Friday, September 10, 2010


today is a good day. today 14 years ago, first born arrived...after a long and incredibly hard birth ....which i would never write about here....(how do people share their giving birth photographs? eeeeeuw) he was born in a little clinic in marondera in zimbabwe. i remember flying from luangwa valley in a little cessna 206, over mozambique, just me and the pilot and a very very heavy belly. i remember looking down and not seeing any sign of life, just miles and miles of bloody africa and thinking ooooh noooo we don't want to crash here....we didn't.

i spent those last days with micky and myrtle (sister's parents in law) on their farm outside marondera. i spent pastel days picking mulberries, walking the dogs to the dam and reading stories of victorian women explorers late at night in the bath with a candle while i waited and waited for the arrival of baby number 1. in the early hours of the morning, en route for the umpteenth toilet run, i would stop and marvel at the fat zimbabwean stars and listen to the gentle tinkling of the chimes in myrtle's courtyard, head cocked, where the jasmine grew profusely. strangely, i was overwhelmed with something so sad yet universal in those moments. this memory has stayed with me ever since....the smell of the jasmine and the tinkling chimes and the stars and that particular strain of sadness.

micky would weigh me on his maize scales once a week, after bets had been made at the breakfast table. honest. he did. he also made us all take bets on whether it was a boy or a girl. the little chits would be kept in a box in the dining room for future payments. in the evenings i would help myrtle with the dinner trolley, which would be wheeled into the lounge where micky sat in his kikoi, surrounded by farting dogs next to the fire, watching mugabe rant on the telly and bark out suitably abusive expletives at the screen. i would loll quietly in the corner playing an extremely complex game of patience (as in the card game). micky couldn't help but get involved in it, passing witty and humorous remarks, mostly pertaining to my intelligence, or lack thereof. every now and then they would say " dear, don't you want to go and hang out with The Young People?" i did a few times but i much preferred their company. and anyway, at that stage the only things which fitted were a pair of old track suit pants with holes in them and a pair of hideous dungarees. one hardly wants to be seen out, if you know what i mean? it's not that fun being a public spectacle.

i loved hanging out with M&M. tea times were always taken in the courtyard, with micky and i shooting quelea with the pellet gun, taking bets who would get the most, in between sips of tea and nibbling home made biscuits. the jack russels would eat the dead birds, of which, oh bestests, there were never many. if we went out anywhere, myrtle would always drive and micky would tell her how to. he would always blow his top. she was so patient "yes dear i know dear". they dragged me off to the Harare Agricultural Show. i was taken with the Brahman bull with the blue sash and gold ring in his nose. completely. with his dark, wise eyes and wrinkled face and snowy white coat. i watched the clay pigeon shooting. i lunched at ranches, went with myrtle on her egg runs, watched micky dip the cattle. and waited and waited and waited. safari c arrived about a week before first born made his dramatic entry into the world. the day before we went hiking into the hills where i was literally pushed and pulled to the very top of a giant matopo styled rocky koppie.

it was no easy birth and danu pops was almost dead on arrival. it was 17 hours of pain and struggle. eventually at 21:00hrs, on 11 September 1996, he was born. he hung lifeless, like a dead fish, upside down, for a few minutes. i could hear the doctor saying " come on my boy, breathe, come on my boy breathe" and the noise of the oxygen machine. they kept him that night, away from me, in a little glass box. i cried in the dark. quietly. he was so little and impossibly fragile. i was utterly bewildered and clueless. my dad flew up from south africa and visited me with bright yellow daffodils from the hogsback mountains in the eastern cape. yellow has always been daniel's best colour. he was registered as an "alien zimbabwean".

after a week, we put him in a little wicker basket and drove back to lusaka, through the zambezi valley, across the same chirundu bridge, through a baking pre october heat with the mopane trees stark and naked. he slept star spangled and tiny the whole way home. he was the most perfect thing i think i had ever done. my chest could not contain the love which blossomed and bloomed and nearly killed me.

if i think too much about it, i could die from the enormous, insurmountable love for my boy.

happy birthday precious precious daniel. 9/11 has always been a good day for me.


Mama Shujaa said...


Happy Birthday to you and to Daniel!!
Your writing enchants to the point of joy I can grasp! What a lovely loving, description of the day of his birth. Yaani, tamu saaaana!

I've been off for a while, working on some projects, kazi nyingi ofisini na kadhalika. I am so glad I popped in today.

Happy Birthday!

Mama Shujaa

Elizabeth said...

What a lovely essay about your boy!
Nothing so thrilling as the first born...
and the second! (never had a third so can't tell...!)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Daniel! (My daughter's birthday is September 10th --a good season for being born.
What vivid precise details you recall of a world that I imagine has now vanished.

Yes, having babies is very messy and so many emotions flying all over the place.

One day you will tell the tale.

New York is crisp and lovely today with all sorts of maniacs running round with banners being very unpleasant to one another .
Took dog for walk and am now hanging out at home!
much love

Amanda said...

this made me cry. i feel the love you have for your boy, it is palpable. this story has richness, pathos.......too many incredible things to count..

"overwhelmed with something so sad yet universal".....

you said it all here janelle.

your son is gorgeous -- happy birthday to him.


Karen said...

Happy birthday to Daniel, and congratulations, momma.

Thank you for sharing this story! Wow.

I have a boy; he will be 12 in October. I know what you mean about the sadness. And that big love is incredible. Where does it come from? How is it possible?


What Possessed Me said...

This made my heart ache and my eyes well with tears. It hit a nerve. I am so conflicted about someday becoming a mother, and this is one of the few accounts of birthing and babies I've read that gives me a sliver of understanding of how powerful an experience it can be. Happy birthday to your beautiful boy.

Reluctant Memsahib said...

what a lovely tribute to Daniel. and how perfectly those memories are remembered and articulated. quite lovely

Mud in the City said...

Beautifully written, felt, expressed and articulated. Lucky Daniel and lucky you! I hope the celebration was suitably fabulous and musical - and that we all get to hear about it too.

Lori ann said...

happy birthday daniel and momma.

i do understand and have sometimes had to be reminded to breathe since my baby (and last child) left home 3 weeks ago. they are a part of us. love is beautiful and it is brutal.

he is so gorgeous, my god.

much love, lori

Sherry O'Keefe said...

first borns- we become a mother for that first time. even as we give birth to so many others as time passes, the occasion of our first born child's birth is the occasion of our becoming a parent. your memories of the time spent waiting for this birth are so very stirring.

when i was waiting for the birth of my first one, someone told me to remember that from the moment of conception our little ones expend all their energy towards becoming independent of us. and if we do a good job of parenting, this becomes successful. we release our little ones out into the universe of fat stars and weathered chimes.

alex said...

ah beautiful Janelle. just beautiful.
and happy belated birthday to Danu! xx

Bee said...

You have a GIFT for writing.
This is the most stunning combination of the universal and the uniquely specific. Very moving to read.

Angela said...

I am getting goosebumps as I read this, and I remembered... Yes, where does this love come from?
May Daniel and you always have a happy, loving relationship! All my best wishes!

family affairs said...

Beautiful photo and wonderful memories - where does the time go?? How do they get so big? How can we love them so much?? Happy happy days. Lx

ps word veri is rentambu which i bet means something important in another language Lx

Val said...

oh wow, and eeeish, so so beautiful - happy birthday to you bothxx and i remember your beautiful post about myrtle too :-)

Lisa L said...


Janelle said...


Reya Mellicker said...

This is incredible. I know I always say that Janelle, but the truth is, your writing always is.

Happy birthday first born. What a beautiful picture, wow. And to you mighty warrior of the 17 hour labor. Whoa.

Is that the time you were shouting and the nurse said, "What's wrong?" to which you replied "I'M HAVING A BABY!" ??

Janelle said...

heh he no reya...that was with the 2nd one! he he've got a good memory, man! thanks for your sweet words...always. x j

SY said...

Oh my.. I was in the delivery room while my twin sister gave birth to my niece. Unfortunately I was at her feet the entire time..

I've never looked another vagina in person and It was ripping apart before my eyes...

ugh.. I have to go puke now..

But before I go have to say My niece is the most beautiful thing I've ever known. She was totally worth the horrible images that will forever be ingrained in my memory

Janelle said...

SY heh he he he heh...eeeeuw....indeed. you were standing in the wrong place....!? x j

Deniz said...

Congratulations to you both - !

Indigo said...

Happy birthday to you both! Sounds like a spectacular and extra special birth..I can't imagine what an ordeal it must been though!Again, I absolutely adore your style of writing, very gripping! xx

Family Affairs said...

Hurry up!! Next post time.....btw don't know if you've been back to check but I wrote you a response comment all about your horse traits......Lx

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

This is such a lovely story & Daniel is beautiful! I can envision you bursting with pride with your love.

SafariB said...

Janelle!!!! Truly breathtaking writing!!! Oh my word! I have a plan to print out each and every single one of your posts to keep as my own little Janelle book and read and read again. Happy very belated birthday to Daniel!! xoxoxoxo