It’s been quite a while since I’ve slapped up a post here, but I will use that age-old, tired excuse: I just had a baby! And although a newborn in the house DOES grant you hours of isolation shut away from the rest of the world and its distractions, those hours are largely spent shushing, pacing, nursing, and theorizing as to the possible reasons why your infant is not sleeping. (“Is he allergic to the dog?” “Is the fan too blowy?” “Does he hate us?”) I’m mostly kidding: Denton has been a fairly decent sleeper but even if he wasn’t we would still love him to pieces.
In the end all the hard work paid off. Driving our entire family to Cape Town, finding an apartment to rent, researching doctors and midwives, taking hypnobirthing classes, practicing the route to the hospital, finding the perfect doula, listening to birthing affirmations before bed, pre-natal yoga, acupuncture and homeopathic pellets: I’m not sure everything I did to prepare for our baby’s arrival was absolutely necessary, but whatever the case it all worked out perfectly, and I like to be prepared. Denton’s birth only lasted three hours from start to finish, and I was so relaxed upon check-in that the desk staff didn’t think I was in labor. I did take the wheelchair they offered me, and had a very surreal contraction in the elevator as a group of old ladies made jokes about cute doctors while I practiced deep belly breathing and a studied look of calm so as not to alarm them.
Denton was due on Monday, October 27, but I have never been much for Mondays and apparently my son isn’t either. His due date came and went, and by Wednesday night I decided it was time for us to get serious. On Thursday morning we went to the midwives’ office where I was told some encouraging things about my cervix and that the baby was positioned to come out perfectly. The exact words of Glynnis the midwife were “This is going to be a walk in the park,” God bless her. Afterwards we went straight to a random clinic in Seapoint where I had an acupuncture appointment to help coax the baby out, Eastern-medicine style. The acupuncturist arrived at the office a few minutes after I did, his needles in a shiny silver briefcase like he was carrying plutonium from the Libyans or secret nuclear launch codes. He was also a renowned neurologist and spent ten years meditating at a Buddhist monastery in India. On a normal Thursday that acupuncture visit would be the most interesting thing that happened to me all day. But the day wasn’t over yet.
We barely got home from the appointment when I gave Drew the signal and told him it was time to hit the road. We grabbed our meticulously packed hospital bags, kissed Lila goodbye and left her in the good hands of our nanny Patricia, then drove over what felt like an extremely bumpy highway to Vincent Pallotti Hospital in the bright sunshine of a typically gorgeous Cape Town day. As we drove, I timed my contractions on a handy iPod app and noticed every detail out the window like it was in technicolor: the trees shimmery and green, the mountains enormous and powerful.
I called the midwives’ “hotline” to let them know I was in labor: Ciska was the midwife on call so she met us at the hospital. The names Ciska and Glynnis should immediately alert you to the fact that I gave birth in South Africa. All the staff at the hospital had delightful South African accents and peppered their conversation with charming words like nappies, bum cream, and the loo. I did give Ciska a blank look for a second when she asked me to remove my “brookies.” (Actually broekies—Afrikaans slang for underwear.)
Ciska was brisk and cheerful and called my doula “Charlinky” instead of Charlene, in the Afrikaans style of adding a little “inky” to names to make them cute and familiar: like Americans turning Dave into Davey or Spanish speakers saying Sarita instead of Sara. The hospital was polished and efficient, no different than one you would find in a big city in the United States, except possibly for the “No Weapons Allowed” sign posted at the entrance.
The whole scene in our labor room was so chill and calm. We had stopped at McDonalds on the way into the hospital, and I sucked down my vanilla shake in the maternity ward without anyone batting an eyelash. When my water broke all over the nicely made bed, everyone was just cheered by my progress. I had my hypnobirthing affirmations going loudly in the background the whole time, but if anyone was annoyed listening to the woman on the recording saying things like “My body knows how to give birth and I trust it” over and over, they didn’t show it.
But nobody thought the birth was happening anytime soon. We checked into the hospital at 3pm on October 30, and I was still so early in the process that my birth team thought a Halloween baby was a possibility. Drew set himself up nicely in the coffee shop downstairs to write a little and settle in for the long haul, and the midwife said I could go next door for a cup of tea. I said no way, had my doula pull the shades, started the affirmations, and put a pillow under my knees as I lay on the bed and concentrated. I knew things would be going quickly.
I was right. An hour later the midwife ended up racing downstairs to grab Drew, who had to leave his table so fast he almost didn’t have time to pay the bill. The energy in the room had changed immediately. Ciska and her assistant Lindy started moving trays around, ripping open plastic packaging, laying out instruments. It was intense but I knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it without an epidural. Our little guy cooperated by moving quickly and was born at 5:40pm, with a good head of black hair, weighing 8.5 pounds and 21.5 inches: an inch and a half longer than his big sister was three years ago.
The private rooms were all booked so I had to share a hospital recovery room with another mother and her incessantly crying baby girl all night. I comforted myself by looking at my sweetly sleeping son and eating two Snickers bars. (I was ravenous.) Sleeping in a shared hospital room is like sleeping on an airplane in coach anyway: you almost shouldn’t bother trying. A parade of nurses (who called each other “sisters” like they were nuns) came in and out all night to check my blood pressure and to exclaim what a “little sausage” Denton was. With all the early elective c-sections, apparently the sisters are used to seeing smallish babies and couldn’t stop pinching his little arms and commenting on his nice chubbiness. We hightailed it out of the hospital in the morning, less than 24 hours after I had checked in, and took Denton home to meet his sister: mission accomplished.