I think I have worked out why I dislike New Year’s Eve so much. It’s taken me a while but the penny’s finally dropped, the light’s gone on, realization has dawned (fill in the appropriate hackneyed saying here). 13 years ago on New Year’s Eve, I was on holiday in Zinkwazi on the north coast of KZN with the husband and the son. I was also 10 weeks pregnant with my second child. The child that was never to be. Because during the day on New Year’s Eve I started spotting. Except it was heavier than spotting. I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t have the dramatic cramps so beloved of TV soapies. Yes, I have written a few of those scenes myself – no judgies.
I just had this heavy, heavy feeling of foreboding and I couldn’t stop the bleeding. However, we had plans to go to a party at a friend’s house in Ballito, so I tried valiantly to pretend everything was going to be okay and off we toddled to the party. Where I kept rushing to the loo every five seconds to check if the bleeding had stopped. It hadn’t. I don’t remember much about the party, which is strange considering I wasn’t shitfaced like 99.9% of the guests. In fact, I didn’t have anything to drink at all. I just remember pasting a smile on my face and pretending to be having a good time when all I wanted to do was leave. As the fireworks cascaded over the Indian ocean on that hot, humid summer’s night, all I could think was ‘please let this be a bad dream’.
New Year’s day dawned and the bleeding hadn’t stopped. I knew that there was not going to be any sittingboltupright to indicate that a character has just had a bad dream. Nope, this was only too real. I sat down on the bed in the rented house and began to weep. My little son who was two and a half at the time came and patted my hand “don’t cry, momma” he said. The details are hazy but I think we phoned a good friend – someone my husband had known since he was tiny, they went to school together, he was the groomsman at our wedding. He gave us the name of his wife’s gynaecologist.
I arrived there and within a few minutes was given a transvaginal scan. So bizarre to meet someone and then moments later have them insert something into your vagina whilst having a chat about how your Christmas was. He only confirmed what I already knew. The foetus was not properly developed, the sac was malformed etc…I would have to have a D&C. And because I had had a cup of tea that morning, we would have to wait a few hours before I could be put under.
Me *trying to make polite conversation*: What a way to spend New Year’s Day, eh?
The gynae *not amused*: it’s hardly as if this is pleasant for any of us. I’m supposed to be at a family lunch.
He seemed highly irritated that I had chosen such an inconvenient time to have a miscarriage. I didn’t like to point out that it was inconvenient for me too, letting go of this child that was due on the 31st July (same day as my BFF’s birthday). This child I thought was a boy, a younger brother for my son. That what I thought would be a household of fiery Leos was no more, that the kids would now not have that perfect three year gap everyone recommended. I would’ve liked to have whipped the scanning wand out of me and slapped him across the face with it.
It’s funny the little details you remember. I knew I would need some proper granny pants for all the bleeding after the surgery but being New Year’s Day, all the shops were closed (even Woolies!) So I ended up getting underpants from the afore-mentioned friend of the husband – his wife offered me her knickers but she’s a tiny creature - her granny knickers would’ve been like a g-string on me. The surgery itself was uneventful, as I was coming around they asked me if they could get me anything.
Me: yes, please. A gin and tonic.
They discharged me as soon as I was relatively compos mentis.
My bravado lasted until the evening when I keeled over in the bathroom. I came to on the blue bath mat wondering where the hell I was. I was alone, everyone else had gone to bed. I had to wait until I was strong enough to crawl to bed. I also had the most hideous cramps after the surgery and the bleeding was horribly reminiscent of those first few weeks after giving birth. The saddest part was seeing a little piece of the umbilical cord on the sanitary towel. Emotionally I was a wreck. Every new baby I saw would set off fresh tears, I didn’t want to be around people who were pregnant. It wasn’t a pleasant time. And yet, in this country where there is so much suffering, a miscarriage is a small sorrow. One in every four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage.
Luckily for me I fell pregnant quite soon after. But I was completely paranoid, we didn’t tell anyone, and at eleven weeks I drove myself to the hospital to have a scan, because if there was something wrong I wanted to check myself in for a D&C immediately. But the baby was jumping around like a little frog and seemed extremely healthy. Still, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. Finally, at sixteen weeks I was getting so large and my MIL was getting highly irritated as to why we wouldn’t commit to plans for Christmas and eventually we came clean with everyone.
Me: we have some news. I’m four months pregnant!
My BFF’s husband: Oh, thank God, I just thought you were getting really, really fat.
I would’ve liked three kids but it obviously wasn’t meant to be. I talk to the kids sometimes about the baby that never was, who we’ve called “Henry” for some reason.
The son *looking dismissively at his sister*: he’s the brother I never had.
The daughter *pointedly*: it would be great to have another brother. A NICE brother.
The daughter was less keen on Henry when she discovered that if had been born, she wouldn’t exist.
However, Henry does exist. But only in a book. I’ve named a character in my latest novel after him.
Writing this piece reminded me of one of my favourite poems…
Small Passing- Ingrid de Kok
For a woman whose baby died stillborn, and who was told by a man to stop mourning, ‘because the trials and horrors suffered daily by black women in this country are more significant than the loss of one white child’
In this country you may not
Suffer the death of your stillborn,
remember the last push into shadow and silence,
The useless wires and cords on your stomach,
the nurse’s face, the walls, the afterbirth in a basin.
Do not touch your breasts
still full of purpose.
Do not circle the house,
pack, unpack the small clothes.
Do not lie awake at night hearing
the doctor say ‘It was just as well’
and ‘You can have another’
In this country you may not
mourn small passings.
See: the newspaper boy in the rain
will sleep tonight in the doorway.
The woman in the busline
may next month be on a train
to a place not her own.
The baby in the backyard now
will be sent to a tired aunt,
grow chubby, then lean,
return a stranger.
Mandela’s daughter tried to find her father
through the glass. She thought they’d let her touch him.
And this woman’s hands are so heavy when she dusts
the photographs of other children
they fall to the floor and break.
Clumsy woman, she moves so slowly
as if in a funeral rite.
On the pavements the nannies meet.
These are legal gatherings.
They talk about everything,about home,
while the children play among them,
their skins like litmus, their bonnets clean.
Small wrist in the grave.
Baby no one carried live
between houses, among trees.
Child shot running,
stones in his pocket,
boy’s swollen stomach
full of hungry air.
Girls carrying babies
not much smaller than themselves.
Erosion. Soil washed down to sea.
I think these mothers dream
headstones of the unborn.
Their mourning rises like a wall
no vine will cling to.
They will not tell you your suffering is white.
They will not say it is just as well.
They will not compete for the ashes of infants.
I think they will say to you:
Come with us to the place of mothers.
We will stroke your flat empty belly,
let you weep with us in the dark,
and arm you with one of our babies
to carry home on your back.
Ps…a friend pointed out that I may not have the three children I always wanted but what I do have is the privilege of being involved in the life of my childminder’s daughter. In a sense, she is the third child in my life J