys me along.
Change to a squat. Sometimes the wave knocks a sob out of me as it comes. Push push push, breathe, sip – and again.
Eventually a new feeling – stinging, burning. Baby’s coming says Xoli. Ntombi: Push past the ring of fire. Push past that burning ring. I know what she means but that burning ring doesn’t feel like it has a beyond. At some point I feel sure that I have done enough and can stop. Someone else must please finish up for me. I’ve done my best.
Xoli says, I can feel his head. Next time, put your fingers here and feel his head. I expect to feel more than the puny 50c coin size that I can feel. Am I only that far?
Now its serious business pushing. Ntombi’s voice, the music – the yoga CD. Long Time Sun. Ah well, so he won’t be born to that song…..
Push Tamara you're doing so well push past the burning ring you're doing so well baby’s coming.
I PUSH and I push and I push. Now I can really feel him coming. I’ve never worked so hard or wanted anything so so much. I push as if my life depends on it. My life does depend on it. So does his. Two lives. Lets go.
At some point, I know, this is it, its coming. When that round is finished, I gasp – oh no he’s gone back in!
Its ok, you’ve stretched, next time he’ll come further.
Its true. Next time he does.
And the time after that a tiny bit more.
And then many times when its just in one place. Then more.
And then they’re telling me to pant like a dog. And I do.
I push – the biggest one, like I’m trying to get an overland truck up the hill all by myself. Still not.
And then it happens. He is out. And the rest of him slithers out like a slippery fish and now they’re putting him on my chest all pink and white and yellow and red and I’m behind three layers of glass but there he is. I have done it.
Now Xoli vacuums his little nose.
Now she says “I’m not quite happy” and the world swims away from me. There’s a pause the length of the entire day. What?
The cord is around his foot, tightly wrapped three times. She unwraps it, he kicks like a foal. My baby is here. He’s on me, so quick. That was so easy, I think. Someone says what’s the time. 9.55.
Bernd cuts the cord. Red and blue gristle, like electrical wire.
Now they’ve taken him already, he’s being measured and weighed.
He’s with Bernd while they help me deliver the placenta. Its such a rich dark velvety colour, its veins like embroidered seams. I want to thank it. I understand why people worship it – it seems alive. No calcification. My date of the 17th was correct, in spite of what the gynae said.
I’m in the shower now. They check me. I haven’t torn. I stink like a beer-drinking pheromone sipping dock worker. There’s a mushy substance between my legs. I realise its my vagina. Numb. Still underwater in that glassy world. I am being taken to the bed now, where Bernd has my son. They put him on my breast.
I have nothing. No feeling no emotion no tiredness no elation no sadness no flatness. The glassy world. Bernd is in love, this I see and I know this is good. But I feel as if I have also pushed myself out into the bathwater.
Nothing will ever be the same again. I suppose I sleep. I know I phoned my mother, but when I couldn't say. When I wake my shoulders are frozen cold. I close the window. The 4 am glassy light coats the glass. I go back to bed and lie next to my baby. I am also born. I will love this child forever. A neat line divides my life into what was before, and what is now.
I have a child.
And now, a year later I know that that was the easy part.