“What would happen to our lives, our world, if the parent could unconditionally affirm the child, saying in so many words: “You are precious to us; you will always have our love and support; you are here to be who you are; try never to hurt another, but never stop trying to become yourself as fully as you can; when you fall and fail, you are still loved by us and welcomed to us, but you are also here to leave us, and to go onward toward your own destiny without having to worry about pleasing us.”
All Images by Caroline Mackintosch for An Ode to Nude
Today you are three. While I say often, “I cannot believe how fast you have grown,” the space between then and now has been important, slow and full of growth in it’s own right. But today I tell the story of your birth.
My labour started at 8am, Dean had just left for work and I went for my morning ritual on the porclain express. I was spotting, first sign. I called my sister and she told me she would come get me to take me to the hospital. We weren’t fully sure if labour had started so I told Dean I would confirm once in the Hospital and seen to.
I considered a home birth; but being so young and unsure of my body, I didn’t have the trust that things would run smoothly and did not have the knowledge of finding a doula to facilitate that process. I didn’t have medial aid when I found out I was pregnant. When we were five months I went to a doctor who said my birth at Kingsbury (just the birth and not the overnight stay) would cost us R60k. I lolled. So I went to Retreat for my next checkup, my local MOU. I hadn’t even driven into Retreat before. There was a long line already. I needed to pee. We all shared the same pee cup and the scale didn’t work properly. There were abandoned puppies outside. I remember seeing a group of very young looking pregnant girls, they must have been about 15/16. They were all standing together with their bellies. We always had to wait a very long time to see the doctor. I always regretted never packing a lunchbox and a book. The midwife would come in and do the same talk about how to put a condom on. Then we would go one by one for our HIV/AIDS test. It was finally my turn to see the nurse, I went in. “Are you still on medication?” “yes” I replied. “You will need to be transferred to Groote Schuur, you will be seen to by Doctor Bhavi”. I was transferred to our main Hospital of the Western Cape; were I would be seen to monthly by a psychiatrist as well as a doctor, to make sure my mental health was stable alongside my growing baby. They don’t issue medication at the small MOU’s so this is why I was moved.
We didn’t do much reading or birth preparation. We didn’t have the money and Dean worked during the week. I suggested Youtube but we didn’t make the time. The labour pains started as small cramps, similar to period pain. The midwives told me I would only get a bed around 4pm, so I would have to wait. We walked alot, the pain got worse but not unbearable. I could hear woman in labour around me, it sounded as though they were possessed; I was pretty terrified. I hadn’t prepared at all for this. “excuse me sister, I was hoping I could get some pain meds before things get worse…” I was ready for the drugs, the nurse told me that she could give me some morphine for the pain in a bit…I eventually got my bed, the pain was more intense now. I was sharing a space with another woman in labour, the other beds were empty. The nurse was charting the baby’s heartbeat. I asked for the meds again… “Oh no, it’s too late now”, she replied. She looked at her watch “this baby will be out at the end of my shift, 7 o’ clock, don’t worry, you’re young and it’s going fast” she said. The pain began to get unbearable; as the contractions came I would get sick next to myself into a packet and clutch onto anything I could find. It wasn’t time to push. I was exhausted.
“How long have you been on medication for?” asked Dr Bhavi. “since I was 18” I replied. I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2014 and went off the medication as soon as I found out I was pregnant. “I don’t think you have Bipolar”, she said to me. Misdiagnosed by a doctor who refuses to speak to me now. “I am fine, I am more stable than I have ever felt”, I reply. “Pregnancy will do that to you” she said.
The labour escalated fast. My mother had suggested I suck ice but they didn’t have that kind of thing in the public hospital let’s be honest. I shouted alot at Dean. It was time to push and I had depleted most of my energy. My eyes rolling back. I knew I needed to push but it was too difficult. They told me they could see her head, I pushed. They told me her head was out, I pushed again. Then she slipped out, along with a hella water and blood and magical things. They don’t tell you it feels like a big dump; but it does. She was out, and we took one look at her beautiful face and fell in love. That’s how it always is I guess. I hadn’t realized my power up until those moments, when the afterbirth came and I saw all the nutrients I had carried for her. I stood up and went to pee after that. It burnt alot but I was ecstatic. A new kind of energy overtook and has continued through to the third year of her being here. Frances Elliot was born at 8:05pm. Weighing in at 2,5kgs.
I looked up with my new baby in my arms from the ward I was in, it was full moon then and it is full moon today. I watched the sun cover Devils Peak, gradually coming in and the moon descending. A new day, I hadn’t slept. It was all too new. She was on my chest and I left her there; where she suckled and has slept up until now. We were naked, wrapped in each other. You had arrived. It was glorious.
We received the bill for the birth about a week later, R30. R30 for the birth and all of my psychological care and maternal care covered. That’s about $2,15. I think I was so ready to judge our government care because I didn’t understand it. But there I was. Giving labour in a room with other woman in labour. Made to feel I was nothing special, made to feel a part of a bigger power. Held by everyone in the space. I am in awe of the midwives who work in Government care and have devoted their lives to every single kind of woman in this country. I was taught how to get her to latch by the other woman who slept in the ward with me, it was all their third or fourth time giving birth. Surrounded by woman who were welcoming me into motherhood. They showed me how to change her nappy, how to latch, how to wrap. They told me to just leave her on my chest so she could hear my breathing. I felt so held. That evening was worth more than R60k, sorry Kingsbury.
Frances, I hope one day you read this. There is so much I wish my mother wrote down. You are three today. This time three years ago I was still walking. You have brought me a sense of peace that is very hard to describe but I want you to know I will love you unconditionally, forever. You are precious to us, you will always have our love and support x Happy Birthday, Mom