Anthony John Featherstone

It’s been about a year since we lost my grandfather to cancer. My heart wretched when I got the message, especially since I live a whole continent away and could not see him while he was suffering in hospital. We knew it was coming and I think it was a relief to him, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself, but it didn’t make it any easier at all!

He meant the world to me, so much so that we gave Billy his name! I want to remember him as the strong, quiet farmer he was and I hope Billy will one day read this and get to know him a little through my eyes and heart, so I thought I would put down my memories of him so he can live on a little.

As a farmer in the Karoo, South Africa during so much drought I know he had a tough life. Even though it may not have been like that their whole life, I know my grandparents struggled, I know they worked hard and I know they truly tried to live off the land as best as possible. I remember many a holiday learning to bake biscuits, bread and cakes in my grandmother’s kitchen. Feeding chickens, lighting the old black Agga stove and playing with their many animals were just part of the farming life fun. As much time as I spent with my grandmother in the old farmhouse, I have some fond, fond memories of the time I spent with my grandfather.

He was always up at the crack of dawn, or at least a few minutes before that because it was always dark when he got up. As a young kid I would eagerly be lying in bed waiting to hear his beautiful black and brown Kelpies stirring and pitter-patter along the old floorboards to go outside. Shortly followed by the thudding sound of his veldskoene as he made his way past our bedroom to the kitchen for a cup of tea. I would sneak out the room and join him at the kitchen table in my pajamas while he sipped his tea and ate a yummy rusk or biscuit (which he would let me have too if I promised not to tell my grandmother or sister). He would head out to begin his day and as it was still to early to go out with him I would head back to bed and pretend to be asleep until my grandmother came to wake us or my sister would wake up and we would both sneak into her bed till the house staff came in to start work and make breakfast. Although now that I’m older and look back I’m sure they had all been up just as early as my grandfather, milking cows, starting fires, feeding animals etc. But in my childish mind I imagined that I had been up before anyone else and that he and I were sharing a secret moment in time where only we existed.
We would get ready for breakfast which had to be on the table at 8am, after which I could finally go out with him. I loved spending the day out on the farm with him while he worked. I especially loved that all I had to do was follow him around and he would give me little jobs to do at the same time. I learnt so much from him, he may not have even known how much he was teaching me at the time. But he gave me a true passion for animals, the outdoors and working out in the sunshine and wide open spaces. Even to this day my ultimate dream is to be on a small holding, working in my veggie garden, feeding my chickens; goats; pigs and geese and truly living off the land around us.
He probably also didn’t realise how many things he let me see that gave me a deeper understanding of the world around me, one such story remains with me. In south Africa there are these monkeys called Vervet monkeys and as much as they are a natural part of our ecosystem I now they are a great pest to farmers. There was a cage in each veld to catch them if they tried to eat whatever was growing in that field. One day I noticed there was a monkey caught in a trap, I was over the moon excited as I pictured my granddad telling me he would tame it as a pet for me (as if!). Instead he picked me up and put me into the back of the bakkie (ute) telling me not to hop down at all. He then got his sweet, sweet kelpies all riled up around the cage (I had only ever viewed them as the dogs I played with and would do anything I told them if I used the right commands). I had never seen his dogs so ferocious, even when they were working with his sheep or goats they were all business and obedience, nor had I ever seen these super cute monkey so vicious and scary. He then opened the cage and let the monkey out and the dogs went berserk, attacked and killed it. I was heart-broken, confused and good old-fashioned scared.
He told me that it made sure the dogs remembered how to protect his animals from predators and it was an important part of his dogs work and that the monkeys had become over populated because of the easy access to food on the farms as well as the fact that the farms were set up to keep predators away so they were over breeding.
I had never learnt that much about biology/science in the whole time I had been at school. I also learned that day that animals would always go back to their basic instincts when put into that kind of situation and as much as I love dogs, that day also taught me to respect them so much more. There were many, many more stories and lessons he taught me, some good and some bad but it would be way to many to put down here today.

He loved and trained his work dogs so well, they would know what he wanted them to do with just a whistle or command. He bred and trained them for other farmers and for me any memory of him was always accompanied by his dogs, who were either named Jesse and Jock or Sam and Lady, he reused those names constantly. If his bitch was pregnant you best know you don’t get to sit in the front seat of the bakkie, and if I managed to squeeze in I was NOT allowed to sit between her and him. So often I would be standing on the back with the male dogs and the farm staff while the female dogs got to sit on the front seat with him.

More than any memory of my grandfather the best thing about being with him was how he made me feel about myself. I love my family with all my heart and would never choose to be part of any other. But as a child I never quite felt liked I belonged, I always thought I was just not good enough, like I was supposed to be a better person or different somehow but I just couldn’t figure out how. I think I was a really naughty child, but not because I was trying to be naughty just because I never knew how to be anything different to who I was. Even today I have a constant inner fight between the free-spirited fairy I feel like I should be and the ordered, a-type personality that was instilled in me as a kid. My parents didn’t do a bad job and probably didn’t even know what was going on inside me, they just did the best they knew how to do and tried hard to give me discipline they believed I needed.
However when I was with my grandfather it all disappeared! He was like the calm within my inner storm. He stopped those nasty voices telling me how I wasn’t good enough and stopped all the fighting and the constant battle from taking over my mind. He didn’t try, he didn’t ask me how I felt, he didn’t do special activities with me… he just was. He didn’t need to talk to me, he just accepted me. He didn’t do anything special or try to connect with me on some deeper level, he just let me be who I was and never tried to make me do anything I didn’t want to do, he answered my questions without judgment and whenever I got into trouble (which felt like always) he didn’t pile on anymore. He just let me sit next to him on the couch and cuddle in silence, although he only ever watched the news which is kind of like torturing a child.

But no matter what happened or how I felt, no matter what I was doing or wasn’t doing I loved him. I felt at home and safe with him and whenever I would find out we were going there for holidays I would be over-the-moon, can’t contain myself kind of excited (my mom was a single mom so pretty much every school holiday would be spent on their farm). He was my safe person, my constant in our broken home, my friend when I felt like I had none and the one person I always felt like I could go to.

So to my grandfather: thank you for accepting me, thank you for loving me, thank you for teaching me, thank you making me feel OK with who I was and most importantly thank you for the memories. I love you more than words can say and miss you even more!


It’s a BOY!!

At 5:55 am on lucky St Paddy’s day (17/3/13) we got to meet our handsome young son William Anthony Muilwyk!

He joined us weighing a healthy 3.8kg and measuring 53 centimetres. SONY DSC SONY DSC

We were proud to name him after both Sean’s & my grandfather, William John Carroll & Anthony John Featherstone.

Please note that this is my birth story, it has parts in it you may not want to read/know about and it is my point of view. If you are pregnant my experience may be completely different to what you go through and the best bit of advice I can give you is that it is all worth it and worrying/stressing about what could go wrong is going to make it worse, just think as positively about the amazing journey as you can!

William was due on Saturday the 16th March and our day started really normally. We woke with plans to do some work on our garden and maybe even head into town to get one or two things from the shops, so after breakfast Sean started mowing the lawn and I got busy weeding our front garden. It was a very hot day so I decided to go inside and make us some morning tea before continuing some more weeding, unfortunately it was way to hot so I decided to stay inside and have a nice cold shower and a quick snooze before heading to the shops. Sean must have thought the same thing cause I heard him jump in the shower about half an hour later. As we were both lying down for a quick nap I suddenly got a VERY strong urge to pee, so I jumped up quick to run to the loo and figured out that I was quite wrong… It was in fact my water that had broken!

So we rang the hospital and they suggested we head up to them as once your waters break your uterus becomes unsterile. We made a quick sandwich (we hadn’t even had lunch yet and it was around 12:30) and made our way up there. The midwives where lovely and welcoming ( I can’t recommend Watson House at the Shoalhaven Hospital enough) and put me on the monitors in one of the delivery rooms to see if I had started contractions yet and if baby was doing alright. I was having contractions but I could hardly feel them at all so I got really excited thinking YAY, these kind of contractions are awesome, I can easily do this! Little did I know 🙂

Anyway after monitoring me for about half an hour they moved us over to a recovery room to wait for my labour to start. About 3 hours later my contractions started getting a bit more painful and were only 10 minutes apart so we called one of the midwives in to let her know. Again how wrong I was, she politely and sympathetically explained that our real labour hadn’t started yet. Oh boy, these were already starting to get painful and it was only 3pm, so we waited and waited and walked around and around trying to get bub ready to come out. At about 10:30 the pain finally started to become a bit more regularly and it was very tiring, especially since we had been up since about 9am that morning.

So when the midwife checked in on us she offered me some painkillers and to move us over to the delivery room and run me a nice hot bath.   I was very keen by this time to give it a go as I thought it would give me a chance to relax a bit and maybe even get a 10 minute nap in. Oh how wrong I was, as soon as I hit the water my real labour started (at 11pm) and oh boy was I sorry I ever thought the other contractions were hard. These were coming in waves, one after the other and I was battling to breath through them and that is where my amazing midwife came in! She was there the whole time talking me through the breathing that helped me cope with the pain and that made all the difference, I couldn’t believe how deep long breaths could help me so much with the contractions. So for a while I sat in the bath hugging Sean during contractions and enjoying the warm water when there was a short break.

We dearly didn’t want any intervention through this labour or any drugs but once the contractions started to get closer together we decided to give the gas a go to help me get through to the next stage. It was a little bit disappointing to me that I had to use anything but sometimes the birth plan doesn’t always go according to plan as I would soon find out. As the pushing stage of our labour started I thought I was doing pretty well, especially after using the gas. I must admit that no one explained to me how strange this last part of the labour would feel. It felt like I really needed to push out a poo! It was such an odd feeling but apparently because the baby’s exit is so close to ‘that’ exit it makes it feel like the pushing is the same. One of the midwives most helpful advice was to let it happen, “don’t fight the feeling” as she put it. So once this stage had started it all felt like it started to run a bit quicker, but our darling little man just would not make his was down. Considering this was about 3am I was quite literally exhausted and really didn’t think I could carry on any longer. But we kept trying and trying and then my midwife and Sean started to notice I was loosing quite a bit of blood and our sweet son had not moved any further down.

So she had to call in the obstetrician and he was fantastic. He quickly evaluated me (in a painful hands-on or up kind of way) and explained that William’s head was angled the wrong way which meant he wasn’t making progress and we would need a caesarean. Of course this was definitely not according to our natural birth/water birth plan! After having a small panic attack cause things weren’t going to plan Sean,  my phenomenal biggest supporter and my strength the whole way though, managed to calm me down a bit and the doctor explained that he would first try the Kiwi cup. It’s a suction cup that sucks onto the baby’s head and helps get the baby down, we very happily said yes and he began the process. But before we could start he had to open my cervix more, even though I was fully dilated my cervix wasn’t soft enough and because of the angle of William’s head he just wasn’t going to move. As our Dr placed the cup on William he also stuck his hand up to open my cervix more, he combined my pushing with moving the cervix walls away from around the baby’s head and using the suction cup to move baby down. After only a few more pushes our very special little boy finally made his appearance.

As soon as he was out they placed him directly on my chest and we tried to get him to have his first big cough/scream and then on to his very first feed. It didn’t take long for him to cry because he had such a terrible bruise and some of the skin on his head been pulled off by the cup. But because he was so upset it took us a while for him to latch on for that first feed, we also noticed he had a very bad tongue tie so we were quite worried it would mean he wouldn’t latch on. However we finally got him to attach and he has been amazing at feeding ever since. They left us in the delivery room until I felt strong enough to get up and have a shower and move back over to our recovery room and that was that. A very long evening but such an amazing morning and a phenomenal outcome considering our situation.

I am so grateful to my darling husband for being such a great support to me and getting me through each stage safely,  I know I couldn’t have done it without him!SONY DSC