An emotional melting pot

Emotions run wild when your child is in hospital. Here's an amateur mommies account.

Sitting tucked away at a quiet table, in the corner of the hospital coffee shop, trying to catch up on some urgent work items, I’m struck by breadth of emotions around me. To my left, excited extended family celebrates a new addition, surrounded by “It’s a boy!” balloons and blue teddy bears. To my right, an elderly couple stare quietly at each other, the husband wears a pained expression as he looks worriedly at his wife, who sits motionless in her nightgown, an ominous drip-stand at her side. In the reception area, an anxious-looking teenager, asks her mom a thousand-and-one questions about the surgery she is being admitted for. Behind me, a huddled family, silently mourn the loss of their matriarch.

As I sip my coffee, I begin to consider my own fatigue, concern and stress, all underwritten by cautious optimism. My not-yet-two-year-old son is lying in the paediatric ward with his “another mama”. He’s got some sort of demon bug that only responds to IV antibiotics and comes with relentless, unbreakable fevers. He’s been here less than 24-hours and is already showing significant improvements. He’s doing better than so many of the other kids in the ward and for that I am so grateful. There’s a little girl a few beds down who has the same thing Fletcher has, but she’s been here for three days already and is likely to be here for another three. I’m filled with gratitude at the robustness of our boy, suddenly glad for his insatiable appetite and the way he burns through clothes, for his skimmed knees and all-around toughness. He’s like the Hilux of toddlers.

It’s inevitable, in a hospital, that you start chatting with the people around you – finding out their stories. There are surgical cases – bones that need setting, burns that need dressing – pneumonia cases and mystery viruses – all manner of things bring people together in hospitals. People who you would never otherwise speak to are suddenly your closest confidants. You confide in them. You share with them. You open up to them as you would your nearest and dearest friends. You are bound to them by an invisible thread – your sick or injured kids. You’ll probably never see these people again, and if you do, the chances that you’ll recognise them are slim because they’re out of context. The invisible thread that bound you will be gone – your sick or injured kids will no longer be sick or injured, and suddenly any potential future interactions seem awkward and forced. 

Our two night stint in the paediatric ward was blessedly brief and our thug is recovering well at home. But many of our new confidants were left behind as we hastily bid farewell to the nurses and hospital staff, as we rushed for the door. The overriding emotion for both of us as we made our way to the car was relief. Relief that Fletcher was on the mend. Relief that it was over. Relief that we were all going home, together. Relief that we were all going home. I looked around the coffee shop as we walked out, silently considering the emotions of the people around us. There was laughter – some of it born of stress, some genuine – there was anxiety, there was joy, sadness, grief, elation, relief, resignation and acceptance…

Hospitals are a melting pot of emotion and it is our emotion, in each situation, that shapes our experience of the place. Three and a bit years ago, I was in this same hospital, crying into my coffee as we bid farewell to my beloved grandmother. That day, I hated the place. Last year, around this time, we were there with Fletcher. He had pneumonia and was in a bad way for the first two nights of our stay, but by the end of our stint, I had grown to love the hospital and the people who worked there. This time, I felt like an old hand, experienced, calm, ready to face it all. I hope never to have to be back there, but if I do have to go back, I hope not to experience the darker emotions, the ones that leave you cold.

For now, I’ll take my relief (and my son) and we’ll head home, together.

How easy it is to lose your temper with someone so small and innocent…

This tiny human that we have been blessed to parent is one of the most trying and difficult things in the world. We cannot control it, we cannot keep it in the same place (good luck once your little ones are mobile, parents), and we cannot make it listen no matter how loud we shout. Since our little man started walking we have been on a constant marathon of madness around the house. He is SO busy! The cat food, the toilet, the glass cabinet, the T.V remotes, the underwear drawer, the detergents cupboard and all the plugs, and light switches are constantly under attack. And boy, is he on a mission to be a one-man demolition team. The speed at which he manages his destruction mission is also unbelievable! One of us is hovering around him at all times, picking up bits and pieces, stopping him from bumping his head and generally damage controlling as much as we can while the other one of us is doing all the other “mom things” that need to get done – cooking, cleaning, washing bottles, etc. When he finally goes to sleep we are absolutely knackered!

The newfound freedom his walking has bestowed on him, and his curiosity for absolutely everything is awesome! It means we have a little man who is growing and learning and becoming independent and we couldn’t be more proud! But, it also means the frustrations he has in being confined (like when we have to change a nappy or put him in his high chair) are world-shattering for him. For such a little thing, his temper tantrums are huge! The tears turn on, the lip drops, and the pitch of his cry reaches an ear-splitting crescendo. It takes just a moment for him to get to the point of no return when he doesn’t get his way (like when we won’t let him eat the toilet block straight out of the toilet) and it takes me just a moment to absolutely lose it with him. Although we’re not big on hidings, we quickly realised that smacking has absolutely no effect on him. He is already crying and now he doesn’t understand why the person he loves more than anything in the world is hurting him. To say nothing of the fact that he doesn’t understand why he can’t eat the toilet block in the first place, because he’s only 15 months old and logic and reason are far from his mind.

It’s in this moment that you have to take a step back, take a big breath and remember that you are the adult, here to teach your little human the ways of the world and, in order to do that, you will need all the patience in the world (and some wine chilling in the fridge for later). We have found distraction to be the most
effective method of dealing with his tantrums – changing his mind set and getting him engaged in a more suitable activity, away from the “danger zone”. But it takes a lot of self-control not to lose your temper, raise your voice and turn into a dragon. We explain to him why he can’t do it and we know he understands a
lot. They are like little sponges absorbing everything around them at a rapid speed so it’s critical that he absorb the right things – and hitting people is not on the list of things that are “right”. The list of words in his vocabulary increases all the time and soon we will have a little being we can effectively communicate with. But, until then, it’s one baby step at a time, one big breath at a time and one big glass of wine at a time.

When it all becomes too much

I’m crying as I write this. Not ugly crying (yet), just soft, silent tears rolling down my cheeks. Fletcher’s amazing nanny, whom we love dearly & is absolutely part of the family, had her 3rd set of seizures in under a year yesterday. Fortunately, she had already left for the day and was at home with her family – a safe place. It could just as easily have happened while she was walking home from work or somewhere where she was surrounded by strangers with no idea how to help her.

Last year, the day before I was due to go back to work, we called her to ask if she could come in a little earlier than normal and her 16-year old son answered the phone and delivered the devastating news – she’s had a severe seizure in her sleep, one that had necessitated CPR. She was off work for two weeks that time, while the doctors at various government hospitals shunted her from pillar to post before assuring us the seizure had been caused by an asthma attack in her sleep, which had deprived her brain of oxygen, forcing it to take drastic measures to alert someone to its plight. We bought it. It sounded plausible.

A few months later, she had another seizure, also in her sleep, but fortunately not as severe as the first one. This time, we went with her to the hospital to try and get to the bottom of things because this clearly wasn’t a one-off thing. After a variety of queues and who knows how long at the Germiston Hospital, Becs finally accompanied Fletcher’s “Gogo” in to see the doctor. He was shocked that the other doctors hadn’t put her onto meds after the first seizure because that’s what you do! He prescribed Epilem and she was to come back monthly for a check-up. After 3 months of monthly check-ups, he was happy with her progress and cleared her to only come back every 3 months. Now this.

We’re caught in such a terrible situation. We love her, she is fantastic with Fletcher, she’s a wonderful human being, she’s honest and reliable (if a little lacking in the punctuality department, but let’s be real, if that’s her only flaw, we’ll take it!). We definitely don’t want to lose her, but we’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea at the moment. If she were to have another seizure while she was alone at home – even if we could put Fletcher into school now, to take that responsibility off her plate and ease her load a bit – she could die. She’s needed CPR after a seizure before and if no-one is there to know she’s had a seizure… we’d only find her when we get home, possibly hours later. Anything could happen. If Fletcher is still at home and something like that happens, anything could happen to him. He’s fully mobile now, he climbs stairs like nobody’s business, he walks, he runs, he stands up without holding onto things. If she were to have a seizure and lose consciousness, literally anything could happen to him. (I’m too terrified to even articulate any of the gut-wrenching potential outcomes of that scenario.)

So what do we do? We can’t just let her go, she’s part of the family. Could we try and find her another post where she’s not responsible for children – absolutely. But that job would need to be one where someone is around all day because otherwise, the potential risks to her health are still there. Could we try and work out a situation where she’d have “supervision” during the day – sure, we could try that, I don’t know what that would look like, but at this stage, I’m willing to try anything. Could we send Fletch to school and keep her on… Not really, I’m afraid. At this stage, I don’t think we could afford to keep her on and pay school fees for full-day and that still doesn’t negate the potential risks to her health if something were to happen to her when no-one is home.

This is possibly the worst situation we’ve faced in our almost 5 years together. We have no idea what to do and no idea where to turn. So, my question to you is, what do you do when it all becomes too much?

It never rains…

Amateur Mommies stint in hospital

As the age-old saying goes, “it never rains, but it pours.” That saying has never been more true than when applied to kids. If your kid has a runny nose, chances are he’s also taken a spill and bumped his head or scraped his knee. In our case, it’s the combination of cutting teeth and getting sick.

Fletcher’s first tooth was cut in the midsts of a bad bout of bronchitis, so we weren’t sure which symptoms were teeth-related and which were caused by being sick. But let me tell you, that kid had such a time of it! 40º fevers, vomiting, wouldn’t eat or drink anything, terrible lethargy… it was terrifying for us, and I’m sure even more so for him. At least we had the benefit of rationalisation. We’d strip him down to his nappy, put cold facecloths and towels on him, while he screamed blue murder – as if we were pouring boiling oil on him – give him some Calpol or Tensopain for the fever and wait, taking his temperature every 5 minutes and slowly watching the digits creep down.

About three weeks after that, Fletcher started with a nasty cough on the Wednesday evening. As we still had some Pulmicort from his bronchitis, we immediately started nebulising him. On Thursday, his cough was a little better and we thought, yay! Winning! On Thursday afternoon, I got a call from the nanny to say he felt very hot, I asked her to take his temperature and call me back. When she called back to say the temperature was 34º, we knew it had to be a faulty reading and Becs rushed home.

40º.

When I got home about an hour later, his fever had come down to about 38.5º but he’d already vomited and the lethargy had set in. We eventually broke his fever an hour or so later and things returned vaguely to normal. He wouldn’t drink his bottles, but he’d eat. We, once again, relied on rationalisation, the bottle was making him cough, so it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to drink, he’s drinking water though, so I’m sure it’s fine.

Fortunately, Becs was on half-term, so she could stay with him the following day. She kept me updated on his fevers throughout the course of the day, his continued lethargy and his refusal to eat anything, which had now escalated to include not wanting to eat food. But, on the up side, his cough had subsided so we were now fully convinced he was cutting another tooth and he just had supremely shitty teething symptoms.

Saturday gave us a bit of hope – no more fevers, drinking rooibos tea, drinking water and eating little bits of food, he was also displaying signs of having a bit more energy. He slept a lot, but that was to be expected – the kid hadn’t eaten properly in days – but at least he wasn’t in any danger of dehydrating now that he was eating and drinking a bit. We spoke with a range of other parents, who all assured us that we were doing all we could and he’d no doubt be on the mend the next day.

Wrong.

The lethargy was worse on Sunday – no more signs of energy from our normally rambunctious and busy little boy. All he did was whine and cry, never quite happy with where he was. By lunchtime on Sunday we were in the casualty at the local hospital, where we were seen by a lovely doctor who assured us that we had been doing everything right. Well, that’s a relief, at least! The last thing you want to hear is that you’ve been negligent in not bringing your kid in sooner. But at the same time, as a first time parent, you’re weary of over-reacting and rushing to the emergency room at the first sign of a sniffle. Fortunately for us, our paed was on call and already at the hospital, seeing a patient in the paediatric ward. The casualty doctor sent us straight through to see her where she immediately admitted him. With double pneumonia. Worst moms ever!

Our poor little guy was put onto a drip and given a range of antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-every-bloody-thing-you-can-imagine! (So much for the appointment we’d made with the homeopath for the following week.) That evening, the physio came past and gave him a thorough thumping and suctioned the grossness out of his chest (an action that was “rinsed and repeated” throughout our stay). But, the next day, our boy was showing signs of his normal personality. Eating again, although still not interested in bottles, he definitely had more energy, he was giggling and even flirting with the nurses.

By Tuesday morning he was off the drip (in part because he’d pulled it out by mistake). He was eating like Tom Hanks in Castaway but still not keen on his bottles, although Becs had managed to get about 70mls of formula into him during the night. During the day, we continued to try with the bottles and he had a bit more. Often we had to coax him by putting his formula in a cup, rather than a bottle. I suppose it’s the novelty of it that ultimately won out, but he was drinking a far more substantial amount and by Wednesday morning, he’d been discharged.

In the midst of all this, he absolutely did cut his second tooth – like I said, it never rains…

Fletcher is fully recovered and destroying the house once again – crawling around like a speed demon, terrorising the poor cat and running us and the nanny ragged! I think it’s time we strapped those fluffy broom / mop type things to his knees so his manic crawling can, at least, help to get things done around the house.

Sick kids are no joke, but as a parent, you’d be surprised at just how good your instincts are. Back yourself. If you think your kid needs a doctor, take him. If you think he’s OK and it’s just a bit of sinus aggravation / teething / allergies / whatever you think it is, back yourself. But, be reasonable. If it’s been five days and he’s still not showing enough signs of recovery, it’s time to call in the cavalry.

… but words will never hurt me

Amateur Mommies: Be anything you want to be

I recently reconnected with a former high school teacher who had a profound impact on me. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to tell her of the impact she’d had on my life and the way her teachings had influenced the person I have become. I wasn’t sure at the time why I felt the need to tell her, but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. When we’re young, everyone we interact with impacts our lives, and the people we ultimately become are defined by those interactions – good and bad. So often, when someone positively impacts your life, their presence in your life is fleeting and before you realize the impact they’ve had, they’re gone and you never get the chance to thank them. I suppose the same is true for people who negatively impact your life, before you realize the damage they’re causing, they’re gone and you never get an opportunity to confront them.

The cathartic nature of saying thank you prompted me to think a little deeper about the kind of impact I am having, and will continue to have, on Fletcher. There is so much literature at our fingertips these days, thanks to the internet, and our access to that information has made us that much more aware of how our actions are potentially impacting our children. Our parents didn’t think twice about lighting a cigarette with us in the backseat, or about the way they spoke to us and how it might affect our personalities down the line, mostly because they didn’t know to think about it. But the access we have to information compels us to think more deeply about how our actions and words could affect our children. We must think about our tone and our use of language, we must be purposeful about the words we choose to use when disciplining and praising our children.

I remember an incident, about 10 years ago, where a friend asked us to stop commenting on how beautiful her young toddler was because she didn’t want her daughter to only identify as a ‘beautiful girl’. “There is so much more to her,” she explained to us, “and I want her to think of herself as more than just a ‘beautiful girl’, I want her to think of herself as smart and kind, as gentle and loving.” At the time, I was young and didn’t give the conversation much more thought, but as I look back on it now, with the benefit of hindsight and having become a parent myself, those words ring so true. We have to be careful not to pigeon-hole our children as ‘beautiful’ or as ‘such a clever boy’. We have a duty to make sure they are conscious of all the facets of themselves and aware of all of their potential. We can look back at our parents’ generation and say, “yes, but they didn’t think about these things, and look at me, I turned out fine.” But if someone had taken the time to make you fully aware of your potential, do you not think you might have done some things a little differently. If your childhood had been built on “you’re beautiful” and “you’re kind, smart and brave”, would you still have made exactly the same decisions? Would you still do the same thing for a living, or might you have pursued your childhood dream to be a fireman, or a fighter pilot?

Yes, our parents didn’t do it, and we all turned out fine. But our parents didn’t know any better. We do.

The rewards are great!

Amateur Mommies: the rewards of parenthood

So I don’t want you all to think that there is no sunshine and there no roses when it comes to this whole Mommyhood thing, there are. Really. Ya ok so at the moment our theme song is one from the legend Billy Joel and the words are “in the middle of the night… I go walking in my sleep”, because some nights we are up every other hour with our tiny human but the joy he brings to our lives and the little things that he does daily are so rewarding.

The first few months are terrifying that’s for sure. And as cute as they are when they can fit all snuggled up onto your chest, you get very little in the way of interaction from your tiny being in the first few months of their lives. You’re up all night with them, washing and sterilising bottles and breast pump apparatus all day, doing loads of laundry (how something so tiny can produce so much washing is extraordinary), changing nappies, giving bottles, burping, rocking to sleep and repeating every 4 hours, and somewhere in all that you are trying to remember that you are married to that other ship passing by you in the night, and fitting in visits from all the aunties and actually your tiny bundle does nothing more that lie there and be a tiny bundle. A tiny, pooping, crying bundle.

6 months down the line we have a strapping baby boy who smiles and giggles when we do the silliest things. He thinks his mamas are the most amazing people in the world! It’s the grandest feeling when you are rewarded after a long sleepless night with a big gummy smile from inside the cot and out stretched little arms, and the little face almost saying “pick me up mama, I love you and I want to give you a sloppy kiss.” Everyday his little eyes see more and he learns and grows more. He tries new foods and reacts to his favourite toys, giggles when he splashes water on himself from his wild kicking in the bathtub, discovers new noises that he can make and is very happy to show them off to us. We have a little wonder being growing up in our home, and it is a privilege to be able to grow with him on this journey. You feel much more like a mother when your little person starts reacting to you and giving you soul food.

For those who are in the early stages with your bubs, enjoy them being so tiny, don’t wish away a single moment, they really do fly by! But hang in there when you feel a little down, your tiny human will start feeding your soul in the most  nourishing and heart-warming way so soon, and all hard times will be forgotten. Otherwise parents would never move on to baby number 2.

Sleep? Ja, we still don’t know what that is

Amateur Mommies on lack of sleep

About two months ago I started seeing all these posts online from friends with kids around Fletcher’s age about a “four month sleep regression”. I joked that Fletcher had never progressed to sleeping in stretches longer than 4 hours, so how much could he realistically regress? The answer was a lot. After two weeks of him waking every one to two hours, we introduced solids, hoping that would help. It didn’t.

When we felt we couldn’t take it anymore, I reached out to friends who had successfully parented their little ones into (and in some cases, beyond) toddler-hood for advice. The advice was varied. One mom suggested sleep training. Another suggested bringing him back into our room, or even our bed, until he was more settled. Yet another said she didn’t have a clue, her four year old still wasn’t sleeping through. She did however suggest shifts – one night on, one night off – so at least you’re getting a less disturbed sleep every second night, meaning (in most cases) you can continue to function and (in some cases) make a valued contribution to society.

The friend who suggested sleep training shared the book she’d used to sleep train her little boy and I immediately immersed myself in it. Having read the pertinent sections, one Sunday evening after an exhausting weekend of very little sleep we decided to bite the bullet. We’d always been pretty good with Fletcher’s bath time / bed time routine, so that was fairly well established, but the biggest thing we were doing wrong was rocking him to sleep, meaning he was reliant on being rocked to fall asleep. This was a two-fold problem: 1) it meant we had to get up and settle him every time he woke during the night and 2) he was now so big that it was uncomfortable for him (and bloody difficult for us) to rock him.

That night we gave him his bath, his massage and his nighttime bottle as normal, but this time instead of rocking him to sleep, we put him into his cot, swaddled him (yes, we were still doing that), switched off the light and left. He was not happy. He cried with varying degrees of fervor for what seem like an age. We regularly went back into his room, as the book said to do, to reassure him that everything was fine, to soothe him a bit and repeat the catch-phrase, “it’s night-night time.” Eventually he did fall asleep and we rejoiced! It was, however, short-lived. When he woke a few hours later, we made sure he was comfortable, swaddled with his dummy in and duly repeated the process of letting him “learn to settle himself”.

It’s now about a month-to-six-weeks later and things are (mostly) going better. We’ve finally managed to ditch the swaddle, and that happened entirely organically and literally over night. One night he was fine being swaddled, the next night when we tried to swaddle him, he resisted, vehemently. So we left him unswaddled and he slept. Some nights are better than others. On Monday night he slept from 6pm until 3am and only really niggled once, early in the evening. Last night he woke at 10pm, 11pm, 1am, 4am and 5am, and at 5:45 he was awake for real.

Every night is different and I suppose that’s the challenge. As soon as you think you’ve got it waxed, life throws you a curve ball and you have to reset your entire process. I can however tell you that the addition of solids did sweet FA for his sleeping, so anyone who tells you that giving them solids will help them sleep better is filling you with false hope. Fletcher eats his body weight every day in vegetables, fruits, yoghurt, Kiri Cheese and lentils and still does whatever he feels like at night. The only thing solids has done is increased our nappy requirements because he’s gone from being a one-a-day poo’er to three, and sometimes even four times a day.

Honestly, the best advice I can you is this: when you’re bouncing through parenthood’s uncertainties, rely on your support network – whether it’s your partner, your parents or siblings, your friends or a bunch of strangers on a Facebook group. Use those people for advice, tap into their knowledge, vent your frustrations to them and lean on them when you need it, because – trust me – you’ll need it.

The first four weeks

Nothing really prepares you for motherhood. No amount of books or blog posts, no-one’s advice or help can ever really prepare you for what lies ahead. There’s something to be said for the unknown – it’ll either bring out the best or the worst in you (usually in equal measures) and we have seen some of the best and worst of each other over the past four weeks.

Our first few days as parents were entirely surreal. Fletcher was in the NICU hooked up to all kinds of machines, so we weren’t able to hold him, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him and we weren’t able to establish any sort of routine or rhythm with him. By the time he was discharged, it had been two days since I had been discharged – so we’d spent the last 48 hours back and forth between home and the hospital (and over Christmas, no less).

Our first night home was an interesting one. Fletcher was bombarded with hundreds of new sounds and smells, totally overwhelming him. He fussed and cried for hours on that first night, eventually settling around midnight. But after that, he slept well (albeit in 3 hour stints).

The next day he had the first of his peeing episodes, during which he peed all over himself and me. During his first bath, he peed on the towel. A few days after that he peed all over himself, his onesie and the wall behind him (all while I was trying to change his nappy and dispose of one of the biggest, nastiest poos I’ve ever seen). Subsequently, he’s peed on the wall, himself and us a few more times, but on the whole he’s not a serial pee’er. Thank the gods.

During some of his finer nighttime antics he’s had both Becs and me in tears, thinking we’ll never get him to settle. On one particularly bad night, Becs had been trying to settle him for a good while and came back into the room sobbing, asking me to “please just take him,” which I duly did. Eventually I managed to settle him, but nearly had a panic attack when I realised we’d have to go through the whole process again in a matter of a few short hours. But, then the sun came up, and everything seemed less daunting than it had the night before.

As dusk began to fall that evening, fear settled over me like a thick fog and I turned to Becs, voice shaking, and said, “It’s nearly nighttime.” She immediately knew the source of my fear and the two of us huddled together on the couch – absolutely dreading the dark hours that lay ahead. But, then the sun came up again, and everything was fine. And so we settled into something of a pattern – night would fall and so would our spirits, but as the sun began to rise, so our fears lifted. It was like being stuck in some kind of bad horror movie loop.

Until it wasn’t anymore. After three weeks, Becs turned to me and said that she suddenly felt like he was an old hand at this parenting thing, like she’d been doing it for years. It seemed that in 21 short days, we’d formed a habit – the habit of motherhood. We still have crappy nights with Fletcher – last night was another night when he only settled after midnight, but then slept until 04:00 and again from 04:30 until 08:00 – but on the whole, we’re much better at parenting than we were four weeks ago. OK, maybe we’re not better, but we certainly feel less panicked about it and that’s the main thing.

Oh, and as I type this I have a trail of milk vomit down my back. Yup, motherhood is awesome.

The grand arrival…

Before I get into this post, I feel the need to warn sensitive readers of the slightly more graphic nature of this post. Just so we’re all entirely clear, what follows details my labour experience. If that’s not up your alley, turn back now. Read this post about Becs’s experience at Antenatal Class, or this one about things not to say to pregnant women. If you’re ok with the slightly gorier details… as you were.

What was that?

At about 04:00 on Thursday, 22 December 2016 I woke up needing to pee – as most 39-week pregnant women do. When I wiped, it felt a bit… well, slimy. I know, not the most attractive thing, is it? But not much about pregnancy is. About 20 minutes later, Becs’s running alarm went off and she quietly (and in the semi-dark) began changing for her run. Not having been able to get back to sleep, I opted to read my book for a while and turned on the lights.

Shortly after Becs left, I needed to pee again – nothing new really – but once again, when I wiped it was slimy. This time, however, there was enough light for me to see what I’d wiped away. A mostly clear, slightly pinkish streaked snot, with the consistency of egg whites. Uhm… Ja, that’s definitely not part of my normal peeing routine.

I cleaned myself up, dashed back to the bedroom, grabbed my phone and almost – almost – dialed Becs’s number. But, it was just before 05:00 so she’d likely be on the road already, or at least out of the car and away from her phone and seeing a missed call from me when she got back to the car would only send her into a tailspin of worry. I put my phone down, rationalising with myself that it was only an hour and not much was likely to happen in an hour.

I picked my phone up again and – far more calmly – opened Safari and typed in “what does a bloody show look like?” (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually ask Google questions instead of typing in keywords.) Having read the article on Baby Centre that described the bloody show as a “blob of blood-streaked pale, creamy-pink snot”, I was pretty convinced I’d had my show.

Armed with knowledge, and the assumption that it wasn’t likely for anything earth-shattering to happen in the next couple of hours, I continued reading my book and intermittently visiting the loo. When Becs got home some time after 06:00, I asked her (as calmly as I could) how her run had been. She responded, but quickly realized there was something else on my mind and, in a voice dripping with concern, asked what was wrong. I told her – once again, as calmly as I could – that I thought my water had broken and explained the symptoms and my reason for not calling her at 05:00 (which she thanked me for) and we agreed we’d message the midwife at a more decent hour and let her know what was going on.

Carry on regardless…

At about 07:30 I sent our midwife a WhatsApp to explain that I thought I’d had my show and that my waters had broken. She asked a few questions about the colour of both the show and the subsequent fluid and told us to keep her posted on any changes. Knowing the movies absolutely lie about how quickly these things progress, we decided to carry on our day as normally as we could. We headed down to Pick ‘n Pay to get some things we needed for Christmas lunch, went for breakfast with a friend and for coffee with another. All the while I continued to lose amniotic fluid but without a contraction in sight.

At around midday, the midwife sent a message to say we should come in an see how things were progressing, which we duly did. Sadly, things were not progressing – I had only dilated to 2cm and without contractions wasn’t all that likely to dilate further. She gave me some homeopathic pills and a solution of some or other medication to be taken every 30 minutes, to help bring on contractions.

Once one’s water breaks, the baby – and I suppose the mother too – are more susceptible to infection, because the door is essentially being left open. This meant that, if my progress was still slow by 16:00, I’d need to go onto antibiotics. We agreed to be back at 16:00 for another check-up and headed home.

At home, we tried everything: I walked up and down the passage and garden, I bounced on the pilates ball, I did lunges on the stairs, I even did squats! Nothing. Well not nothing, per se; I had contractions – about a 4 out of 10, pain-wise and roughly 10 minutes apart, progressing to about 6 minutes apart by 16:00 – but still not quite enough.

All that build-up, and then… nothing

At 16:00, we went back to the midwife and she said I was still only 2cm dilated. Not a great start. 12 hours into “labour” and no more dilated than I was 4 hours ago. Then, as if to cap it all off, my contractions suddenly, and for no reason at all, stopped. We sat around the midwife’s consulting rooms for another hour or so, waiting to see if the contractions would resume, while I continued to feel like an enormous fraud – like I’d made the whole thing up. And, to be honest, if it wasn’t for the amniotic fluid leaking out of me, I’d have been convinced it was all in my head.

But it wasn’t in my head. My water had broken, of that there was no doubt, which meant that I’d have to go onto antibiotics. Once admitted, I was hooked up to an IV and, along with the antibiotics, I was given a stronger solution of the contraction-inducing medicine.

About half an hour later, the contractions started up again, and they’d grown. Now about a 6 out of 10, pain-wise and coming every ± two minutes, for about 30 seconds. We agreed that the midwife would check my dilation again at around 20:00, until then I should continue to time the contractions and walk. And so, we walked. With my IV bag on its little trolley, Becs and I did laps of the hospital ward, announcing every time we walked past the room how many contractions I’d had on my last lap.

Time for some meds, and not the pain-relieving kind

At 20:00, I was still only 2cm dilated and, much to my dismay, the possibility that I wouldn’t dilate further was becoming more of a reality. I was starting to get a bit despondent but I was trying to keep positive, hoping that next time she checks, I’ll be more dilated and then it’ll go quickly. But, it was not meant to be. At 22:00, we checked again – still only 2cm, but with contractions now coming every ±90 seconds and lasting about a minute each time. They’d also climbed the pain-scale and were tipping 8 by now. Each time my body was wracked with another contraction, I clutched Becs’s hand and – breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth – counted my out breaths until it passed.

Time for a new cocktail

Although the induction meds had worked as far as bringing on contractions, they had failed to dilate my cervix any further. We thought little man’s head would do it, because he was well-and-truly engaged! But unfortunately, that hadn’t done the trick either, so it was time to add something new to the cocktail of meds – a muscle relaxant jab to the bum (the site of which, by the way, is still sore, almost two weeks later). We’d give the muscle relaxant time to do its work and check the dilation again at midnight, if it still wasn’t progressing, we’d have no choice but to call the gynae and go for an emergency Caesar.

With the gaps between contractions now sometimes as a short as a few seconds, I was completely exhausted. Throw a potent muscle relaxant into the mix and I was about as useful as an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-eat pork buffet. I continued to have contractions, which, according to the machine I was periodically hooked up to, weren’t increasing in strength (although it felt like they were), but they were coming more frequently, but my cervix still wouldn’t dilate.

Time to call the cavalry

By midnight I was still only 2cm dilated and, after 20 hours of labour, we pulled the plug and called the gynae in for an emergency Caesar. My drip was shut off, meaning my contractions immediately began coming less frequently, but after 20 hours, I was completely shattered and feeling them with increasing veracity.

At around 01:00 on 23 December 2016, I was wheeled into the operating room, closely followed by Becs in all her finery (read: scrubs). I’ve never been more thankful for Becs than I was at that moment because I was as high as a kite and barely able to string words together, much less a coherent sentence. The anesthetist was explaining the procedure, what he would do and how the spinal would work. I was trying really hard to follow but finding it difficult to keep my eyes open, much less follow what he was saying. I was presented with consent forms to sign, which I think I signed (whether it was legible or not, who can say), I was moved over to the operating table, where two needles were inserted into my spine: first a local anesthetic and then the spinal block. The anesthetist explained that I’d feel a cold, tingling sensation in my legs and although I’d feel pressure, I wouldn’t feel what was actually being done.

At about 01:20 the Caesar got underway and the first cut, which wasn’t the deepest, certainly was the smelliest. Caesars are done with an implement that cauterizes as it cuts, which means there is a gut-wrenching stench of burning flesh while the cut is being made. It was like a car accident. I couldn’t take my eyes off the surgical lights, because, if you looked closely, you could see a reflection of what was going on “behind the curtain”. I watched them slice through layers of skin, fat, tissue and muscle before all three doctors joined forces to “eject” our son from his home. With the anesthetist pushing down from behind the curtain, the assisting doctor pulling from one side and the gynae pulling from the other, they were eventually able to pull our son from my womb at 01:36 on the morning of Friday, 23 December 2016.

Welcome to the world little man

His screams cut through everything else – our perfect little bundle was here, screaming his tiny lungs out! To say the sound is overwhelming is beyond an understatement. I’ve never felt emotion like I felt in those moments, fleetingly seeing the tiny human I’d grown for the past 39 weeks before he was whipped away to be weighed and measured. He was briefly placed on my chest before being taken to the NICU. The paed was worried about fluid on his lungs, so he needed to be placed on oxygen. Becs went with him and left me in the capable hands of the surgical team for closing up.

After I’d been closed and taped up, I was taken up to our room to wait for Becs to return. I don’t know how long I waited, but I fitfully slept while I did – unable to keep my eyes open anymore. When Becs came back at around 03:30, she explained where he’d gone and why and where she’d been. She told me he was OK. I cried some more and fell into a drug-induced, but brief sleep. Shortly after 08:00 that morning, we went up to the NICU to see our son.

Walking the gauntlet

“Let me give you one bit of advice…” Since we announced we were expecting I’ve heard that phrase more than any other. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that everyone’s advice is completely well-intentioned, but from the perspective of a soon-to-be-mom, it’s very overwhelming.

One of the most overwhelming experiences for any soon-to-be-parent – and one jam-packed with advice – is the Genesis Clinic Open Day. As we were interested in taking as natural an approach as possible, we thought it would be a good place to gather some info about the whos, wheres and hows of it all.

We arrived at Genesis about halfway through the four-hour open day to find a veritable gauntlet of midwives, doulas, antenatal and postnatal clinic sisters, cloth nappy manufacturers and maternity-wear salespeople… every manner of pregnancy- and baby-related profession and paraphernalia was on display.

We tentatively made our way towards the reception desk, careful not to make eye-contact with anyone, to find out when the next facility tour would be. Fortunately, we didn’t have long to wait, but once that was done, we’d have to venture back out into the trenches.

Genesis, as a birthing clinic, is truly stunning. If you have your heart set on a natural delivery, do yourself a favour and take a tour of the clinic. It gives you an opportunity to ask your questions without feeling self-conscious about your lack of knowledge, because even the mom-of-three-heavily-pregnant-with-her-fourth across the room from me during the tour had questions, which the nurse giving the tour graciously answered.

After going through the tour, we were both comfortable that Genesis would be a good fit for us, now all that remained was to find a midwife to do the delivery. Easy right? Ja right.

Walking back out into the gauntlet, tightly gripping each other’s hands, we were immediately targeted by a jovial, friendly-looking woman who thrust her card into my hand. I glanced at it just long enough to take in that she was a doula. Her eagerness to sell, not only her services, but those of her midwife partner was palpable and not the least bit reassuring. Within seconds of her initial assault I was withdrawing into myself, seeking a safe place where this lady couldn’t reach me. Becs, sensing my apprehension, began wrapping up the conversation. We thanked “over-eager lady” for her card and the chat and quickly moved on.

The next thing I saw was a lady wearing a shirt proudly emblazoned with the word “placentavore”. What? Exactly what you’re thinking it is, that’s what it is. As in “let us help you eat your child’s placenta.” I say again, what? I caught Becs’s eye and discretely motioned towards the self-proclaimed placentavore with my head. Her eyes widened, she lookeds back at me – horrified – and as one, we changed direction.

It wasn’t long before we were descended on by the next person eager to be our midwife / doula / caregiver – a friendly older woman with – based on her clothing and the bushy state of her unbrushed hair – a clear passion for all things natural. We chatted to her for a while and, not really feeling her vibe, thanked her for her time and moved on.

For whatever reason, we were then given a bit of breathing room. Becs turned to me and said, “How the heck do you choose a midwife?” “Who knows…” I replied looking around at the little tables that still stood between us and the exit. At which point a kind-looking woman made eye-contact with us and we instinctively moved towards her as if being drawn in by some invisible force.

Becs repeated her question to the lady, “how does one chooses a midwife?” The kind-looking lady, who turned out to be Sr Lindsay van der Walt from Infinity Babies – our future midwife – smiled knowingly and replied, “it’s a bit like a first date, really. You chat to a couple of people and see who you connect with.” We smiled and glanced at each other knowingly – it had been a while since either of us had been on a “first date”. We chatted to her for a bit longer, gave her my number so she could contact me on the Monday to set up a free “first date” and made our way towards the exit.

On the way out, we discussed how much we’d liked her, how she’d made us feel reassured, rather than overwhelmed, which – we both thought – was a good sign. We agreed that we’d go on that “first date” and take it from there.

When it comes to advice, it’s important to remember that everyone has – and is entitled to – their opinions. Everyone believes what they did was best and will vehemently advocate one course of action over another. But, quite honestly, the best advice anyone will ever be able to give you is to listen to everyone, and then do whatever you feel is right for you and your child. The same can be said about choosing a midwife / gynae / doula / caregiver. Chat to a few people, listen to the advice of others that you trust and then find one that you fit with.