Thursday, June 14, 2012

The First One

My labour with Lara only comes to me in snippets now.

I remember the early feelings, when it still just feels like period pains. And you are buzzy and euphoric and think “I can do this! This isn’t as bad as they say! Maybe I’m one of those few people for whom labour is not too sore. I know they say to rest it’ll take a while but I’m so EXCITED! I’m going to have a baby!”

Getting to the birthing centre at 3 in the morning after a night and a day and a night of dull ache growing into ow-this-is-actually-bloody-sore. Sitting on the red chaise lounge at the birthing centre reception and laughing. The marvelous midwife Xoli saying I can’t believe you’re in labour and you’re laughing!

That moment when she says yes you’re in labour but no you’re not dilated yet. Better go home, get some rest.

Coming in again at midday and only 1cm dilated. But deciding to stay anyway.

Time warps and stretches and concertinas like those funny mirrors you get at the fun fair. Hours seem like minutes, minutes seem like hours.

Lying on my side, Bradley style, putting into practice all those breathing techniques, going across the dambo, into the ebony forest, to a happy place, seeing Iwomba there. Thinking I have this under control as each tidal wave sucks me under with such a force I think I’m going to drown. Xoli saying you can scream if you think it would help. I try and my carefully constructed world unravels and spins away from me.

That moment when I think I really can’t do this anymore. Thinking they said in childbirth classes when you feel that then it’s nearly the end. But I am only 3 cm dilated and it is not even nearly the end.  Like you’ve peaked too early at a party you’ve been looking forward to for months. Except bloody sore!

Xoli saying we must walk. Its night time now. How long has it been night time? Xoli and Mark drag me across the parking lot like dead weight. I vomit on the shiny new tiled floor in reception. It feels like gravity is trying to suck me under the ground. I have forgotten how to walk.

I sit in the shower, hot water pounding on my lower back. It feels sooooo good! I laugh. I’m in there for an hour possibly. It feels like 5 minutes. Then I worry that I’ll use up all the hot water for all the other labouring mothers so I come out. Miranda, ever the service provider!

Saying to Mark “Stop whispering! Talk louder! Come over here, go over there, press my back! Don’t touch me! I want music. Turn that music off!”

Every few hours an internal exam and each time the crushing news that I’ve only progressed a centimeter.

My heart rate being as fast as the baby’s.

I can’t do this. I am not strong after all. What order do these snippets come in? I have no idea. They give me something to help me relax.

At some point they manually break my waters. When is this? Before the pethadine? After? And the oxytocin to speed things up. When was this? I have no idea.

The pethadine instantly makes me how I imagine a proper druggie must feel. Drooly and dozy and slooooooow. I vomit. I don’t like this feeling. We all sleep fitfully.

Except Mark who is like an owl on speed.

2 in the morning, I’ve been awake 2 days and almost 2 nights and been in labour for I dunno, ages. I am so so very tired. I am 9cm and not budging. Xoli says “I think we have to give you an hour or so. If nothing happens, it’ll have to be a C-section.” I am delighted. There is a way out! Joy of joys!! Not how I expected to feel when faced with this news! I am lying on the bed. Did I get pethadine again? Or is this when I got it? I have no idea. But time is still doing its warpy thing and then through the haze “Xoli I think I need to push” More of a question really. Hopeful. “If that’s what your body is telling you to do, then listen to it. Do what your body says” I try halfheartedly but its just wishful thinking.

And then, later “Oh, this is what the pushing urge is. Yes okay, I need to push”

A rush of activity. Filling the bath. Salt in. The water is much hotter than I expect. I am eased inelegantly into the bath. I feel euphoric. I am not scared of the pushing phase, I know I can do this.

Xoli giving me sips of energy drink saying you’ll need energy for this. Me being in no doubt that this part I can handle. I put my chin to my chest and puuuuuush. And again and again. I don’t know how long I do this for but it doesn’t seem long.

And then the burning. A moment of “wait, don’t push” as Xoli unwraps the cord from around the baby’s neck. A very sharp and sudden (but brief) pain that feels very different from everything else. This must be me tearing. And then out she slips like a slippery fish. And at once everything else is forgotten. Xoli saying “It’s a girl.” I remember so clearly that moment when I first see her, all cross and blue and slippery and my world opens up to the sky and lets in a clarity and a light I had never known to exist. Everything makes sense now. I feel complete.

Glancing across to the clock sitting on the edge of the bath 3am exactly.

Letting the water out the huge bath and delivering the placenta. So very perfectly red. The man jokes that it looks like there’s been a murder. He’s right.

The stitches they don’t hurt a bit.

We are shattered and exhausted but we stay up ‘til first light just staring at this baby. I feel like I’ve been shaken up into lots of different pieces but when the parts have all come back down to settle again they settle in a different order, making a new me, one I didn’t know existed but one that suits me so much better.

Monday, June 11, 2012

5 months ago...

(If birth stories bore you or gross you out you may want to skip this one!)

I wake up in the morning thinking, yes this must be it. Nothing major happens, a few period like cramps for most of the day. I text my midwife in the morning just to let her know. She texts me back to say “it’ll be like last time, slow at first but its coming tonight” I don’t believe a word!

My last labour took 32 hours by my count, but I think you start ‘counting’ earlier the first time round. This, I would have counted as the start with Lara, but this time, I know better than that.

So I have a hot bath (for exactly one hour my doula had told me to see what happens. If its ‘real’ labour it will kick in properly as soon as you step out the bath, otherwise it will slow down and you can go about your day). It slowed down. I went about my day. At about 6 that evening I text my doula and say “its fine, it’s a bit sore but nothing major. I’m going to have some supper and then I’ll call you after and give you an update. My mom says “What do you want for supper?” MEAT! Lots and lots of MEAT.


Half way through supper I’m not so keen on the idea any more but know I must force myself to eat. I need strength for the next 20 something hours of labour. Ha! Still not convinced this one will be quicker.

At about 8pm I call my doula and say “okay maybe you should start getting ready to come over. I know she lives an hour away. “I’m already on my way I’ll be there in ten minutes”

Which I’m grateful for.

Because things are starting to speed up now and its getting a wee bit intense.

Sue (she’s the doula) comes over with her box of potions and her birth ball. She’s a reflexologist and she massages my feet and every time a contraction comes on she talks me through them, breathes with me slowly and makes sure I roll my shoulders at end of each one so she can see how long they are and so that I can release the tension. She also puts a bottle of jasmine scent under my nose towards the end of each contraction. It takes me straight home to Luangwa, down by the river in front of Craig and Janelle’s old house. Walking down the hippo path with tangled jasmine bushes on each side; over the cracked cotton soil all pock marked with hippo footprints. The late afternoon light catching the branches of the winterthorn tree and making it hum with magic. There’s no place I’d rather be.

Sue is awesome but Mark is my rock. He knows exactly where to place the ball of his hand in the small of my back and PUSH. Sue is too slight to be effective here. Mark knows what to do from last time and he’s a star. (scared of getting crapped on by me again perhaps!) I’m better at this too the second time round. When I’m sitting on the sofa with Sue massaging my feet (it feels so goooood!) things slow riiight down. The contractions hiccup, the gaps between lengthen. It takes all my will but I know I absolutely have to get up and walk. Sit on the ball. Do something, keep moving.

And so I do. But Sue is concerned because every now and then there is a hiccup in my contractions. They are steady but every so often there’s a half a one. She thinks my uterus is tired. She is texting Xoli the awesome midwife saying we’ll need to come in to the birthing centre. Just in case.

I find myself thinking ‘oh great, this is going to be just like last time. I bet I’m not even dilated yet’. Out loud I say “I don’t think I can do this.” I don’t really mean it – I know I can – but I feel like feeling sorry for myself for a moment. Sue does ‘body talking’ (no I don’t know what that is either) and she does something or other to my head. A slight tap, a massage.

And then I say, “I feel like I need to poo.” I know it’s the baby coming but I won’t let myself hope it. Not yet. My contractions are only 30 seconds long, I’m due another whole day of this surely. The contractions still need to get to a minute or more. But each time the urge gets stronger and then I say, “I need to push”

Sue is still in the middle of her text to Xoli. The message keeps changing. First she’s saying “I think this may be slowing down” Now I imagine it says something like “get the F&$£@ in the car, this baby is coming”. Or something like that.

I make it to the kitchen. Contraction. “I don’t care what you say, I’m pushing”


Sue, ever practical, puts bin bags on my seat of the car just in case “don’t worry, it’s a hire car’ says my man drily.

Down the agonizingly bumpy driveway. Contraction. Push. I bellow like a buffalo stuck in the mud.

Out the gate. Contraction. Push. Bellow

On the road. Contraction. Push. Bellow

And so on. Luckily its only 8 minutes to the birthing centre.

And in between. Absolute euphoria. “WOOOHOOOO!” I yell out the window. Contraction. Push. Bellow

“I’M HAVING A BABY!” I yell at no-one. Contraction. Push. Bellow.

I cannot believe my luck. I really thought this was going to take 3 days. I am beside myself with relief and excitement.

It’s just past 2 in the morning. Mark is grinning in the dark next to me.

Get to the birthing centre. Step out the car. Contraction. Push. Bellow.

Waddle into the birthing suite. And a suite it is. All crisp white linen, big bath and downy pillows. The resident midwife asks me to pee on a stick. I say, “I’ll try but I think the baby’s head is in the way”. Mark has been here before. He knows how far along we are and what needs to be done. He starts running the bath.

When I can’t wee on the stick the resident midwife gets me to lie on the bed. “Oh yes you’re second staging” Yup. I ain’t no midwife but I could have told you that! A bustle of activity. Xoli comes in and everything comes together.

I get in the bath. Looking back at the pictures now I see how full the bath was for Lara’s birth. This one – the bare minimum, not enough time. One more push and there comes that tingle. Did I say tingle? Ring of fire. Xoli needs me to move so she can get to my bits. I can’t.
Xoli: you need to move
Me: I can’t. The baby is coming
Xoli: I know. You need to move NOW, so I can see you. NOW. She is firm. In control. A few strong hands maneuver the bellowing hippo into the right place. 

And out comes the head. Its not a swoosh all at once like Lara was. This one, his head comes out and his shoulders get a bit stuck. Nothing major and under Xoli’s steady hand she eases out his shoulders and out he comes into the water and out onto my chest. That moment of sheer dumfounded pride and love. Nothing will EVER hurt my baby. I will kill for this little guy. Oh look at his FEET!

Time at leaving house: 2.10 am, time he was born 2.34am.

He is all sqooshed and angry and purple and bloodshot and greasy and gorgeously mine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pageants, Royal Barges and the like

The Zambezi floodplains from the sky

Watching the river pageant for the Queen’s Jubilee day before yesterday,  I sent my sister a text saying "are you watching the British Kuomboka" and just at that moment she was posting something similar on Facebook! We're funny like that sometimes.

Then the conversation on FB went like this:
Sister: That river pageant looks just like the Kuomboka
Me: Doesn't it tho?
Sister: Ja except the Lozis are feistier oarsmen
Me: say that again! And not afraid to get a bit more nekkid!

The Kuomboka Ceremony takes place in the Zambezi floodplains of western Zambia. The Lozi people live on these floodplains - which flood once a year anywhere between February and April. The land is so fertile that people have for centuries built mounds on the plains where they have established villages and planted gardens. Each year, however, the plains flood and the mounds become overrun with rats, snakes and insects escaping the rising water. And so the people too, are forced to move to higher ground. This is done in mighty stylish and dramatic fashion in the famous Ku-Omboka ceremony.

Kuomboka literally means 'to get out of the water'. The pageant celebrates the move of the King - the Litunga - from his palace in Lealui in the Barotse Floodplain to the fringes of the forest lands in Limulunga. It has been happening for over 300 years.

The king travels in a huge royal barge called the Nalikwana – the one with the black and white stripes and huge elephant on top. He travels with the royal family their staff and their belongings. The ears of the elephant can be moved from inside the barge and there is also a fire on board, the smoke from which indicates to the people that the king is alive and well.

The King’s wife is on a second barge – the one with the bird on top. The wings of the bird can also be moved up and down.

One website says
“The ceremony begins with the beating of the Maoma Royal War Drum to summon all the paddlers from various parts of Lozi land, 2 days before the actual journey. The sound of the Maoma can be head 15km away from Lealui. On the day of the Kuomboka, the Mutango(the oldest royal drum in the Lozi History) is played at Limbetelo, to announce that the Litunga is ready for the Journey to Limulunga.

The Litunga travels in the Nalikwanda(Royal Barge). It is usually paddled by 120 skillful men and is the first to start off with the Notila, Matende, Mbolyanga, Sabelele, Nalikena and hundreds of other boat following behind.

Once the Nalikwanda docks at Limulunga harbour, men wearing traditional kilts called Liziba perform the royal salute while women wearing their traditional attire called Misisi and Libaki dance and sing Limeka and Liimba which are strictly dances performed by women. The Litunga then disembarks from the Nalikwanda and goes to the royal pavillion called Lutatai.
The paddlers perform the warrior dance Lishoma and then make the royal salute.”

So basically you have the King’s awesome black and white barge, complete with elephant on top with flapping ears, smoke and reverberating drums. And behind him, in their boats – mostly little dugout canoes able to carry a couple of people and their meager belongings - are the rest of the population, all moving to higher ground. No one can overtake the king, only the scout boats. 

scout boat coming into the harbour

A few years ago my sister and I wrote a book on Traditional Zambian Ceremonies. Well, she did the writing I did the logistics. And we attended this ceremony in all its splendour. Wow. The photographer went up in a light aircraft to photograph the ceremony from above. My sister and I stayed on the water, following the Kalikwanda and all the other boats.

The Nalikwanda coming into the harbour with a scout boat

Looking through my pictures now I realize that half of them have been lost. I think I used two memory cards and when I saved them I replaced some of the pictures by mistake. No matter, I still have some. And some awesome memories of course.