By Amandla Karungi

“Sarafinaaaa! Don’t break our bed! Sarafinaaa! Leave our bed alone. Sarafina, you are going to pay for our bed!” squealed the mid-wife.

I was gnashing my teeth in the opposite room as I imagined Sarafina trying to haul the long metallic hospital bed down to the floor with her. In spite of how many times I had pinned the words BREATHE on my Pinterest. In spite how many times I had read about hypnobirthing, I kept holding my breath. It was judgment day and all preparation had gone through the window.

Sarafina was howling like a wounded wolf. But true to myself even in the birthing room, I had decided many months before not to make a scene of myself in one of life’s most dramatic settings.

I had been wheeled into the labour suite at around 9:00 a.m , four centrimetres dilated with contractions of about five minutes apart. My body was being wrung violently, twisted like a wet cloth before it is hang. I held on, somehow failing, somehow surviving. As if God had decided to remodel my body with my soul still in it. My back was a wall of fire besieged by an army of Jews at the Walls of Jericho, crashing. My husband was on guard duty, circling my back with his hand. He was not allowed to stop, not for a second, not for a breath. La petite mort… a more fitting use for that phrase, for with every contraction, I died and came back to life.

“How are we doing?” The nurse chirped as she walked to my bedside. She was a part of another world. A world I had once belonged to. How did she smile, walk grandly from room to room, talking, laughing, questioning?

“Nurse, I’m in pain!” I called out.

“Yes, yes! And I want it to increase!” she replied with a smile. And then she was gone, back to Sarafina’s room. I could hear her demanding that Sarafina stop whatever it was that she was doing. Sarafina might have clutching at her neck.

Sarafina ignored her and let out a deafening roar. The foundations of my core cracked like the fault lines of an earthquake running down to the base of the earth. Good patient. Bad patient. I shut my eyes and pursed my lips. Good patient versus bad patient. Good girl. Bad girl. I had played this game all my life.

Sarafina was defiant. She was careless. She was free. And so I anonymously anchored my power and will to the strength of her pain and held on to her every battle cry as my very own.

At around midday, the midwife asked me to move to another room. As I trolled through the corridor in my open back hospital gown, possessed by pain in the valley of transmission of life, the midwife beckoned me to peep into another room.

“Come and see. Come and see.” She opened the door and I saw a woman, cradling a bundle of blankets, starry-eyed with a calm smile on her face, lovingly over it. “You see, even you. Even you, you will get there.” It was Sarafina. It must have been her for the ward had gone mostly quiet, the silence punctured only by voices of new entrants on earth. Her mountain was gone. Almost as if it had never existed.

Tears stung my eyes.

“Mothers don’t cry!” the mid-wife snapped.

“Where’s my fitness ball? I should have brought my fitness ball,” I mumbled.

Six centimetres dilated and curled into a rocking ball on the cold floor. I had failed to find comfort on the bed even though it had been adjusted several times, a little bit forward and then back. The petite young nurse assisting the mid-wife said I should sit upright. I disobeyed her and tried to find solace on the toilet seat. She ordered me off the toilet. And when she came back and found me on the floor, she ordered me back to the bed. Somewhere before that, I had swung her little frame side to side when she came close to me.

It was 4:00 p.m.

Every sip of black tea catapulted back to the edge of my mouth. I now had a cannula in my hand. For hydration, they said. But also to administer an induction. That part they didn’t mention.

The doctor had appeared twice, mentally checking his list. Contractions. Dilation. Induction. Baby?
The baby was not following schedule and so he ruptured the amniotic sac and gave the foetus one hour. One hour or else. I mustered a louder wail. Maybe the magic was in the noise.

But I was as weak as a leaf in the breeze. How will I find the strength to push? I thought. Supernaturally?…

6.30 p.m.

The doctor walked in and checked me again.

“Prepare her for the theater. The baby is stuck.”

“No. No. No! Sister! Please, check me again, please!” I begged.

The mid-wife reluctantly acquiesced to my pleas. She checked me. “The baby’s not descending. Bring the catheter. Take off all metallic things.”

“He’s coming! He’s coming!” I insisted manically.

“Don’t push! Don’t push! the mid-wife screamed. Her command was firm and final. There was nothing more I could do.

I looked to the right and saw him standing there, a curtain of gloom over his eyes, transfigured into a world of his own.

“I’m sorry I let you down.”

“You’re not disappointing anyone. Tell her she’s not disappointing anyone,” my sister burst out. And then with a shaky voice, she continued. “You are coming back. You will be back,” she said, as if to reassure her own self.

I pulled off my battle gear. Courage was two tiny studs in the uppermost piercing on my ears. The battle was over.

When we reached the outside of the theatre doors, we came to a halt.

“Why aren’t we entering? Nurse, the contractions are still coming… Nurse?” I asked. She ignored me as she gathered a bunch of papers.

“Sign here.”

“Nurse, when will the contractions stop? I’m still in pain.” I grabbed her hand and she pulled it away.

“Sign here.”

I held her pen and moved it across the paper. Anything to stop the pain.

“When will the contractions stop?” I pleaded.

“Soon. Soon. The pain will be over soon.”

Only then did she wheel me into the theatre. The doctor was inside, waiting for me. His radio was on. The commentator was describing a football game. For the first time that day, he looked calm. The anesthesiologist pushed a needle through my spine and missed his mark. A lumbar puncture that would disable me for a week.

The bright white lights glowed above my head. The doctor and his assistants in their masks clutched at their instruments, ready to begin.

I turned my head to the side and he was there; wearing, what looked like a shower cap to me .

“You’re here.”

“Yes, I am.”