Friday, February 12, 2010

A birth story


This past week marked two events that will stay with me and impact the rest of my life. The first was my induction into the Rotary Club of Hurlingham, my host club here in Kenya, and the place I have chosen to make my Rotary home for now. The great thing about joining Rotary is the knowledge that no matter where I go in the world, I know exactly where to start in finding people who share my goals and values of promoting equity, access to opportunity and service above self. I am honored to have found my path in life coincide with the Rotary mission and I hope as a member I can give to others the incredible gifts my fellowship gave to me.


The second event started last night at approximately 10:03 p.m., when after a late study session I came screaming into the house needing to make some quick dinner and then jump on an skype chat with my eBay boss. Egg thrown in frying pan, juice poured, computer on, internet up. Maureen appears in the doorway, looking slightly dazed saying, “I think my water is breaking.” My reaction? Giggles. Partially because it took my brain awhile to translate “water breaking” into what I expected to hear, which was “water broke.” More so because I couldn’t believe the day was finally here, that one of the very last nights in which I could afford to sacrifice sleep and let the unknown steer us (exams start on Tuesday) was before us and a real live baby was about to join our funny family.


I grabbed housemate Judi, a sixth year medical student from Germany and we headed a couple blocks away to the hospital we had chosen for the birth. I have been impressed with the hospital thus far – Maureen likes the doctor we’ve seen for her antenatal visits and we made the choice together to pay for a package with a midwife birth – much less expensive than having her private doctor come in or even one of the on-call doctors at the hospital. I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that option if I didn’t believe in the facilities and their reputation for serving victims of violence and rape. That said, our check-in was one of the least professional and utterly frustrating things I’ve experienced. They misread Maureen’s I.D. card, continued to ask us to pay (even though I’d paid the bill 3 weeks prior), and generally acted disinterested and bored as Judi grew impatient knowing that once the water breaks the baby could come any minute, and we needed to get a basic exam to see her progress. I kept my cool while maneuvering the baby bag, my backpack, my purse and both Maureen’s and my wallets (you know those funny commercials with the dad trying to take the house with them to the hospital when it’s time? That was me). Long-term living in Kenya has its perks (or perhaps I should restate: lack of medical training has its perks), one of them being an ability to not freak out when a dear friend is literally leaving puddles behind her and the staff is more interested in watching the t.v. in the waiting room.

I can’t go into details about certain aspects of the night because they are simply too personal to the nature of the birth and those involved, but we eventually ended up in the communal labor room with the support team of Judi, myself and Megan White in place. I officially lost my cool when they told us that no one was allowed to be in the room when they did the initial exam – having asked this expressly during our initial visits and assuming the role of partner/spouse/father or more importantly, chief hand holder. Megan and Judi did a much better job of approaching the situation diplomatically, I felt incredibly resentful that as is so often the case in Kenya, “procedure” trumped all. After explaining a bit to the nurses and midwifes they conceded to let Judi stay with Maureen as she understood the procedure taking place, and I must say that Judi did an incredible job of asking informed questions but conceding authority to the medical professionals on hand.

Once the exam was done we began a series of rotations (they wanted no more than one person with Maureen at a time as there were two other women in the room, though neither appeared to be in labor – one snored consistently) to hand hold, give back rubs and accommodate the immediate onset of active labor. Maureen was incredible in sharing her wishes, telling us what she needed and what she didn’t want. As anyone who has gone through a labor knows, you see all sides of a person. What I can say is that through it all, the pain and the hurt and the fear, Maureen remained a woman of pureness in a way that makes the whole situation that much more awe-inspiring. We were a funny trio of child-less mzungus doing whatever we could to provide comfort and encouragement as the birth approached. From 10:30 to 3:45 we labored, and when she was at 9 cm they wheeled her to the delivery room, wherein bureaucracy resumed its trump.



Maureen just needed a hand to hold; she said any of us could come in (the other two could hover at the door) so we let Megan go as she has known Maureen since she was 8 years old and is the one in the group sure to call Kenya home the longest. Judi and I stood at the door, speaking words of encouragement and anxiously awaiting those first yelps that would tell us the baby had arrived. Maureen says there were no more than three major pushes and the baby was here. The chord was around her neck so she didn’t cry immediately, but Judi and I lucked out in standing right next to the warming bed that awaited. We watched as the nurses cleaned her up, rubbed her skin and brought forth those first pensive cries. We watched as she drew her eyes open wide, blinked in the new world around her and stretched her tiny limbs. When the nurse had finished she wrapped her up and handed her to me to take over to her mother to meet her face to face.

I don’t know what else to say other than this birth was a community effort, led at the helm by an incredibly strong young woman who has embraced what has been set before her and is on her way to becoming a wonderful mom. Mama Maureen (grandma to baby Mukoya) came this morning to celebrate her daughter’s strength. She was surprised and overjoyed by it.


Maureen had kept quiet on the name, though she told us she had one in mind. Many people were hoping for a namesake in this baby, and any number of people would deserve the honor for the friendship and support they extended. But Maureen chose a name that represented her understanding of this time and the daughter she was welcoming: Christabell Andola Mukoya. The ‘Christ’ is Maureen’s way of recognizing that through all of this, the trauma and the journey and the hope, Christ has been with her. The ‘bell’ is for the beautiful daughter now before us, and the ‘Andola’ is in honor of her mother. I believe she will be known by many as Bella.


I haven’t been as good at sharing the nature of my time here as I feel I was in South Africa. The saturation is different – I’m not immersed in the struggles of humanity in the same way, nor am I so far from my comfort zone and the world I know. Nairobi is a modern city, my social life is pretty comparable to home, I take a hot shower every morning. The developing world has its challenges, but the longer I’m here the more I learn what it is to simply be human, to be a friend, to be a family member. This time with Maureen and sharing the birth of Christabell is enough to make it all make sense. If I came here for only one thing, this would be enough. To witness this journey, to learn from the people involved and most especially Maureen what it is to do the very best with what life throws at you. To understand so clearly that some things are beyond our control, that no matter what order we try and approach our life with, we can at any time be asked to deal with something from left field. To learn how to do this with grace and honesty from such a young woman, and at the end of it all find such joy. Such faith.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two great stories!! Thanks for sharing them both!

brett said...

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I’d been taught that left-aligned labels are preferred, to support the prototypical F-shaped eye-tracking heatmap of web browsing. The idea is that it supports easy vertical scanning.

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brett said...

Gna just share my views from top to bottom as I see them.
I feel this is a good simply because it’s consistent with how the user is used to seeing the comment form and filling out information in general. Filling out the name and email wont take me much time, and if you really wanted to go ahead and type the comment first, you can do so, not really that big of a work around. I’m .
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S'Mat said...

wow! incredible and hectic... simply, wow