Just when I thought I would teach my child about the world, it turns out that I will teach the world about my child.
It is now 3.02am. Saturday, August.
The water has burst. The huge brown and white wall clock is ticking angrily or probably excitedly, come to think of it. The room is cold and my teeth are clattering. The air is chilly and cuts through my skin. I could feel death’s presence. It was lurking and grinning, stretching his hands to carry the next life, with glee. Syringes, scissors and tongs are lying haphazardly on a table nearby. Among them is a hospital metallic holloware too. There is a metallic tray and a wide trolley, with four compartments, the lowest having a transparent water bottle. There are cupboards, attached to the walls, labelled using roman numbers. IV has scissors, V has rolls of cotton wool, VI has files arranged vertically while VII and VIII are closed. There is a white sink and hand wash next to it. Above it is another cupboard, now ajar and I can see liquids of different colors. On top of the cupboard is a cartoon, its ears flapping. The AC is on and I cannot help but wonder why it was on at such a deadly hour of the morning, which brought no promise of a greater tomorrow. The nurse is wearing sky blue uniform and cream gloves. The doctor is still in the stripped shirt and official trousers that he was in during the day and his wedding ring is clinging on his finger protectively. He looks composed. The nurse, Catherine Mutembei’s face is smiley from the moment I got admitted at Nairobi hospital.
“It should be out soon, right doctor?” she walks back, having left us in the delivery room for about 6 minutes.
“The medicine worked so fast. I had underestimated it”
“Less than 30 minutes. I mean I administered and decided to grab tea, I was freezing. Then she rang the bell.”
“That was so fast!” Agrees Dr. Mutua, adjusting his spectacles. “She is lucky”
I’m lying, my legs wide open. I swear they have never been this wide. The labor pains are rapidly ripping through my entire body. My head is slightly raised, about 45 degrees. The doctor uses tips of his hands to check for dilation.
I look at my cousin, standing next to my head.
“Will he live?” I ask her, desperately. She looks at me and the nurse steals my attention when she tells the doctor,
“Oh, it is breech. And the legs were fully formed”
“Yes, and it was a baby boy”
I listen with heaviness. At 26 weeks pregnant, I thought I was out of danger in terms of losing the baby. But the previous night, I felt some cramps and knew it wasn’t normal. I went for checkup during the day, a scan was done and when the doctor called me back in his office, he sighed and asked me,
“Where is the baby’s father?” I panicked.
“The baby has no heart beat.”
He said looking into my eyes.
“What! Doctor, what do you mean there is no heart beat?”
I pull an ‘Afro-cinema move’ of actresses who are told someone is dead and they ask, dokto, wot du you mean dead? He looked sad, at least that’s what I wanted to see.
“I am so sorry, Gladwell.” He drops.
“Why? Why are you sorry?”
It wasn’t sinking well with me. He stared at me, probably remembering all the women he had encountered in his years as an obstetrician and had to deliver to them the bad news; fetal demise.
“Try and sustain the contraction,” he says, pressing my tummy, bringing me back to reality.
The pain is so much that I lift my entire body, hoping to somehow come out of my body. The doctor contains me and holds my legs tight. The nurse brings and ties a blue surgical mask around the doctor’s mouth and nostrils and also covers herself, then leaves. My cousin remains inhaling the pungent smell from the freshly evacuated feces.
I feel angry at my baby. Why would he cause so much pain already? Wasn’t it enough that he had decided not to fight for life, just a little more? And now, like any other normal delivery, he was following the process duly, as he it would make any difference. Why wouldn’t he come out already and save mama the pain?
“His shoulders are stuck in the cervix,” the doctor tells the nurse who has walked in yet again, for the 100th time, asking if he was out.
It looks like this nurse has been employed to walk up and down in the cold corridors of Nairobi hospital. Her front teeth are peeping. Is she laughing at my predicament or her teeth are always sticking out like a warthog, or is her face just jovial like Amos Wako? Her dark and smooth skin glowed in the bright light and she seemed so energetic, like it wasn’t 3am in the morning. There was no trace of tiredness in her. When I got admitted to this hospital the previous evening, she was on duty. She looks unperturbed by the situation I was going through. She had probably handled 78 such cases, since her graduation from Nkubu KMTC or Nairobi university school of nursing. And had become so accustomed to fetal deaths, that she failed to empathize and appreciate that patients are different.
Another wild contraction rips through my womb as I wince and hold my cousin’s hand tighter.
“I feel so much pain,” I tell her
“I know, pole sana.” She says, balancing tears.
“It is very cold, Goddie,” I tell her.
She covers me with an overcoat
Another wilder contraction than the previous one attacks and I grimace, arching my back
“Oiii! Doctor I will die in your hands”
“No,” he laughs. “No Gladwell, you won’t die.”
“Ai! Ai!” I cry and push again
“You are doing well. You are doing well.”
I’m now sweating as I stare at him, his spectacles with very thin frames and thick lenses, his tiny beards and the green makeshift apron, made of green nylon. It has spots of blood. His gloves are now red. I look away and stare at the white ceiling. The air is playing tricks on my body because one second, I was sweating and the next, I was shaking because of chilliness.
“He has taken long,” The nurse says, checking through my legs as she cranes her neck.
“There is no hurry,” he says. Then he mumbles medical terms to the nurse, amidst them ‘incarceration’.
“Is he almost out?” I ask my cousin, who is still holding my hand.
“Yes.” She says without hesitating. And I know she is lying. She is the biggest liar alive and is capable of convincing me that this baby will be born alive.
“Is he alive? Is he moving?” I ask her. She stares at me, overwhelmed with emotions and doesn’t say a word. I badly needed her lies at this time. I wanted her to lie that my son is alive. I needed her to lie. But she let me down. She failed me.
“Oh Gladwell! I wish I could help you. But I can’t pull him”, says Dr. Mutua as I push strongly and the fetus does not seem to make any progress. It is dead, after all, isn’t it?
“It is dangerous to pull, right?” The nurse says. The doctor nods. He seems irritated with her verbosity. Can’t she just be quiet? This wasn’t a damn class!
Another contraction strikes in as I push harder and feel my bones crack.
“Yes, you are doing well. We are making progress,” says the doctor. “The shoulders are out.” He says.
Oh no! I thought to myself. All this while, his head hasn’t come out? Is this baby planning to rip my womb? Is he planning to give me fistula or an eternal back ache? I felt tired of the pain, the soggy bed, the smell of blood, my cousin’s broken face, the doctor’s nagging and the nurse’s casualty.
“It is hot,” I tell my cousin. “Get this off.” I signal her to pull the overcoat. She complies.
“I am tired, doctor.” I tell him
“I understand. There is no hurry. Take your time.”
And I swore if he addressed me ‘Gladwell’ one more time, I would kick him in the belly. He didn’t. I close my eyes and breathe heavily. There is no hurry.
I felt tortured. I felt crushed and broken. I wanted to die. I should have jumped through the window back at the clinic. For the first time, I thought of suicide as I closed my eyes, my baby’s head stuck between my legs, lifeless. Everything seemed like a dream, or a fantasy. I even convinced myself that it is one of the scenes of fictional stories I create in my mind, or an interview with someone, out there somewhere about how she lost her baby. My brain shut down and I closed my eyes. This is fantasy. I whispered to myself.
I thought of food aversions I had experienced during this pregnancy. I thought of the sore breasts, of the painful legs. I thought of the distorted sleep patterns, waking up at 2am and sitting upright as my tummy felt tight and full. I was hungry and thirsty. I thought of the scorching heartburns and the terrible back aches.
I thought of my partner’s suffering too. He would wake up any moment I turned and ensured I slept well. I thought of him tucking the pillow between my legs. I thought of him massaging my belly every day, and massaging my legs every night after supper. I thought of the many pillows he bought and would put on my back as I sat on the couch. The doctor said you should sit upright after eating. He would insist. I remembered him talking to our son, “mummy says you love blue, but I think you love pink”. Then the baby would kick as I laughed uncontrollably. In the morning, he would ask, “how did you people sleep?” as he touched my belly. I thought of the preparation he had done as he awaited baby. He had told the entire world that he is almost becoming a father. I wept inside, thinking of him. My poor lover!
I thought of my sister’s son. He would sit and put his head on my tummy and sleep. I watched him with awe, wondering about the attachment with his unborn cousin. He was going to have a cousin, but not anymore.
I thought of my sister and the excitement she had. She had bought a lot of baby clothes for my son. I remember I got so emotional, staring at the tiny socks, mittens, t-shirts and tiny trousers.
I thought of my colleagues who watched my tummy grow with so much joy. Whenever I seemed to be in a bad mood, they’d joke and say, “baby leo hataki story” and held no bad feelings.
I thought of myself again. I had waited for him so eagerly. I was the happiest woman and was content in my pregnant world. Soda had suddenly become too sugary and couldn’t stand it. Chips smelt and tasted too nasty. I couldn’t even stand the sight of beef, fish or chicken. And I complied with the baby’s demands and embraced them whole-heartedly. He had converted me into a vegan to my amusement. Month after month, I gained more weight and my breasts became heavier and heavier. I watched the weight scale with joy, as it rose monthly. I loved this new world, full of demands, yet cool contentment. And suddenly, when I was totally into it, settled and loving it every day, it was taken away in a flash. I wept bitterly. I was not ready to live without my little man in my tummy.
Another contraction attacked me as I gave a final push and the head came out, blood splashing all over. The doctor’s nylon apron was all bloody.
“It is over. It is over,” The doctor said. “Just the placenta remaining, but it will come out involuntarily”
The nurse was quick to say, “Finally! He has come out! Next time, you will hear a cry. It won’t be like this.” She consoles me, smiling. “And we will put him on your belly” She said cheerfully.
Dr. Mutua carries the baby as I peep weakly from the corner of my eye and places him on a tray! I was devastated and exacerbated. I cursed him for putting my child on the tray like a specimen. I cursed August. I cursed all the medics I had interacted with through my pregnancy. I cursed the sonographer who did the final scan before confirming my baby was dead. I cursed her because she was also expressionless and did not blink as she stared at the screen. And I cursed this hospital for putting me in the labor ward with other pregnant women who were going to have live babies. They kept giggling with their husbands and talking excitedly as they waited for labor pains. Heavy tears flowed as I looked at my baby lying on that tray like meat. I cried for him and wanted to hold him, at least. He was a tiny human. An angel who couldn’t be touched. I wanted to die and meet him, at least in after life. Talk to him and ask him why he left, for no reason.
The nurse gave me pads and said we can now head back to the ward. As we walked on the long, cold corridor, I met another nurse, pushing a new born on a trolley, covered in white, all peaceful and blinking like an angel. I stared at the baby and sighed, while others are dying, others are being born. That is nature! Others get married, others divorcing. Others getting jobs, others being fired. Another woman out there aborts every other month, but successfully has a live child when she wants to keep it. Another one has never aborted and wants a baby so bad, but it is not forthcoming. Ways of God are very strange. We are not in a race, it is God’s speed.