Waiting to exhale

A week of so many ups and downs.

The mom I spoke about recently got a job – her first in a long time. A momentous occasion – but fraught with so many complications.

First the interview. But the recruitment place is a two hour trip from home and there’s nothing to wear. She doesn’t want to go in the clothes she’s worn when she’s begged on the street in the past.  We sorted that out. Got the job – a great achievement –  but on the first day there’s no money for taxi fare. On another day, if we weren’t there to bully motivate and encourage her – she might have given up and stayed home. Resigned herself to living today the same as yesterday. I told her to walk if she had to – it’s far – and I felt like a bully. She made a plan. She went.

Next hurdle – need a bank account. No money to open one, no proper proof of residence. Would the bank accept what she did have?  How often does it happen that what we might think of has tiny inconveniences and up being insurmountable hurdles for other people?

Spent the weekend wondering if she’d do it on Monday – turn up for training, new bank account details in hand. Or would she give up, because it was hard, and confusing – and still, among all of this, and all this money that’s needed to just get a foot in the door of employment – her children still need to eat.

I didn’t know for sure what she’d do.  Nervous to reply to her Please Call Me because I didn’t want to hear that she hadn’t taken those final hard steps by herself. We’ve been there to hold her hand and give her a push when needed – and she’s never had that before.

She did it and now, as it always has been – it’s up to her to make it work. I’m cautiously hopeful.

My bullying side got another workout when speaking to a young pregnant girl from Jhb via SMS. At 4 months, she hasn’t yet told her parents and hasn’t yet been to the clinic. No money to get there, can’t ask family for cash without arousing suspicion. I tell her how important it is for her to take charge and do the hard work this journey requires – no matter how scary, no matter how young she is, no matter how much easier it is to bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. She’s convinced her parents will kick her out of the house when they find out, regardless of what her final choice regarding the pregnancy is. Am not sure of how many weeks she is, but is probably past the 12 week termination cut off.

She wants to have her baby, she says. I tell her if that’s the case – she needs to get moving. I give her ideas of other adults in her life she could speak to, to help her break the news to her parents. I tell her exactly what it’s going to require of her – being a mother – physically, emotionally, financially. I’m brutally honest about the chances of her relationship with her boyfriend surviving – and tell her not to base her decisions on whether or not he’ll be there. I emphasise the importance of finding a way to finish school and tell her how hard it will be to do, especially without her family’s support.

I ask her what she’ll do if she does get kicked out. Where will she go? Does she know? Does she have ideas? She doesn’t, not yet. She’s paralysed with fear and confusion right now – and needs somebody to tell her that she is capable of taking control and it’s essential that she does.

It’s no good telling her it will be okay, that her parents will be angry but will get over it. That IS true most of the time, but she knows her family best. If she believes they’ll abandon her – she has reason to feel that way.

I tell her that the first step is to TELL someone, to get to a clinic and get checked out. I tell her that if she’s not willing to take that step – then being a mother WILL be too hard for her.

Every day I ask if she’s done it, and every day there’s another small “no, I couldn’t today”.

Today she tells me she’s made an appointment for Friday, and her boyfriend is going with her. Will she go? Will the taxi money not be forthcoming? Will the boyfriend chicken out? Will the clinic treat her badly? Will her parents really put her out into the street? Will her fear of her parents reaction keep her paralysed for another day, another week – another 5 months- – until she finds herself giving birth alone in the bathroom? What will happen to her baby then? That’s how newborns end up in rubbish bins and yes – I do have to lay a large whack of blame for this on families who make their daughters feel they have no safe place to fall.

I ask her if she wants to be one of those women –  the ones who dump their babies. If that’s how she sees herself and if that’s what she wants for her child.

A cruel question, and unfair – because hardly anyone intends for that – but told her that’s the reality of how it could end up if she doesn’t do something now. I keep reiterating the need for a trusted person close at hand who could be on her side. I wish I could do it, but I’m all the way down here. I’ve given her all the factual information I can, have told her that the clinic is the first place to start and they should be able to provide further referral to counsellors or social workers. I’ve told her to call me anytime. What she wants to hear is “It will all be okay” – but I can’t tell her that. All I can tell her is “It’s up to you”.

More days of holding my breath. Which is nothing compared to the amount of breath-holding she’s doing now.

I never know if I’ve said the right thing. Never know if anything I say or do makes any difference.

There have also been a number of quite lovely new Facebook & email friends and conversations recently – mostly young teens with questions and opinions and really nice things to say.

In the middle of all this, there’s getting to grips with the first month at a new job, new hours, new travelling routine. My own children, who give me so much – who ask for so little and never complain that I’m busy with other people’s issues when I could be (should be) with them.

So ja. Ups and downs.

And holding my breath.







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