Academic journal article Hecate

Bearing Witness; One Mother to An-Other

Academic journal article Hecate

Bearing Witness; One Mother to An-Other

Article excerpt

One moment.

She was an ordinary mother.

An ordinary mother on all fours giving birth.

The next.

A woman who had failed profoundly.

A woman who had relinquished all 'duty of care'.

On Saturday, February 17, 1996 at 2.45pm I gave birth to a boy. A live crying newborn. A son with almost perfect Apgar scores. But instead of elation and joy, instead of sparkling sentiments and congratulatory words spilling into every nook and cranny of the room, the delivery space collapsed into an uneasy stillness, into pained whispers of palpable disquiet.

A stillness no mother would find manageable.


J knew something was amiss. Knew all was not as it should be.

In the last few minutes of pain, pushing and panting my emerging baby hadn't shoved, hadn't pushed up hard against me.

Hadn't thrust wide open her birth canal. Hadn't caused her to fear she would tear, split wide open.

Yet while she knew something was wrong, knew instinctively, at another level she didn't have a clue. And told herself his softness, his lack of robustness could simply be a second-birth thing. Or something that in retrospect would be an irrelevance. And easily explained away.

I stopped inhaling the gas and collapsed down onto the floor.

J was free.

The blood on her legs, the blood on the floor- the blood of a job well done.

She'd given birth.

She was no longer pregnant.

She had become a mother.

My instincts however told me the journey into motherhood might not be straightforward. That already, it may have veered off course. And without speaking, without wanting to e-n-t-e-r the moment of motherhood I stood upright and steadied myself against my husband.

Slowly and in silence she made her way back towards her bed. But all the while an apprehension made her want, not want, to make eye contact with her son.

When she did look, did search into his eyes for a recognition she could cherish and recollect, she was overcome, overwhelmed by a desire to make 'small talk' - to talk the 'talk' parents usually do when they gaze at their newborn for the first time.

Isn't he beautiful? Doesn't he have your mouth? My ears? And your nose?

In a voice that wanted to feel excitement, to expand and fill the room, she found herself asking her husband Andrew, if he too didn't think their son had 'downsey' little eyes.

I wanted him to say yes

but no

to agree with me,

but say my 'observation' meant nothing

She wanted Andrew to say yes, that just like Imogen, the nine-yearold daughter of close friends Margot and Bertrand, their son had exquisite, beautiful almond-shaped eyes.

Wanted her 'observation' to be swept up, made ordinary and part of the everyday.

Wanted the man she had chosen to have children with, to chat.

To reassure her.

Restore confidence.

And circle them with love.

J wanted him to employ his own medical expertise, to call upon his own title of Doctor, his own Bachelor of Medicine and shelter our son from the unease. Shelter him from the disquiet circling his tiny body, a quiet that was beginning to suffocate warmth or joy.

She wanted him to dismiss her pediatric student nurse musings, to refute the 'medical' knowledge now threatening to choke off any happiness.

Or pride.

She didn't realize he too might be wondering.

In her post-birth effervescence she couldn't appreciate, couldn't imagine that Andrew, too, might be thinking their son's eyes were too almond-shaped, his head too small and his ears too low-set. He too, in pain, experiencing distress. An inescapable apprehension. Dread.

And want to protect her. Protect them.

To wait for a moment of privacy.


Privacy, however, was not on the agenda and minutes after giving birth she was asked to hand over her newborn. …

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