1994: In which she gets high and falls down a lot (in unrelated events)
Steven Engelbrecht made his grand entrance at 16h20 on 11 April 1994, exactly on his due date, and while I was already at the hospital having a routine check up. Most considerate of him. He’s been big on punctuality, even from birth. That’s my boy.
April 11 was Baby Day, but nobody really expected him to arrive on time. First babies don’t usually, after all. Or so I was told. By the same strange people who told me, alternately, that I was either “carrying high” or “carrying low” or “carrying in front” or “carrying behind”. Whatever. I never did get the whole “carrying” thing. It’s not like he was a Checkers packet or French loaf or something. Still, they sounded so knowledgeable, so convinced of their arguments, it was easy to believe they knew more than you, particularly when they employed that specially patented patronising-yet-soothing tone no-one dared oppose.
These people (that would be nosy women) are the Old Wives referred to in the saying. They’re called Old Wives because most of them are – having been married for roughly a thousand years and having had their children back in the day when penicillin was big news. They can actually be a good source of information at times, but you have to listen with your Bullshit Filter turned all the way up. They have loads of experience, but many of them also seem to have an innate need to frighten the pants off anyone standing still long enough to listen to their Cousin Freda’s horrific gauze-left-in-the-uterus Caesarean story. I’d encountered a few of these biddies, and had been shocked to find that several antenatal nurses were actually secret members of the Old Wives Club. Never mind all that modern hooey about breast is best, they’d quietly tell their confused patients. That’s just what the doctors want us to say. Everyone knows what newborn babies really need is supplemental bottle feeding with sugar water, and bring on the honey-covered dummies, too.
I had a regular weekly check-up scheduled for that day, so off we went at nine in the morning. I left my maths revision open on my desk, fully expecting to get back to it by about lunchtime. As it turned out, it would stay open on the trinomial factorisation page for the next four weeks.
Monday was Antenatal Clinic day at the hospital. Preggie fairies of all shapes, sizes and ages gathered to be poked and prodded by bossy nurses and busy doctors. So many different women, all doing and feeling exactly the same things. Same aching backs, same swollen feet, same gaseous digestive issues. Watching them all fascinated me. I was amazed that I was one of them, with my very own aches and escalating paranoia.
The lady with the swollen feet really scared me. She could barely walk and she couldn’t wear shoes. Her pork sausagey ankles looked like they would burst like water balloons if poked. Not that you’d want to; you’d probably pay good money to avoid poking those squidgy ankles. She didn’t have long to wait. As soon as the nurses got a look at those tremendous feet, she was bustled into the doctor’s office and then, amid great fanfare and official-form-filling-in, to the labour ward. Other women nodded to each other knowingly and the whisper rippled through the waiting room like a juicy office rumour – pre-eclampsia. A shudder went down every spine. We all imagined ourselves being wheeled off to an emergency Caesar at thirty-four weeks; frantic phone calls to husbands (or not, if you were me); things going wrong.
The nurse did all the usual things before I saw the doctor. She checked my blood pressure (a bit low, but it usually was); my cunningly pre-packaged urine sample (no trace of anything dodge); my haemoglobin (ze aitch-bee, remember? Also low – got the “you should be eating liver” lecture); weighed me (62 kilograms at nine months pregnant – oh, to be fifteen years old again!), and assured me that the funny, twangy cramps I’d been feeling all weekend were probably just Braxton Hicks contractions. I was the picture of fat pregnant health and everything was going according to plan. Thus far.
“Is everything alright?” was the theme for every doctor’s visit. And, so far, everything had been fine. My baby was growing wonderfully, all milestones were being reached and all measurements correct. Against all odds, it seemed I would deliver a strong, healthy baby – a strapping young lad.
I hadn’t found out the baby’s sex, but I had a strong “boy feeling”. My doctor was lovely – a big, kindly teddy-bear of a man who explained things so nicely and never once made me want to kick him in the nuts. That was a big deal for me. I was oversensitive about everything and the smallest perceived skew look or funny comment would set me off. But he never did anything to make me uncomfortable. I was looking forward to having him at the birth. He had a very calming effect on me, and I felt I’d do all right with him.
And then. Just as I was beginning to feel comfortable and mildly confident, do you know what the bugger did? Do you know? He got himself transferred to Namibia, that’s what he did. The horrible, horrible man went away without telling me, so I was left in the lurch on my due date, not knowing who would deliver my baby.
I didn’t take this news well. I was unsettled and worried and beginning to have a terribly dark suspicion about that twelve-year-old boy dressed up as a doctor who’d just picked up my file. No… please no…. don’t tell me you’re my new doctor…
Worry turned to borderline hysteria as he called my name. Of course. Of course he’s the doctor. How could I have thought any different? I couldn’t believe it. He was yummy, but so very, very young. He looked more like a teenager than I did. Surely this wasn’t allowed? Did they really let unqualified children wander around here without supervision? Where’s the real doctor? That’s what I’d like to know. Where’s the fricking camera? I know Leon Schuster must be here somewhere, the bastard. I cringed as I followed him into the office, the thought of explaining my Situation to this kid whom I might otherwise have attempted to flirt with giving me cramps.