2 October 2013

On Bananas and Self-Pity

It’s pretty safe to say that the summer I gave birth to Annaïs was a special one. And when I say "special" I mean crappy. Sure it was great because I had a baby and all, but it’s kinda the pits when you’re away from home, your other child is a toddler, and all you want to do is give birth so you can start the paperwork to get everyone back to Congo.

Remember me whining about my awful labor? Well I was actually showing uncharacteristic self-restraint and left out my sob story of having surgery a week later. It wasn’t serious surgery, but it was surgery none-the-less. And I was one week postpartum (read: crazy hormonal).

Gosh what a beautiful baby. 1-minute after labor: Not worth it. 2 years after labor: Worth it a million times over. Photo: Jill Humphrey.

Have you ever been around a postpartum woman? After a crappy labor? And about to have surgery? If you hear of someone in this trifecta of misery, stay far far away.

All I really remember is sitting in the hospital room about to go into surgery with newborn Ani sleeping in her car seat in the corner, and Adam beside me (but it’s safe to say I had snapped at him about something so we probably weren’t speaking) and I was feeling unbelievably sorry for myself. 

So instead of taking those final moments before I went under to tell my family how much I loved them, I read one of those shiny hospital magazines that are really just thinly-veiled fundraising attempts. There was an article about the fancy new cancer center. It went on and on about the cancer patients and their fortitude and positive outlook. Cancer patients are obviously very amazing and strong folks. I thought, “Well on the bright side, I’ll never get cancer.” If I can summons this amount of self-pity over some dumb surgery, I would never be able to deal with cancer. I would feel way too sorry for myself and self-pity does not a proper cancer patient make. And thus it will never happen to me. So I got in a little better mood because I convinced myself I was too miserable of a person to get a terminal illness.  

And then the nurses came to get me and they expected me to get all sentimental over leaving my newborn for the first time. I was more worried about leaking breast-milk all over the operating table. Yeah, yeah. See ya baby. Can we get this over with before I get too full of milk? A horribly unloving mother and a terrible future cancer patient. An ultimate low in an otherwise pretty happy life. 

Then for some reason I started thinking about Mupwa the gardener back in Kinshasa. And how he said he was planting banana trees for the new baby. I got kind of teary thinking about the beautiful banana trees waiting for us in our backyard in Congo. I kept my focus there for the rest of that crummy summer. I knew our lives would be happy and normal again when we got back to Congo and had our swaying banana trees.

The morning after we returned to Kinshasa, I looked out our back window. This was the triumphant moment I had been envisioning. We were back. I was healing. I was post, postpartum and ready to be cheerful and have a normal life again.

And there were no trees. “Mupwa, where are my damn banana trees?” Oh they’re there! Look real close. I put on my glasses and there they were. About 6 inches tall and wilting. 

Mupwa laughing in my face for thinking I'd have bananas and life would be normal again anytime soon. (Not really, photo from here.)

Turns out it takes a ridiculously long time for banana trees to grow, not to mention bear fruit. Over the next year or so, our precious newborn baby kept us up every night. And having two children in under two-years nearly killed us. Our lives were not normal. Fittingly, most of my inspirational banana trees (aka very small banana plants) died.   

Then one day not all that long ago, our girls started sleeping all night and playing together instead of screaming and crawling up our legs. We started to emerge from the fog of sleep deprivation. And I swear, I looked out back and one of those damn banana trees had a bunch of bananas on it.   

Yep, there they are.

I jumped up and showed Mama Youyou, who was unimpressed. I told Mamicho to keep an eye on them so they wouldn’t get stolen. They both did their laugh-till-they-cry thing and in between snorts said, “Madame. No one’s going to take your bananas.” Yes they will. Those are very special bananas to me. It is only fitting that they will get stolen.

My bananas still weren’t ready to be picked by the time we left Congo this past summer. A good two years after that crummy (I mean "special") summer when Ani was born. So with the seriousness of telling someone what to do with your remains after you die, I told Mamicho to eat the bananas while we were gone. She looked at me like I was nuts. I assumed her look was because she knew she could never bring herself to eat my “special bananas.” In reality it was because she knew they still wouldn’t be ready for 5 more months. 

Sure enough, they were still on the tree, green as ever, when we got back this year. Our gardener said we had to wait for the precise, right moment to pick them. 

When I got home one afternoon last week, Mamicho ran to me out of breath. “Madame, les bananes!” She said she knew it was the right moment, but couldn’t find our gardener to pick them, so found the next best thing, his womanizing father (hey, we never said all Congolese are saints) and he chopped them down for us. She hoped that was okay. 

This weekend we plopped the whole bunch down in front of Ani. She deserved first dibs. After all, she was the one being born when they were planted. The birth experience probably wasn’t so great for her either. And I was kind of mean to her when I was busy convincing myself I was too pathetic to ever get cancer. 

She ate about 7 and then we made ice cream with the rest. The bananas gave Adam sores in his mouth, Ani got a rash around her lips and I got hives on my feet. But I got to eat my damn bananas. And a very long wait for everything to be normal again was over. 


  1. Glad you finally got to eat your bananas!! ;)

  2. I just laugh-cried at work, thanks. :) I haven't had a baby, but I'm pretty sure I know what to expect from myself now if I ever do.

  3. This story just feels so familiar, and I feel very fortunate to have come across it! Thank you for sharing and, inadvertently, making me feel less crazy:)


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