‘What are we going to do when she goes on maternity leave?' Jeremy Mansfield, the host of the show wonders while we are in a team meeting. It's our first day back on air after a five week break and we are planning the rest of the year. Terry Volkwyn, the Chief Executive Officer shrugs her shoulders.
‘We'll manage it as it happens. Anyway, it's quite a first,' she smiles, ‘Joburg's biggest breakfast show just got even bigger!'
Jeremy brightens up at this. He is a big man in both stature and personality. Although I try not to be, I am sometimes intimidated by the force of his sizr. I am worried that he will be angry with me, that I have somehow let him downby getting into a position where he will have to run the show without for the duration of my maternity leave but it seems my fears are groundless.
His eyes light up. ‘We can name him Rudi! For the Rude Awakening?'
Here's a problem I haven't though about. ‘Oh no you don't!'
He's laughing, his whole body shaking.
‘Oh yes,' he is gleeful. ‘We'll call him Rudi and if it's a girl we'll call her Ruda.'
I breath a sigh of relief inwardly. It's going to be alright.
Ravi Naidoo our station manager gives me a hug.
I feel positively cheerful. The nausea and joint pain are forgotten for a moment, the team's enthusiasm is infectious. I remember why I wanted a baby and I feel happy and...cosy. Weird, I know, but it's like all my dreams and hopes of motherhood are wrapped up under my sweater. I hug myself.
Terry fixes me with a look. ‘Whatever you do, DON'T eat sushi.'
Oh God, another new rule.
‘Raw anything when you are pregnant is bad, bad, bad! It's full of living bacteria.'
Right, I may not be able to keep my stomach under control but here is one thing that is OK. My job is safe. In terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act, this should not be an issue. But when your job is based on your personality, as mine is, taking any type of maternity leave means taking myself out of the public eye. It's OK though---I have a plan.
‘I'll be back on air after about three weeks,' I say casually.
Tari and Ravi are astounded. Even Jeremy blinks a bit.
‘Are you mad?' says Terry. ‘Do you have any idea how tired you are going to be?'
‘Well, I'm pretty tired now and I'm coping, so how much worse can it be?'
I say this casually but my confidence has taken a walloping. Why are they looking at me like that?
‘You-are-having-a-baby.' Terry speaks slowly and loudly as though I am a very stupid child.
I maintain my air of bravado. Never show fear. They can smell it.
‘So? I have a great housekeeper and a good medical plan and a supportive family. How hard can it be?'
Now they are all looking at me oddly. Everyone's look says clearly, ‘this woman is an arsehole.'
Terry keeps a straight face. ‘You will take at least six weeks and you are entitled to four months. If you need it, you will take it.'
I bloody won't! Four months off the radio! Four months out of the public eye! No one will remember me. I'll have breastfed myself out of a job.
Jeremy tries unsuccessfully to make things better.
‘We'll be fine without you,' he says.
‘Don't worry about us, we'll carry on as normal.'
His words split me in two. I know they mean to make this transition easier. I know they are trying to give me leave with a clear conscience, but all my insecurities are on red alert. How can they carry on without me? How dare he say they will be fine? One half of me is deeply grateful for the assurance of support, the other is screaming for attention. Not for the first, or last, time I ask myself, what have I done?
I often wonder what kind of higher power divided up the elements of parenthood so unevenly. Martin just aimed fired and hit the target. His work, for nine months, is now done. Even when I give birth, he will be home for two weeks and then his life continues as normal. Mine is changed forever. Not for the first time do I wish darkly that can children can be grown in a bowl on the mantelpiece, like the sea-monkeys. Remember those from when we were young. They were big in the eighties, their advert was always on the last page of the Archie comic. ‘Grow your own sea-monkeys' and you sent off a postal order and these little eggs came back and you ended up with a bowl full of writhing grubs on your chest of drawers, that, one day, while you were at school, your mother accidentally flushed down the toilet. I wish I could grow my baby like that; watch him getting bigger every day, show him to friends, not feel sick. Or fat. That would be cool.
Back to the meeting, everyone is looking at me expectantly.
‘Sorry? Did I miss something?'
‘Look, her concentration is gone already.'
That goes too? Anything else on the way out besides my figure, my concentration and the contents of my stomach?
‘How far along are you?'
‘I think about eight weeks.'
Jeremy frowns. ‘I think we should wait until you get to the end of your first trimester before announcing anything. Just in case'
Just in case? What does he mean?
Terry nods, ‘After the first trimester, it's pretty much a done deal.'
I can't believe this. How can it not be a done deal yet? There are two blue stripes on the test and I'm going to the very-expensive-but-brilliant Doctor Birth in a week's time for a scan. The baby's definitely there. What do they mean?
‘I'm sure everything is fine but the first trimester is where you have the highest risk of anything going wrong,' she says, ‘we don't want you to go public with your pregnancy and then a few weeks later, have you go through the anguish of having to break a different kind of news.'
Yeah, that's fair enough. Although pretty sobering.
Jeremy is looking very cheerful. ‘We can have a baby shower on air!'
We can talk about you putting on weight, half the audience is involved with kids in some form or another so this could be really good for the show.'
He gives me a hug. ‘Well done, my baby.'
I think I am happy. Mentally anyway. My physical state leaves a lot to be desired.
I continue to feel this supreme nausea about twenty out of every twenty-four hours (the other four, I am asleep. My heart beats really fast and my hands shake and my mouth is constantly dry. And things aren't all serene on the emotional front either. I feel very frightened most of the time, especially around people who greet my ‘condition' with words like ‘Oh that's wonderful!' and ‘You must be so pleased!'
They are right-I must be so pleased-it's got to be a sin if I feel like this-resentful and scared and sick. I feel like I've been possessed by a foreign body-kind of like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, except that she only had to carry it for ninety minutes-I've got this for nine months.
My daily routine goes something like this: Get up at four thirty-vomit. Go to work, eat a ginger biscuit and drink tea, at 6:30-vomit. Carry on doing this until ten to seven. Return to studio green and trembling and feel progressively better until nine o' clock when we come off air. Attend morning post-mortem meeting with Station Manager Ravi Naidoo until nausea overcomes me again. Vomit. Spend the rest of the day either lying on the bed or haunting Sandton City Cinema Complex. This is because it has ice-cold air-conditioning and if I puke, which sometimes I do, it's in a dark and comparatively anonymous movie theater. Also being cold tends to ease the nausea.
My half hour absence from a three hour radio show is being noticed as well. No one knows what to do about it, least of all me. Ravi and our Australian consultant Ian Grace, Gracie, mention it to me in a show preparation meeting.
‘I didn't hear you this morning from about twenty to seven until the next hour,' says Gracie, sipping on a café latte.
‘No,' I agree but the smell of milk is making my stomach lurch unpleasantly. Milk is no longer on my happy-tummy list. It has joined the ‘get-it-away-from-me-or-I'll-cover-you-in-last-night's-dinner' list. ‘I wasn't there. I was in the ladies.'
‘Ah.' He says. ‘That explains it.'
Ravi looks worried. ‘Do you think it is going to go on for much longer?'
I don't know.
‘I don't know, Rav, I really hope not.'
I can't blame them for being concerned. They have a million listeners out there to satisfy and with one component of your biggest selling show tossing her cookies every morning at 6:30 like clockwork, you've got to be a bit anxious about it. But I feel deperate.. I want to scream out ‘It's not my fault! I can't help it! Do you think I want to be letting you down? I hate this as much as you!' But I don't say any of that. I smile ruefully and crack a joke about maybe providing ‘on-air-sick-bags' in the studio.
It is at this point in my pregnancy that I realize that the baby is not my main worry. This is both alarming and disgusting to me. I am pregnant-God has blessed me with what I asked for-a child-and I am worrying about myself. Where will I fit back into the greater scheme of things?
I'm being treated with kid gloves at work-what woman could ask for more? 'Do you need a chair Sam?' 'Will it bother you if I eat this Sam?' But I don't want more, I want less. This is the split between the masculine and the feminine in my personality. The woman in me wants to nurture this child and the family it will create. But the man in me wants to take it on the chin, show a stiff upper lip, live up to the maxim: Big Boys don't cry. I realize to my own horror that all the time I've been in the career world, saying I want to be treated as an equal, what I've really wanted is to be treated like a man. A man who announces an impending arrival to his friends gets congratulations and a round of drinks at the pub. When a woman makes the same announcement to a group of men, she separates herself from the group. There's no round of celebratory drinks. Instead there is caution, curiosity, a sense of unease. She cannot be told dirty jokes or flirted with-she inspires the opposite sex to open doors for her and give up their seats. She is treated as an object of femininity and womanhood, she achieves Madonna-like status, having fulfilled her ultimate purpose in life-to bear children. She is no longer one of the guys, she can't be.
But I've never been that girl. I've been a hard-drinking, hard-talking, swearing-like-a-sailor type of career woman. And certainly, to the men around me, I'm one of the boys. Well, I was. Not anymore. When a woman gets pregnant, that is proof that she is indeed a woman-she's one of Them, not one of Us-and there's no going back to the comfortable tomboy existence of before. Once a woman puts her procreative apparatus into action she can never again have drinks behind the jock-strap curtain. It's like losing my virginity all over again. But far more traumatic. So far there are no pluses to this condition. I feel ill and I'm expected to be happy about it. I complain of nausea and have to contend with an unsympathetic 'Well, YOU wanted this.' Yes, I wanted it and by God I've got it. There's an old Chinese curse that says 'May you get what you wish for.' I wonder briefly who put it on me.