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.


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.