Harald, Maude, and the Himba: A letter to the twins

Posted by
Majka Burhardt
 May 16, 2016

Dear Harold and Maude,

I know, I’d promised new names. We will get there—we still have five weeks to come up with them. Five weeks until you launch yourselves into the outside world. Five weeks until I hold you in my arms instead of in my belly.

Back before I knew I was having you, or even sure I wanted to try and have one of you, I always thought that the transformation of pregnancy would be something I’d love to undertake.  And now we’re eight months into this together and I have a belly that is an unworldly orb full of not one, but two lives.


8 Months Pregnant with Twins, photo by Anne Skidmore

We are in a three-person journey every millisecond of every day—but it is the nights I want to talk to you about.  It is the nights when I lie awake in the dark at eleven, one, three and four, and I wonder just what we’re all getting ourselves into. Those are the moments when I need to feel you kick and squirm, and yet those are the moments when you’re most silent. And so from now on, I’m going to knock.

Seven years ago, I met a Himba woman in northwestern Namibia. It was early evening in Marienfluss valley—that hour-long slice of time when the whitened grasslands are momentarily gold.  Your dad, Kate, and I had just climbed a consolation rock climbing route in the shade of a 113-degree day on a granite cliff that was the backdrop and backyard for a Himba family’s mud and grass home. We had no common language with the Himba. It was 2009 and we were 20 days into a 35-day expedition whose budget for a translator had evaporated with the global financial crisis. The Himba family had been watching our team climb, and we’d been living on their land. We had developed a system of pointing and gesturing to get by. One woman and I were particularly hitting it off that night. She reached for bright green rope I had as confirmation that we’d actually been the ones climbing on the face. I nodded, she shook her head.


Photo by Gabe Rogel

This woman had a baby on her back—six or eight months old, I guessed. Old enough to make faces at back at me when I made them to him. His mother and I switched soon from communicating about rock climbing, to communicating about babies. She turned to give me better access the little boy, and when she moved sideways in the light I saw her belly pushing against the orange and yellow blanket that covered her bare body below. I looked up at her and then together our eyes traveled back to her stomach. Within a moment she’d grabbed my hands and pulled them close. She flicked the woolen blanket out of the way with her elbows and settled my palms on the skin of her growing stomach. We kept them there her other baby kicked. The woman and I both smiled. And then she reached for my belly.

The Himba woman did not reach for me with an open palm, but rather she took her right hand and made it into a fist and paused with that first hovering above my navel. When she touched me, her knuckles brushed my skin as if knocking on a door. She rapped. Twice. She pointed at the rock face above with her other hand. She shook her head, rapped again. “No, no, no,” she said.

I’m sorry to say that I never got that woman’s name. In the year after meeting her I wrote about her knocking on my belly in the context of my clarity to be ok with not having children, and my comfort with the fact that my life and the travel, climbing, exploration, risk taking, and boundary pushing that comes with it did not necessarily predispose me to having children. And that this was alright—I could have an empty belly.

Life is ironic. You two might just be the largest ironies, and joys, of your dad and my lives. I’d like to tell you that I am excited, ready, and happy every moment as I prepare for your arrival. But I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t want you to expect total certainty from me as mom, or from yourselves if you should ever be expecting parents. The doubts and fear, for me, are worst at night. During those sleepless stretches in the dark I wonder and worry. And as I said, it’s those moments when I most want you to be kicking and flipping around to reassure me that you ok in my belly and that we will be ok when you’re out of it. And you two stinkers like to be silent then. So last week I started a new plan: when you’re silent, and I’m scared, I do what the Himba woman did. I knock. And now, you answer.



  1. jody blaney |

    oh dear mumma-already, majka, thank you for letting us into your conversations with your two wee soon-to-be-born babies. it takes a lot of bravery to make it through those silent nights and to speak so honestly. i have always been in awe of you and now i am in love with you!!! in a good way!

    majka, i like to believe you, too, remain in the mind of the woman wrapped in gold. i envision her out there under the dark night skies, and beyond the morning sun, she still sees you and your your distant yellow rope then up close your smile, love and warmth. Your time together, brief, but i bet, everlasting for both of you. you did not exchange names, but better yet, you exchanged heart…and some profound knocking.

    • Majka Burhardt |

      Jody this is the sweetest comment, ever. Thank you for this all.

  2. Polly Pearson |

    I am always so moved by your writing. I love being able to listen to your thoughts and musings while you are talking to your babies. Thank you for being public with your intimate, honest and real feelings. So excited for the arrival of Harold and Maude!

    • Majka Burhardt |

      Thanks so much, Polly. It’s really nice to hear how it strikes you. Sending you the best from NH and looking forward to when you meet these two!

  3. Annette |

    Awe, Majka, this is a beautiful and real journal entry about what we as mamas worry about from the get go. It brings back memories of the many uncomfortable nights of the third trimester when falling in and out of sleep coincides with feeling movement and feeling nothing at all. I think the uncertainty that occurs during pregnancy is a precursor to all of the uncertainty we face as mothers as our children grow. There’s no instruction guide for parenting that will be specific to you, Peter & your kiddos. But what you do have as a guide is your intuition and the keen ability as a parent to know how your kiddos will exist in today’s big world b/c they are made from you. You & Peter will be amazing. You will use your knowledge, your instinct, your head & your heart & these two babes will thrive! I can’t wait to meet them!

    • Majka Burhardt |

      Thanks, Annette. All good and wise words from a very experienced mamma to boot. Thank you for your kindness and ever so looking forward to you meeting them as well!

  4. Zac St. Jules |

    This just wrecks me in the best way. So good.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Majka Burhardt |

      Thanks, Zak– glad for the wrecking in the best way.

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