My son's 17th birthday is on 19th June - next week. He hanged himself two years ago on 31 March 2011. He was 14 years old. This is an extract from a book I have written about him, us and what happened that day. It's simply called BOY...What brought Boy to a place where death was preferable to life? What path did he walk from birth to his still-so-young fourteen years? Was it something I did or didn’t do as a mother? Something David did or didn’t do as a father? I have only questions and no answers. What I do know is John Peter was born beautifully and exquisitely at home.It is a perfect painless birth and I am euphoric and empowered. My contractions start in the morning and I spend the day walking up and down the wooden passage that cuts through the centre of our old Berea house. I love each contraction and welcome the tightening of my uterus. I am not scared. I feel prepared for this birth. I am in control and in charge. This time I know my body will cooperate. It knows what to do and I am going to have a perfect home birth. I have never been more certain of anything. The midwife comes to see how I’m doing in the late-winter afternoon. She gives me a pill to put under my tongue to help the contractions. She is aware that my previous labours were long, protracted affairs. There I am in my home, in the middle of a cold Johannesburg winter, preparing for a birth. There is a large fire burning. I am listening to my esoteric music to aid my relaxation. I am surrounded by friends and my sister: Mark, Irit, Sue, Vanessa and Nina. They come and go like any day in our Berea house. It is always open house here, full of friends and family and lodgers. David leaves for his performance in A Tale of Two Cities, hoping to be back in time for the delivery. The contractions become stronger and I move to the couch in the lounge. I spend the next few hours rocking backwards and forwards on my hands and knees in front of the roaring fire. The midwife rubs my back as she murmurs comforting words to me, and the fire keeps me warm as I go deep into myself and enter what seems like my primal sacred place. There is no pain, it is just intense and enormous, and when I start feeling like it’s getting to be too much I ask if I can move to my bed. The room and the bed have been prepared by the midwives. There are lots of black bags under the sheets and a heater and the midwives are quietly talking and their equipment is set up and the light is soft. Nina and Vanessa also come. I get onto the bed and ask for some pethidine. The midwife gives me a shot and I am able to relax completely for about half an hour and then I know it is time. I roll onto my back and Vanessa sits up close next to me and the midwife is saying, ‘It’s time to push’. I try to push but I feel so relaxed that I ask, ‘Do I really have to push? Won’t the contractions do the work of pushing him out?’ The midwife says, ‘No, Kate, you must push – push, Kate – let’s get this baby out.’ Vanessa joins in the pushing chorus and says, ‘Push, Kate’ as she holds onto my left knee. My sister Nina stands at the end of the bed with her arms folded, shaking her head as though what she is witnessing is not possible. She is wide-eyed and amazed. And I manage to push, although I don’t remember pushing very hard. And out the baby slips. I can’t believe that I’ve done it. All by myself at home in my bed – without screaming, just gently supported – I have done it. I am so proud; I have never been prouder of anything really – not my master’s, not my nice new job, not anything – but that birth… and then the biggest surprise of all – it’s a boy. I burst into tears. I cannot quite believe it. I never expected to have a son. I always assumed I would only birth daughters. I had given little thought to a son. I immediately sense his difference and I love it. He isn’t a small version of me. He is a him. I am so used to the girls that I keep referring to him as a she or her and so I start referring to him as Boy, so it sinks in. I have a boy – a great big healthy boy. The midwife runs a bath and gently leads me there and I sink into the warm embracing water and she brings the baby to bath with me. It is a delicious and delirious moment. I am in my bath in my home with my baby boy in the bath with me. Afterwards I put on my new Woolies pyjamas – a complete indulgence because there isn’t money for such but I used my Woolies card. I get into my bed and hold my baby close and watch as he finds my nipple and starts drinking hard and firm and fast – not like the girls, he knows just what to do. He sucks with knowing and strength and vigour from the start. It is a truly perfect birth. It is exactly what I want it to be, what I know birth can be. And he sleeps with me in that bed until we move to McGregor six months later. I choose a home birth because I don’t really have a choice. We don’t have medical aid so we can’t afford the private hospital route and the Joburg Gen is no longer an option. When I gave birth to Annie at the Gen, I had an uncaring and distracted midwife. There were no hospital gowns and no bedding. There was blood in the bath that hadn’t been cleaned. I cannot afford a private hospital birth. And so even in birth as in his life, my son cooperates. He makes it easy for me. He comes into the world without any drama. Vanessa leaves a message on my Facebook page on his sixteenth birthday: ‘I just remember your calmness and joy and his black hair, and Irit’s false eyelashes, and the little girls in bed, and the joy and happiness surrounding his birth. And there was this lovely calming music that was playing, and the date. X.’ He is born on 19 June 1996. It seems auspicious somehow, all those nines and sixes. He was born at home and he died at home. He slipped into the world without making a fuss – he lived in it for nearly fifteen years without making a fuss – and then just as easily as he arrived he slipped out of it without much of a fuss. Quietly. There is a strange poetic symmetry in his arrival on this earth and his departure from this earth – both at home, both quietly, with barely a whisper. But what has he left behind? He may not have demanded much from any of us while he was with us, but his death has left each of us grappling and clawing our way to some sense and meaning. The aftermath for each of us is as if our own personal tsunami has taken place. Giant waves of grief and sadness engulf and overwhelm, and the threat of drowning in these waves is there. I come up gasping for air. I am confused and dazed as I try to do the ordinary routine things that used to come so easily, except now everything is turned upside down. Sometimes I float on the tidal waves and sometimes I hang on to whatever is nearest and cling for dear life and sometimes I can and sometimes it feels like I’m going to drown and that it’s not possible to survive this. But then I do. The most ordinary of tasks take Herculean effort to undertake. Nothing has its place anymore. It is ironic that through Boy’s death, his absence, his loss, he has become the most demanding of children. He demands of me that I keep putting one foot in front of the other and the longer I do this, the more demanding those steps become – not easier, as some would imagine. And then one day it’s no longer just a matter of carrying on one step after another. The steps want to start doing the two-step. They want to dance a little. They want to take all the pain and all the trauma and all the loss and transform the mindless prison shuffle into steps that are more life-affirming. And then a little miracle takes place. Ruby puts on some music and she starts to dance and then she takes me by the waist and holds my outstretched hand and says, ‘We’re going to dance like Italians’. And we do what I think is her version of a tango and we march up and down the house changing direction and moving our heads dramatically from side to side and then an occasional twirl and we throw our heads back and we laugh. The music has stopped and we are now making it up as we go along. Just the two of us dancing and laughing. It feels miraculous.