In the bath with my daughter, I get to be present. Time stops for a little while as I catch my breath. This is another wonderful gift that she’s given me.
If you’re new parents or parents-to-be, congratulations!
I’ll start with this caveat; I am no authority in this matter. I’m just a mum. And more pertinent to this post, I’m a wife and partner. I have been on the receiving end of care from a loving partner and I have gleaned insight from my husband on a partner’s experience.
There are some pointers I can provide when it comes to what I remember needing in terms of support and a sense of security from my partner. If anything, I’ll demystify a pregnant couple’s experience for you. Everyone’s story doesn’t play out the same way, but these pointers are relevant throughout early pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
Not every family picture looks the same. Of course not every child will have both biological parents to arrive home to from the hospital, but children do demand a support system, whatever form it takes. There is no mother alive who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.
It’s an important time for you and your mum-to-be so if you’re reading this, you can give yourself a pat on the back for realizing this and attempting to get yourself a little more informed. You’ve arrived at point one.
I remember my first few weeks of pregnancy being frought with doubt and fear. Mostly of my ability of being able to forgo the freedoms and wild abandon that is pre-child life, and whether my brand new marriage could handle a whole new person taking a whole new space in our lives. Not to mention that pregnancy and child-rearing often brings drastic change into a woman’s life, whereas in men, the amount of change is optional.
There’s a way about women – in crudely general terms on the near end, we tend to forsee a lot; and on the far end, sometimes worrying and analyzing situations half to death. It’s not always a bad thing, in fact you may thank us for it one day. It can be a strength; an in-built mechanism for adjusting oneself in response to all the changes ahead of them. It’s an exercise in feeling a little better prepared, keeping our heads above water and assuaging our fears of incompetence or Imposter Syndrome.
In whichever way, big or small, dedicate yourself to getting informed. There are books, endless resources online and in bookstores containing all there is to do with pregnancy, childbirth and parenting – and then some. The road you’re both on has phases that you have to pass through, there’s no cheating or skipping. As I read once about pregnancy; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Encourage her to take everything one step at a time. She will appreciate your empathy and that you aren’t leaving carrying your child, changing her lifestyle for pregnancy and knowing everything all up to her. Especially in the restless (seemingly never-ending) last few weeks.
It’s supportive to:
- Be a part of the Doctor/OBGyn/Doula/Paediatrician selection process.
- Buy at least one book/magazine on pregnancy to get both of you clued up on the important stuff and some basics.
- Talk to other fathers and parents about their experiences.
- Go with your partner to your prenatal/lamaze class and scan appointments if you can (just don’t miss the first one).
- Decide whether you want to know the sex of the child or not.
- Not go out all night drinking/smoking and bring that back into your house with you especially if she deals with nausea.
- Not talk about your empathetic pregnancy symptoms. It’s not cute. It just deflects from the reality of her experience. She’s actually pregnant.
… Or at least appear to. It’s not only a request that women ask of their partners in general daily life together and one that men are guilty of wishing away. I wish I didn’t need to say: It fosters a good rapport with one another, enables clear communication and in terms of pregnancy it is a great show of compassion.
In the next few months, your partner is going to go through a lot of physiological, psychological and maybe other changes and fluctuations in a relatively short time. It’s a tall order to expect, much as the world does, for a pregnant mother to go through all of this and not need to let off some steam. She may need to share now and again and I’m not saying to take the place of her girlfriends or therapist, but it would behoove you to pay attention as there will be things that come up that require your input.
You might be blessed with a partner who’s disposition is consistently pleasant and ebullient, but no one is a robot. It’s perfectly expected when one goes through such profound change for their equilibrium to be shaken from time to time. Note that I didn’t mention anything about patience; parenting will teach you a lot about that!
It’s supportive to:
- Side with her when an overbearing stranger starts s%¿! with her about what not to eat while pregnant in public or other such unsolicited advice and it strikes a nerve. In fact, side with her more often than not.
- Tell your friends or whoever comes around to visit not to reach out for her belly bump as it’s intimate and likely sensitive. It’s not a ‘food baby’ stomach, it’s a womb. Imagine one of your testes blown up many times its size.
- Never use phrases like, ‘you need to relax/calm down’.
- Rather assist her to relax with a thoughtful nightly backrub, running her a bath, getting a movie to snuggle up to, taking her out to eat or asking her what she’d like to do to unwind. It’s the little things.
- Don’t compare her experiences with other people’s that you know of, it can feel discouraging.
- Be considerate by picking up after yourself and not making it her job, being pregnant is pretty tiring.
- Understand that she’s not unreasonable, but might be very hormonal. Don’t hold this against her or humiliate her to bemuse people outside, you’ll just have an upset and discouraged partner at home.
… On yourself.
Do what you gotta do. Men seem to have a tough time about choosing what they really need over what they think they need. I don’t mean in terms of doing the right thing in the face of acute absenteeism of fathers in modern society, but rather in blurring the lines of traditional masculinity with antiquated rules of thought and behaviour.
For example, in old times, fathers were not permitted to be present during births. In later years when they were finally welcomed into birthing, they were often offered the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord. Have you ever pondered the significance of this singular act? Is there any? Does it add to a sense of being involved and if so, what else have you done up to this point to feel involved? Just because it was practiced by droves that came before, doesn’t govern what you need to do. Your story of parenthood is yours to design.
Derive meaning in acts based on your own set of values and beliefs. If you aren’t sure what they are, today is a better time as any to figure them out. This is important to give some thought to, because it will inform you largely on how to parent when your child is born.
Demanding that your partner be at the same energy levels to cater to family obligations, meet your sexual needs or keep your shared space in order because that’s what’s traditionally expected of a woman, instead of adjusting to her needs (which may have changed) may only cause strife in your relationship during pregnancy.
Rather talk it out with her and check in on how she’s feeling lately. She’s only human and there’s only so much she can carry at one time. It’s good to keep abreast of how all these changes may affect you and not internalize it because it will be sensed by your partner – likely in the form of passive aggression, resentments or moodswings.
Unlike your partner who may feel a tactile sense of your yet-to-be born child, your senses are inhibited by the fact that he/she isn’t growing inside of your body. But did you know that your child can sense you too, and still wants to get to know your voice? Your relationship can start when they start hearing at about 16 weeks of gestation.
This doesn’t make it any more real for you and may be a little awkward to conceive. Maybe a relationship will be more perceptible for you at birth. That’s totally fine, you’re not alone. Many, if not most men feel that way. This is why, at birth, probably isn’t an ideal time to start your own introspection; as there’ll be much (adapting) to do in your immediate surroundings with new life in your midst.
You may have many questions, fears and doubts and you can seek to address them with help and insights from your community. It doesn’t help you or your partner to tell yourself to ‘be strong’ because you believe that is manly or dutiful, only to ultimately buckle under the pressures you aren’t sharing and seeking to alleviate. As my husband often says, the sins of the father are paid for by the child. Expecting and having your child can bring up issues that need to be put to bed; you won’t be able to put them off for very long. Anything you don’t address within yourself will eventually directly impact on your child.
It’s supportive to:
- Take time to yourself (no, not at the bar with the boys). Take meaningful time by yourself or someone you trust outside or in nature to reflect on what kind of parent you want to be.
- Ask yourself what kind of parent(s) you had, what you always wished from them what they wanted for you. What was imparted into your life from them?
- Note any unresolved issues you may have with your own parents and seek to try to resolve them. It’ll be good not to have these things in between you on the arrival of their grandchild.
- Interrogate your value system next to your partner’s with regard to finances, healthcare, education, morality, spirituality/religion and gender roles in the home because believe me, it will all come up when making decisions regarding your child.
As with most things during pregnancy, it will be birthed into reality in a matter of months. Taking the time to think about these things with your partner and in your own capacity demonstrates responsibility, seriousness and the understanding of the importance to agree and reach consensus with your partner as parents and equals.
This is reassuring in the midst of many uncertainties that you may pass through in life, because if you have your compass set in the direction you’ve both agreed on for your family; you may forget some things but you won’t lose sight of what matters most.
Dads, take care of yourselves. Make your happiness and wellbeing your responsibility, not your partner’s.
You are valued, you are important and you belong. We need you. Don’t feel out of place because none of this would be happening if it weren’t for you too.
Have a team mentality; you will soon become an ecosystem whose parts all have their function and rely on each other to pull the collective weight. Your partner is carrying your child, you can also apply yourself to whatever else needs to be carried at this time.
If you’re feeling anything like I am, you probably survived this holiday season.
I got this very tongue-in-cheek phrase from my brother. ‘Slay-At-Home Mum’. I thought it had such ring of humour to it. Sounds like an apt millennial term for what motherhood looks like on the outside after so much work has gone on ceaselessly behind the curtain.
Wrapping up 2018 and all it brought to my life was swift and decisive. This is because I so look forward to this new year. As is customary this time of year, plans are drawn up and dreams are dreamt but something is different now.
I went through two births last year. I physically gave birth to my daughter. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was subsequently birthed into motherhood as well.
Becoming a parent to my little girl has been the greatest gift of the past year as well as the greatest opportunity to grow. It has also been a place of ambivalence in the hardest moments. There’s a lot that can flood the mind when there’s no one else in the room but you and the beautiful, gleaming pair of inquisitive eyes staring up at you in quiet expectation. There are a lot of feelings to comb through in the quiet middle-of-the-nights when warming up milk or changing dirty diapers. And believe me, it felt like I didn’t get days off from life’s unrelenting drama or societal expectations.
I saw from experience that I wouldn’t get any slack or the pat on the back that I so badly thought I needed in order to do what I was supposed to. Also to my chagrin, my body, which never before needed much maintenance to appear maintained now wanted a little more from me. It was in my own interest to be my best friend, my day one, my ear and my own confidant and shoulder to cry on when the world wasn’t short of critics.
However, this highly compressed account of my life in the last year doesn’t at all have a lackluster ending. All these things I went through culminated into a pretty awesome outcome. Like the tears from chopped onions, they were merely the occupational hazard to the kitchen which was new motherhood. With it came the isolation and awkwardness akin to that of a second puberty; just as unavoidable and unforgiving.
I got this wonderful human out of everything .
As I draw closer to my next iteration, I feel gratitude for all the lessons learnt and fortitude built in the face of hardship. I have become that much stronger, wiser, more humble, more compassionate, kinder and more aware with each challenge I’ve faced.
It’s not an easy thing to grow. There is a natural resistance in the muscles; a tendency towards ease. It was tough to live through change and abandonment at times. I felt a loss of control, the lightness of maidenhood and simplicity of youth that no one around me seemed to understand or care about. But much like breathing through the stretching of labour pains, the resistance to change hurts more. Taking the challenges on has somehow given me a new posture.
It may seem a bit simplistic and on the nose to say so, but some rough things had to happen in order for me to see my own power and ability.
I want to share some of the positivity I’m basking in as I’m writing this, but my words are failing me. They fall short. It’s not a state of mind as much as it’s a decision. Children are such a priviledge. Through the pain of pinched nerves, elation of every milestone, met and soon-to-be-met goals I can say: I know I’m fortunate; I know I’m blessed and I have joy. I don’t want to go through this year forgetful of that.
My slay-at-home stint is not quite near over but a lot of internal work has been done in 2018. My positive outlook in 2019 is an acknowledgement of all of these truths. Be blessed.
My absolute must-haves for your hospital bag, your baby bag and your nursery stockpile.
As your delivery day inches closer, your waistline expands and your nesting urge is at its peak; you might have given some thought to packing your hospital bag. If you’re anything like me, you gave it more thought than action.
Whether you expect to have a mad dash to the hospital or a leisurely stroll, packing your baby bag/hospital bag is of tantamount importance as picking your doctor in order to feel prepared. At around 34 weeks, I’d say it’s about time to gather your things together to ready for your delivery day.
When I was pregnant, I went through some baby bag list suggestions but I found they didn’t draw a realistic picture of what I should consider for my hospital stay, childbirth and after. I mean for example, if you feel up to wearing makeup for visitors after giving birth please be my guest but the best I could muster bringing with me was BB cream/tinted moisturizer, concealer and an eyebrow pencil. All of which I didn’t use.
Your baby bag is for your baby’s needs at birth and ongoing – your hospital bag is for your stay at hospital and a little while postpartum. Below are some essentials that I just couldn’t do without.
Baby Bag Essentials
Cotton is great for sleeping in, but other blankets are great too for the outside. Beware of synthetic materials; babies tend to sweat. Pack two.
2. Baby Wipes
Perfume and Alcohol-free. You can’t have too many of these. Essential for cleaning baby’s bum when changing and his or her hands to keep any yuckies out of the mouth. Yes, we say ‘yuckies’.
You will need a lot. However, I wouldn’t advise you stockpile nappies prior to giving birth, as you will get to learn which nappies your baby best for day and nightimes, or which brands they may have sensitivity to. You don’t want to end up with bags and bags of leaky or ill-fitting nappies that you can’t use.
4. Cotton buds
The creamy vernix that coats the baby at birth is left on for the first day or so after birth to be reabsorbed by the skin as a protective first ‘moisturizer’ if you will – it’s not washed away. These baby-safe cotton buds with the larger ends than adult cotton buds are great for getting in between the folds of the baby’s skin at bathtime or top-and-tail time for cleaning after those first few days postpartum. Also clearing away bogies at the front of the nose, wiping away film from the tongue etc. They are gentle if you’re gentle with them.
5. Cotton swabs
… In a little water, the best thing to use to clean baby’s face with, especially in the first months. They don’t really need anything other than water to clean the face. To be economical, I’d tear them up and use only what I needed at a time.
6. Surgical spirits
What for, do you ask? Well, for the umbilical cord stump of course! The umbilical cord stump may take a few weeks to fall off and must remain clean and dry until then. A little dabbing of some surgical spirits with cotton at every nappy change, disinfects the end of the stump (not the baby’s skin around it) and helps to dry it out.
7. Baby Shampoo & Aqueous Cream
Two staples for bath time. For baby’s first bath, the shampoo will help to gently lift the residue from birth away from baby’s head. If your little one is follically gifted, there may be a little dried blood and amniotic material set in the hair; with gentle lathering this will lift after some washes – don’t be adamant to try to remove it all at once. Newborns should be handled delicately. Aqueous cream for the rest of the body is much gentler in place of soap. N.B. Remember to check the baby’s bath water temperature with your elbow; it should be warm (not hot) and by the time you’re finished, it should be almost tepid.
8. Hooded Towels
I don’t think there’s anything more cuddly than wrapping a baby up in a hooded towel after baths. The little hood helps to keep the baby warm and help to dry the top while the body is also swathed. Newborns love to stay warm especially during and after bath time. Keep another towel close-by while getting baby dressed up as the damp towel will lose its warmth. Pack one for hospital.
9. Receiver Blankets
Another thing you can’t have too many of. They are versatile in use and grow with baby over the months. Use these to cover surfaces you need to change your baby on, throw over your shoulder to burp your baby, to swaddle your baby at sleep times, and to roll up into padding to adapt your baby to fit into their car seat. When newborn babies come home from the hospital, they are quite small and need some padding to keep their spines from curling and keep their necks supported on the drive home. Pack at least two.
10. Babygrows, Beanies, Vests & Footed Pants
These are the main clothes that your baby will wear in the first few months. You may be given a beanie at the hospital, but pack one to keep your baby warm. Newborns have much thinner skin than we do, and don’t regulate their temperature so well on their own at birth age. Also, their body heat escapes from the tops of their heads. You might be giving birth in summer or winter, so ask the nursing staff for guidance in your particular weather. I had a winter baby and a nurse told me, ‘As a rule, however much you are wearing, plus one more layer’. Pack two of each.
(Pictured above center)
If you’re having a winter baby, these are great for going outside. Pack one.
Mummy Bag Essentials
Your best slippers, a gown, preferably a nightdress; something that buttons down in front and is dark in colour. Reasons being that birth and postpartum can be messy and darker clothing is practical for that; a nightie might be the most breezy and comfortable thing to wear when your tummy is still big after vaginal or c-section delivery; and a button front will allow you to nurse your newborn without a hassle. Pack at least one nightie.
13. Maternity Pads
Similar to little mattresses for your undies, you will fall in love with them. If you give birth naturally, you may be given one or two at the hospital, but make sure to pack some of your own as you may have some much expected bleeding after delivery. They are akin to sitting on clouds after the ouchies of delivery. They are not like your typical discreet sanitary pads, they are bulky, without wings and usually don’t adhere as they are just meant to be placed in the underwear.
14. Disposable Panties
They are sold at your nearest pharmacy in packs of 3 at about R20 a pack. I can’t tell you why so few; I sent my husband out for more. They’re great and feel like nothing. I’m sure the c-section ladies out there can attest to that. I went through about one to two a day for the first few weeks. No shame in being comfy when you’ve just given birth.
15. Nursing Bras
If you haven’t already bought some in pregnancy due to your tender breasts like I did, you’ll need to buy some. Your bust will also likely change in size between pregnancy, birth and afterwards; so buy according to what you need at the time. The more the merrier. You won’t want any underwire bras when your breasts are swelling with milk every few hours especially in the early days postpartum as they may get engorged. Additionally, flimsy materials like lace may chafe against raw breastfeeding nipples. This is due to the newness of the whole breastfeeding thing for you and baby; you both need to adjust and your baby will want to sleep – a lot – and may miss feeds, causing you to get backed up. Ouch. Get kind bras for this time. Breast pads too for catching the leakage.
Consider all your normal night stay items such as toothpaste, toothbrush, face wash, flannel, lip balm, hair-ties, hair brush, body lotion etc. Don’t forget them; they are also comforts. And if you have long hair, trust me, you’ll want it out of your face.
17. Snacks & Water
Stock up, you may be in for a wait. Labour usually isn’t the huffing, puffing and flailing about that you’ve seen in the movies. It can take time. There may lots of rest periods and quiet time and you may get peckish or thirsty. Pack enough for your birth partner too.
As I stated above, there may be a lot of down-time involved in your birth process. If you are delivering naturally, you can catch up on your favourite series while going through your contractions or listen to music to help you relax and distract from the labour pains you experience. Build up your library of relaxation tools during pregnancy so that it’s all ready for your big day. It may seem a little too much to do in the moment so think ahead. I forced myself to take my camera with me to document some moments on the day and take some self-portraits with the tripod while I was in active labour and still upright. They are some of my best memories now. Be motivated, you won’t be pregnant forever. Camera, laptop, phone and chargers, etc. – check.
19. Important Documents
Pack these first. If you have a birth plan, receipts for your hospital bills, and other such things, pop them into a plastic sleeve and put them in your hospital bag. You won’t want to be scrambling about for them when they’re needed.
20. Stockpile Checklist
- Changing mats
- Nappy bin bags
- Babybath & Bathrest
- Baby carriers and slings
- Baby stroller/Pram & Car Seat
- Windowscreen for the car
- Babygrows, Vests, Footed Pants, Rompers & Socks
- Baby wipes
- Baby hairbrush and *Baby nail scissors (*please only use carefully as newborn’s nails are almost stuck to the skin on either side of the nail bed and trying to cut can cause tears of that soft skin. Try to wait for the nails to grow out more and use mittens to cover the hands to prevent from scratching the face.)
- Baby’s flannels
- Medicine Dropper
- Alcohol-free Gripe Water
- Baby thermometer
- Nose vacuum
- Breastpump, Storage bottles & Sterilizer unit
- Medela© Nipple Cream (seriously, don’t even waste your time with any others)
- Salt for Sitz Bathing (table salt is fine for antibacterial and healing properties)
- Bum jelly
- Baby clothes washing liquid
It may seem like a lot, but remember that a baby is a whole other person. They come with particulars, just like people do. They are different from one another. Your baby’s needs may not be fully known until they arrive. You as their mum will use your discretion, trial and error to determine what your baby needs are. Who better than you?
So, now is not the time to freak out. If you take it step-by-step, you will get through prepping for your little one’s arrival drama-free. Anything outside of this checklist, I don’t have experience with, deemed unnecessary, optional or not applicable to the beginning stages in hospital or at home. I hope that you are excited for the journey of parenthood that you are on, they are so worth it!
My dream pregnancy:
My actual pregnancy:
There’s a lot of nonsense that I believed about motherhood before getting here. I was also comfortable with the picture I was sold as I was on a need-to-know basis. The picture was different depending on the most recent iteration of motherhood portrayed in the latest chick flick. In my mind, mothers existed in two extremes; between the hot mess who spilled hot coffee on herself in the car on the way to drop her kids off at school late and is three days shy of a good hair wash; and The Goddess.
Who is the Goddess though? Is she living next door to you by any chance? Yes, The Goddess is all around us. She is the quintuple threat; self-confessed ‘soccer mom’, book-club hostess with the mostess, PhD candidate, homemaker extraordinaire and tigress in the bedroom. She managed to achieve all of this before getting crow’s feet. She lost her baby weight in record time with the use of dumbells and her birthing ball. ‘Ease’ is her middle name. She is so self-sufficient that she doesn’t need anybody but is somehow surrounded by a loving family and adoring friends. She is the mum of your imagination. She is, at a glance, the mum that no one really pays any close attention to, but appeases society by seemingly playing her role and outwardly being a happy placeholder. She’s seen but hardly heard from. By the time you have a baby, you’ll totally be her.
An unfortunate truth is that I took my own mother for granted. Don’t get me wrong, I adored her, but I did take her for granted. Not only in terms of the position she held in my family’s life, but also in how she held up the whole structure in tandem with my father, how crucial her guidance was in my adolescence and shaping me into a woman and how irreplaceable her nurturing was when I needed it the most. The truth is that I never imagined her not being here. Such an image was unfathomable. Ergo, I ultimately thought she’d always be there.
Before losing her, I never thought I’d have to do these really tough life things without her. Of the most recent things: beating an autoimmune disease, moving cities, running a business, getting married and having a baby. It really sucks to admit that I only got to really get a closer glimpse at all her work behind the curtain in her absence. As if a living mother is only an outline; a figure in your life that is there by default. And now that the building has come down, I can glimpse the scaffolding around it.
The scaffolding is what I want to deconstruct. The reality of a woman’s plight and the truth of our struggles. The things about ourselves that hold us up. The things we tell ourselves to keep us going. It’s such a shame that real people perpetuate exactly what doesn’t exist about motherhood; that it’s a breeze, a walk in the park, and that it isn’t extremely trying and challenging. That it isn’t the toughest, most beautiful thing you’ll ever do. Us women do this too, if not most of all. I’ll tell you how.
It’s in holding back the tears and the sweat; attempting to do all the cooking, housework, childminding, looking after in-laws and your spouse all with the grace and savoire faire of a well-raised makoti. It’s in never complaining about the pain, the stress or the strain on you – not to a single living soul. It’s in marooning yourself on the island made up of morning sickness, exhaustion, swollen feet, fatigue, paused activities, leaking breasts, dirty diapers and social exclusion; and sometimes you’re there all by yourself. It’s in shrugging at the slightest display of the struggle seeping out of you and telling yourself that it’s ok, you’re a mum. It’s holding to this standard. After all, women are strong.
That’s exactly what I take issue with; phrases like that. In the context of celebrating the collective ascent and accomplishments of women it sounds rather harmless. But it can be a double-edged sword – one that also gives the impression that suffering is something that a person should willingly endure; as a sort of display of virtuosity. As I recently told my husband who wanted to praise me for all I’d managed to get done in a day unlike in earlier months with my little one (whilst concealing chronic back pain and sciatica beneath the surface), ‘Just because I can, doesn’t make it ideal’.
Why should it take losing a mother to know what a mother truly is? Why should it take becoming a mother to really appreciate what a mother does?
A pregnant friend recently asked me how I pulled off having a full face of makeup most days that I went out while pregnant. She only really noticed this with new eyes when confronted with tiresomely making herself up to go out. Another pregnant friend recently started experiencing the loneliness I told her about when I was pregnant that comes with going into motherhood when non-mums seem to disappear around you. Suffice it to say that she has a new respect for the concept of friendship.
My own mother was someone who also kept her own hardship to herself; taking on the hardship of others with it; and took some of it to her grave. I want to learn from this. Being a mother, a woman, a man, a husband, a wife, a daughter, a human doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t always have to have all the answers. You don’t always have to appear ‘together’ to the outside world, who are they anyway?
As much as going through these ‘tough life things’ can strengthen us, they can also take a toll on us. It’s not prudent to disregard this. In fact, I believe it’s wise to take stock of in order to grow from these experiences. Putting on a face that you’re more than capable and adequate as all hell doesn’t only hurt you but can hurt those around you – as they may strive to emulate you. Followed by getting despondent when they fail at doing so. This is the crux of the Goddess Myth. The picture of women and mothers out in the world that we have is the one that informs the way we tackle womanhood and motherhood – and this often with a stoic silence. And we are all complicit in creating the monster.
I want to try to start a new way with women around me. I want to encourage more support amongst friends and family and in our social groups. For non-mums, of course you don’t need to be a mum to be her friend. She doesn’t think so. Her becoming a mum will obviously change her to some degree, but the things you love about her are still there. Just show your support and continue to be real. She may talk about mumming a lot. Yes, everything their babies do is amazing. Bear with that. No, hanging out with her and her baby won’t make you pregnant or old. For mums and mums-to-be, don’t hide yourself forever from having to explain why you can’t stay up so late to chat or go out; your girls will miss you.
Show up as often as you can and show your love in the ways that you can. Give your friends a chance. They might not always get it or what you’re going through, but don’t be preoccupied by that. Try giving each other the benefit of the doubt that your friendship is (hopefully) founded on shared ideals, not just things to do for fun. Try not to forget how to be a good friend, it’s not about you or your little one all the time. Conversely, don’t feel bad about not being able to keep up with the squad anymore. The friends who do stick around will be the right ones.
I want to interrogate the ideology of womanhood and motherhood that has prevailed for aeons by showing how problematic it can be. I encourage you who are reading this to do so as well. I want to be different by revealing some truth about my own experiences to those around me and by so doing, empower them. Not by telling them that they’re strong – but by being there for them in all of their humanness.
Medical Disclaimer. The content below is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
What are baby blues?
Are they a euphemism for Post-Natal Depression? What’s the difference?
My experience with baby blues was a very confusing time. There’s so little said on the subject and it’s not very widely understood. A lot of people seem to go through it, like many things, in silence and shame. It seems to me that it’s better to be informed; information doesn’t make one susceptible to disease. I’m no expert, but I can share my own experience. If sharing a little bit about my own story can help to clarify some of the enigmas around the physiological state of a new mother, I’ll be so glad.
Maybe there’ll be one less mum out there with feelings of wrongness, inadequacy or loneliness. Before I share my journey, here are some factoids that I’ve gathered.
- 50 to 80 percent of new mums experience baby blues
- Baby blues don’t always need treatment from a doctor. Sometimes joining a support group or talking it out with other mothers is helpful
- Baby blues is a term that can be a synonym for PND (Post Natal Depression).
- The baby blues and PND dichotomy is not an exact science, but the blues can start a few days post-partum and last for a few weeks
- The neurobiological process of the estrogen and progesterone hormone levels between pre- (very high) and post delivery (very low) can trigger baby blues
- Factors such as a lack of support at home, fatigue, sleep deprivation and the profundity of experiencing childbirth can set off baby blues
- The only discernible differences I can pick up from all my reading on the subject of PND and baby blues is that the former is thought to last longer than the latter; and the former is clinically characterized by observable and diagnosable symptoms whereas the latter is a coined term… So from that I gather that baby blues could be a latent form of PND that doesn’t necessarily always result in PND
- If the ‘blue’ feelings don’t go away in that time, you’re not necessarily in PND
- It’s very common to feel weepy or moody soon after giving birth
- A lot of these feelings can arise from all the hormones readjusting in the body
- Having baby blues doesn’t make you a bad person or mean you don’t love your baby.
That being said, help is out there. Talk to someone. Often that’s all a person needs to start the journey to wellness. All I needed was the empathy of my sisters who had their share of blues to know that I wasn’t alone. If you need to know more about what PND/PPD (Post Partum Depression) is, please speak to your healthcare practitioner or visit the South African Depression and Anxiety Group at www.sadag.org for more information. If you feel like you’re experiencing any symptoms or think you may have PND and feel there’s nowhere to turn, please visit the South African Depression and Anxiety Group at www.sadag.org or call this free depression and anxiety hotline for more information and help: 0800 70 80 90.
My Own Experience
Just like many things that we experience, a lack of knowledge about what’s happening to you can leave you feeling overwhelmed, helpless, unsupported and voiceless.
Unfortunately, in this modern age we find ourselves moving farther away from the larger family structure that lends itself to an organic, passing down of knowledge, myriads of oral tradition and a support structure that promotes confidence in new mothers.
In more rural communities, the nuclear family is not as isolated and subsequently forced to navigate the world of parenting and child-rearing without any guidance or education. But for most of us today, this is our reality; as we leave the village setup for a western one. This ultimately results in turning to the internet, literature or any other sources to help us regain some knowledge; which don’t always prove to be so helpful.
There’s also a stigma and ignorance around any issues that aren’t close to us sometimes. It takes being more exposed to things to gain a better understanding. I’m the kind of person who can deny something that is happening to me and think I can deny it right out of happening at all. When it did seem to rear its head I just knew I didn’t want to experience it so I thought I could will it away. I didn’t give myself a chance, a break, or some slack. I wasn’t kind to myself about all the changes I was going through. I think there’s a sort of fear of bringing it to the fore ‘lest you curse yourself with it’ or something. I believe this made me vulnerable to the hormonal onslaught which was baby blues.
The Healing and Adjusting Phase
In the early days after my baby was born, I was so preoccupied with the sheer newness of her existence in our lives and her transition from inside my tummy to out in my hands.
I could finally see her, so I was fascinated by her every move – the sound of her breath as she slept next to me and the rise and fall of her tiny chest – and I was completely enamoured. Being cared for by nurses in the hospital while I cared for and was transfixed by my new baby was so amazing that I didn’t want to leave. It was the happy conclusion to what felt like an eternity in pregnancy.
The It’s-All-On-Me Phase
When I got home from the hospital, I went into a sort of automatic state of meeting all of her needs.
Day in and day out, I would nurse her, make sure the room was warm enough, tend to her and watch my days start and end without feeling any sense of activity or accomplishment. I swear, as I was chained to feeding schedules and stealing time to myself to sleep or bath or eat; the clock turned into my enemy.
I even told my friend thinking back to those days that as I fell asleep in the tub one morning, I half-asleep thought I could go into the water, drown a little and that way I’d get some sleep. I couldn’t see a way forward or out of this never-ending mire of brainless duty and I sought to do it with grace and pleasure – which only made it that much more arduous.
The Guilt Cycle Phase
I figured it was the way I would show my gratitude for having her in my life – toiling away everyday without asking for or seemingly not needing any help.
I saw everything to do with her as solely my responsibility – in such a big way. I don’t know what came over me. As though needing support or taking time off would mean I wasn’t happy with my new role or ungrateful for a healthy, ‘relatively easy’ baby. I knew at this point that something felt wrong in me, and that put me into a head trip of guilt. Feeling bad for feeling bad. Feeling angry that my mother wasn’t here to make it all better. Feeling bad for feeling angry. Feeling like a bad mum for feeling any negative feelings at all.
The Comparison Phase
The prevailing image we’re exposed to of the post-modern woman is the lens that we see ourselves through. The golden standard.
It’s of the Sandton or Constantia mum, full face of makeup before 10am, who is also a business owner – single-handedly popping her 3-wheel designer pram back into the trunk of her Range Rover in a busy mall parking lot while she loads her baby and shopping, without any help. The single mum (who statistically raised you too) who’s so together out in the world with her children and works to support them without any help. Wonder Woman with her hair and cape billowing in the wind, baby at her breast – wait for it – no help.
The punctuation to my time developing into a mother is this. Mothers who have had no help haven’t needed it, so mothers shouldn’t need help. Needing help is a sign of weakness or ungratefulness of your new role as a mother.
It’s not helpful to have this at the back of one’s mind if they’re feeling down after giving birth. My big challenge was not feeling like I was allowed to be struggling, or to need any help because I have a partner; my situation is different from some people’s. In my mind I just needed to snap out of it because I ought to have been fine; which further slowed my healing down and ran my system down into fatigue. I even developed chronic mouth ulcers from the exhaustion.
A few weeks later, I remember my sister came to visit. She noticed the fervour with which I did everything – and how exhausted I was. I had hit a wall and was officially in a zombie state. She told me some things which helped, maybe they’ll be helpful to you too.
You can’t do it all, all the time.
I have a habit of seeing most things like projects, that I can apply my full gusto to and they’ll yield a certain reward. But projects have a start and end date and are quantifiable; whereas motherhood doesn’t work like that. You start and end everyday. You work everyday. You’re immeasurably rewarded everyday. Then you’re exhausted everyday.
100% efficacy shouldn’t be your goal. Adopt a much more balanced approach. Letting go of things that you can’t take on is good, healthy even, at least while you’re healing. Get house help to lighten the load because this thing isn’t going to stop, you just have to adjust to the new workload. Your baby isn’t going anywhere and there aren’t any days off – but you can make appropriate boundaries in your life with those around you and requests to rest awhile if necessary so that you aren’t cranky around them. And above all, that you can achieve being present with your baby. Happy mum, happy baby. Think of this ecosystem. You are important too. Your wellness matters.
Set a routine
When I saw the sun rising and setting almost too quickly everyday and I was starting to lose my short-term memory, I felt like I would lose my mind. I saw that I was definitely not doing this at all right.
Surely other well-adjusted mums’ days didn’t look like mine: starting only when I could peel myself out of bed; consisting of doing everything (such as cooking/eating meals and bathing) in such a hurry because I’m working around my new little boss’ demands on my time; and finding myself doing very little for myself in a day in general.
I admit that I haven’t quite acquired the cheat sheet on this one yet, but I think I’ve made some strides in the last few months. Setting a daily routine for our household and distribution of tasks has shown to be very helpful in feeling like we have a handle on things and also in being able to get the new baby to fit into our lives rather than them taking over. That consists of the general eating schedule (whether baby eats 2 hourly or 3 hourly etc, and this can change over the months); bath time and other pre-bed time habits (a bath, bedtime lullaby or when they’re older, a story helps them become cognizant of the day and nighttime difference and helps to wind them down for bed); and bed times.
It’s not like babies are robots; they have their ways and wills so don’t confuse routine with regimen. Some are much less willing to follow such things than others; but I believe with persistence that the earlier you start exposing a baby to a behaviour, the better the chances of them taking to it. However, I’ve noticed with my little one that routine works so well in getting her to bed at the same time everyday which also allows us a semblance of being able to plan what we need to get done in a day before bedtime.
Give yourself a chance
This one is a point that I have to remind myself of almost daily. Who’s going to give you a pat on the back for making yourself suffer?
By that, I’m referring to bearing the weight of someone else’s or society’s expectations of you. Some loads are just too heavy to carry. You won’t get any reward for attempting to live your life at the speed or in the way of someone else’s. The habit of comparing yourself or your baby to others is not only silly but I think it’s damaging; as it perpetuates these outlandish ideas and images of what women and mothers ought to be and adds to the problem of putting real people (including yourself) down. Confession: I still, to this day, haven’t been able to take my daughter for a drive somewhere without any accompaniment. That level of multi-tasking while operating heavy machinery, I just don’t need that kind of stress in my life right now.
We’re all gifted differently with different strengths, the perfect woman/mum/person is a fallacy – let it go. If you can work on the areas of yourself that need work, keep at it, at your own pace.
You aren’t going to know what this experience is going to be like until you’re in it. It’s one thing to have role models or examples of mothers around you and another to try to model yourself around them – you are you. What’s difficult for you might’ve been easier for your mother and what’s easy for you might’ve been unbearable for another mother. It’s unfair to see yourself as failing in some way for not going this road in the same fashion as you’re seeing others do around you, because believe you me, they have challenges of their own that you may not be privy to.
It’s best to give yourself a clean shot at this motherhood thing for yourself to get the best experience of it, rather super-imposing someone else’s story onto yours. Remember, God didn’t make mistakes by making us different.
Medical Disclaimer. The content below is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Firstly, what is a doula? What exactly is their job description? Let’s start there. I chose the topic as the word ‘doula’ has been making its rounds in all that’s pregnancy du jour. There are a few kinds of caregivers that can be associated with the baby-making biz.
When I fell pregnant, I knew that I didn’t know too much and that I would do well with getting informed before making any decisions regarding the kind of care I would want. As clueless as I might’ve considered myself, I definitely knew one thing. I didn’t want this pregnancy to just happen to me. I didn’t want to succumb to my ignorance.
Also, I learned that my pregnancy was regarded as high-risk owing to my pre-existing thyroid condition; and that this would weigh on my choices on how and where to give birth too. So many new mums can seem to be plagued with a barrage of options at first, but it doesn’t need to be that way as long as they clear out the kinds of care best suited to them as well as any risk factors concerning their pregnancy and/or birth. What I learned on the path towards childbirth was rather eye-opening.
If one of the first thoughts that comes to mind when you hear ‘doula’ is likened to the comical impression of a headwrap-donning, incense-burning, essential oil-pouring by Nik Rabinowitz at a comedy show (retelling his wife’s pregnancy experiences); I wouldn’t say you’re far off. But of course there are stereotypical portrayals and there’s real life which is more diverse.
My Doula Experience
Think: freedom of expression, women’s rights, empowerment, service.
A doula is a kind of birth attendant in the birthing world. The word Doula means ‘slave’ in Greek. If I think of my own exposure to women in this noble practice, the word gives a bit of colour to the utter devotion that they seem to want to espouse in their care of expectant mothers. To elaborate my description crudely, on a scale of your own mum to Erykah Badu; they fall more towards the latter. A doula may deliver your baby at home, at a hospital or at a birthing facility depending on their level of expertise and their medical priviledges.
When it comes to herbs, hormones, homebirths, waterbirths and births that use more ancient methods; they may know a great deal and aid in supporting mothers with them. Much like a sort of coach, they may speak of tapping into a sort of natural, innate strength and knowledge that a woman already possesses in readying herself for childbirth. Their training is diverse and vast, and may use so-called ‘alternative’ methods in assisting a labouring mother such as massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and changing positions throughout labour.
They can also just be present in the labour as advocates for the particular considerations that a couple or labouring mother has; such as cord-clamping, circumcision, consenting to interventions such as episiotomies (cutting of the perineum) and pain management. They believe in keeping good vibes around a labouring mother, not crowding her or stressing her out with lots of discussion and listening to her needs. They believe in the ability of a woman to give birth. They believe in creating a dimly lit, safe environment around a birthing mother in order for her to release more oxytocin – the hormone responsible for labour. They’re good at politely but assertively kicking people out of a space if need be. They may or may not have many ways of managing pain for the mother, but a lot of the pain management they use may not include drugs as they tend towards a more natural way of delivery; not that they can’t assist in other kinds of delivery too. It all depends on the particular doula’s level of care and training background.
I enlisted the counsel of a doula near me very early on in pregnancy to get a little advice; as well as to learn more about what they do and how they work with doctors.
I was greeted very warmly and positioned in my special pregnancy chair; the squidgest and comfiest in the room. She simply asked me a series of questions that allowed me to open up more about how I was doing emotionally, how I felt about being pregnant and what any of my troubles, thoughts and expectations were. She facilitated this with an ease of chatting to a close friend. In the hour consultation we were given, she let us take another 30 minutes more to get to know one another more.
After seeing her, I decided to enlist her as someone I could get advice from over the phone or on Whatsapp for the early part of my pregnancy and decide later if we wanted to have her at our birth. She advised us on trace elements, diet and other such things here and there along the way and most of all it felt good to have someone as support, who was also quicker to access and didn’t have a stringent way concerning billing and dispensing care.
She gave us a warmth and extended such a wealth of her own experience without exacting her own partialities onto me. We also did our prenatal study through her course towards the end of my second trimester. She also made me a special herbal tea which was yum!
Do: Give them a try if you want:
- a very holistic approach to your care in pregnancy, childbirth and after
- a tailored birth experience maybe at home including but not limited to dim lighting, music, tranquility, estrogen rich vibes and so on
- the freedom to give birth safely how you please
Take advantage of the fact that they are unconventional in how they treat mothers in their care and may be willing to support you through anything you feel strongly about within reason. Because their style of care is very mum-centric, they’ll advocate for the mother’s needs to be met when needed; help the mother against feeling bulldozed by decisions that often end up being made for her, and offer alternative ways through things.
Don’t: Leave your questions at home, they are very knowledgeable and take interest in what their mothers want to know.
My Gynae Experience(s)
Think: Legs up, terminology, stirrups, cold gel on your belly, doctor.
Your Gynae or OB-Gyn, otherwise referred to as ‘doctor’ by the other birth attendants, may deliver your baby. He or she is a physician who delivers babies; specializes in treating disease and may work with a midwife or alone, depending on their and the hospital’s policies. They may only deliver if medical interventions are needed or the labour takes a different turn than anticipated. This may differ between the private and public healthcare systems.
First visit – awful. We were (not really) greeted late by a silver-haired slay queen who was in her 30s. She brought up a scary prognosis for my pregnancy when I was only 16 weeks along, put my baby on the clock to come naturally at 40 weeks and no farther barring a C-section as was her policy, and very rudely shimmied us out of her rooms after a measly 20 minutes for a first visit. Suffice it to say it was our last shimmy in there.
Our next visit was with a man in his late 50s. This was our guy. He gave me more than enough time to ask all I wanted to know, and was forthcoming about what working with him through my pregnancy would be like. He had phenomenal bedside manner and was considerate and professional. He made me disappointed at how much the other gynae had to learn and was failing herself at helping fellow women and mums. He assuaged all my fears, helped me to get empowered, gave me cute DVDs of our growing fetus and delivered my baby.
Do: Make sure to discuss about their policies concerning your labour, who’s allowed to be there, whether you can sleep-in with your baby (and he/she isn’t carted off to a nursery away from you), whether you’ll be allowed to walk the halls during active labour, if you’ll be allowed to change positions for your comfort during delivery, things like that. Ask them everything. Hospitals tend to have rules.
Don’t: Make any assumptions. Get your facts. Will they be delivering your baby, do they live far away from the hospital, are you able to reach them easily if you need to, will they honour your wishes in general? Also don’t think you need to stick with an OB Gyn just because you’ve been to them and opened a folder; if you’re not happy with the service or just not feeling it you are completely within your rights to switch. Rather switch than have a possibly traumatic experience at the worst, or a not-so-nice experience at the least.
My Midwife Experience
Think: Translating what doctor said into terms you understand, peeing in a cup, patience, kindness, realness, charts.
Midwives can be found in isolation, but they usually work in teams or in tandem with doctors. They are trained in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, women’s sexual and reproductive health and newborn care. They can deliver babies in hospitals, birthing facilities and at home but mostly tend to hospitals and MOUs (Midwife Obstetric Units). They sometimes deliver babies without the presence of the doctor at all, maybe due to understaffing in public hospitals; but they usually will have the priviledge, resources and know-how to do so.
My midwife came with my Gynae and was delightful. She saw me through all the tests, symptoms and was also on-call to us at most times. If we didn’t need to see the doctor we could speak to her on the phone. She kept a record of all my details and was always available to ask questions. She gave us a tour of the labour ward and discussed what the hospital policies and conventions were. She was there for my entire active labour (my gynae was assisted by another midwife during delivery), observed, encouraged and was mostly available. She gave me my 6-week checkup post delivery. She was awesome.
Do: Get to know your midwife as she’s likely to be there to deliver your baby, she has your medical history and tracks your case from the beginning. Get her number too.
Don’t:… No don’ts. Not really any don’t with this one. Feel absolutely free with her. You may find yourself getting her advice sometimes over the phone if you’re worried about something so you don’t have to make the trip to see ‘doctor’. Fabulous.
So in between name-picking, baby bag-packing and clothes-shopping, there’s this to consider:
- Place of birth
- Type of birth
- Birth plan (considerations that you’d like your caregiver to take)
- Choice of Caregiver
- Pain management options
I implore mums and mums-to-be to demystify the whole thing for themselves, gain clarity on their options and empower themselves with information – not over or under-information. I believe it was a combination of these experiences and my own conviction to have a natural labour that helped me achieve it.
Of course many mums who weren’t able to have a birth experience of their choosing may have had ample forethought and preparation too; so I’m aware that things don’t always go as expected. I was also prepped for having things go differently for me. A lot of this process is about letting go. There’s not all that much control that one can bring to it, but there can be preparation.
It’s great and valuable to be open to all that the wonderous journey of pregnancy and childbirth can bring – however it goes for you.
If you’re pregnant/nursing or know someone who is you must’ve heard this before.
“Sorry ma’am, there’s nothing we can do for you. You’re pregnant”, handing you a box of Panado.
It has got to be the most unconsidered school of thought for the way to treat a pregnant person; just being laissez faire towards them when they present a pharmacist or caregiver with a health complaint. I carried mostly in winter so I was susceptible to the nose niggle here and there and full on flu at one stage.
I brought up to doula how irritating it was to get this apathy whenever they spotted my bump in a clinic. I’ll chat more about caregivers like doulas, what their kinds of care are and prenatal education later on. I’d approach the counter and be greeted warmly, then asked what was the matter and then get this blank stare when my tummy popped out from under the counter. I saw that I’d have to get clued up on my own about ways to calm down my system and heal myself without any O.T.C. (over-the-counter) assistance.
In a frustration, I headed home and turned into my favourite YouTube channels. “Why, in your body, is it a good place to be?”, I hear this question being asked to a person being interviewed online after they took off their clothes.
I pose it to myself. Why, in my body, is it a good place to be?
Is it because I can control it? Is it because it does what I tell it to? Is it because it affords me a kind of life that only it can? Is it because it gets me the kind of attention I want?
I think my body has taught me a lot.
I think it’s whooped my little butt too.
I can say that I’ve learned a little bit more about awareness of my body over the last few years, over a succession of events. And by awareness, I mean listening to it. Having more of a dialogue than an abusive one way conversation. It’s such a remarkable thing the body, that commands respect and attention from us even when we try to drown it into silence with poor lifestyle, busy schedules and straight up neglect.
It’s not just a temple, or something we use to inhabit and experience pleasure. It’s not just a thing to wait out our existence here on Earth in, while we wait for an upgrade into the spiritual realm. It is a truly a gift to be taken care of in this time, however long we’re given.
The first event that really earmarked my newfound respect for the body is the passing of my mother. She suffered a stroke and seemingly was recuperating over some months afterward, but unfortunately she left us to meet her Maker. I thank God I got my time with her to say goodbye as she spent her last months, days and hours. It wasn’t something that any of us could control. I’ve never before or since known a pain like losing her, I truly feared I could die of heartbreak. Crying was no longer a verb, ok, it actually just became a constant state of being.
I then tried my best to compartmentalize my life, knowing that she (and I) would be happy for me to continue living it. I went off to go start university over again in a new city. Maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had as it ended up being so utterly overwhelming – being so far away from my family while going through that. Losing a parent at 19 was surprisingly quite destabilizing. But I had the drive from somewhere to persevere even if it meant being on the shrink’s couch (every Monday at 9), or sinking into a depression every other day after having dreamed about her being back, drawing my curtains and maybe going to back to bed. I threw myself into work – and at art school there was plenty – sometimes sans food, and hoped something good would come from all my efforts. Also that I ultimately wouldn’t have to grieve; the thing I feared the most, which was the most painful thing. EVER.
The next event was my falling quite ill. After passing out often, and I mean at least twice a month, losing tons of weight in a very short time but still having a crazy appetite, always hearing my rapid heartbeat in my ears and a tremor in both hands I became a regular in the emergency room. I was then diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Grave’s Disease, owing its chilly name to the doctor responsible for first describing it in a patient. I will go more into detail about what this nasty ordeal was like in future.
I think this was my body’s way of showing the toll my mother’s passing really took on me. Honestly I still struggle to let myself really feel any of the heartbreak lest I break out into a puddle that I can’t pull myself out of as easily as I fell in. That is a real fear, because it’s not a ‘you’ll feel better if you cry’ kind of cry. It’s this gut-wrenching, soul-twisting, bone-piercing, self-effacing cry – that one doesn’t feel better after doing. But I learned that I actually needed to do it, at least when I felt to. Not to bottle it all up. Because it ultimately manifested in another way later on.
The next event was my pregnancy. I had to, for the sake of mine and my daughter’s health; keep tabs on my anxiety. That meant making sure that I knew what my triggers were, setting healthy boundaries in my world, knowing what kept me up with worry thereby changing what I could change and making peace with what I couldn’t. It was a time for mindfulness and introspection. It’s funny how having a baby can suddenly make a bit of an emotional intelligence fundi out of people, because it truly forces this into you for this time that you facilitate this life; until it’s forced out of you – and you ultimately choose what to take forward with you into your new outlook on life as a mother.
I found myself fearing my thyroid going back into a hyper state and poisoning my system with too much thyroid hormone yet again, but this time affecting my unborn child. Going into hyperthyroidism would have meant the worst; having to go back on anti-thyroid drug therapy or worse, thereby affecting baby’s own thyroid levels and development all in trying to keep us both alive. I prayed and prayed we’d stay out of trouble. We did, save for the issue of tachycardia.
A healthy, ‘normal’ pregnant woman’s heart rate can go up from a 70bpm (beats per minute) resting heart rate to about 90bpm and a little higher. Mine rose one day, thanks to a fever, to 130bpm and wasn’t letting up. I sat in a gurney, prohibited from leaving the hospital while the heart-rate monitor attached to my forefinger was beep beep beeping away loudly in my ear all night long.
My husband and I were so sure we could get my heart rate back down if we could just go home, to a warm, cozy, dimly-lit, quiet and familiar space where I could relax. The feeling of my heart as it seemed to want to jump out of my chest was so familiar, but this time I had the restriction of not being allowed any tranquilizers or anything to calm me down. Anything sedative would have possibly put my baby in distress and put me in great risk of going into pre-term labour. I clawed and clawed at my husband’s shirt desperately for help knowing there was very little he could do to make it stop. I feared my heart stopping altogether; I was terrified of dying. The doctor telling us that it would be irresponsible of him to let us leave due to my history of hyperthyroidism and that I was in my second trimester; was not calming to hear. Neither was being checked on every few minutes in the starkly lit, busy trauma center of the hospital.
Every time I managed to nod off my heart rate would slow to at least 110bpm and shot right back up to 130 whenever a nurse would come back into our cubicle and check on me. The fact that there was no thought for what they could do to help me calm down or relax except to say ‘just try to relax’ was frustrating to say the least. Couldn’t they see that the chain of responsibility for the well-being and life of the unborn child was directly affected by and started at that of the mother and was therefore a priority? Could they really not have thought of anything else to assist me? I was stuck and felt like a hamster in a cage; periodically observed and left to my own ends.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity and arduous up-and-downing in an ambulance – I was home again with strict instructions to take time out to rest every day until delivery; and a little shell-shocked from having been up all night too. I was nervous at the prospect of having a hard end of the high-risk pregnancy as we had been going so well until then – but I learned that I needed to be more vocal to my husband and family about my fears and my feelings. This expression and opening of my channels was what I knew would ultimately relieve the stress on my body and my heart and keep my child from having to take it too.
I left the ward, and pregnancy with some lessons. So to anyone who is pregnant, I’ve got some things I’d advise you to always keep in your purse or about you.
- Some Rescue Remedy drops or any other homeopathic preparation for calming the nerves. This way you can keep yourself from escalating into an all-out panic while waiting for help to arrive in your time of trouble.
- Your prenatal-prep/education book of choice. It’s always nice to have the facts on hand if you find yourself spinning into a mental tizz, and other encouraging mantras at the ready that can help re-orient you back on track. So much of the panic state starts right at doubtful thoughts that quickly gobble you all up like a hungry baby. Put that phone down, Dr. Self-diagnose Googleson isn’t helpful – see point 4.
- Some calming prenatal guided meditation on your phone, earphones and even an eye mask. You can easily access/download a guided breathing meditation online or maybe Tibetan singing bowl meditation to help you focus your breath away from what’s making you anxious when times get hairy.
- Your Ob/Gyn, Doula and Midwife’s phone number saved. This one goes without saying. Your care provider should have an ‘open phone’ policy. I’ll even go as far as saying they should know your first name, your puppy’s age, your favourite colour and your favourite song. You’re entrusting the birth of your child to them, they should know how much that means to you. If they don’t, know that they ought to and get another one who does.
- Find personal ways to relax and ease your anxiety. Speak to your primary caregiver before trying any herbal tea if pregnant or nursing as some preparations can have reactions in the body; similarly with certain essential oils and massage. There are stages in pregnancy where certain kinds of massage are not advised as they can induce labour. Look up a recommended certified massage therapist that deals with prenatal massage.
Remember that your primary caregiver has a calling, it’s not just a job. You can always tell the difference between the level of care and consideration in caregivers who are called to do that work. We’re in a wonderful dispensation now that is more open to other health practices outside of allopathic medicine that, together with it can form a more holistic approach to wellness. Get informed about the proper care that works for you. These are things that can mean the difference between being in a state of crisis and remaining calm.
It’s not only about keeping the baby safe, it’s also important for you as the mother to feel safe and secure too. One can’t exist without the other. Don’t feel despair at the phrase ‘there’s nothing we can do for you, you’re pregnant’; know that there are always ways to make a situation better if you just apply common sense and the right mindset. If you need to run a bath, take a walk or ask for a rub-down – do so. Don’t ignore your body, if you feel that something is awry you might be right. Follow it up. You’d rather know. No doctor ever said that a patient wasted their time.
Reminiscing on the first weeks of life with our baby.
Our daughter was born about 3 weeks prior to this day.
We took a little trip out of the house to the Scratch Patch in Simon’s Town. My sister was helping me get through the fear and anxiety around taking the baby out, by force; and it’s exactly what I needed.
I can’t remember what it was in me that didn’t trust the outside world and wanted to shield her so desperately. It was about more than just being a winter baby. Maybe trauma from my own past. However, nothing that prayer and encouragement couldn’t defeat.
We took her and of course, everything was fine. She had, until then, only seen the inside of my body, the hospital and home.
Such an invaluable time to look back on, having the support and love of my sister and niece there with us when we were in our ‘babymoon’. Also picking up much needed tips and advice in those crucial early weeks when the adjustment is so huge on new parents.
My family is my everything.
Reminiscing On Pregnancy: Our Maternity Shoot
My husband and I take lots of walks. On one of our walks, we happened upon this huge roll of newly thrown out, shiny, gold paper. We headed for Fish Hoek beach; the secluded end. We put it to use on an experimental, impromptu shoot.
I was about 20 weeks pregnant on this day. It was a chilly side of a tepid Cape Town in mid April. I remember the wind bellowing and holding the paper up while I moved around in it. I felt so cold after a while because I was wearing practically nothing and the wind was strong!
Good thing I had the warmth of baby in my tum to keep me chipper.
I pushed my husband through impatience and with a lot of direction and critique we got some shots that I thought were flattering. My camera can be such an irritation for him but he has a great eye! I wish I could get him to shoot more.
I didn’t feel very beautiful, almost nude on the beach but I remember thinking it’d be good for posterity so I put that aside and feigned what little poise I could muster.
You know what happened when I stopped thinking about it – some really beautiful portraits and some encouragement and adoration from passersby!
I recommend it. It was an irritation to think of documenting every second of my pregnancy but I’m glad I rallied for some special moments.
It’s a lot to get caught up to, your rapidly and ever-changing body while pregnant, you may find yourself loving this and hating that from day to day.
I took some portraits of Peter in between when I wanted to get behind the camera again, I’m much more at home there.
I love the drama that these images contain in their little boxes. My baby daddy, imagining himself as a father. Embracing the expectant nature of pregnancy. All the surrender and patience that it requires and all the growth it forces out of us. It’s in the movement of the wind and the tension in our bodies.
It is a quintessential time in both of our lives that we captured and immortalized. I’m glad we can look back on these times with reflection and pride. We’ve come a ways from then. We are parents now, no longer waiting for our baby’s arrival.
I love this family of mine with all of my heart. Thank you for watching.
I will start with this disclaimer; all the content within this post is my own thoughts and opinions and is in no way to be taken as professional medical advice or guidance or even fact. This is purely my own experience.
As I unravel all my postpartum binding cloth, I wonder if I’m doing this at all right.
The answer in my head is a resounding ‘no’.
Surely this isn’t how it’s done in Sesotho. This isn’t how my sister did it, is it?
This isn’t nearly tight enough. But if I make this any tighter I get lightheaded and such pain in my pelvis.
Let’s try the waist trainer. Ah, that looks better under clothes. But for the life of me, I don’t think I’m seeing much result even after practically living in the thing for the last few months.
Followed by, ‘if Mum was here she would have done it for you and shown you the way and shown you many ways and many things and I wonder what she’s thinking now up there watching me from Heaven does she know I’m talking about her no I think she’s otherwise occupied with heavenly activities to be watching how wrongly I’m doing this and feeling for me and there’s no pity or judgement or scorn from celestial beings only love, compassion and joy and all things yummy I’m sure but hey if you are watching me though Mum I’m so confused I miss you and I love you so much and one day it’ll all make sense’. Or something close. Streams of consciousness probably don’t contain commas either, nor does Heaven. OK, moving back down here to Earth.
Over here in the here and now, my body bears the markings of pregnancy. Pigmentation, thanks to hormonal fluctuation – and stretch marks (or ‘battle scars’ as I heard them called recently!), which cropped up in my very last few weeks pre-delivery. About the last 4 weeks in fact. I swear there was a new one every day, and I couldn’t keep track of Bio-oiling away all the daily newcomers on the sheer enormity which had become the underside of my belly. I couldn’t see past the bulge! Fyi, I didn’t really find coconut oil so helpful. In fact, I found it rather drying and found myself spending a large portion of my time massaging and reapplying it onto my skin while beached like a whale in my house serving my last trimester sentence.
There is an expectation that I placed on myself to be able to ‘get my body back’ to how it was pre-pregnancy in a matter of weeks. Truthfully, I wasn’t too invested seeing as I didn’t go into hyper-exercise mode. I almost expected it just to happen. Of course, there’s a lot of work that people put into getting their health, vitality and fitness on track – and some talk of good genes too. I know that. But I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same. Is that so bad? What the future holds is so much more than a change in looks, an inevitable aging, a wear and tear of life. My mother had 5 children. She had stretch marks too. I always found her beautiful. I wonder, will I age like her?
She also had a house full of joy and copious amounts of laughter. I am far from filling a 5-bedroom house but I can see what a toll carrying a child into the world has on the physiology of the human body. You kind of start off one way and get used to it for a time until it changes all over again. I’m only just coming back into my old jeans which got compartmentalized to the back end of my wardrobe from about 6 months in.
I waited patiently to find out whether it was safe for me to move again, and live life again to the full from my Obstetrician/Gynae at my 6-week checkup (post-delivery). The wait for C-section mamas is 8 weeks for this appointment. This is where the midwife, unless otherwise necessary to see your gynae, examines you through a series of questions; maybe gets a look under the hood if you want one like I did; gives you a thumbs up to get on with it and sets up a date for your next checkup. This may include a pap smear and/or the insertion of your family planning device if you don’t go on the Pill. This would have to be once the uterus has returned to pre-pregnancy size and state of course otherwise you risk dislodging; but hormonal family planning can usually start right away.
The precaution for family planning post-delivery is very important because it’s not advisable to put the body through pregnancies in quick succession of one another. In fact we’re told the body needs about a full year to actually fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth. I mean it makes sense to wait a while, after getting your muscles and internal organs shoved around and squished aside for months to make space for a growing baby.
For any mums and mums-to-be, it’s important not to rush this healing process and also enjoy it – because the things that come with it also pass. Your ‘outie’ belly button may need to be coming back into an ‘innie’, and your core and baby’s umbilicus is all being knitted back together. If you’re still pregnant and curiously reading on, I advise you to do it your own way. So many people seem to want to tell you how to be pregnant and what the vision of pregnancy looks like. If you can’t wear heels to that event, don’t force it because you’ve seen others doing that. If you can’t stay up so late (and by late I mean after 8 pm) at a friend’s dinner, excuse yourself to bed. Stop comparing what you can do with what Shelly Slayqueen or Fezeka Facebeat appear to be doing; I can assure you they have their challenges too. Not that we wish it on anyone, but we all know that even the most beautiful women struggle with insecurity. Like the great Jill Scott once said, everything ain’t for everybody.
I’ve come to see the value in creating a sense of self-awareness as opposed to a hyper-reactiveness to the changes in my body. It’s more about being able to start to heal from the inside out rather than a superficial, outward display of self-love. I’m sure if you’re reading this you can relate to looking back at how you looked in older photos and loving how you looked in them now, but remembering not feeling that way then. It shouldn’t have to take looking back. We know we’re always changing and that’s the truth. Nurturing and taking care of yourself should include a healthy inner dialogue, much like the nourishment of proper nutrition. Not only retrospective appreciation. Womanhood is such an endless cycle of accepting new bodies.
So as I look on at the instagram mums who post videos of exercises that incorporate using their newborn as a weight, I will try not to scoff at them, because they are goals too. What they’re doing is good, and they mean well to share with the world some ways in which to strengthen what has turned a bit to mush and saggy, excess skin. But for me, it’s going to take an exercise in ideology to get myself back in shape as well. As difficult as it is to remind myself, this wrinkly, tiger-striped body also brought my daughter into the world; my greatest gift. I also read somewhere recently, ‘don’t bounce back – bounce forward’, a mantra I may yet adopt. Healing is a journey after all, thank you for letting me share a little step of mine with you.