On motherhood, pregnancy and the sacrifice of dignity

Everyone tells you that once you’re a new mother, you kind of lose your dignity: you don’t have time to take a shower, you don’t remember the last time you washed your hair, you’re so sleep deprived that even if you remembered how to put on make-up it wouldn’t help much. Also, you don’t fit in normal clothes yet, but you’d look positively stupid prancing around in your maternity wear, that proud firm bump of yours turned into a sloppy sac waiting to contract back into womanly form. On the upside though, your body is so flushed with love hormones for that helpless adorable super-cute newborn of yours that it doesn’t really matter and if you’re lucky, you only realise what you went through in hindsight.

Well, I’m the living proof that the sacrifice of dignity starts before you’ve given birth! Today was the perfect example. It was a public holiday and the weather was glorious, so we decided to take Xavier to see some nature. The expedition preparation, as usual, focused on getting anything we might need for him (food, drinks, change of clothes, nappies, wipes, bags for dirty nappies, antiseptic cream and plasters for the inevitable, books, and the secret weapon, the iPad). I just had time to throw on the minimum viable clothing and head out. The afternoon was fantastic! We saw baboons, gemsbok, ostriches, a black heron, guinea fowls, horses, sea birds, surfers and all the local fauna. We played on the beach, getting our feet refreshed in the rising tide, finding pretty shells, hopping the rocks and generally having a fabulous time.


On the way home, we realised that it was getting late and we decided to stop on the way to spoil ourselves with a restaurant meal of fresh fish. We went to a place where seals hang out in the harbour, which Xavier loves. The brasserie was unfortunately fully booked but there’s the fancy restaurant upstairs, so we decided to try our luck. This is a restaurant that usually serves young professionals in the dating game, older fancy couples whose social life never strays from a certain standard, and European tourists in the summer season who marvel at how cheap food is in South Africa, but dress up anyway, because that’s what you do when you can afford a high-season holiday to South Africa.

As we got there, in our sandy legs and beach-trodden flip-flops, the staff (everyone in the staff is more dressed up than I ever could at this stage of pregnancy) found us a table and didn’t flinch at my attire: Above my salt-encrusted legs was an old comfortable and stretchable pair of shorts that has got quite a few holes… but it’s one of the few things I can still wear with my huge belly. Above that, a very o-v-e-r-s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d tank top that I can still pull over my planetary mid-section…just about, leaving a crescent of skin exposed just above my shorts (the pregnant woman’s front version of the plumber’s crack). We all looked kind of out of place at this fancy restaurant, but the staff remained super-friendly and I figured we were there early and wouldn’t stay long, so it was OK. In fact we were so early that the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet. They told us to come back in about 15 minutes so we decided to take a walk on the pier and check out the seals.

Well, where there is fish, there are seagulls too and after about 1 minute, I felt a splat land on top of my head. Kevin confirmed that it was what I dreaded and proceeded to wipe it off to the best of his ability using Xavier’s baby wipes. The sea-breeze-swept, frizzy quick-ponytail hairdo from this morning had just gotten upgraded with a sticky seagull dropping. Nice.

After the nice walk, we returned to find that the well-dressed restaurant staff had sorted out our table. I rushed to the bathroom to wash my hands and try to fix the hairy mess on my head only to find that of course I had not thought of bringing anything that I could use to comb the frizzy-sticky mess. Never mind. I flattened it as best I could, washed my hands a few times (splashing water on my belly because it’s so big that it’s inevitable), and went back to our table, only mildly aware of the slightly too pinkish spent-the-day-in-the-sun complexion that the bathroom mirror had revealed, walking past the arriving guests who all looked like they had appeared out of the ‘Fashionable People’ pages of a glossy magazine. “Oh well. That’s what you look like on a day off when you’re as pregnant as I am”, I attempted to reassure myself. I’m sure nobody saw my bright yellow and green havaianas (Ha! I’m wearing one branded item!) make their way between the Jimmy Choos and the Sebagos.

Our food arrived quite fast and I immediately engaged in active indignity. While bending over the table to hand over a fork to Xavier who was sitting in the baby chair, I dipped my humongous belly into a bowl of sauce. You know, like sometimes you embarrass yourself by getting food on a sleeve? Except here, I dipped my BELLY! There’s a huge island of sauce right in the middle of my very, very prominent bump.

This was promptly followed by the mandatory food falling from the fork on its long journey between the plate and my mouth because there’s a soon-to-be-born obstacle that stops me from sitting anywhere close to any table. The food landed right on top of my belly of course, because by now it’s as big as a table extension that could sit two people.

The picture is not pretty: My hair hasn’t been brushed all day, except by the sea wind, and the frizz has been glued together by a bird dropping. My pyjama-like hole-ridden shorts with my not-quite-long-enough-to-cover-the-bump top are decorated with a mosaic of stains around a massive round stain of sauce that I can’t possibly blame on Xavier. There’s only one thing to do: laugh.

But amidst all this embarrassment, my dignity is, in fact, still there. Thanks to my adorable son who sat like an angel throughout the restaurant meal, ate his kiddie hake and rice like a champ and was happy and beautifully behaved in contrast to the poor German tourists at the next table had their dinner experience sabotaged by their ΓΌber-fussy 9 year old who refused to appreciate the crayfish, sushi and other collection of fancy dishes his parents had ordered, in the hope of spending a nice evening at a fancy restaurant…

So yeah, this may not be my best-looking self, but it’s definitely a memory I’ll laugh at and cherish forever :)


PS: None of this graceful embarrassment would have been possible without Xavier’s awesome dad who made sure he was clean, fed and happy throughout the day and brought the best out of both of us! <3!

The shortcoming of Science events for Girls

These events are often mistaken to be about the girls, whereas they’re often really more about the science.

What’s my problem with such events? The belief that girls who come to those events should necessarily become the next generation of scientists. It’s a well intentioned recruiting effort: “Let’s have more scientists and more diversity in our field” as opposed to “Let’s show girls options beyond what societal gender biases influences girls to consider”. While it is a perfectly OK agenda to have, it doesn’t tackle girls’ alleged disinterest in science at all, so let’s not pretend it does.

Really cool initiative ESO, but should we really wish that all these girls become scientists?

Cool initiative ESO, but should we really wish that all these girls become scientists?

What I believe we need more of is girls who have no interest whatsoever to pursue a career in science to come to those events and go back to a science-free life, but with the awareness of what science is about and how the scientific process works.

In fact, this applies not only to girls but to anyone who is not interested in science…

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