My water broke around 3:30 that Sunday afternoon. Since I’d been in ‘barely there’ labor since 9 in the morning, everything was ready and already by the door. I quickly put on the blue dress that boyfriend was ironing at the time and we rushed out.
I had done my research, followed babycentre religiously and knew exactly what to expect, when and how. I had exercised regularly, always taking the stairs to the office on the fourth floor and doing 60 squats a day in a bid to reduce the length and intensity of the pain during labor. And yet somehow, I still managed to add a staggering 17kg. My skin managed to stay stretch-marks free until the last two weeks. The baby’s drop into the cervix area was the straw that finally snapped the camel’s back! All the gallons of Arimis I had smeared on my tummy for months could do little to help.
Having sat what I thought to be the first stages of labor in the house, and considering how healthy I had carried the pregnancy, I expected to be told that I was 7 cm dilated when I got to the hospital. Imagine my shock when I was told I was only 2 cm. That’s the moment I knew that we had a long night ahead of us.
Labor is no-one’s grandmother! If Eve loved us just a little bit, she’d have stayed far away from that stupid fruit. You’ll remove your cloths and walk around naked, you’ll kneel down and pray and you’ll pull your hair out. You might even do what some lady who delivered after me did; she somehow learnt my name and for the remainder of her labor, all she did was scream it out, ‘Cess, Help Me in the Name of God!!’ I can’t say for certain whether I did any of those things, but when they added pitocin to the equation to speed things up I went a little crazy. Probably a lot crazy.
There I was lying on my left side, an IV in my arm and boyfriend behind me rubbing my lower back every time a contraction hit. He would later tell me that both his wrists were numb and painful from all the work he was doing. He’s a smart man. He knew to tell me much, much later. Had he told me how tired he was then, I would have broken those sorry wrists of his with my bare hands.
Most women say that they call their husbands every unprintable name they can think of during labor. I guess he’d been so good to me that no insult would have come to mind even though I wanted to insult him. One time though, he tried telling me how well I was doing and it felt like his voice was making the pain worse. ‘Shhh… Shut up! Just shut up!’ I hissed angrily in between two massive contractions.
By the time I was transitioning (between 8 and 10cm), I was ready to die. The contractions were so bad I could feel my body arching from the bed. The nurses kept telling me to stop pushing. I was not. The baby was pushing itself. ‘Cess, why are you pushing? You’re hurting the baby and your cervix will tear if you keep this up.’
Ignoring her, I would turn to boyfriend crying and tell him, ‘I swear to God I’m not the one doing it.’ And he would say, ‘I know, sweetheart, I believe you.’
Babies make dramatic entries into the world howling their lungs out. And while we often talk about the feelings you feel the first time you see your baby; feeling of love, accomplishment and pride, no one talks about the anxiety, the chills and the uncontrollable crying you just can’t explain.
We do not talk about the first time you actually look at your tummy right there on the delivery bed to see a huge, shriveled pouch and rolls upon rolls of stretched out skin that take months and months to disappear. The pounds you piled up during pregnancy behave just like the proverbial camel. They set camp in your body and just refuse to go no matter what diet or workout you put your already exhausted self through.
Boyfriend’s friend came to see the baby and asked whether they’d forgotten to ‘remove’ the second baby. I still looked like I was 6 months pregnant and was still in my maternity jeans and tops. All that water you retained in your face, arms and basically the entire body has to go somewhere and when you’re not busy peeing, you’re entertaining guests, changing the baby’s diaper for the nth time and forcing down the porridge your mother-in-law keeps placing in front of you.
The baby cries and you want to cry as well. I did cry a few times. No one had prepared me for how painful breast-feeding is, or how often you need to do it. Babies are nocturnal little monsters. They sleep a little during the day and party all night long. And since you’re the only bar in town, you have to stay awake with them, feeding and entertaining your needy patron.
A new addition to the family turns the household’s life upside down. They take the lion’s share when it comes to your budget, take all your time, and demand your undivided attention. For the rest of your life, you will never take a break from being a parent. In some amazing way though, you never see or focus on all those negatives. You see an innocent soul, so cute and cuddly as she giggles in her sleep, oblivious of the fact that she kept you awake the whole night. They smell so nice you do not remember how she had an explosion in her diaper and ended up with poop from the back of her head to her tiny little feet just minutes ago.
The last three years I’ve learnt that parenting is a gift like no other. It teaches you to give without expecting, to be constant and to love unconditionally. It is joy in its purest forms. There are times when my days are long. I get home exhausted and frustrated and the first thing she does when I ring the door bell is run and hide behind the couch. The same spot every single day. What I’m supposed to do is pretend that I can’t find her. I’ll look and look and when she’s satisfied I’ve been punished enough, she’ll suddenly appear and surprise me. I should act startled. Jump even. The more genuine it looks the harder she laughs. And that melts my heart and makes all my problems go away.
If all goes well, my princess will be a big sister in 6 months. I look at her at times and I feel a little sad. We’re about to change her world in a big, big way. I keep telling her that she’ll always be my favorite, but I’m not sure I’ll know how to share the love. Maybe it’ll be a different love.
The other day she was climbing up my tummy when I told her to stop, ‘You’re hurting me Mama. There’s a baby in there, you know.’ She looks at me, lets out that laugh you reserve for people who make silly comments and tells me, ‘Nooo! Not toto. Naitwa tombo.’ (‘No! That’s not a baby. It’s just your tummy.’)
Until we see each other again,