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.
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.
Oh you thought it was over?
I put it to you that the disillusionment that is the first month postpartum can humble even the most together, stoic, baddest of chicks.
Maybe you’ve heard of it before, the fourth trimester? Well, it is an apt name for the period a new mum might find herself in post delivery when she sees very little detachment from her body being shared with her unborn baby and finally having it back to herself again. I’m actually still waiting to leave this phase as well – in fact, I’m sure one doesn’t quite leave it for a while but rather acclimates to the new set of demands. Sort of a shoot for the moon, land in the stars kind of thing.
Not only are you physically in recovery at this point from giving birth however you chose or didn’t choose to; your hormones are taking over yet again and you may be fighting off some blue feelings if not postpartum depression itself. But my birth experience is a story for another day.
After the longest month of my life, the last month of pregnancy; I thought I’d feel a sense of relief. Mostly from the weight of my daughter pressing down on my bladder, pelvis and sciatic nerve, coming in at a median 3.4 kgs at birth. Also from her relentless in utero activity that pretty much made me feel reduced all the way from a person to her second skin. I looked forward to finally feeling weightless and free!
Amidst the congratulations, visits, kisses and adoration, I got to work adjusting to having her on the outside. Meeting her every need in the outside world as opposed to inside was way different. Firstly, I didn’t find the time to collect the thoughts to even feel the relief – I was too preoccupied. In fact, she’s at my breast right now as I type. This has been my life for the last 4 months.
Those needs, as I mentioned in a little more detail in another blog post, are changing as well as increasing. But not to worry, most things seem to have a timeline; with which her father and I have gained education on for that time and learned to manage. Other things are ongoing. I can crudely explain in this little table:
So you see, it’s pretty manageable when you break it down. Digestible chunks of working through a phase that baby is going through, knowing that it will pass is much better than seeing a mushroom cloud all the time. Which is important to do. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m a mum, and that has really saved me from going nuts. Which helps me stay kind and patient even when it’s hard to and I feel run-down. Especially on days like these; dealing with an uneasy baby due to nappy rash and loads of washing up from having her adorable tush out all day long!
Off I go now to have my dinner in a bit of a hurry, so I can finally hurry up and relax, and dream about the weekend wine and spa retreat to Franschoek that I want to go to with my husband or girlfriend… Wait, it’ll have to be just one of us so that someone stays with the baby… And maybe only in a couple of years.
Oh, the leaky joys.
There’s so much to say on this subject.
Thinking back to all the prenatal prep in the form of reading, sometimes watching documentaries on the benefits and first-hand retelling of experiences had by other moms I know; I never thought I’d ever get to successfully breastfeed my daughter. There was so much fear associated with this ‘natural act’. I’ll just share my own thoughts on my own love/hate relationship with nursing.
A friend was recently surprised to learn that is wasn’t just a love relationship for me. ‘Oh, no’ I told her – I had to work a little bit for my success. I learnt why it must seem so easy to give up on this. It’s taken for granted by onlookers as the simplest thing that doesn’t require any prior thought or effort besides, well, whipping them out. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for me; and I’m not so sure it is for that many new mums.
As it may have gotten easier, it is still an ongoing battle for me with which I’ve resigned to stick out for as long as I can; trusting that my daughter’s kickass immunity will thank my valiant efforts for so doing.
If you just type anything about advice on breastfeeding into a search engine, you will probably be met by a slew of information from all the corners of the earth. How much of it is useful to you in particular is another story entirely. In pregnancy, I came across the phrase ‘Breast Is Best’ – a sort of tagline synonymous with the movement of women in protest against discriminatory behaviour shown to breastfeeding mums in public spaces; as well as a global campaign aiming to emphasize its boundless benefits for the health of mother and baby. I learnt that there is a large contention surrounding the child-rearing practices and beliefs shared by those of a bygone era, as well as the generation before us and our own – and breastfeeding forms a large part of the heated debates.
It is a personal choice that every new mum completely has the right to, however, depending on her socialization she may be up against a lot of raised brows on how she chooses to nourish and bond with her baby. On one hand, there is the question of nutrition and on the other, the elusive and magical bond that isn’t quite quantifiable or understood by science boffs. Largely, the modern woman in South Africa just knows (through education or cultural exposure) that it seems like a good thing to do for your child – to give them a good start at immunization and so on.
For me, breastfeeding has meant:
- Watching a whole lot of Muvhango, Isidingo and Uzalo.
- Those three words: nipple cream, nipple cream, nipple cream.
- Feeling like a cow at times as I perform this very mammalian function and boobs are tools that must work now more than ever before; not sexy or always beautiful.
- No longer demure about the whole of Cape Town seeing my boobs and being brazen about taking them out when they’re needed.
- Endless doubts on whether my output is enough for my baby while I watch her gradually gain weight, and whether my diet is fortified with the right things to make good milk for her.
- Also chugging back flasks of tea, juice, and whatever else claims to stimulate milk production; and watching the sun rise and set while glued to the couch handicapped by my feeding companion.
- Trying to make sure my space doesn’t fall into chaos and waiting for the famed weight loss benefits of breastfeeding to kick in from my efforts to simultaneously potter about all over the house while stuck to her.
- Waking at 3 am to perform the lonely and laborious task of expressing milk/pumping by hand if we need it for the next day while my spouse lies blissfully asleep next to me (with his useless male nipples, sorry babe but it’s true).
- Not to mention waking up to cold milk nestled in the notch of my neck thanks to the migratory nature of breast pads, their loss in absorbency after tons of reuse; and the general waywardness that becomes of your breasts when they’ve grown and shrunk and lost some sensitivity over the harrowing months of pregnancy and nursing on a daily basis.
- It has meant pain upon latching, incorrectly at times and at other times not. It has meant tenderness when they are full of milk, and a sore surge when the milk ‘lets down’ into the ducts. It has meant a wierd relationship with my nipples and areolas and the cold things within reach of me in the middle of the night. Bless my husband for midnight snacking and leaving this apparatus close to us.
If anyone finds this all rather off-putting, I can understand. But there’s an amazing thing that happens throughout all of the toil and hardship. Remarkably, it is a pleasure to do. This self-professed, Not-A-Morning-Person magically gets up with excitement in the morning to feed. It’s true! I wouldn’t believe anyone who told me this would happen and that it would feel so awesome. It is an act of sacrifice but it is such an act of love. It has also meant this.
Ultimately, I believe that Fed Is Best. Formula or breast. There is too much shaming going around concerning women’s choices whatever they may be. It’s ironic that a lot of the shaming comes from people who aren’t in the position of making the same choices or maybe will never even have to be. It’s a responsibility over children that the whole world seems willing to assume but only in name, because at the end of the day the implications and (sometimes repercussions) rest with us; the parents of said children.
My pros are that it is sterile without going to the trouble of sterilizing bottles, nipple shields etc. in the middle of the godforsaken hours of the morning; as well as mixing up the correct ratios of formula AND getting it to temperature (it needs to feel like it’s from the human body, so pretty warm). Another pro is that you’ll likely deal with far less trapped gas in baby when burping – a state that can result in a restless baby with a sore or rigid tummy; as opposed to a teat that lets down milk as quickly as baby wants it and over-zealously gulping down some air. My next pro is that it is absolutely free! Also you can kind of do it while sleeping if you need to and the position is safe for baby and right for latching; I’ll show you good positions in a diagram below.
It is accessible any time, anywhere, anyhow provided mum has had sufficient sustenance prior to feeding and is therefore not lacking in supply – but a physician has told me before that a woman could literally be starving for a long time before her milk completely dries up. These little cuties want to survive! Also, you don’t have to deal with the pesky ratios and balancing out of her water to formula/milk intake for the first few months of life like you do when on formula. And please, for the love of all things holy, buy a feeding pillow – it helps to prop up the baby for feeds and really assists in getting the baby to the breast as opposed to bringing the breast to the baby, resulting in a bent over; compromised position and a very sore back after doing it for a while (and if your little one has an appetite anything like mine, feeds can get lank long). It is one of my best friends; I don’t go anywhere without it. Also it’s a cute little cushion for baby to maza in while I’m busy.
I always maintain that it’s good to get yourself informed on any decisions you have to make, but sometimes the droves of literature and the opinions of the whosits and whatsits all over the net are enough to drive you crazy, confuse you or fill you with fear. You may be like me and just start on-the-job training with the help of a big sister or aunt (keep those whatsapp lines open ladies, they really help). If family isn’t close by, it can seem daunting to go through so much of this without a guiding hand.
Just know that there are facilities that specialize in assisting new mums with this sort of thing, and there may well be some in your area if your family isn’t close by. Contact your local clinic, ask your OBGyn about connecting you to breastfeeding consultants (who may assist you for a fee) near you or visit La Leche League of South Africa (who are non-profit). Maintain a healthy balance of surrender, says this observer. You don’t always know how things are going to work out for you, but you can respond with a healthy attitude when you do.
For my first post I thought I’d share a simple, sobering concept on motherhood that I am getting more used to by the day. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition 🙂
I’ve always found comfort in consistency. Growing up, my mother woke up early every morning to pray; she also liked wearing her hair a certain way. My father always watched the nightly news, first in English and then in Sesotho. My aunt would fetch me from school in a truck that I always found so big for me to climb into and I always did my homework before eating an afternoon snack. I played all my scales on the piano before my pieces for hours until the sun set.
I’m a little used to repetition. But my life changed out of that after high school and I’ve been flitting a little from thing to thing since. Motherhood brought me back to routine.
I didn’t appreciate or grasp what any of my other mum friends meant by ‘the baby needs/has his/her routine’ until I saw the importance of it myself! If not for a calm baby, definitely for a calm mother and father – these are congruent. So I’ve had to learn to sometimes sheepishly ask for (reasonable) quiet when she naps, hold back curses to the man on the street who decided to make his inner dialogue audible in song form, and be patient when things don’t always go according to plan. On the upside I do think my patience muscle is getting quite buff.
I never before having my daughter, imagined I could handle the sound of my child crying while out in a restaurant or a mall, or change a diaper in public and wipe her spit-up simultaneously without having some sort of meltdown. But as I’ve shared before with some non-parents, once you’ve heard your child cry so many times you don’t go pale with worry at the sound anymore. You just apply the solution, whatever it may be. Just go through the checklist,
- Is she hungry?
- Does she need a diaper change?
- Is she uncomfortable in the position she’s laying in?
- Is she too hot/cold or damp somewhere?
- Is she sleepy and needing to be lulled to sleep?
- On the off chance you don’t have the solution, a phone call to someone who might is always there.
So I’m still new at all of this, and I always wonder if I ought to be doing more with my time and a friend suggested I share my new journey. It can be mighty frustrating in this modern world for anyone to lack empathy for the weight of responsibility that new parents are adjusting to. I often find myself in a corner having to explain my tiredness to those who don’t understand. So many articles tell new mums to be kind to themselves if they have lots of unfinished tasks, can’t keep their house immaculate every single day anymore while breastfeeding a newborn every two hours as well as making sure they themselves have eaten. But I’ve succumb to pressure to ignore the impact nursing has taken on my energy levels as if nothing in my life has changed. Please friends, heed these words. Like my father told me when I asked him recently if I’m doing this at all right,
“Ngoana ha a chenchue, a hlapisitsoe, a jile; ke hua hao feela.”
Loosely translated to, ‘Making sure your baby is changed, clean and fed is your mandate/task’.
This was such a simple, pragmatic response to my freakout that was surprisingly comforting. I realised, hey that’s what I’ve been doing so much of and I’m doing a great job of it too. My dad has such a way of calming me down, sometimes just by outlining the simplicity of things. This takes a village of support and help; and sometimes you might not feel you quite have that but it’s important to speak up when necessary and take breaks, God knows you’ve earned them.
I’m glad about what motherhood has brought to me. I’m thankful for this rite of passage and the lessons I’m learning, sometimes in the smallest of things. If I can share my thoughts on paper my head and my heart become lighter; if anyone can be encouraged by my musings, all the better too. If this speaks to you at all, fellow new parent or a friend of one; please drop me a comment. I’d love your insights. I’ll keep my thoughts coming from time to time.