From a young age, we are taught the signs of pregnancy. We are told of how exciting a journey it is. We are told that children are a blessing from God and that they are beautiful and precious and priceless. But, how do they become those things?
My mother tells me that she had a free sail from conception to delivery. Well, except for delivery where she gave herself a sore throat from crying and wailing so hard the wards of Ngong Medical Center almost inscribed her name in themselves.
My aunt had a rocky pregnancy. She spent 8/9 of her time in hospital trying to make her babies live. The doctors tried and she prayed. So did the rest of her family and friends. She was on constant pain, could barely move and required constant nursing care and doctor check-ups. The twins gave up on her at seven months: a boy and a girl.
For me,it is an entire novel, or not. I am normal. Like any girl my age should be. The only difference is that I am no longer hyper. I don’t yell at men who miss measurements because I don’t have the strength or the will to go out to the fields. I hate electricity, cocoa and anything sweaty. And the smell of chips. I don’t crave for anything and I alternate between eating and not eating at all.
I should be happy because I seem to be following the blue print for pregnant women, right? Wrong. Whoever called them blessings hadn’t heard about pregnancy. It is not just trying but it is that time when you learn that nature can be cruel. Literally.
When that nurse at your local clinic refers you to a gynaecologist, you drag yourself to Avenue healthcare. Dr. Jane tells you that you will be fine then proceeds to write you a referral letter to Kenyatta National Hospital that reads “urgent attention”. It dawns on you. Your pregnancy will be rocky, like you just dived into a Katrina willingly and now you are trying to survive. A certain doctor, a Sharma Singh, puts you under daily observation. They take your vitals daily: blood pressure, heart rates, temperature etc. and they prescribe water and milk (on a notepad like you are going to get those at a chemist near you). You are denied medication- even Ifas, those small red distasteful things they feed pregnant women with- are said to not be part of your diet. And you are pregnant.
With the request from Dr. Singh, you consult your family doctor. He looks at you for a long time without saying anything. He knows he can’t make you nervous but you are worried at what he knows that you don’t. Then he pulls out a very thick book from one of his shelves and opens a place with the tittle: Pregnancy Diseases and their Management. He is unnerving you but he seems oblivious.
“I think you should have brought your mother” he says.
“You know I am much stronger alone than with her” you answer.
So he continues to teach you about pre-eclempsia and eclempsia: signs, symptoms and management. You know you are bright but at that moment, nothing he says makes sense. Until he tells you that your dizzy spells, lack of vision and occasional unconsciousness are part of eclempsia. You panic. What will happen?
He becomes your second doctor. He works like your daddy to manage your condition. He wants to be called grandpa. Until one day he tells you to call your mother and a cab (he had advised you to have a cab number on speed dial). So you do. You find yourself at Karatina Maternity and Nursing Home with a doctor who has dyed his hair so dark it makes him look suspicious. But suspicions won’t save your baby, so you watch him work; bringing your baby back from barely breathing to kicking so hard it becomes distressing.
To you, being paged is not fun. You don’t have time for selfies, or Instagram or Facebook, or Kilimani moms. You only have time to sleep, exercise and be grateful. Your body has no energy. But a supportive family stands by you, loving you, encouraging you and cracking silly jokes to keep you happy and worry free.
At a point they start rationalizing why you are having too much drama: some think you are too old to be giving birth (at 28? Puliiiiizzz), some think your blood and that of baby daddy are incompatible, while some think that being a mother is something you should have left for others to do. But they still remain; happy, arrogant and distressingly present. They wash your cloths, buy what you feel like eating and talk about death and weddings and ruracio…things they think you should do. And you all laugh at how stupid they are. Internally, you thank your gods and the heavens for such a good family. And you know that your baby- priceless, beautiful and darkskinned as it will be- will have a loving environment to grow up in. And that makes all the pains and risks and episodes worth it.
What about that mother going through the same without the support of friends and family and who is too poor to afford doctors who can walk with her through the stress and distresses of pregnancy? What about that mother who can’t afford to pay a gynaecologist to save her barely breathing baby? What about that mother whose child goes up to term but develops complications at birth? And how about that mother we could save from death during pregnancy because we can donate a pint of blood at a public hospital’s maternity wing?
At the end of the day, that manual about pregnancy you all read, was nowhere close to explaining the realities of pregnancy: its joys, pains, complications and uncertainties. And it never taught you to respect mothers and motherhood because if it did, you all would be attending the first lady half marathon and trying to reduce the rates of mother and child mortality. Because, motherhood is precious once you make it through pregnancy and postpartum, and your child makes it past five years.
If you can, please get yourself a pair of rubber shoes (or whatever shoe you can run a marathon in) and get joining the first lady of Kenya to save mothers and babies. It is a worthy cause: more worthy than betting and losing at sportspesa so they can buy jerseys for arsenal players or buying beer for your buddy coz it has been long since he came to Nairobi. Save a life instead. You and your buddy. And bring sportspesa along if you can.