“My head’s under water but I’m breathing fine”. – John Legend
Post c section 2010:
Mom: Jy bieter opstaan en skoonmaak. Vroumense van jou caliber kannie net le nie.
Post c section 2014:
Mom: Jy bieter lunch ko maak.
Post C section, married, 2018:
Mom: Jy moet van jou voete af… Rus my kind.
I learned to swim at the age of 20. Having my head under water was the equivalent of standing in the shower with soap in my eyes, while a serial killer lurked on the other side of the shower curtain.
In 1997 I was in Std. 2 at St. Anne’s Primary school. I was the new kid, and unlike most of my upper middle-class classmates, I was ‘niks gewoond’. A school with a swimming pool was a ‘luxury’ unknown to myself and my Mitchell’s Plain Government School peers. Two incidents still irk me from that year, both involving swimming pools, and of course, in true Shana style, public humiliation and ridicule.
Bi-yearly, midyear, the school sent the grade 4 and 5 classes on an SOS camp. I had never been away from my parents before and was both excited and scared at what the next four days would have in store for me. My mom packed my bags, gave me a R50 for the Tuck-shop and sent me on my way.
I still remember how extra pink that R50 note was.
On the camp, we learned little Christian rhymes, and prayed novelty prayers fashioned after the superman theme song.
Thank you Loooooord.. for giving us fooooood.
Thank you Loooooord.. for giving us fooooood.
For daily breeee-ead.
And what we’ve shaaaare-ed.
Thank you Looooord, for giving us fooooooooooooooood.
Yes, even at the age of nine I felt like a doos whenever we did this. It was just one step below singing “I’ve got melodies in my heart” while sticking out my tongue and my arse, which in retrospect seems wildly politically incorrect.
I digress, the popular girls dominated the bunk beds and made friends with the adult team leaders, who hadn’t yet resolved their childhood issues, and who I always believed felt somehow accomplished when befriended by popular children.
And on day 2, when the novelty of the giant trampoline wore off, everyone excitedly spoke of the swimming pool, and how they were going to show off during swimming time the next day.
I didn’t participate in any of the talks.
I didn’t really know how to interject with a sentence cooler than “ I cannot fucking swim”.
So I said nothing, and by omission, I was part of the crowd.
Swimming day was sunny.
I hovered in the shallow side of the pool, while the teachers lounged on the sides, completely ignoring the children.
I was doing well until a friend motioned me to come a little deeper.
“Come we go to the middle. It’s not deep”.
Famous last words.
All I remember is us both miss-stepping, and being dragged down into the icy blue.
I struggled for what felt like five minutes and remember looking across the pool at everyone’s legs. I tried to tug on them, but they were all just slightly out of reach. My partner had now climbed on my shoulders, pushing me down more onto the pool’s floor.
I felt my breathing stop. It didn’t hurt though.
…and I blacked out.
I woke up on the side of the pool with the entire camp population standing over me, staring.
The teachers, who were usually Caucasian, were now an odd pink colour.
Had I been out that long that sunburn had occurred? Or do white people look singed when panicking? I would later in my life find out that both of those realities rang true.
I saw them even out as relief set in, and at the time I wasn’t smart enough to know that my mom should at least have been notified.
I went back to playing.
When the bus arrived home after the camp, I told my mom “Mommy I drowned on camp”.
The teachers spoke it down, and of course, my parents chose to believe that my child-mind had exaggerated the whole thing.
But that wasn’t the most painful part of the memory that still haunts me.
When we got home, my mom emptied my bag, and asked what I had bought while I was away.
I proudly took my R50 out of my tikki-pocket and told her that I saved the money to buy a toy next time my dad and I went out.
Her smile dropped and she stuck out her hand.
I will never forget her words.
“Moetie met my kak praatie. Gee my fokken geld”.
I am convinced that this is the sole reason I have never been able to save a dime.
A few months later, the school held its annual swimming gala. I was to swim along with the beginners. One race; that was all I needed to survive, in order to get through the day.
I remember very little of the experience, and most of the missing pieces were filled in by my dad, and the other children who teased me after that mortifying day.
When the gun went off, all the other beginners grabbed their life-boards and kicked their feet, as if the race mattered in the greater scheme of things. I however, was not as enthusiastic.
My nine year old self was stuck, in the middle of the gala pool, clutching my life-board for dear life…
The race ended, and the crowd still cheered me on for five minutes as I just floated there.
I was paralysed with fear.
All I could think about was being pushed down to the bottom of the pool.
Eventually, once the crowd’s cheers became awkward, annoyed groans, the swimming coach came and carried me out,
I wouldn’t go near a pool again until I was 20.
When I returned from hospital and started to assimilate back into my life post-pregnancy, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Before, when I would return from hospital, I would be set up in my room at my parents’ home. There would be no celebration that a new baby would be arriving home, there would be no well-wishers or visitors. My pregnancies had always been catalysts for disappointment, with each baby moving me further and further away from my dreams.
Since conception, the imminent arrival of Scarlett-Grey Regina Fife was different.
Having my own home meant that I wasn’t at the mercy of a landlord, or my parents. I wasn’t restricted to a room.
My child could cry at any hour.
Since Riyaahd and I announced that we were having a third child (or like many have chosen to point out, in front of my kids… having Riyaahd’s first child) we have also been showered with gifts.
This is also new territory.
When I was a single mommy, I was merely offered hand me downs.
There is nothing wrong with hand me downs, and I adore preloved items. What is different is the spirit in which I was given things, and I find it noteworthy.
When you have a child without a man, there is almost this understood rule that you and your baby are now a nuisance. To society, to your immediate surrounding family members.
It is a reality, as much as it is an inferiority complex.
People really do believe deep down that you went to ‘fetch’ that baby.
Knowing the man wasn’t going to stay.
Knowing you aren’t married.
But here is something I haven’t admitted in its entirety.
Being someone who had not really known compassion and romantic love before, when I fell pregnant I was wholly convinced that the men who had impregnated me loved me.
I had no idea that I would only learn love at the age of 27.
And only believe it at the age of 29…
In February 2017, most of you know I was admitted to hospital. I have Crohn’s disease, which is irrelevant to the story, but to clarify:
At the time, Sidney-Jonah came down with a case of gastro so severe that I gagged at the site of his bowel water. I am aware that mothers are supposed to be able to stomach anything that oozes out of their children’s orifices. Let me bust that myth right now. I do not like mucous, diarrhea, pre-cum, actual cum, urine, hard stools, soft stools, puss, saliva or anything else that oozed out of people my own juices have produced. I don’t want a piecey sucka covered in green snot and I don’t want bek-flavoured noodles, Rose.
This is not a comment on my love for my children.
I can love them wholeheartedly without tasting them.
I digress, on this particular Thursday, after putting Sidney to bed, I felt a familiar tingling in my abdomen, and as any logical person would deduce, I assumed that I had caught the superbug and promptly took off work.
When Friday morning arrived, the party in my digestive tract reached mediocre volumes at best, and the neighbours didn’t see it fit to call the popo… So I didn’t think anything of just letting it ride out…
But nothing happened. No bowel movement.
Imagine the sensation of diarrhea, with no actual diarrhea.
I had entered the gates of hell.
Still, I decided to wait it out.
Saturday morning I woke up convinced I was going to die.
I woke Riyaahd, just in time for him to see me drop down in front of the toilet and vomit up everything that I had digested, but as I would find out on Sunday, what I was vomiting was brown, because my colon was blocked. Meaning my fecal matter was coming out of my mouth.
I need to repeat this for emphasis because I have promised not to swear excessively.
Fecal matter was coming out of my mouth.
OUT OF MY MOUTH.
To make a really gross story short, on that Sunday Riyaahd had had enough of my shit, so to speak and packed myself and the kids into the car, called my parents and literally dragged my ass to hospital.
And now for the relevant part of this story.
Several x-rays later it was decided that to avoid death, I would spend the night and be seen by surgeons in the morning.
Now, allow me to have a flashback in a flashback.
The year is 2014. I am admitted to hospital for an infection.
My boyfriend at the time had taken me to hospital, and left before I was admitted. I laid in the isolation ward for two days.
He had forced me to have sex before the allocated six weeks post c section, and I had presented with an infection, and a full body rash.
At two weeks post c section, still slightly bleeding, I was told that I complained too much about ‘a thing a woman is meant to do’ and ‘as his girlfriend’ I must ‘do my duty and give him sex’ or ‘he will take it… or get it from a klom other kinnes that smaak him”.
I felt very lonely in that hospital room, and one night around 11pm, I called him, with the hopes that he would be willing to keep me company.
I am not sure what romantic notion I had in my head that my boyfriend would be happy to talk to me while I lay alone and sick, mostly from his doing.
The phone rang and went to voicemail. This happened a few more times, until a very sleepy, grumpy boyfriend answered with a comforting “Are you jus, I’m sleeping”.
What hurts me now, looking in retrospect is not that this man had no job to go to the next day, or that he had put me there with his inability to respect my healing vagina. . . It isn’t even that he wasn’t really sleeping, and that I would find out weeks later that he was at his other girlfriend’s home…
What infuriates me is that I responded with a meek… “I’m Sorry”
After several x-rays of my backed up colon, it was decided that to avoid death, I would spend the night and be seen by surgeons in the morning.
Riyaahd, my then boyfriend, waited with me in the cold passages, and saw that I was admitted, and that my phone was charging before he left.
That night, I had an anxiety attack at 2am.
The nurses had placed a tube through my nose, to help remove the build-up of gas and fluids in my stomach. This had caused me unspeakable anxiety and against their orders, I pulled the tube from my nose, completely misjudging just how fucking deep it was lodged in my body, and I scratched the inside of my throat.
This didn’t help my panic episode.
I grabbed my phone and dialed Riyaahd, ready to apologise for bothering him so late.
The phone rang twice.
I heard him let off a few sleep induced groans…
“Baby, are you okay?”
I couldn’t answer immediately. His concern for me caught me off guard.
“Baby? I know you scared but everything is gonna be okay. God’s got you”.
We spoke for half an hour. He had to get up for work at 5. He didn’t complain once. He made sure I was ready to sleep before hanging up.
And that was the moment I knew that Riyaahd loved me.
I sat in Dr Rapiti’s office for a psych consultation, almost in tears.
“Doctor, I don’t know why I am so anxious. So much has happened in my life…. I have my own home… I have a husband… my child was born in wedlock… why do I still feel this constant anxiety now that I have given birth?….
… “I just feel like I’m drowning.
The good doctor looked at me.
“What happened that makes you feel like your post natal depression is coming back?”, he asked.
I hesitated. I didn’t want to admit the thoughts that had been running through my head since I had brought my daughter home a week ago.
But I knew if I didn’t confess, I wouldn’t get help.
(To be continued)
I will add that:
Sometimes you only learn to swim at the age of 20.
Sometimes you only find real love after you’ve had kids with two different men.
Sometimes you only find your worth when you’re nearing 30
It doesn’t make it less significant.
Fuck what people have to say about your life.
On that note, I received some flak on my review of Grooteschuur Hospital, because instead of seeing it as me, standing up for myself and other people who have to experience bad service at government facilities, I was told that it was distasteful to have an advert below my work.
As a blogger, I rely on things such as adverts and affiliate links, in order to be able to put my work out there for free for my readers.
I saw an opportunity to advertise a legitimate health care provider, on an article about bad healthcare. So I did it.
I was told it was despicable and that I was using something as sensitive as pregnancy and the birth of my daughter to make money.
5000 shares later, I feel the need to respond…
“Moetie met my kak praatie. Gee my fokken geld”.