It has taken me a while to process, exactly what I saw on that Sunday afternoon. It all happened too quickly. All of it.
I drove from my plush neighbourhood in the Southern Suburbs to Mowbray Maternity, a hospital I chose because of my connection to it – the place I was born. I remember at one stage, feeling so connected to BC Women’s where I had my boys in Vancouver, that I considered getting a tattoo of the geographic coordinates. It was figuratively imprinted into me, that place. Such a significant part of my story.
Arriving at Mowbray, impressed with the cleanliness of the 100 year old building and the friendliness of the hospital staff, we shuffled into a lift, to the first floor, and out onto the ward. “24 women, 3 second trimester miscarriages; some 4th time moms, some 1st. Some alcoholics and some drug addicts”, we were told. Just like that. Normal life for many outside of the ‘burbs. And this was the low risk ward.
A new friend, Kirsten (I think her name was), and I grabbed the pre-packed goodie bags jam filled with nappies, wipes, toiletries, snacks etc. and headed for the waiting room. The room was small, in it squished 10 woman and their quiet no-more-than-a-day-old babies most of them nursing. Like this was an every day occurance. They’d just given birth. No less than a day before. And there they sat, ready to leave. Babies BUNDLED up so tight that you could barely find their faces amongst the thick blankets.
I walked in. I saw these 10 women, and I froze. Now, I’m a doula. I love birth and labour and waters breaking, and placentas and gushing all over new moms. But this was an unknown. How many of these babies were planned? How many of these moms were scared? What were they returning to? How would they get there? How were they feeling physically, emotionally, mentally? It was all a jumble. A cultural mismatch which took my breath away and left me stumbling over words to somehow show our them love and bring them hope that Mother’s Day.
We spoke with new moms, we celebrated brand new babies. We watched tears fall from mothers who had miscarried, one mother as young as 15 years old. But all those tiny baby faces. I can’t forget those tiny baby faces – bundled in blankets, and beanies.
It all happened too fast.
We obsess from the day our period is 1 day late, and the second we see that positive test, we go into overdrive: planning, dreaming, longing, researching, preparing. The baby showers, the hospital authorizations, the scans, doctors appointment, prenatal classes, breastfeeding workshops, the baby bag, the reserves of sugar for the birth bag, the 12 hospital worthy outfits and the stockpile of anything and everything a new mom could ever possibly want (and not want). We go ballistic. We are off the charts. Self obsessed North American inspired culture at its max. We book the prenatal photographer and Pinterest the latest gender reveal ideas. We hit it hard.
But these babies. As one mom shared with me “labour at 10pm, baby born at 3am, 12pm and it’s time to go home”. Just like that.
There is nothing comfortable about removing yourself from your cuture and exposing yourself to something completely unknown. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that it is VITAL for growth, maturity and necessary humility.
Thank you Cape Town Embrace for the opportunity.