MANTALK: In the labour ward

Friday September 1 2017

The last place a man needs– or wants to be – is

The last place a man needs– or wants to be – is near a woman who is in labour because who knows how violent she will get PHOTO/FILE 

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I went to see my younger sister in the maternity ward of the hospital where she was about to pop a baby. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The perfect day to push, I guess. At the nurse’s station I found a young-ish looking doctor with his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his white coat, chest thrust out like the god of fertility, looking mighty proud of himself (as he should because he works for God). I said, “Hi doc, I’m here to see my sister,” and he said, “Great. Is that her full name?” And we cackled at his great witticism.

I found my sister in the general ward, her little cubicle separated from the next patient by a mere curtain. I knew she wasn’t about to push that baby out because next to her bed was a half-finished plate of rice and greens, which meant she attempted to eat. There was also an apple and I wondered if vitamin A and C is needed to push. By the way, does anyone else reading this have a bad habit of tasting patient’s food when you go to visit them like I do? I try to stop myself but it’s impossible. I always have to taste their food. Or eat their fruit. It’s my way of showing support. So I ate my sister’s apple. It’s not like she was going to eat it later; she was more likely to use it to throw at a doctor when the contractions become shorter.


She lay there, propped on the bed, looking larger than I have ever seen her in my life. Her stomach rose up, filling half the space above her. She reminded me of a massive seal in her blue hospital gown. I asked her how many centimeters she had dilated and she said she hadn’t been checked. You should see how they check for dilation of the birth canal; it’s gruesome and ugly and almost crude. I had the misfortune of insisting on staying in the room the last time that happened to me because I was trying to be a hero. OK, it didn’t happen to me technically because I wasn’t pregnant, but you know what I mean, surely. What they do is they stuff their hands in there, as if unclogging a drain. Women go through such horror in labour wards it’s amazing that they keep going back. As a woman I’d not even look at a man twice after the experience in a labour ward. I’d switch to girls who have zero risk of making me pregnant. Or stealing my car. Or looking at my best friend’s ass.


Behind the curtain a voice moaned softly, like an old turbine. It was like the noise a big animal makes when it’s been caught in a trap and the hunter is yet to find it. It came occasionally, something hurting and guttural and in anguish. My sister, perhaps seeing the fear in my eyes, said, “They are preparing a private room for me.” Before I could stop him, the child in me asked, “Will you have your own TV?” She laughed. Or tried to, it’s hard to laugh when you are that size and in labour.

“I wish mum was here, she would be fussing about everything,” she said and I wish she hadn’t because it made me want to tear. My mum’s file is in that same hospital, a file a foot high. I have been back there only once since she passed on five years ago and while parking I felt a little lump build on my throat when I saw this bench I used to sit on under this acacia tree on the days I would be overwhelmed with terrifying fear of her impending death. Another moan came from behind the curtain, this time louder. I wanted to part the curtain and say, “You are a strong woman, this too shall pass,” but I’m sure she would have thrown a plate at my face. Women can get violent when in labour and I don’t think there is any law that protects men from that type of violence.

A contraction spasmed through my sister’s back and she jerked up and curled to the side. I waited until that moment passed and told her, “Look, visiting hours are over. I will be calling you later to find out how it’s going. Call me if you need anything. Good luck, God be with you.” Then I fled before the next contraction.

My small sister is a single mum, to mean she’s a very strong woman. This also meant there wasn’t going to be a man pacing up and down the hall on her account. At least I didn’t see anyone. Maybe he was at the bar taking shots to ready his nerves for the long evening. I phoned our last born brother and asked him to go and sit with her until that baby came. Of what use is a small brother if they can’t go on labour duty? (Delegation 101) “Call me in case of anything,” I instructed him and then went to wait at the bar with my fingers crossed.


Ps:  Congratulations to you June and baby Abigael (who calls a baby Abigael anymore, what is this – 1979?). May she grow to be as strong willed, resourceful and as a wonderful human being as you are.