23 September 2018
Part 11 – Save the Whale, Please?
At the end of Part 10 the honeymoon ended, as do all good things. In real life, I returned to my new home with Shafiq in Bosmont feeling ill. I beseeched the doctor to check my health as I thought I had contracted some weird honeymoon disease. Turned out I had. It was called pregnancy. I walked out of the doctor’s rooms in a state of shock. How could a honeymoon cause this severe condition? It was the furthest thing from my mind. I was told by a doctor a few years before that I would have difficulty conceiving and I had every reason to believe it, as I had never befallen this condition before, through one and a half marriages, despite not having used any modern precautionary pills, potions or devices. I always thought I’d have to consult a specialist of sort for help in that area when the time was right. I needed to get to know my new husband and enjoy being a newly-wed but found myself knocked-up. I was in zombie mode when I broke the news to Shafiq on the phone. He sounded surprised, somewhat pleased but also a bit stunned. I was about 5 weeks along, so it places us somewhere on the Garden route at the time of the commission of the offence.
We both thought we’d spend some time getting to know each other better before thinking about children. I had also resolved to go back into law again. My plans were overtaken by higher order plans and I found myself doing pupillage to be an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar, with a growing belly and constant nausea. Shafiq on the other hand found himself having to deal with a brand-new wife, with full-on raging hormones at the beginning of a new marriage, all of which were completely foreign to him. If I was filled with expectations of him before we married, they were now multiplied. To make matters worse, my pregnancy was not covered by Shafiq’s medical aid and I was unemployed, since pupillage yielded no income, unlike articles in the attorney’s profession. I had to rely on Provincial health care and at least once a month my time was spent waiting from 6.am to 10.am on a hard bench at Coronation Hospital in the suburb of Newclare (which had become known as the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital), waiting to see a doctor. This was the hospital at which I had my appendicitis removed at the age of 10 and endured the most abrupt unsympathetic nurses, having cried every night for my mom to take me home. Twenty years later, it seemed like nothing had changed on that score. I had the privilege of contracting gestational diabetes, which was a familial gift, and needed constant monitoring and dietary constraints during my pregnancy, which oddly did nothing to stop my rapid expansion. I was also blessed to encounter the ‘re-incarnated’ hardened nurses who jeered at me when I said I tried to confirm my diabetic diagnosis by getting a second opinion from a GP. “Sister!”, one of the nurses, who had a large matronly frame and look about her, shouted to another a rather pretty- looking nurse, with short hair and the threat of a smile. “This one went to go and get another test done”.
“My father died from diabetic complications” I explained defensively, sensing that the situation was becoming tricky. The pretty sister casually piped in, “So are you scared You’re gonna die?”.
It’s not often that I am lost for words, but on this occasion, I looked at them in stunned silence. This callousness was typical of the general treatment afforded to the inmates, (sorry patients) at the Mother and Child clinic. I seemed to be the only one offended by it though, as the other women responded to the shouting and abuse without raising an eyebrow. The most difficult thing for me to endure was the way the Aids moms were treated. They would have a separate bench and have access to different doctors but were treated a tad worse than the rest of us. They too seemed to accept their lot with stoicism. Was I just being a bourgeois snob, unused to the daily sufferance of the poor? Every fibre of my being resisted the inhumanity that I witnessed in that institution. Women who should have been treated with dignity and respect in a delicate time of their lives, some suffering a potentially terminal disease, were herded, shouted at and processed through a conveyor belt like sheep to be sheared and prepped ready for market. I would return after every visit crying about some or other atrocity I had experienced or witnessed. They were mostly tears of frustration and anger. Shafiq listened helplessly feeling frustrated at being unable to appease my pain. I, of course did my best to make him feel as if he was in some way to blame. I felt resentful that men “got away” with so many things. Of course, I hadn’t quite defined all those things, but I threw my baggage squarely at the situation, feeling sorry for myself and other women, as if the men on this planet were responsible for every conceivable pain we had to endure.
The cherry on the cake was that I walked into that hospital with a lithe lissom figure and waddled out a few months later the size of a whale. I’m not sure what was more distressing to me, my mental anguish or my physical disfigurement. Shafiq, of course bore the brunt of both disturbances, because of course, it was all his fault! To add to my woes, my nausea, which seemed to go beyond the customary first trimester, was accompanied by a heightened sense of smell. To this day I cannot tolerate seafood pizza, without the feeling the need to kneel before the porcelain bowl. The smell or perfumes, soap and garbage were all met with the same intolerance. I had to open my window and breath in fresh air when I picked up my mom from work as I could smell the perfume she had put on that morning. I could smell the bin in the kitchen when we opened the door to our little cottage at the back of Aunty Mona’s house in Bosmont. All these marvels beset my first year of marriage. When I was seven months along, I had written and passed my bar exam and took off to have my baby before commencing practice as an advocate. Throughout my pregnancy, I bitched and moaned at Shafiq, while he inevitably looked at me with helplessness, irritating me even more. I was fraught with aches and pains and every little bump in the road felt like a mini assault and it earned Shafiq a few death-threatening looks. In fact, almost anything he did was met with a flash of anger, expletives or a look that would have melted an iceberg. I waddled around like a whale out of water moaning like a bear with a sore head and towards the end, sleeping was a near impossible feat and I resorted to the ever-popular upright position with pillow support, much like an Annabelle doll, with about the same temperament. There were also awesome moments like, when the baby (sex yet unknown) made visible movements and we saw what looked like a foot moving across my tummy like a rolling wave. I felt some really strong kicks and Shafiq and I marvelled at the life that grew inside me, blossoming from a zygote to a tough kicking, feisty little creature. I wasn’t sure of the gender because there was a non-disclosure hospital policy, but with the robust movements I felt sure it was a boy. Otherwise, it was a girl like me, heaven forbid!
Because of my diabetic condition, which I was told would disappear after the birth, I had to be induced at 35-36 weeks and was booked in. My stay marvellously coincided with a stupendous strike by the hospital staff. With a shortage of nurses and doctors, in an open ward full of moaning, screeching woman in labour, I was given drugs to induce labour at about 16.00. I was blessed with contractions a couple of hours later and for hours I felt the most severe pains I had ever experienced in regions I largely ignored most of my life. By about 1.00 am I was taken to a separate room and none other than the pretty “evil sister” looked at me with sympathy and said in a soft voice, “You’re almost fully dilated. This baby should be taken out, but unfortunately it’s not my call”. Through my pain I marvelled at the same woman who so callously addressed me at the clinic. I was surprised again, when the matronly “evil sister” came in to massage my back and try to soothe me. Through my intense pain I couldn’t help but wonder about these nurses who were fireballs with marshmallow centres. When it came down to it, they cared. Although my faith in humanity was somewhat restored, it didn’t help a jot when Shafiq, who had been by my side the entire night, tried to comfort or say anything to me. I didn’t want him to touch me. Those movie clips where you see the woman spitting expletives at the husband, that should have been me in the normal course, but I was surprisingly silent. My pains were so extreme that I found myself in constant deep and quiet prayer, seeking relief with silent cries and sensitive even to the touch. It turns out that there was only one doctor available that night who had many deliveries to attend to, and my baby was getting stuck in the birthing canal. They would need open me up and yank him out. I always suspected I’d have issues with child delivery with my narrow hips. I needed an emergency caesarean section and there was no doctor available.
Funny how I seemed to seek out the most complicated scenario in every situation. I often wonder why I attracted so much drama in life. Perhaps I should have been an actress. Only now, I was in the scene of my life. I wanted this freaking baby out, after 15 hours of intense labour. At 7.00 am on the 24th day of August 1999, I was finally wheeled into theatre, anesthetised, cut open and through my semi-conscious fatigued state I heard a sharp cry and as the nurse held Muhammad Faeeq Gamiet in front of me, I saw this round Chinese looking face, with a shock of black hair and angry eyes, crying at the discomfort of being yanked from the warm fluid of his cocoon, into the big cold world. “How did this big baby fit in me?” I wondered. He looked Chinese/ Malaysian, like my brother, or maybe like Shafiq’s oldest brother. Who knows, our dual oriental heritage had to kick back somewhere. Our Chinese neighbours at the fish and chip shop in Jeppe, when I was about 4 years old, spoiled my brother and were convinced that my father was Chinese. I smiled at this angry little tyke and before I could hold him, he was whisked away, and I did not have the immediate bonding with him as I had seen in the movies. I think I watched too many movies. Shafiq saw them taking him out to the nursery and was convinced that the little guy smiled at him, with his cone shaped head, which took a while to normalise after all the pushing he must have done. To complete the drama, the room I was in had a broken window and he was placed in a crib next to my bed on a freakishly cold night. I endured 3 days of post Caesar recovery in that clinic with dirty bathrooms and a skeleton staff. My mom and one of my aunts were my strength and comfort, while my baby remained unbathed, and the white sticky vernix covering stayed on him until I left the hospital. It probably protected him from the cold for all I know. He was quiet for the 3 days in hospital just sleeping and drinking. He was never quiet again after that.
More next time God-willing
With love and gratitude (never too late!), Radia💚