"I gave birth during my matric exams"

Neil Kirby

At the beginning of 2014 the excitement of turning 18 and being in my final year of high school were the only things on my mind. Little did I know that I was about to face an unimaginable challenge.

In May, I realised that something about my body was different. I slept a lot more than usual (which seemed almost impossible since I could already sleep more than anyone I know). I also ate a whole lot more. I did not take any of these symptoms seriously and figured that it was just stress.

My mom’s younger sister noticed the changes too and suggested a pregnancy test. I thought she was absolutely mad. I could not be pregnant. After all, I didn’t have morning sickness and weird cravings. Isn’t this what pregnancy is all about anyway?

A will to succeed

I found out that I was pregnant towards the end of May 2014. First, I told my boyfriend, Daniel, who was calm and supportive right from the start. He took the criticism directed at us and never stopped encouraging me. I dreaded telling my mom, but my aunt continued to put pressure on me to tell her.

I will never forget the disappointment on my mother’s face and the pain in her eyes that night. It was then that I made the decision to do her proud. I wanted her to know that I loved and appreciated her for all that she has done for me. The only way I was going to be on the right track to my success was to push through my matric year and exams, no matter what happened.

For a long time, my belly was not visible, especially through clothing. I carried on as usual at school as the biggest event of the year was fast approaching. At the time of my matric dance I was seven months pregnant and finding an appropriate dress was quite difficult (not only because women are so indecisive, but because of my changing figure).

Facing harsh words

Rumours started to surface. I had not told anyone at school about my pregnancy. Not because I was hiding it, but I just chose not to talk about it unless someone had the decency to ask me, instead of talking behind my back. Apparently people had cropped a picture of me in my matric dance dress and sent it around, asking whether or not I looked pregnant.

Throughout the year, I went to the clinic for my antenatal checkups. I did this religiously, even if it meant going after school some days. Daniel was at most of those checkups. My estimated due date was 25 October 2014, two days before final exams began.

It was time we informed the school so that the necessary steps could be taken. I was terrified that I was not going to be allowed to write my exams, but the school was very accommodating. They organised that I was seated close to the door and an execution plan was put into place in case I went into labour during the exam.

As October approached, I became nervous. I hoped and prayed that the baby would arrive on his due date – just before my exams. October 25th and 26th passed, and he was nowhere to be seen.

When I woke up on the 27th, my prayer was different: “This baby had better come on a day that I don’t write.” I wrote from Monday to Wednesday that week.

On Wednesday after my exam, I went back to the clinic for my final checkup. When I got home, I told my mom that tonight the baby was coming.

She laughed. Late that afternoon mild contractions began. I wasn’t scared, and I believe that contributed to how I took the labour. I was very calm. I remember calling Daniel that night, telling him that I was in labour. “Kate? We’re having a baby? What? We’re having a baby!”

He was quite surprised by how calm I remained, when he was really the one who needed calming down. The hours ticked by. My mother was convinced I should go to hospital early.

My aunt and I refused. The last thing I wanted was to sit around for hours on end. We left at 2am. Daniel stayed at the hospital with me.

At 8.30am on Thursday 30 October 2014, we welcomed baby Daniel (“Junior”) Siphiwe into the world. I had never been so excited, nor had I ever seen so much joy on Daniel (now senior)’s face. The feeling of holding your baby in your arms for the first time is beyond any description.

Back to business

That afternoon I was discharged. Arriving home, we were greeted by excited friends and family, but I had other things on my mind. Firstly, I needed a doughnut cushion and then I had revision to do for my maths exam the next day.

When everyone had left, I jumped into the shower, my mom and aunt kept an eye on Junior and Daniel helped me to study. We dug into the books for a few hours and at last, I went to bed. Junior woke up a couple of times that night for feeds. The morning arrived (quicker than I thought) and I was off to school, doughnut cushion in one hand, stationery and ID in the other.

I did not miss any of my exams. I have been breastfeeding my son (and expressing when I was away at school). I took nap times for him as study time for me. I took it one day at a time. And before I knew it, the exams were over.

Looking back

Without the support from Daniel, my mother, my aunt, my mother’s employers and my family, I would not have been able to push through and finish my matric.

I have no words to thank them. Regardless of how difficult it was, the unkind words that were said and physical challenges, I was determined. I believe determination is stronger than any other feeling and can override any physical or emotional constraints.

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