I should have known it would happen this way.
On Friday evening, 15th September, I was sitting in our garden as the sun set, reading My Absolute Darling when I started feeling gentle waves of pain. I started timing the waves of my phone and speed reading my book - if this was labour, I didn't want to miss the ending!
I began labour with characteristic self-doubt and over-thinking.
"This probably isn't labour," I said to Rhys, while steadying myself against the kitchen counter. I insisted on making my mother's famous baked tomato spaghetti, we watched X-Factor and let the midwife and my doula know. Judging by the timing and length of the contractions, it was still early labour, so they encouraged me to get some sleep and call them again in the morning.
Nobody tells you about the excess of time you get in labour. Although you are in pain, life goes on. I finished My Absolute Darling, I mucked around on Facebook, I checked my mail. There was a new mail from my wonderful UK agent Sarah Manning - Bonnier Zaffre had made an offer! Suddenly, after months of waiting, both the book and the baby were making their plans to enter the world at once.
I woke up at 4am the next morning, clutching my pregnancy pillow with the strength of the contractions. From then onwards, time shattered into fragments of memory:
- Walking through the streets of Melville, trying to progress labour.
-Driving past the Johannesburg Zoo and over countless speedhumps, while I kneeled on the backseat, breathing through the pain.
- The nurse at the hospital giving me a menu and asking me to choose my breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of my stay.
-Rhys and I walking up and down the car park of the hospital, again, trying to progress labour. That day will always be composed of hundreds of small vignettes that remind me of how much I love him, and how he loves me.
Many women speak about entering this fuzzy world where they are dissociated, between worlds. I longer for that during labour but it never happened to me. I was all too present, and too self-conscious of the hours ticking by and still no baby. The pain was nothing compared to the mental agony of doubting myself and my body. I tried everything: yoga poses, walking, submerging myself in water, but the baby stayed put.
Finally, after 24 hours of unmedicated labour, the midwife took his heart rate and a little alarm sounded. My beautiful boy was in distress. I could have persisted (my pride would have liked that) but my instincts said he was too tired to go on. I asked for a C-section and immediately, his heart rate dropped back to normal.
The second best moment of the evening was when my morphine kicked in - throughout the operation I kept telling Rhys how NICE I felt. But the best moment of all was when I saw Zach's little body for the first time. The relief of knowing he was safe was indescribable. The love that filled every second as Rhys and I held him and soothed his cries for the first time, incomparable. I didn't sleep that night, I just stared at my beautiful, perfect son. No night will ever be so magically raw.
One month later and the fragmented pieces of myself are finding themselves again. I am a mother. I am a writer. Even as the book deal was finalised, as I went through the edits and as I looked at the dates for publication, it was difficult to reconcile the two. Early motherhood is more physical than I could have ever imagined - the intellectual felt like a conversation happening in another room. But slowly, day by day and hour by hour, time has expanded. I have been able to edit and feel proud of the book I have written. During pregnancy and writing, I saw a healthy baby and an international book deal as a conclusion, a successful ending of a journey, but really it is only the beginning.