It was a marvellous weekend for the anaesthetist in the Drakensberg. The long weekend had smoothed into a lazy affair and by Monday he knew that he wanted to stay one more day. This meant that when I went into labour on a cold Monday morning in May on the far reaches of the East Rand, the magic injection every pregnant woman longs for — the epidural — was not available.
Having no drugs to numb the birth experience has some advantages. Not one of them is being fully aware that you are scared to death of the vulnerable bundle handed to you. His name is Ruan, he is my son, and I have no idea what do with him.
The reality of being a clueless mother is best served after lunch, I believe. And lunch is definitely what the little bugger is interested in — lunch that is concentrated in my boobs. Like a true male he immediately zoomed in on this ready-made food parcel as soon as his eyes could focus.
Forget the warm fuzzy photos of mother and child bonding over the first feeding. There is crying — more from you than the baby — and gritted teeth. Privacy goes out of the window. On one side of the hospital bed your mom grabs your son, while on the other side a nurse grips your nipple to squeeze into your hungry son’s mouth. And you are stuck in the middle, wishing that aliens would just come and abduct you now because whatever experiments they have in store for you would be better than this.
Over the coming weeks you repeat ”breast is best” quite a few times and after a while it becomes the gospel truth. Now I would not trade my boob time with my son for anything in the world and he, of course, loves cuddling up to me at meal times. What he does not like is sharing resources with other men, including his dad.
His bloodhound sense of when his food source is being used for other indulgences is astounding. Ruan would be fast asleep after a marathon session of rocking and we would just be doing some heavy rocking of our own before he would interrupt with loud protests, demanding his dues again.
He will demand them loud and clear, even if you are stuck in the middle of the Free State with your colleagues on a story after the baby-sitter pulled out.
Ruan has already invested enough time in the Mail & Guardian office to qualify for our internship programme and he also has been on a number of interviews. I was amazed at how politicians cooed at him and sources suddenly began to blab when he was present. With a simple smile he got subjects to reveal their souls.
Unfortunately this soul revelation is not limited to my sources. Family, friends and in-laws suddenly inundate you with opinions and advice, most of which you can toss out with the dirty nappies — except for the advice of your mother, which keeps returning like a bad nappy rash. And the hints about being a stay-at-home mom never stop.
Imagine the outrage when I announced that I was to leave Ruan at home for a week while I attended the UN’s climate change conference in Poland.
”Tsk, tsk. He is so small, it will be so bad for him,” people chided. Well, the bugger did not even miss me. He slept like a log in the evenings, a privilege I have been denied for the past seven months and, as usual, charmed the socks off everyone he came into contact with. According to my husband he did not even make a peep.
Which left me wondering about the exact function of a mother …
After two months of being a mom I had started to believe that I had this motherhood thing under control. I went out for a cappuccino to celebrate and duly slipped on the stairs at the mall, breaking my right arm. Yes, Murphy works overtime when there is a bundle of joy sleeping in the nursery. For three weeks I breast-fed, changed nappies and bathed baby with only one arm.
Breast-fed babies are supposed to never get sick. This myth was shattered along with my brand-new vase when Ruan developed a mysterious illness that saw him land up in hospital for three days. Of course, you, as mummy, have to shack up with him, forcing you to cancel that interview you’d been begging for so long.
But the sacrifice is a privilege to make. The ride has been bumpy but I was glad to have listened to the biggest story of my life: that of becoming a mom.