Lessons In Breathing

I don’t like hospitals. They smell of despair and sanitation. A nauseating smell that embraces you. It attaches itself to your clothing and skin, hanging around like a relative from shagz. Hospitals make me sick.

But I had to go to hospital. Not because I was ill. No. But to attend Lamaze classes. Let me explain. Dr Lamaze was a French physician. Sometime in the fifties, he got bored of treating French people and decided to head off to the Soviet Union. He must have broken up with some French girl and decided he needed some space. A cooling off period. What better place to cool off than the Soviet Union, right? Hehe. So he’s chilling in some province in the soviet, cooling his heels and hustling from clinic to clinic doing locums. Making enough money for a roof over his head, some vodka and the occasional dalliance with a soviet chick to help him forget about his French squeeze. On one of his rounds in the maternity wards, he notices something peculiar. Relative silence. There’s no screaming. No husbands receiving insults for what they’d done. Nothing. A suppressed soviet moan on occasion, but nothing more. He discovers that soviet women don’t scream and shout. They make labour look like a walk in the park. Is it the government? Are they forbidden from screaming and yelling in pain? Are they giving birth at gun point? He finds out it’s not as dramatic. Apparently, the Soviet women had discovered through breathing techniques and relaxation rituals, they are able to give birth effortlessly. It’s very different from the French girls he’d seen. So Lamaze, being the curious guy he was decided to study these practices. Ever the enthusiast, he went back to home to teach women these practices and dedicated his life to sharing this with pregnant women all over France. One of his patients was an American named Marjorie. Being American she did what Americans always do. She super-sized the Lamaze curriculum, writing a book and founding the Lamaze association turning it into an international patented curriculum. Helping women around the world pop out children with ease and a smile on their face.

This international curriculum is in Kenya too. Which makes me sceptical, because every African I know has a story of a mother going into the shamba pregnant and returning with a baby that she delivered on her own. A baby she brings home, breastfeeds, takes a nap and off she is back to the pressing matters of tilling the land. Soviet women aren’t the only bad ass women around. Lamaze should have come to Africa.

So when I decided to attend Lamaze classes, I broached the subject with the missus and she looked at me, with lack of recognition on her face.

What did you do? Are you cheating on me?

Eh? No. I just think it would be a good thing to do.

She checked my forehead and asked me if I had a terminal illness. You see, I had mocked Lamaze classes a few years back. I don’t even intend to be in the delivery room when this child lands. “Me am” an African man. They should call me when it’s done. Kwani, how did the men before us do it? When I was born, the chief wasn’t even in the country. My entrance to this world was delivered to him via telegram.


If there were emojis back then, he’d probably respond with a simple thumbs up emoji. But it was the eighties, so he just replied, via telegram;


After confirming I was not dying, I told her it was a good deal and besides, the classes serve killer samosas during breaks. At least that’s what I’d heard. (They really do serve killer samosas).

So we paid for the classes which were due to commence in a couple of weeks. It was a crash course, Friday through Sunday. Two hours on Friday evening (I couldn’t even tell the boys I was going to miss the usual Friday shindig), the whole day Saturday and the afternoon on Sunday.

On the first day, we stepped into The Aga Khan Hospital, Princess Zahra pavilion wing. That’s where the Lamaze classes were to be held. And gladly so because it doesn’t feel like you’re in a hospital. It’s like you’re on a floor at the Hilton. Wall to wall carpets that absorb your every step. Large wooden doors emblazoned with room numbers. It doesn’t even have that hospital smell. The patients are not even sick, they’re what we’d call “under the weather”. I think even the diseases there speak with a posh accent. The diarrhea patients have there isn’t even diarrhea. It’s just “involuntary constant bowel movement.” The kind you get from eating shell fish or caviar. Not from mutura or those boiled eggs from the street.

We navigated the posh corridors and finally got to a room with the door ajar. Within the room were four couples seated. The women were slouched awkwardly in their seats, their bellies protruding before them like inflated balloons. We were obviously in the right place. The men were at their sides sitting proud (or guilty?) of their handy work. Their hands clasped in love and support. We dithered for a moment, peering in awkwardly and acted typically Kenyan by asking an obvious question.

Is this the Lamaze class?

We took our seats and after introductions we realised there were 2 doctors in the group. Now, either medical school is a joke or this birth thing is serious business. Even doctors! I mean I was there because I didn’t know what to expect of this process. I was in search for answers but what answers do doctors need? I soon found out it’s worse for them. They know too much about all the bad things that can happen with child birth and need reassurance.

The classes were enlightening though. We learnt how to breathe. Through the nose. Imagine that. And how to sit on large medicine balls and maternity stools. What’s a maternity stool? It’s a horseshoe shaped…urrrm..stool. The top of which looks like a toilet seat. It relieves the pressure on the pelvis and helps guide the baby through the birth canal. Yes, I’ll be getting my medical degree after this. I didn’t know, let alone care, what a pelvis was until now.

We also learnt how to massage your spouse while she’s in the throes of labour. Not as sexy as you might think. Lamaze did one thing wrong though. It killed boobs for me. Never has the sexiness of breasts been taken away as it happens in a Lamaze class. It was all biology. Did you know there are breasts without nipples? Depressed nipples I think they’re called. Go figure. I felt like a kid finally learning that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Would I recommend Lamaze to anyone? If its your first baby. Maybe. It’s good. You learn alot. But if you tell the chief I attended Lamaze, I will deny your existence.


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