Happy mom lifting son in green field

Like many young girls, Charlene du Toit had dreams of one day getting married and being a mom. However, after a bladder infection turned to an infection of her kidneys and ovaries, scarring her fallopian tubes when she was just 15 years old, doctors prepared Charlene for the fact that she would probably never be able to conceive a child. Fortunately, life is full of surprises and she shares her pregnancy and birthing journey…

Thirteen years after my diagnosis (and several failed relationships later), I met someone who renewed my faith in men and we got married, even though I felt unworthy because I couldn’t give him children. I have suffered from extremely bad menstrual bleeding for years and often get cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) due to recurring bladder infections – especially if I wear tight jeans and it’s a very hot day.

Knowing our odds of having a baby were not favourable, my husband and I agreed that if one day we were in a good financial position and still both felt a strong need to have a family, we would look at adoption or even surrogacy.

After three years of trying to conceive and silently beating myself up about it, I was offered an amazing job overseas so we decided to emigrate. My husband was in the SA Navy and took a job working on cruise ships.

I was away for three months when I had to return to SA to pack up. We spent a week selling everything and reduced our lives to two suitcases before I flew back to Qatar and he flew to the ship. A month later my housemate was complaining about period cramps and it hit me that I might be late. Anxious and overwhelmed, I went to the nearest pharmacy and bought a home pregnancy test. I remember how my happy sobs echoed in the public bathroom stall when I saw the two lines appear – I was pregnant!

“I remember how my happy sobs echoed in the public bathroom stall when I saw the two lines appear – I was pregnant!”

Soon thereafter I had to return to SA as I hadn’t been working in Qatar for a year so I wouldn’t qualify for maternity leave. I had to go home and start again from scratch. Fortunately, I could stay with my amazing in-laws as my husband had signed a nine-month contract and I had to spend my entire pregnancy without him.

For the first five months, I was so nauseated that I could barely stand a cup of tea. I lived on ginger biscuits and water and craved Golden Delicious apples so much that I would salivate and could taste them without eating them. Soon after that I just wanted salt: Bovril, cheese, Aromat, biltong and an insane amount of vinegar and salt on the slap chips you can get at a fish and chips shop.

At around seven months I developed a lust for cinnamon… cinnamon in melkkos, cinnamon in coffee, cinnamon, cinnamon, cinnamon! At eight months it was mealie pap and peppermint crisp tart. I ate so much tart I can’t even look at it today. Throughout my pregnancy, I couldn’t stand the smell of cooking rice or eggs and my in-laws were kind enough to only make it when I was out the house and to quickly clean up any evidence of it before I returned.

As I had cancelled our medical aid with the Navy, I wasn’t left with many options when it came to giving birth. I was terrified of giving natural birth and wanted to go any route with the most painkillers. After going to see a gynae I was given the choice between giving birth at a government hospital or private hospital. I was uncomfortable with the doctor’s attitude towards me and her encouraging me to have a C-section, so I started to read everything about pregnancy and childbirth that I could get my hands on.

Happy mom with her smiling baby son
Charlene du Toit and her son, Christian

One night in October 2018, my father-in-law saw a short interview on television about a birthing centre in Panorama, Cape Town. I called them, only to be told that they were, unfortunately, shutting down in December that year – I was due the January after. Fortunately, they gave me the number of a midwife they worked with who owned her own business.

Upon calling her, I felt more at ease about the birth for the first time. She came to see me at home and answered all my questions without making me feel ignorant. I just adored her! She advised me on a water birth – the process, costs involved and what would happen should there be complications – and this enabled me to make a more informed (and affordable) birthing choice.

On the day I gave birth, my midwife arrived within 10 minutes of us calling her.  Although we had planned to have a water birth, my contractions seemed to fade every time I got into the water. So, despite my anxiety about childbirth and the pain in general, our son, Christian (meaning “precious gift”), was born a healthy 3.2 kg after a 23-hour labour and an unmedicated, vaginal birth on my bed.

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