Monthly Archives: November 2016

Boarding School…In the Beginning

Here in the UK, when one mentions boarding school, you evoke the image of an old stately building sitting in vast manicured lawns with the occasional 200-year-old oak tree and outdoor tennis courts. The sort of private institution attended by the children of the wealthy and the odd scholarship working class kid. I went to boarding school. Of a totally different class. In Lagos, Nigeria. Yes, I was in Queen’s College Yaba (QC or QCY we fondly call it). QC is one of the best public secondary schools in Nigeria. It is also infamous for a breed of QC girl – stereotypically loud, someone who puts on airs and is into their material wealth. In reality, most of us are normal down-to-earth girls. However, there is a certain QC-factor many of us carry with us for life.

My mama is an ex-QC girl but my (older) sister was in a reputable military school in the north so we all expected that I would join her. I was all geared up for it. I sat their specific entrance exams and went on a week-long interview. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t make the grade (my parents weren’t military enough apparently). Luckily, I did well enough in my national common entrance exam to have been offered a place to Queen’s College. As my mama considered whether to appeal against the decision of my sister’s school to change the rules after a gruelling recruitment process (which I excelled at), I had one of my vivid dreams where I saw me checking into QC. Weird because I had never been or even seen any photos of the school. It felt like a vision of my future and I told my mama I was happy not to fight for my place at the other school. I was going to Lagos.

We got to Lagos a week before and had to go through a series of tedious administrative processes…full medical, bank tellers, school uniform outlets, book purchases. Mama even braved the markets (she hates markets) to buy the endless required items on our many lists. I was excited and nervous and already, I missed my sister and home. A big positive was that my grandparents still lived in Lagos then and their home at least felt familiar. On that first Saturday, we all had to get to QC before 6pm. We left home after lunch (which I barely ate) and as we got onto the 3rd mainland bridge, we hit traffic. My heart sank into my shoes. I felt a darkness descend over my soul and I thought I was going to be sick. To make matters worse, the traffic was all headed in the same direction so the agony of anticipation was prolonged.

It was utter chaos. Have you ever been on a farm when cattle have to be corralled and branded/tagged? Being the granddaughter of a farmer, I have and I can tell you it’s not a nice scene. Cows are not docile like sheep and I think they are cleverer too so once the first lot have been through, they moo a message back to the herd and the rest all go a little wild. They start to struggle against the humans try to feed them through the metal paths. Their nostrils flare and dribble and their eyes take on a wild rolling look. It is not pretty! Combine that with all the shouting men, the mooing, the smell of branded flesh, cow pee and poo…you get the picture. This was how the scene I was faced with felt.

Parents were giving up waiting in the long traffic queues leading up to the school gates. There were people everywhere in the streets surrounding QC as everyone but the drivers disembarked and grabbed luggage, buckets, school bags, brooms and mops. Irritable drivers honked as people staggering under all that load wandered in and out of traffic. Older students spotted returning mates and there were squeals of joy and excited chatter as friends were reunited after the long summer holidays. In the middle of all the chaos were the newbies. Me and my fellow JS1 girls. Silent, quivering wretches whose young faces bore expressions of doom. In our shiny new uniforms and shoes. Taking it all in, dragging our feet, praying for salvation. At least, that was how I was feeling.

First, we had to find the administrative block and queue to submit bank tellers, get registered. All JS1 queued to get to a marquee to be allocated a house (I drew orange for Obong House and not the blue for Obasa my mama had been in). Then we had to find our House station where we had to hand over the cleaning supplies, sign in and be told our dorm and then the senior girls had to root through our bags to fish out any contraband. This process took ages! By the time I was fully processed, it was approaching 6pm and the dean had reached a climax as parents/siblings said goodbye and tired senior girls continued to check everyone in.

I had to make two trips across (dormitories, dining hall and library were separated from the administrative, class rooms and staff quarters by a gated wall). I found Obong 6 (dorm 6 in Obong House), dumped the first lot and hurried back to find my mama. It was time to say goodbye. I gave my mama the longest hug, inhaling her familiar smell and fighting back the tears the threatened to fall. Mama was misty-eyed too as she kissed me and promised to be back on visiting day 3 or 4 weeks later. I gathered up my bits and pieces and with leaden feet turned and crossed over, using up all my will power to stop myself running back and begging mama to take me home. At the gate, I turned and waved one final time and I swear I felt like a dead man walking to his execution. I made my way back to Obong house, claimed an empty bunk and sat on it.

I don’t know how long I sat there for before Zara, my lifesaver found me. Zara is actually my mother’s second cousin but for ease of explanation, in QC she was my cousin. She was a senior girl, in SS1 when I started in QC. She found me in all that confusion and gently guided me through the process of finding a mattress for my bed and making the bed, finding an empty locker and arranging all my belongings in it and putting my bathing things together in my bucket. She sorted out my life and earned my eternal gratitude and then she disappeared back to her House (Obasa, on the opposite side of the dorms). I can’t remember if I had dinner that evening but I remember meeting the other junior girls. The JS1 girls all looked as lost as I did and that made me feel a tiny bit better. I was relieved when it was lights out. As I slid into bed onto my crisp new sheets in my crisp new nightie, I was overcome with sadness and homesickness. I didn’t think I could bear it. I wept into my pillow until sleep swept me into oblivion. I wonder how many other JS1 girls did the same?

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Childbirth

I did it! Au naturel thanks you very much! I was so worried that my android pelvis would not be able to naturally deliver a baby, especially a baby who wasn’t small. Of course, had I been incapable of pushing the baby out, a caesarean section would have been okay by me but I really wanted to do it the ‘normal way’ so that I could get on with bonding with my baby and be back on my feet as soon as I could. The day before I had the baby, I had a scheduled scan to make sure the baby’s growth was on track. Everything looked great and her estimated weight was not a small baby. Worse, looking at the growth charts, if she carried on growing at the rate she was, she would be a large baby by the time I got to 40 weeks. I said prayers and I spoke to the bump for the rest of the day, urging her to come on out as soon as she could. Anytime now. I was 38 weeks pregnant. I felt huge and ungainly. I was getting breathless with minimal exertion. I wasn’t sleeping well. Mentally, I was geared up for labour. I had completed my antenatal classes and I knew what to expect including the ‘ring of fire’. I just wanted to have my baby in my arms. That night, just before midnight, I had the strongest craving for an ice lolly. Of course, there was none at home so I roused my hubby and we went to the nearest 24 hour shop.

I woke up in the wee hours of her birthday, bleeding lightly. I had lower back ache that had been there for days but otherwise I felt fine. Baby was moving about as usual. I called the delivery suite and was asked to come in. I had to tell the hubby a few times to get a move on, get ready and drive me to the hospital. I think he was completely unprepared for me to have the baby that day. My mother on the other hand only needed telling once. She was dressed and downstairs. The waiting hospital bag was placed in the boot and off we went.

In Triage, the baby was monitored and she was absolutely fine. I was examined and my cervix was 3cm dilated and thin – the official landmark marking the start of active labour. I got a room and settled in. 3 hours later, my cervix remained at 3cm and the obstetricians were twitchy because of the bleeding so I was induced and then placed on a drip to help the labour along. As the drip was cranked up, the contractions intensified. At first, I was comfortable enough sitting up in bed, doing controlled breathing. 2 hours in, I started to walk about and that helped too. Another examination and I was 6cm dilated. Progress. Another hour and I needed the gas and air. I think it helped but to be honest, the light-headedness was all I could process. I kept feeling like I would fall so I had to stand by my bed and hold onto the headrest. I ended up kneeling on the bed, grabbing the headrest for balance. As a side note to those of you who are going to have babies after reading this, the pain of my contractions was 10x worse whenever I lay on my back to be examined. My advice is, being upright either standing if you can or kneeling on the bed. It honestly made a huge difference in the experience of pain.

5 hours after the drip was started, the pain changed from a rhythmic contracting vice-like pressure to a feeling I can’t describe. I felt an uncontrollable restlessness come over me, like I needed to ‘do something’ other than just breath and bear the pain. This was the urge to push. I told my midwife who tried to keep my mind off the feeling as she was expecting it to be another hour before I was fully dilated. I could keep still and I said again, I think I am going to start pushing. She examined me this time and in a surprised voice, she said ‘You are ready to start pushing.’

My first few pushes were ineffective. I felt like I was pushing but I was directing my energy wrong. When I finally bore down and pushed into my bottom, praise came from my midwife. She wanted more of the same. With my husband’s arm to hold onto, I remained kneeling and I pushed with everything I had with every crushing contraction I got. About 15 minutes in, I suddenly thought ‘what if I can’t do this despite my best efforts?’ I watched the midwife examine me and asked if I was making progress. She was all smiles. ‘Oh yes’ she said. ‘ Do you want to feel the head? It is full of hair!’ I declined to release my hold on my hubby. I was still woozy from the gas and air but I was given a new lease of life by that news. ‘Ok baby,’ I whispered to the bump. ‘We can do this.’ I was sweaty and dizzy but I was also very excited. It was nearly over. I pushed and pushed until every muscle in my body was trembling from the effort.

Then came the ‘ring of fire’. This is the bit where the head comes out and your pelvis is at maximal stretch plus your perineum (the skin) is stretched to tearing point. It feels like you are on fire down there. Luckily though, this is when you don’t have to push any more. You just ‘pant. Breath, breath.’ The fire subsided somewhat as the head came out then it felt like everything paused for long moments then more stretching (baby rotates, shoulders born, one at a time). Then a hug gush as the rest of the baby and fluid pops out. She cried as she hit the mattress and I felt the biggest lift. All the worry and stress was gone. We had come through labour. The relief was a little premature. The placenta came a few minutes later. Then the midwife had to examine my insides and perineum for tears. Now that hurt. Like I was being stabbed by a thousand sharp knives. Despite the gas and air the midwife made me have before. Good Lord! I was prepared up to the point. That pain is the only pain I remember with clarity today. The contractions, the pushing, the ring of fire have all faded away mentally but I am scarred by the post-delivery inspection.

As I stood on shaky legs in the shower under a warm spray, watching the blood wash away, I could not believe that I was now a mother. This morning, I had a large bump. Now, I had a jelly-like bump and a baby to hold. Back in bed, I drank tea and ate buttered toast. Never had a simple breakfast tasted so delicious as I stared at the bundle my mother held. ‘This,’ I thought to myself in amazement, ‘Is the first day of the rest of my life.’