Cracking The Feeding Code (How NOT to feed)

No, I don’t feel that great today. Robert was very cranky the whole night, and Ron and I took turns rocking him. In the end Ron headed for a much needed sleep while I continued with rhythmic rocking and singing meaningless and monotone lullabies. My face today shows the strain of sleeplessness, and my incision aches and pulls whenever I move up from a sitting or lying position. I had to resort to one of the pain suppositories.

Things improved a little in the morning, but we still had to give the bloated little one several doses of gripe water. He always calmed down considerably after taking them.
My swollen and engorged breasts continued to hurt, although I diligently breastfed Robert. I kept wearing a “scrunchy” hair band on my wrist to indicate which side I was supposed to breastfeed from next, otherwise I would not be able to tell, both were sore and swollen.

By midday, and after a late breakfast and strong coffee, Ron and I got somewhat more comfortable, less zombie and more jet-lagged, as it were. We started organizing the endless paperwork from the hospital. We opened a paper file for Robert, containing all his birth paraphernalia, and his initial medical records. There were doctor’s appointments to be made, and hospital accounts to be paid (the ones that are not settled by medical aid). It took over an hour to sort things out, and we now have a list on the fridge showing us the important health visits for the next month.

The day was cold, not a sign of spring, and according to the long-range forecast there will be a couple of cold fronts during the next week which is supposed to mark the beginning of spring here in South Africa.

Evening came, and it was turning out to be a heavy one. I gulped the dinner Ron prepared, and started the duty of trying to feed, change, burp, and rock. Eventually the crying got too much out of hand with Robert pulling his knees up towards his stomach, and all other measures of massaging and soothing failed, so we resorted to another dose of gripe water. Ron and I alternated this duty between us for a few hours, then we agreed that Ron should go to bed, because there was no point in both of us driving ourselves crazy with an inconsolable infant.

Throughout the night, I got even less success with feeding Robert; He got more and more agitated every time he tried to suck on an engorged breast. My instinct told me that something was clearly wrong, and on impulse I moved from the reclining comfortable chair to another straight-backed and less comfortable one. My position was different and I tried leaning forward towards the baby while feeding him. He gulped a few times then started sucking rhythmically. An hour later Ron came in intrigued by the silence in the lounge and saw me sitting there, wild-eyed and tired but calm. The rest of the night was exhausting. Robert nursed so hard and so long that I was terribly sore by morning, but he slept for a couple of hours at a time. His nappies started to get full, which was not the case for the last 36 hours. As it turned out the poor little one was not getting enough milk since we came home, I swore never to sit again on the comfortable chair by the bay window, and hoped that I haven’t done permanent damage to my milk supply or to Robert’s appetite and health.

Back At Home

Today has to be a good day, because we are finally going home. I had altered my tea only wake-up ritual and opted for the watery coffee this morning. I also had my fill at breakfast for once, because I ordered corn porridge (mealie meal), muffin and fixings, yogurt and fruit salad. It looks like I had cut myself short in my breakfast orders during the last three days. Never mind, this was my last meal at this hospital, and tomorrow I will have my beloved weetbix biscuits with banana and milk again.

Breastfeeding was going well, and I was feeling elated although I smelled slightly of sour milk and leaked non-stop, but I was prepared with breast pads, and Robert was there to help my get rid of excess production.

Ron and I agreed that he should come today before lunch so that we can get out of the hospital as soon as possible. Obviously my doctor had to see me and approve my discharge and I wanted also to see the pediatrician and the lactation consultant for one last time, to have my last minute questions answered. It turned out that on a Thursday my doctor does his round a little later, as it is one of his regular theater days (Monday is the other one). The breastfeeding consultant Sister B. only came in at about nine, so I had some time to kill and make small talk with the sisters in the reception of the maternity ward.

Ron came shortly after I saw all these people and got my questions and doubts answered. My doctor said that he will sign my discharge paper and give me some instructions for after hospital care. He also said that he will write a prescription for pain tablets and/or suppositories. The tape on the incision can come off on Monday or Tuesday he advised, and apart from that there is only one follow up consultation I need to book with him, six weeks from now.

With all this done, I thought we were all set to leave, but the procedure turned out to be more protracted than we thought. First I needed to get myself ready of course. I had a shower and got into my going-home outfit. The dress that I brought for the purpose was a maternity dress, which Ron bought for me just before we left on holiday to Dominica. It was on sale at the time because it was out of season, and because it is a little summery, it remained in the closet for three months until I discovered it again on the last day of my pregnancy. Luckily it is not a very baggy preggie outfit and can be worn even without a big belly.

Robert had to be checked out of the nursery. The process was lengthy, because it involved bathing him, dressing him in his going home outfit, and checking his records to make sure he had all the necessary shots. Nursery staff also packed his goody bag in preparation for check out, and there were tons of papers to sign, to indemnify the hospital and state that we are taking the correct baby.

For my discharge Ron had to go down to the pharmacy and pay for some hospital medication. I had some left over that I haven’t used up during my hospital stay. Then I had to sign my discharge papers and collect the prescription and instruction of my gynaecologist. All this took almost an hour, then we had to take baby down in the lift in his bassinet/trolley. Meanwhile Ron brought the car to the front, fetched the baby car-seat, and with little help from a nurse we strapped little Robert in. At reception there was then the last matter of signing out and paying for the extras (Thirty Rand for example for a television headphone if I had asked for one). I did not have anything outstanding, so we were given the okay to leave. At the last second, however, somebody said, oh there is still your lunch.. It turned out that the parents are given lunch to take home, so that we will not need to cook as they said. Robert was awake throughout all of this, just sitting quietly in his car-seat, as we waited for the promised meal. The minutes stretched as we loitered around in the lobby and Ron started to get worried. We must have been waiting for fifteen minutes when he decided that he would take Robert into the car. We were just about to head out when a staff member caught up with us and handed me a little carton basket, advising me to be careful because something inside it is broken; I think he meant COULD GET broken, but you never know with South African English. I got the cardboard lunchbox and put it by my feet, and strapped myself into the passenger seat. Ron was already in the driver’s seat and Robert was safely strapped in the backseat. We were all set to drive into the sunshine.

Unfortunately our departure from hospital was just after noon, which is probably one of the worst times for driving in Cape Town. The drive home was long, and the car was hot. We got stuck behind a trailer truck loaded with the late model VWs in front of some car dealership. It got unnerving for both of us because there was no sound from the backseat. I was getting nightmarish images of baby overheating under his blanket or having problems with the sun on his sensitive skin. I opened the window a little but was assaulted with the smell of exhaust, and I thought again of the effect this could have on the little one. By the time we drove into our garage our nerves were a wreck.

Ron handed me the keys to the front door, and I carried up my bag and the lunch, and rushed upstairs to open the doors. He would deal with the car-seat he said. I was upstairs in no time, where I hastily deposited what I was carrying and then looked down from the stairwell window expecting to see Ron with the baby any minute, but he did not show up as quickly as I expected. After a couple of minutes of waiting I got worried and rushed down the steps again to inspect what the problem was. Again the nightmarish scenarios of Ron performing CPR on a suffocating Robert flashed into my brain. I was frantic with worry when I showed up downstairs to see Ron still struggling with the seatbelt around the car-seat. He was so angry and all I could do was rush to his side as he handed me a fully awake Robert and ordered me to go upstairs. He would later describe his experience with the damned car-seat in great detail. When I showed up he was so desperate, he said, he was just about to cut the seatbelt.

Relief was the order of the day as all three of us were finally reunited in the flat. Ron finally managed to free the car-seat without further damages. In the lounge, I saw that Ron had prepared a comfortable armchair for breastfeeding, and set it in the lightest corner of the lounge under the bay windows. I started making use of it immediately; Robert was very thirsty after the hot ride in the car. Meanwhile Ron unpacked lunch and heated it for us, and once again fed me a bite at a time while I was feeding Robert. The baby seemed to have a hard time with his meal. My breasts were the size of bowling balls, and just as hard, and it was such an effort for him to squeeze the nipple into his mouth and get something out. He was howling throughout most of his feed although milk was leaking everywhere. At the time I thought the flow was too much for him to handle.

Robert went to sleep in the car-seat after his afternoon feed, and we retired after that to the dining room, which doubles as our office (computer room). There, I admired the large bunch of flowers on the dining table. It was a beautiful arrangement of yellow, orange and blue flowers; orchids and clivia among others that I cannot name. It took me a few minutes to understand that they were ordered by Robert’s granny and his auntie in Canada. It was such a nice gesture. We made sure to take some photos of Robert with them.

I had lots of email to read and birth announcements to send. I mainly forwarded Robert’s Birth announcement from Medi-Clinic to everyone I knew. The next few days of course I got many congratulations from well-wishers.

I was still on an auto-pilot mode when we came home, and I thought I was over my initial intimidation at handling such a fragile infant. After all, I had changed him a couple of times already at the hospital, and I had the feeding routine down pat. My premature confidence was struck a mortal blow on my maiden attempt at inaugurating the change table in our bathroom. My tiny son was squirming so bad he pushed himself upwards towards the window several times, I kept pulling him towards me, while trying to clean him up; I was all fingers as I tried to wipe up his bum, and his not-yet-fully-healed weenie. In the end he delivered his knock out blow by peeing spectacularly in an arc over his head, enough to make a puddle on the window sill. He was still screaming blue murder by the time I finished. Ron came in after me to clean up the mess.

By late afternoon the day took a turn for the worse weather-wise and Robert got cranky and cried himself to sleep. I had to gulp dinner quickly between feedings and the night was hectic. Ron and I could not get the poor baby to sleep; it seemed that he had lots of gas. We used gripe water which helped some, but still we both had very little sleep as we alternated rocking the crying baby in the cold night. We both hoped this is not the shape of things to come.

Onset of the baby blues

The day started as usual at 05:00 with the tea tray. At the hospital you get a choice of normal tea, rooibos (Red bush tea) or coffee. For the early mornings I just stuck with normal tea. I was hungry as usual. Last night’s dinner of Lasagne left a lot to be desired, and an empty gap in my stomach that had to be filled with a “black cat” chocolate and peanuts bar. This morning my stomach was growling, and I had to grab for the energy bar with my tea, even at this early hour. My hunger was probably due to my hours of wakefulness while nursing. Robert showed more interest in feeding, and I hoped this was going to be a good sign for his future eating habits. I still did not have proper milk, but according to what I read, it will come in on the third day postpartum, which is today.

Today was also the day when boredom with the hospital started to get to me. I was anxious to get out, go home to my own space. I missed Ron, and felt like a prisoner in my hospital room. My attempts at completing the baby jacket I was knitting were futile, there was rarely a moment of quiet peace in this place.

The nurses made their usual rounds, taking blood pressure and temperature, and asking about the bleeding. My gynaecologist showed up again to inspect his handiwork (my incision), and I told everyone that I was anxious to get out of here tomorrow. The lady from catering came in again to ask about the menu for tomorrow, and settled with me ordering only two meals, breakfast and lunch. At the time I figured they will have to chain me to the bed if they wanted me to stay until lunch. But the day hadn’t even begun to take a turn for the worse yet.

Sometime around 08:00 a nurse came into the room and asked me whether I asked for a private room, and when I said no, she informed me that I am going to have company. Suddenly I found myself having only half a room; the curtains were drawn around the other bed near the door and another woman was wheeled in. She was accompanied by her mother and husband or partner, the latter took over the armchair in the middle of the room and I was cut off from the door, this added significantly to my feeling of claustrophobia. I spent the rest of the time trying to distract myself from being an unwilling eavesdropper on conversations, and phone calls. And because of the new arrival I did not get a chance to have a full shower, and made do with a quick sponge bath instead.

When the nurse came with Robert for his first daytime feeding, she told me that they will do a show-bath today, to show me how to bathe baby. I told her it would be nice if we can do it when baby’s dad is also present, she obliged as there was no rush.

Ron showed up just before lunchtime. He had to make his way to me past the curtains and visitors of the other patient. He brightened my day somewhat when he handed me a little package of goodies. As if he knew my trials and tribulations with the hospital food, he had brought me slices of wood-fired pizza from our favourite takeaway, along with a big gold delicious apple. I started immediately to complain to him about the day’s breakfast which consisted of a minute muffin with a sample of jam and a teaspoon of grated cheese. I also announced the demise of my emergency rations. My good husband has really saved me with the pizza. We had our bites of pizza while feeding little Robert, and trying to maintain our privacy from the next patient and her visitors. This day was going to be hard for me I thought and Ron agreed.

Robert was almost done with his meal, when the paediatrician showed up. Ron pointed out to him a largish red spot on the little one’s head. It is a stork-bite, the paediatrician said, and it should go away by itself. These types of spots are common in newborns, and they appear anywhere on the body but especially on the head and around the eyelids (those are called angel kisses), they are immature small veins that eventually fade as the baby grows. I asked him about the baby’s frequent sneezes, and he said that it is also a normal reflex, and baby’s only method of clearing his nose. The spots on his face are also normal and no reason for worry, as well as the little yellowish discharge from his left eye. He said that the eye should clear by itself, once the tear ducts are open. He would only prescribe antibiotic drops if there is a sign of infection such as redness, and swelling of the eye. It was good to know that Robert was perfectly normal, especially that today he has this operation to look forward to. The paediatrician said that he will check on him sometime this afternoon after the circumcision.

Lunchtime came and went; they served Chicken a la king with grated carrot salad with raisins. I found the salad interesting because it was dressed with orange instead of lemon juice. Ron shared a few bites of lunch with me, and then the coffee after lunch. It was the first time I had coffee at the hospital, and I must say that it tasted suspiciously like our famous brand of coffee-chicory blend.

We were informed that Dr. K. was running a late with a series of other circumcisions. Apparently he also has a number of cases that come into his practice as outpatients. Ron and I decided to go ahead to the nursery and take a look at the baby bath.
We wheeled Robert’s crib into the nursery. I should mention here that the nursery cribs all look like clear plastic tubs that are lined with mattresses, and they actually double up as bathtubs for babies. The bottom part of the trolley is full of baby stuff: Diapers, lotions, rubbing alcohol, Vaseline, cotton, cleanser, baby powder, a small changing mat and even a baby bag. All these things are given to parents when the baby is discharged from the nursery. There are no clothing items in the bag of goodies, but there are two cotton hats that will come in very handy to us. One of those hats is the little white hat Robert wore a few minutes after his birth.

The motherly nurse who bathed baby was very sweet, when Robert cried protesting at being stripped naked, she spoke to him soothingly: “Oh, we know it is cold, but we are going to give you a very nice bath… Don’t worry”. The bathing demonstration was very slow and deliberate for the benefit of the ignoramus parents (in this case myself and Ron – although Ron might have some edge on me in experience). First washing the eyes and ears, then the head, and lastly dipping baby’s body in the warm water. Robert was very slippery to the touch and trying to hold him was quite difficult, I don’t know how I would manage this at home.

By the time we finished the demonstration it was past two in the afternoon, Robert was fed, clean and very happy, and still no sign of Dr. K. Ron and I decided to leave Robert in the nursery and go for a walk. We walked around the terraces, looked over at Table Mountain on one side of the ward, then over to the terrace of the adjacent wing overlooking the city bowl. We talked about the wonder of being parents, and I had tears in my eyes when I spoke of my growing love for the little one. I think both Ron and I were still in awe. When we went back to the maternity ward there was still no sign of Dr. K, so we walked down to the ground floor and to the wings where the doctor rooms are located. On our way back we were told by one of the staff that Dr. K was looking for us, and we had to hurry up the steps to the maternity ward on the third floor.

Dr. K was waiting in the nursery, where he was going to perform the operation. He showed us the instrument he was going to use, a cylindrical widget around which the foreskin would be pulled and clamped. He also showed another medieval-looking instrument he called the Jewish harp; a blade which looks like the instrument, and has a vertical notch right down its centre. He said that it is used in the ritual Jewish circumcision. I did not take much of that in; I was beginning to get worried and fearful about the whole thing. It looked like this is going to hurt my baby, and hurt him bad. Ron had many questions to ask and seemed satisfied with the answers. Dr. K. was matter of fact about the whole thing, he said that circumcision is performed routinely in North America (80% of males are circumcised if you can believe him) and there are many arguments for it, and probably just as many against it. But in the end it is a cosmetic operation, I now tend to agree with this last statement.

Everything was finally ready. And after making sure he had the sterile pack he was going to use (there was lots of confusion about the number of sterile instrument packs he used today), Dr K. and Sister T took positions by the crib. Dr. K asked us to leave him to it and have a cup of coffee or something while he finishes. He said that it is highly emotional for parents to watch the operation. He had done only one operation in the presence of the parents and it put him under so much pressure that he would never do it again. I was running to the door myself, but Ron needed this final argument to be convinced.

We went out again toward the terraces. My melancholy increased tenfold; I was on the verge of tears and I could not understand why. I hoped that I was doing the right thing for my son. I don’t know how much time we spent outside, it was another sunny day, but I had no eyes for the beautiful weather. We went back to my room and waited, and soon enough Dr. K. showed up. He said all went well, and that Robert was good. He gave us some advice about caring for the circumcised penis. We should keep sterile gauze and Vaseline around it until it heals. No washing with water before the wound completely heals. Do you want this? He asked and showed a piece of bloody tissue wrapped in plastic and gauze. At the sight I think Ron and I both blanched. It was a little piece of human flesh, a little piece of our baby, and it was bloodied. Ron said later that seeing it made him realise that the operation is more barbaric than it is made out to be. Dr. K said that Muslim parents bury the piece of foreskin; I simply wanted it out of my sight. I wanted to forget about it.
We went to see to little Robert in the nursery, he did not look to bad, although we did not have the heart to look at his parts, yet.

Ron left shortly after that and the full measure of my desolation kicked in. I walked again to the terrace overlooking Table Mountain and bawled my eyes out. Sister T met me as I was walking back into the lobby; she asked whether I was okay. I started babbling something about how much I love my baby and how much it hurt me to cause him pain. Tears flowed like a waterfall, while the kindly woman just held me and let me cry on her shoulder for a minute. You have got the blues, she said. It is all your hormones coming back and it is hard, I know it, I have been there. It took me a couple of minute to realise that I had to get a grip. I will be okay, I said. I just need a breath of fresh air, and I will be fine. It is okay, she said, you needed to let it go, but if you still feel sad and depressed let us no, we do not want you to go into post-natal depression. At the mention of the word “depression” my back stiffened, and I thought, no way, I won’t let myself sink into THAT! I walked outside took deep a few deep breaths of spring air, and decided that the worst was over, for me and for Robert. There was no point in moping; I needed to focus on the future. I am a very lucky woman; lucky to have a beautiful healthy child and a wonderful husband. My family has a wonderful future ahead, and I should only be grateful. With that in mind I walked back to the ward, past the same nurses who eyed me warily after my emotional outburst, but I responded with a smile and announced that I was feeling much better.

In my now divided room I sat a little on the bed and read in my baby book. The Paediatrician came and assured me that Robert is okay. His penis looks fine, he said, and he is now asleep. He had prescribed some Panado drops for him should he be in pain later today. I told him that I took a little bit of strain on my son’s behalf; he must have seen that, because my eyes looked awfully red and puffy.

In the end Robert behaved better than I did and woke up promptly for feeding in the early evening. He was nodding off to sleep in his bassinet when the visitors for the woman in the next bed started arriving. First it was the mother and the partner whom I saw earlier today, and then there were other family members and friends. Soon enough the room was full and people were starting to drift over towards my side of the room. Little eyes peered at me from behind the drawn curtains. After some time I found that I could not handle it anymore, my senses were bruised enough as it is today, and I did not think I should stay in this hubbub any longer. The next door festivities were evolving into a full-fledged oriental bazaar – or so it sounded to me at the time.

I wheeled out Rob’s bassinet between the jostling crowds of visitor and headed towards the nursery. I don’t think I was very coherent when I tried to explain my predicament to the nursery staff. One nurse thought it strange that I am bringing the baby back to the nursery while family is visiting, and I had to explain to her time and again that it was not my family who is visiting, but that of my roommate. Once however they looked across towards the corridor they immediately understood as the visitors have already spilled into the hallway and were queuing to view the newborn baby-girl. In the end, I was given a chair in front of the television, and one of the nurses switched the channel to some entertainment program. In my state of mind though I could not care less what was on. I just nodded off in the armchair in front of the television. When I got up half an hour later I was happy to find out that visiting hours were over.

I returned to the room alone as Robert was still sleeping, and was greeted back by my roommate, who apologized for the number of her visitors. I told her that of course she could not help that she comes from a big family who came from all over the peninsula to congratulate her on her first child. In truth, the woman was alright, and kept to herself for the rest of the night, nursing her child and her various aches and pains (she was also a c-section case). The rest of the night was quiet, punctuated only by the muted sounds of the television, which I could hear from her headphones, and her quiet conversations on the cell phone with the father of her baby and other relatives.

The only entertainment that I had to look forward to was dinner, which was waiting for me forlornly on the bed tray; A single baked potato with cheese and some nondescript salad. I was glad I still had the big apple Ron brought me this morning, which I devoured immediately. I was ripe and ready to go home.

During this evening, my milk came in. My breasts were engorged and sore and I waited for the breastfeeding sessions more anxiously than ever. Robert’s enthusiastic nursing relieved some of the pain and I spent most of the night going hot and cold with the onrush of milk. The nurses however assured me that this was normal, and all I had to do was wait for the supply to diminish gradually and become more or less equal to the demand.

Day One – Mobile again

The day started as early as 05:00 am, tea was brought in and a couple of nurses came in. In quick and efficient moves they removed the drip and the catheter. They took away the padding that protected the mattress from underneath me and the loose pads which couldn’t be kept in place and gave me disposable underwear and yet more pads.

Throughout the last night they must have given me two suppositories, and two doses of pain tablets. My main concern however was, being knocked out and missing out on Robert’s feeding time. I needn’t have worried; the nursery staff brought the little one in every three hours and ordered me to feed him. It was hard lying there in bed with limited range of movement; I kind of managed with the bed lifted somewhere between sitting and lying positions. Robert and I had mixed results in those two or three nursing sessions. He took to the breast and latched one time, and could not be tempted at all on another. The nurses were helpful and patient, and never left me before they made sure the feeding was successful. When Robert went on sucking strike, the kindly nurse squeezed some colustrum and spoon-fed him. Some of these kindly nurses are born for the job, they spoke to the infant and cajoled and soothed him, almost managed to put his drugged mother to sleep in the process.

But even with all this going on the night passed slowly, I could not sleep much. When Robert was not in I read a little in my baby book (What to Expect: The First Year) and then in another boring and verbose piece of literature that I fished out of my read-and-discard bookshelf. I chose it because I thought it would put me to sleep. When all of this failed, I just lay there looking out the window, the night was clear and the full moon was shining through; I kept thinking how wonderful it is, to be alive, to be a mother, and to have a beautiful and healthy baby.

When the nurses came to set me free out of bedridden confinement, they explained to me that I will be able to have a shower. Waooo, what a bonus, and here I was thinking that I will have to do with sponge baths for at least a week. I was champing at the bit to get started. However they needed first to have further preparation and inspection to the wound, and I wanted to hear this verdict from my doctor’s mouth. My incision was sprayed with what they claimed to be a plastic spray (?) and I was asked to move from the bed to the chair. It went kind of clumsy because I still had to pull myself up with my arms rather than stomach muscles, but still I managed to do it and sat on the chair, where they took my blood pressure and temperature for the n’th time. I was also anxious to see little Robert and maybe try to feed him, because I was not convinced that the few little drops of colostrum were enough sustenance for the little fellow. I was ready to walk up to the nursery when a nurse pointed out kindly that I was wearing my hospital gown, and there might be some blood on it. Of course she meant to say that half my butt was clearly visible through the back of the gown and the flimsy disposable underwear, so I wisely chose to abort the attempt, especially since they told me they will bring the baby for feeding later.

In the meantime I decided to wash my face, clean up and change, to be ready for my son. I discarded that awful gown and got back into my track-suit pants and vest (the outfit I was wearing to the hospital) the pants are only a little loose now because I still have a 6-month pregnant tummy. I was just done with brushing my teeth when my gynaecologist showed up. In his usual nonchalant joking manner he boomed: Oh you’re looking good. You look ready for another one already.. Tonight? No definitely not tonight, I laughed. He checked up on the wound and declared it in excellent healing condition, and confirmed that I can shower (and even bath) if I wanted to. So I went into the shower immediately after he left. Boy it felt good, to have my own clothes on, and be nice and clean.

When Robert was brought from the nursery I breastfed him in the armchair between the two beds. People continued to drift in and out; I had a breakfast of omelet and mushroom in between feedings, and the nurses kept on showing up at regular intervals, now however, instead of poking me to check me up, they asked me, how’s the bleeding, how’s the wound etc. In contrast to the boisterous entry of my gynecologist, the pediatrician came in very quietly and reported in a gentle voice that he checked on Robert, and everything is fine. I asked him that I was not too sure about him feeding but he assured me that he looks good, and made a poo already. It means that he is getting something.

As in previous days lots of decisions to make, ranging between the trivial and the very important. Firstly there was a survey to fill, a customer (or patient) relations person, making a courtesy call, forms to be filled for including Robert on Medi-Clinic’s webpage, and birth certificate forms to be filled. Then there was the question “to circumcise or not to circumcise”. In our previous conversations I already told Ron that I would like our son to be circumcised. I was born into a Muslim society, where circumcision is the norm, and I believe that almost all newborns are circumcised in my country of origin, regardless of their religious background. There are almost no uncircumcised males in that part of the world. Ron is also somewhat used to the idea, because the procedure is done almost routinely in North America (60% of newborn males are circumcised), and it was even more common for babies of the baby boomer generation. Still it was one of the subjects that we did not really want to talk about, a difficult decision, like finding a name for a male child. We delayed making a definite decision about it, because there was a 50% chance that we will not have to. But now it was time to make that decision. I spoke to the pediatrician and the gynecologist about getting our son circumcised while we were still at the hospital, and they promised to organize it.

The next person I met was obviously related to this issue, the secretary in the office of Dr. K, Specialist Surgeon according to his card. She explained the cost of the procedure, which our medical aid does not pay for incidentally; it was a little bit more than I expected. She said that Dr. K. will perform the operation tomorrow at noon. So that was settled but, all good intentions not withstanding, Ron and I still have our mixed feelings about the whole thing. I also saw B the breastfeeding consultant. She makes a daily round at nine on all new mothers and answers questions relating to breastfeeding and gives advice for problematic issues of latching, pain during nursing and other things. She gave me a few pointers and assured me that baby will gradually become more interested in nursing by the time the real milk comes in, which should be sometime tomorrow afternoon. Until then I should feed him the colostrum on the schedule set by the nursery, because he does not feel hungry or thirsty yet.

Ron arrived around 11:00, he was wearing a gray shirt, and looked freshly shaven and handsome, albeit somewhat tired. He gave me a quick report about the pictures, the emails he sent to friends and family, and their reactions to Robbie’s arrival. The only message I was able to send yesterday was an SMS to all friends and family, in South Africa and abroad. I got to look at the reply messages on my cell phone which Ron took with him home (to download the pictures from the cell phone camera). Robert was brought in for another feeding session a little bit after that. I nursed him again sitting on the big armchair in the center of the room. Ron took more pictures of us.
We stayed together until lunch, where dad was invited to join us. The steak was good, although a little chewy, but still the pepper sauce was excellent. Along with the steak we had potato salad which was also good. Ron said the food was great, and I agreed with him this time. After my dismal dinner last night, and my very small breakfast I was hungry; I was ready to wolf down one of the emergency chocolate and energy bars which Ron stuck in my overnight bag while I was not looking. This lunch was a welcome change, and redeemed my flagging belief in my ability to survive on hospital food. Because our lunch coincided with Robert’s, dad had to feed mom bites of steak while she was breastfeeding junior. It was funny.
After this family lunch we took Robert back to the nursery and Ron encouraged me to take a walk around the hospital. There are a number of roof terraces and balconies around the hospital wings. The roof terrace closest to my ward overlooks Table Mountain. In the ward across the lobby there is a balcony overlooking the city bowl, very dusty and dirty. Ron and I relaxed outside in the warm spring sun, reflecting on our amazement at this new miracle in our life, and how much we love the little one already. It still brings tears to my eyes when I contemplate the truth that I realized on this day: I would gladly give my life for little Robert. Ron felt exactly the same.
During the course of the afternoon I still got many SMS messages from friends in Cape Town. Jackie had SMS’ed me yesterday to ask whether she can come visit, but I advised her to come on the next day, since I was not exactly a sight for sore eyes, incapacitated for the day and hooked up to needles and tubes. Today she SMS’ed saying that she will come sometime after work. Ron left by late afternoon. He still has lots of things to do, and the house to look after. These days he was also working with our landlord to fit double glass on the bedroom window. We requested it to cut down on the terrible noise from our street. We still had no idea how Robert will react to our noisy apartment, but it is safe to assume that he will be used to it, since he got to listen to the den of traffic while he was still in the womb.

Jackie and boyfriend Mark, along with Jason and his fiancée Fiona came to visit sometime in the evening. Jackie brought the little one some clothes that he will be able to wear at six months, while Jason and Fiona brought us flowers, and a teddy bear for little Robert. At this time the teddy bear is still bigger than its new owner. We chatted a little bit about childbirth, circumcision, etc. Jason and Fiona are getting married sometime next year, so obviously starting a family is something that they are looking forward to, and have many questions about. Everyone agreed that my little angel is cute and adorable; of course I cannot give an impartial opinion on that one. I think he is the most precious little one ever. Before they left I managed to change Robert’s diapers for the first time, and take a look at the diaper surprise, which tonight consisted of the tarry meconium poo, and quite a lot of it. It is very sticky and difficult to wipe off.

The day was a beautiful warm spring day, and so was the night. Robert showed more interest in feeding, and I did not have much sleep. Every few hours I awoke shortly before he was brought up to me for feeding, I walked around in the room looked out the window towards the full moon shining brightly over Lion’s Head, I remember feeling so alive and happy. I was still high on adrenaline. Robert sucked for hours. The nurses were happy with the way he is feeding and it seemed that I was doing it right.


The day before Robert arrived was a Sunday, and my day off work. I joked with my colleagues that it will be my last day off before I start my new job for life. Surely, this is no joke, it is a reality.
We went out for breakfast to a restaurant on Kloof Street in town, and Ron said that we could have almost done the breakfast thing on Monday, since Arnold’s is so close to Cape Town Medi-Clinic.
Sunday was a spring day, the kind of Cape Town day where you cannot very well decide whether to keep the sweater on and off. The setting though was perfect, breakfast with a view of Table Mountain. I had two very nice Cappuccinos, along with a breakfast of egg and sausage while Ron treated himself to a savoury croissant with brie and peppadew (a small very sweet red pepper that is used often as a piquant condiment here in South Africa). After breakfast we went on to the V&A Waterfront where we just strolled around the harbour, and then browsed at the bookshop. I wondered briefly whether I will ever be able to leisurely shop for books again, Ron suggested that I start buying kiddies books. I thought it would be hard to buy a book now for a child we haven’t met yet.

The afternoon we spent at home, Ron read the Sunday paper while I tried to complete my knitting of baby’s jacket, in white and blue. No pinks for this baby even if it is a girl. At the end of the day I washed my hair and went to bed, even on this momentous night, my last night with baby in the tummy, I slept reasonably well. By morning the hole on my side of the bed was its usual size and shape, and we crawled (baby and I) out of bed for our morning walk. It is quite surreal to know that this is it… And the next time we hit the promenade we will have baby with us in the carrier or the buggy.
Ron bought the newspaper for the day, to save for baby. It is a family tradition he learned from his late father I think.
Baby will wonder in later year about the strange news in his birthday paper, the most sensational stuff is usually some or other corrupt politician. Under the spotlight at this time is our Health Minister, famous for her revolutionary ideas in the treatment of HIV AIDS (the use of beetroot, garlic and African potatoes instead of the anti retrovirals- for which she earned her nickname Dr. Beetroot). This time she is accused of Alcoholism and kleptomania to add to her other many virtues.

I was due to arrive in hospital at 12:30 and my operation was scheduled for 14:30.
I prepared myself a hearty breakfast of oats and yoghurt, since god knows when I will be eating again. After my shower I insisted on taking a pose in front of Ron’s camera for my official preggie belly pictures. I went for the beach look and luckily the sun obliged.
Registering at the hospital went quickly enough and a porter carried my hospital overnight bag and escorted us into the maternity ward, I was assigned bed H21. I had a general ward room with two beds, but at the time I was its only occupant. Chains and jewellery off; track suit pants and vest off; on with the surgical gown, a ridiculously small thing, its fastenings keep a huge portion of the back visible. I kind of wondered how a hefty person would ever fit into this sort of thing.
I was ready, and then there was the indefinite wait… nobody tells us anything, we just stay put in the room, watching people come in with new linen and towels. One of the catering staff came to ask me for my menu choices for tomorrow, so many irrelevant decisions to make: tea or coffee, veggies or salad. Which meal would Ron like to share with me? She asked. The choice looked better for lunch tomorrow (steak rather than fish), and besides I thought hospital dinner wouldn’t be enough pickings to stick to Ron’s ribs. The time 14:30 comes and passes.
But suddenly things start to move quickly, a nurse comes into the room and asks me to lie on the bed and the whole bed is wheeled out of the room and into the theatre elevator. Once we reach the theatre level, I am wheeled into a preparation area, while Ron is whisked away somewhere to be ‘prepared’ in his surgical outfit. The time is closer to three than two thirty.
In the preparation area I see a middle aged woman sitting in wheelchair, looked like she was also waiting for some surgical procedure.
Ron shows up in a green hospital scrub, boy I must admit he looked good in the outfit, I wanted to take his picture, but never got around to it.
Someone comes into the room and asks: “which of you is having the baby?” the older woman smiles and says: “not me, I had my time”.
A grey-haired surgeon peers over my head; he looks familiar, with kindly brown eyes and Middle Eastern features. I would have guessed him to be of Greek origin.
He introduces himself as the anaesthetist, the guy who is going to help me experience the delivery without feeling the pain. At some other point my Gynaecologist arrives, and introduces me to his wife Lynn who will assist him. I knew she was a doctor, but I never thought she took part in surgeries! There was also the Paediatrician, a man with clean and innocent looking features, and a soft voice. Babies must love that I think to myself. The last person I remember from the crowd, is a heavy-set nurse with round glasses, she is the recovery nurse she says.
Later Ron would say that there were at least seven other people hovering in the background and attending to different parts of the process.

My friend Britt who has two daughters, both born by c-section, described the procedure to me at length and I also read about it. But watching a movie or hearing a second hand account is never the same as the actual experience.
According to the literature I read: A long needle is inserted into the spine and kept there to administer medication that will numb the uterus and lower body within ten minutes, enabling the obstetrician to make the incision of the c-section, take baby out, clean out the whole uterus and close it up with very little discomfort to the mother.
I am only supposed to feel a sensation of tugging to the skin, and rummaging through the innards.
Only some of this went as I expected. My hospital bed was brought alongside the operating table, and I was helped to move to the operating surface. The recovery nurse must have been the one who hooked me up to the drip and the various beeping and bleeping instruments, she keeps me facing her and looking into her eyes while the anaesthetist jabs the long needle into my back. Ron is watching him do this, it seems to me that he tries several times before he finally gets what he wanted. I do have some sensation, very much like a needle jab.
The anaesthetist explains to me that I am going to feel heat in my legs, and he is right. heat flashes run down my legs, very strange. At the same time I think I get a catheter inserted, which I do not feel, much. Obstetrician and anaesthetist start pouring many types of liquids over my lower body and legs while asking me whether this or that feels cold, testing my sensation of the area I assume, and doing something else as well in the meantime, who knows what.
My surgery gown is yanked up over a bar mounted above the operating table at a level near my chest, this is the screen that I read about in medical literature, to prevent me from peeking while my insides are poked, I think to myself.
Many more questions from the doctor and the anaesthetists, yes I do still have some sensation, but I am not quite sure what they are doing. To me it still feels like pouring drops of water. Another sensation follows; the anaesthetist asks whether I felt him pinching me, I did, but he said he pinched quite hard, what I felt was not exactly painful.
Ten minutes must have passed already, the obstetrician and his wife are right in position and I hear something. Ron asks whether I feel ‘unzipped’ it sounds and feels like somebody ripping two pieces of cloth apart at the seams, but it is not really painful. I have no idea what is happening, the next thing I feel is tugging, and it does hurt, it is like somebody pulling at my outer skin quite hard. I start to feel faint and the beeps of the instruments take a threatening dimension in my head. This must be my heart monitor I register in panic, I am going to pass out. The anaesthetist hovers above me, are you okay, he says, I am giving you some oxygen. A small clear mask is pulled over my nose and I breathe, the faintness and nausea are kept at bay. I hear Ron’s voice saying something, but the action has suddenly moved away from me. They show me a little grease-covered infant over the screen, definitely a boy as I felt all along. The sight of him takes the edge off my panic for a second, but I am still struggling at the brink of consciousness. The bleeps are going erratically fast then slow again, people around me are moving at a frantic pace, and I have no clue whether this is normal, or the prelude to disaster.
The next thing I hear is the soft voice of the paediatrician, as he hands me a bundle wrapped in a towel, a small face peers at me under a white hat. “Here is your Son” the man says, and I feel like I am in some kind of a dream. The clock in the theatre shows around 15:20.
This must have been happening while my doctor and his wife were still putting me together, but I do not remember any more pain.
The experience I relate here is part recollection and part reconstruction from the excellent pictures Ron took. Knowing that he was there was a great comfort to me, and I do appreciate how strong he is.

What happens next is exactly by the book, I got to hold little Robert while in recovery and then I was wheeled up to the room. At this point I was ‘paralyzed’ from the waist down, and while I inched myself to the operating table by my own strength, I was hefted by the anaesthetist and the recovery nurse from back to the bed.
Pain would come in later, but it was only a minor detail. The focus was now on Robert, getting to look at him, learning to nurse him in my incapacitated state, and trying to get to grips with a whole new reality. I have become a mother to this tiny little infant. At around seven or eight in the evening I decided to ask for something to eat, I was not hungry, but I thought the last time I ate was twelve hours ago, and the food I though would keep me occupied for some time and take my mind of the nagging pains. When it came dinner turned out to be a slim slice of bland fish, with two teaspoons of rice and some type of non-descript salad I can hardly remember. Three days in this place and I will starve to death, I thought to myself.

I do not remember a lot about this first night, but I know I drank a lot of water. I must have asked for two jugs of water during the night.
Hardly any sleep with people coming in and out every so often, checking the drip, the catheter bag, blood pressure and temperature.
At regular intervals I kept hearing this beep, and every time it happened my feeling-less leg would stiffen. It took me some time to realize that I had been put on automatic blood pressure monitoring. Every hour or so the monitor would start up and tighten the blood pressure cuff around my ankle. The nurses came in at regular intervals to check the measures, and at some point woke me up to ask whether I am okay (no joking).
Throughout the night they brought Robert to me from the nursery at least twice, pain medication kept me drowsy, and the sensation slowly started to return gradually to my legs. I remember at some point concentrating very hard and looking at the legs to make them move. Early in the next morning though I was able to pull my knee up and extend the leg again.