A woman walks down a harshly lit corridor of a small provincial hospital in a smaller Eastern Cape agricultural town. She’s heavily pregnant, four days overdue if her scans are to be believed. Not that she’s taken much stock of ‘due dates’, knowing that the baby will come when he’s good and ready. She stops beside her husband to let another contraction pass, barrelling through with the force of a freight train.
The contractions began an hour earlier as mild, period-like cramps, and when they were more frequent and at shorter intervals, they had made the decision to drive to the hospital. Having regained her breath, the woman looks up and sees at the end of the corridor the large double doors of the maternity unit, wide open, drawing her downwards and inwards. Her journey was about to get interesting.
A nurse welcomes the couple and ushers them into the ‘labour ‘waiting room’, a functional but comfortable room where they can experience the early and middle stages of labour. “I’m going to go back to the front desk and sign you in” the husband says. His wife nods whilst changing into a hospital gown. Not in a very ladylike way, she thinks to herself. “Where’s Magreet?” she asks. Her midwife was on her way and should arrive at any moment, the husband replied, already halfway out the door.
Having mastered the gown, she walks out of the bathroom. Two steps later and she’s bracing herself against the end of the bed, feeling a particularly strong contraction coming on and an intense, primal pressure to push. “I want to push” she screams at the top of her voice and the nurse comes rushing into the room. “Come let’s get you on the bed and we’ll have a look” she instructs. Very calmly, as if I’m being hysterical, the woman thinks to herself. After the briefest of internal examinations the nurse no longer thinks of hysteria, more of impending baby. “Come, get up, we have to get you into the labour room” the nurse orders. Holding her belly as if that might halt the inevitable force of nature, the woman waddles to the next room, where she finds several nurses all in emergency mode. Gloves are being importantly snapped on and shiny, metallic, scary looking utensils laid out on the bed.
“No, no, no”, the woman thinks as she’s being hauled onto the bed by invisible hands and ordered to lie on her back, “this isn’t how its meant to happen.” My husband, midwife and I are meant to be the only ones in the room, all nice and private, no strange faces. And I definitely am NOT giving birth lying on my back, the way that modern science (read “men”) has decreed. Women cannot give birth in this position. I have to squat like I did with my other two children, naturally, and most definitely without instruments.”
“Where is my husband” she screams. “Where’s Margreet?” another scream.
Seconds after turning onto her back the woman feels something wet and slippery shoot out of her. Lifting her head, she asks “was that my waters?” “No,” comes the reply, “that was your baby!” Another couple of seconds silence and then comes the scream, the wail every new mum waits for. Her baby is ok. She lies back elated, shocked, so many emotions flood her being.
Her husband walks into the room, Magreet at his side. Almost sauntering they are, the woman thinks wryly. She watches their faces turn from curiosity to amazement and all at once the entire room, all five people, begin to laugh, long and loud, without embarrassment or ego. A sound that is so clear and pure, a sound that sings straight from the heart. “That is my baby’s blessing,” the woman thinks. “My son is born into a room full of laughter.”
The time elapsed from her initial walk down the hospital corridor to cradling her newborn is 24 minutes. Sound incredible? It could be part of a drama, set in the realms of a director’s overactive imagination. Except that I know it’s not, because this is my story of how my third child was born. We left the hospital 3 hours later and have never looked back.
It has taken me almost 5 months to gather the courage needed to document this story. You may ask why I haven’t shouted it from the rooftops, called the papers declaring some kind of medical record. It may lie in the fact that I feel a bit embarrassed to have had such an easy, quick, pain free labour. After all, it’s the ‘bad news’ stories that people love to disseminate, particularly to a novice, first time mum about to decide which birth route to follow; natural or caesarean. There’s nothing quite as satisfying, after all, to see the look of horror on that mum’s face when the gruesome birth details come out; the blood, the husband fainting, the excruciating pain, the long hours of pushing. Yes, where labour is concerned, the gorier and more horrific the better.
Well, I would like to set the record straight. Birth can be natural, it can be stress free and it can be the most rewarding, fulfilling and empowering experience you’ll ever experience as a woman. Laughter and labour don’t often go together, but when a miracle is born, anything is possible.
By Saskia Boonzaier