When I gave birth to my son, Aviwe-Lakhanya, on June 2, 2018, that Saturday afternoon was not like any day I had experienced before.
I had given birth to a boy. He was not bouncing, he did not cry, he was not breathing. My son’s birth was surrounded by sombre cries from my family, questions on why God would do this to us, prepare us for nine months only to have him taken from us at the very last moment.
I could not find solace in anything. As this was my second loss, I had felt forsaken. Why could I not have any babies, why could I never give birth to a baby with air in its lungs? God had taken away my firstborn and I found solace in the fact that maybe the time was not the right time. So I waited for the right time.
Lakhanya was born, but I have no memorabilia. My greatest regrets are the fact that I have no pictures with or of my son.
When I think back to the day of his birth, everybody around me was disorientated, the situation had come as a shock to everyone – including my healthcare providers at Beacon Bay Life Hospital. I feel as though no one was particularly familiar or equipped to deal with what we were going through and what we were about to experience.
After giving birth to my son, I was going to have to start preparing a funeral, all while recovering from major surgery. We needed an undertaker, a funeral home, and needed to pick out a casket. We also needed to get our son registered as being born in order for him to have a death certificate and had it not been for my mother and a select number of close family friends, we would not have been able to deal with everything on our own.
I gave birth under general anaesthetic, which I had opted for at the last minute mainly because I had been anticipating giving birth to a dead baby who would not cry once born. I could not emotionally detach from my situation but I could detach myself from the process I was going to undergo.
Do I regret my decision today? Yes.
Had I known what would happen once my son was born, I would have opted to be present. After the surgery, it took me about three hours to fully come back through.
All I remember was that after I opened my eyes I heard one of the nurses who were pushing my bed out of theatre say “are we taking her back to the maternity ward?”. I could not believe that after what had just transpired I’d be forced to recover with women who had living, crying babies.
Fortunately for me, a matron intervened and insisted that we are given a private room. Everybody in the hospital seemed to be uncomfortable with me. The worst part is how no one seemed to know what to do with my son. I mean, he was mine. Surely, he should be given to me.
After we had settled into recovery, which was less than 20 minutes, a nurse came in to inform us that we had to arrange for Lakhanyas body to be taken out of the hospital. The hospital had no facilities to keep stillborns and we had four hours to make these arrangements. My baby was going to be discarded, surely I should have more time with him, I AM HIS MOTHER.
Never in my worst nightmare did I ever think I would receive this exact same treatment from the home affairs department. As though it was not enough that my birth was not treated much like a birth at all. I knew there was supposed to be someone to help me register my baby for a birth certificate, that was always in our minds, hence we picked a name for our son before we got to the 26 weeks of gestation.
My son was born dead and there didn’t seem to be any protocol in place for how my family and I were to move forward with the burial of Lakhanya. Ignorantly unaware of any procedures involved in burying a baby that is stillborn, it had been made clear to me that in order to get a burial plot, my son had to have a death certificate. I know that my son lived inside me for nine months. However, when he came into this world, his birth was not documented but somehow we needed to document his death, in fact, it became a requirement in order for him to be laid to rest.
On our first visit to the department of home affairs, I was told that because my baby’s birth was not documented, I needed my OB/GYN to sign off on documents that would legitimise the birth of the child I was trying to bury.
We had only two days to spare before the freezer would start eating away at Lakhanya’s minuscule body.
After handing in all the necessary and supporting documents, we would then be issued a death certificate. A petite lady behind the counter asked whether I was the mother. She continued to write my name on what would be my son’s unabridged death certificate and without asking me for his name, she followed by writing – where his name would be- “Baby of Yonela”.
When we enquired why we couldn’t have his name on the document. She responded because with: “He does not have an ID number kaloku sisi”. I wanted to question so much at that very moment. So my son did not deserve a name because he was born dead.
What would his tombstone read? “Here lies, Baby of Yonela”?
I had carried my son full term, birthed him via cesarean section. My widowed womb would remember the son I gave birth to. My family would remember the promise of the life that my son was to them. I gave him a name, I gave him a legacy.
My son was born, though still. He was born and he had to have a name.
Yonela is a 25-year-old International Relations and Political Studies Graduate from Eastern Cape. She started the Life After Lakhanya initiative to break the silence on baby loss after realising the stigma that was attached to pregnancy and infant loss. She hosts baby loss talks because she believes that one way to end the taboo associated with babies dying is to have the uncomfortable conversations. She heads up the Lakhanya foundation based in Johannesburg.