Why November 17 is Significant

Today, November 17, is World Prematurity Awareness Day. The Empire State Building has been lit up in purple to raise awareness of the leading cause of death in babies in the US. Around the world, 15 million babies are born premature every year, and 1 million of them will not reach their first birthday. Last year, I read this fascinating story on how premature babies were cared for as part of a sideshow on Coney Island in New York; I never imagined that it would come to mean so much to me personally.

My daughter was born 10 weeks premature on February 26. Her due date was April 29. She was perfectly happy where she was, but because I had pre-eclampsia, my doctor had no choice but to yank her out way ahead of time. I will never forget the strangeness of that day, and the confusion I felt as she was placed on my chest after being weighed. This tiny, screaming life, outraged at being in the world. I remember how terrified I was that she might die, how each gram she gained was a victory. How my husband and I took turns sitting for hours and hours and hours each day, holding her next to our skin, willing her to grow. For five weeks, motherhood was something I shared with the nurses in NICU.

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When she came home from the hospital, she weighed less than 2kg. She was dwarfed by her car seat:

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Look at her now!

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Having a premature baby means that whenever people ask me how old she is, I never know what to say. Do I give her age from birth, which will confuse them because she’s clearly too small, or her age from her due date? (Usually, I give her age since her birth date, and then try and explain.)

I worry sometimes that she might have been damaged in some way by her difficult start in life, and that my health problems will cast a shadow over her life. She’s small for her age, and she hasn’t started to sit on her own yet.

I’m very grateful for the quality care she received at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. I’m also grateful to Discovery for paying her hospital bill: this is why medical aid matters so much.

I wonder what pregnancy is really like. I missed out on two months of pregnancy at its most physically intense, and though I know it would have been uncomfortable, I do feel a sense of loss.

Ultimately, though, I will never stop being grateful that Raphaela Ragini is as healthy and happy as she is. To be born premature is to run the risk of all sorts of health problems and developmental issues and I hope that she will overcome them all.

Who would have believed we could get through all of this, my baba? Tiny as you are, you’ve never done anything but embrace life. Your smile lights up my world and I love you very, very much. Happy November 17.

 

 

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It’s back.

It’s back. Of course it is. It probably never really went away. I’ve staved it off quite successfully this year, all things considered. Health problems, the emergency c-section, NICU, all of that. I was always a very good candidate for postpartum depression and the fact that I didn’t succumb to it probably has a lot to do with the effects of the Eglonyl and getting enough sleep.

I’ve tried to pretend that it isn’t back. Being depressed when I’m so happily married seems horribly ungrateful. It doesn’t fit in with the narrative, which is that I’m supposed to have dragged myself through the swamp and climbed out, triumphant, on the other side.

But there it is. I sense it in my procrastination. In my inability to write. In that sense of failure that creeps up on me whenever I read of the success of others. I think back to last year’s quixotic ventures to overseas art fairs and marvel at how stupid I was to waste all that money. Those dreams have turned to dust and now I have other, more concrete realities to deal with. School fees will forever haunt me now.
Little things get to me. My inner voice is starting up again, the one that says you’re a useless piece of shit and you know it. Your mother is a piece of shit, RaRa, I told my daughter the other day. (I need to not do that. I don’t want to poison her with my self-loathing.)

Most of the things I used to love hold little pleasure for me now. Painting is a chore. The piano I bought is out of tune and gathering dust. I can’t concentrate on words on a page for long enough to read a book.

I don’t want to travel, don’t want to spend money, don’t want to do anything except be with the baby. I’m not excited about anything. There’s nothing I want to do. I drink too much, sometimes to slow my scattering thoughts, sometimes to stop feeling at all.

I don’t know if this will pass. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is the way things are now, and I just need to get used to it.

I brought a child into this awful world.

Once upon a time, I had many reasons for not wanting a child of my own. I didn’t want to saddle another human being with my dubious genetic heritage. I didn’t want to add to the burden shouldered by an already overloaded planet. And I wasn’t sure that it was entirely fair to bring a life into a world where it’s all going to shit, quite frankly.

And now here is RaRa, born in a year we all agree is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one. What have I done?

Today, November 9th 2016, we know that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Who knows what effect his administration will have on us here in South Africa, but the symbolism of an openly racist, sexist candidate endorsed by the KKK is hard to miss. The notion – one I held dear – that we’re gradually advancing towards a kinder, fairer world based on universal human rights is profoundly flawed, as it turned out. Yeats, writing all those years ago, was onto something.

Then there’s the planet we call home. The world inches ever closer to environmental catastrophe, regardless of what the “climate change is a hoax” crowd who will now be running America would like to believe. Wildlife is being wiped out by the rampant march of rapacious humanity. We spoil everything we touch and leave devastation in our wake.

There will be no end to war and suffering.

There’s little cause for hope in this neck of the woods either. The leader of our fastest growing opposition party has assured us that he won’t call for the slaughter of white people – for now. Our country is run by a venal, predatory elite. Poverty, unemployment and inequality threaten the rickety consensus of the  post-Rainbow Nation.  Crime is everywhere. The economy is tanking. Education costs are spiraling.

The world is changing in ways that frighten me, even if they don’t surprise me.

On this thoroughly depressing day, it’s hard to find anything to smile about. Yet there is RaRa, blissfully unaware of the world she has been born into. Her concerns revolve around Boob. She is surrounded by people who love her. Her next great challenge is to learn to sit on her own and start solids. One day, perhaps, when she is older, and she knows more of the world, she will ask me why she was born. I probably won’t have an answer for her except this: that I love her completely and utterly, that I am besotted with her, and love does not allow any room for regret.

I wanted the world to be better than this, RaRa. I’m so sorry.