The one thing you do not know is that you are actually greener than a blade of grass. You know nothing. Because people plan and the gods laugh. This second baby, instead, comes with morning sickness from hell – you cannot seem to keep any food down. Sometimes even when there is no food, you still find yourself rushing for the toilet bowl the whole day. You puke from 8am till 10pm when you are going to bed. Yours is not even morning sickness, because your sickness believes time is a social construct. The next time you stand on a scale, you realize that you have lost 10kgs in the first trimester. So the next time you meet your friend for a coffee date and they ask, “Si unakaa poa? Did you start going to the gym?” you laugh and tell them, “No, I got pregnant.” And then you let them stew in their confusion, just for fun.
By the twentieth week, the throwing up has stopped. Food now agrees with your tummy. You and your hubby decide that it is time to find out whether it is a girl or a boy. Well, you already know in your gut that it is a girl. This doctor’s visit is just a mere formality to confirm what you already know. What is science to a mother’s instinct, am I right?
“It is a boy,” Dr. Kariuki says to you and your husband while pointing at something the size of a grain of rice on the screen – his voice somewhat celebratory.
As you step into the elevator, leaving the doc’s office, you tell The Hubby “Aaaaai. There must be a mistake. Can we get a second opinion? It was supposed to be a girl.” He does not understand why you are upset at the idea of being pregnant with another boy. Him he is just happy to have another child. He doesn’t get it. The doctor doesn’t get it. Even you who is reading this while rolling your eyes, you probably wouldn’t get it even if it slapped you in the face with a box of Pampers.
“Basi tutamuita tu Kimutai. Ama Kiptoo. Ama ata Kevin basi.” If you stood in the middle of Eldoret (your hometown) and threw a stone, it would most likely hit a Kimutai or Kiptoo or Kevin. Common names for common people. And now that this child growing inside you has insisted that it must be a boy, then sawa bas. You are no longer excited about having it. Ikuje tu vile itakuja. It can even call itself Kevin Kimutai Kiptoo if it wants. You don’t give a shit.
You are on the passenger seat as The Hubby drives down Ngong Road. He is pissed that you are pissed at something nobody is supposed to be pissed about.
“It is not like children sign proforma forms before they come where they tick whether they prefer to become boys or girls.” He doesn’t say it, but you know he wants to. He is thinking it. You know he is because he is wearing that face he wears when he is thinking about things he does not want to speak.
You look outside and you see a little girl holding her mother. You observe them as the car eases itself into the afternoon Ngong Road traffic. Her hands are too small for her mother’s hand, so she clutches on two of her mother’s fingers. She is wearing a light blue floral dress with matching shoes. She doesn’t see you, but you see her, and you wish you had a girl like her. And you start to cry because it feels like the world is mocking you now.
“Sasa I won’t be buying beautiful dresses like that one for my baby?” you say amidst sobs.
“What dress?” he asks. But the little girl and her mother have already crossed the road and gone.
The Hubby is going back to work anyway. He had only taken the morning off. He drops you in tao, pinches two one thousand notes from his wallet and hands them to you with a curt “That is for lunch and cab fare. See you in the evening.” Then the car pulls away and disappears into the street.
You walk into the first restaurant you see and ask for pilau. The next time you look at your plate, it is empty. You remember putting spoonfuls in your mouth, but you do not remember eating. The taste of pilau is washed off of your senses with thoughts of what is wrong with me? Why am I denying my baby aki? On one hand you are worried that things are not going the way you had planned. You had arranged everything, figured out how things would work out, and this one hiccup is not as insignificant as everyone else thinks. It is the one domino that slips and brings down the rest. But then again it also feels like a rejection of your own child. Like setting him up for failure. Like ruling him out without giving him a chance to show you what he can be.
The guilt and confusion wring your eyes out like a mop. And you cry until it hurts.
—The following weeks are spent trying to apologize to your child. You try to make amends for rejecting your baby, but because that is not the kind of sin that comes cheap, you shop until you drop. You buy him toys and clothes until your house is spilling with them. You do not miss a doctor’s appointment – in fact, you go see your doctor even when you do not have to, just to make sure everything is OK. What you do not realize is that you are not really doing these things to appease your child, but to try and find redemption for yourself. You are overcompensating.
At 37 weeks, you get your pre-authorization form and book a bed at Aga Khan Hospital in anticipation of his arrival. You will call him Marx. Marx with an r.
WEDNESDAY NIGHTPregnancy cravings are so specific, they are scary. They want what they want and they are not willing to accept anything else. On that Wednesday, they want chicken wings. Not just any wings, though. Artcaffe wings. Not Java. Not Chicken Inn. Not Galitos. And definitely not KFC. Artcaffe or bust. You’d think the chicken that are slaughtered to make Artcaffe wings are the ones that finally figured out why they crossed the road. Even then, Artcaffe wings come in either six pieces or twelve pieces. That night you go to the Artcaffe at Junction Mall for your wings, order the 12-piecer, drive back home, park the car in your spot and tear into all of them right there in the parking. You do not leave some for your first-born son or for the help.
And that is the other thing about this pregnancy. It turns you into a monster (but only when it comes to food). The bigger you grow, the meaner you become. The cravings you have can only be sated if you eat alone. This means whenever The Hubby comes home with whatever Marx is demanding that day, say, pizza, he walks into the house, signals to you that there is something in the car, and you run out to go eat it all up. Then you wipe your mouth, check for stains via the rearview mirror, get rid of the evidence of food on your lips or teeth, then go back into the house.
But The Hubby is not the kind of person you commit crimes with. He has a conscience. So sometimes he comes home with two pizzas. One for you and another for everyone else.
That Wednesday evening when you are craving wings, he is working late and because cravings do not respect commitments, you had to go get them yourself. You eat all 12 pieces then washed it all down with juice until you could feel your stomach brimming. You go to bed bloated out of your ass.
Later that night, an ache on your side wakes you up. At first, you think it is your stomach getting back at you for your gluttony. But then the pains come and go. One time it feels like someone is tying up the insides on your lower tummy, and occasionally tightening the knot. Another time, you can almost swear you have been skewered on a stick like a mshikaki. Almost like menstrual cramps – but not really, because pregnant women aren’t supposed to have those. If there is one thing God did right when he came up with the concept of pregnancy, is to deny women period pain.
“I think I am in labour,” you tell The Hubby over the phone.
“Already? Cannot be. You are not even due for at least two more weeks.”
“I know because I remember this pain from my first pregnancy.”
“Alright then. Just keep monitoring and then let me know.”
He comes back home at 1am. The pains have gone back to report to whomever sent them that they did not find you. You hear him giggle and say, “people in labour do not sleep this soundly,” as he gets into bed.
THURSDAYYou are changing jobs. You were supposed to have handed in notice to your former jobo and then dropped your acceptance letter at the new place by now, but you have been putting it off. In the morning when you call the doc to tell him about last night, he says there is no way you are due yet. Si kwanza it was just three days before on Monday that you were with him? “Might be Braxton Hicks,” Dr. Kariuki had said.
“Who is Braxton?” you ask, confused.
“He is…never mind…contractions mwitu tu…come in the afternoon we see what is going on.”
You say you will go see him after you are done with the job thingy.
While delivering your acceptance letter at your new jobo, you ask the lady at the reception if you can use their bathroom. She says sawa, lakini because you are new and your fingerprints have not yet been put into the security system, she buzzes you in herself and then waits for you by the door to the ladies. When inside, you realize that you are spotting. Not a serious bleeding. Something like the first day of a period. You call an Uber while still inside, and the app says your driver is 8 minutes away.
“Angela,” you know the receptionist’s name from the nametag, “I am not OK. I think I am in labour.” There is no urgency in your voice. Just mild concern.
“Are you sure?” she responds, “You cannot be in labour. Watu wako labour do not laugh laugh like this.”
“No. Seriously. I think I need to go see my doctor ASAP.”
“OK. How did you get here?”
“Uber. Ata I have already called for one, lakini bado inaniambia ako eight minutes away.”
“Fanya hivi,” she says, “cancel that ride. I can get you the office car to take you.”
Angela takes the elevator ride with you to the ground floor, gets you a driver and you make a beeline for Cardinal Otunga Plaza to see Dr. Kariuki.
—The doctor says the same thing everyone has been saying; there is no way you are in labour. And it drives you up the wall, because now you feel like you are acting crazy. But perhaps that is a good thing because the difference between the doctor and the others is that the doctor is actually qualified to say that there is no way you are in labour.
“Lala kwa kitanda we do a vaginal exam,” he says.
It is to measure to find out whether you have dilated. You know what is crazy about this exam? It is that for a doctor to check just how far you have dilated, he uses his fingers. One finger is about one centimetre, no? And to be ready for delivery, one is supposed to have dilated up to ten centimetres. So you lie there, spread yourself and let him stick his fingers inside you. And you would think that with all these scientific inventions and discoveries going on, they would have already found another way to measure this thing, but uh-uh.
Like, can you imagine it? Can you imagine just how far we have come? Think about it. Thanks to science, we have been able to invent fruits like lemons, we have figured out how to fly, we have literally found a way to cut people open and stitch them back together, we have invented things to see other things so small that God did not intend us to see them, we have been to the moon, and taken pictures of the black hole in the universe, we have separated Siamese twins, we looked at potatoes and made vodka out of them. But the one thing scientists have never figured out is how else a doctor can measure dilation…something that doesn’t involve someone else sticking their fingers in our vaginas. Either the system is broken, or it is working as it is designed.
Dr. Kariuki checks and says you are far from labour. That it must be the excitement.
“But what about the spotting?” You ask.
“Lala na hivi basi niongee na mtoto,” he says, putting on his fetoscope and placing the cold end of it on your stomach. He runs the thingamabob around your stomach, not saying anything.
“Well?” You ask.
“Wait…” he begins, “si huyu mtoto kichwa ndio hii?” He asks to nobody in particular, feeling my abdomen with his palm. “Na amelala hivi?” He moves his hand around. “Si then the heart is supposed to be here?” Then he goes silent, paying attention, listen to his fetoscope. Here is the thing though. This is a baby heading to 38 weeks. This is not supposed to be a heartbeat ya kutafuta kama ya mimba ya three months.
“This is becoming a bad joke,” he mutters to himself. You were not supposed to hear that, but you did.
“Kuna shida?” You ask.
“No.” he says, “but do this, eh? Toka tu vile uko twende ultrasound.”
—The sonographer puts gel on his equipment, then he places it on your tummy and runs it across. As he has always done for all the visits you have made to this room. What usually happens is that he does whatever he does on his computer and then when viewing the baby, you watch together on a secondary screen. This time, though, he turns the screen away from you and blocks you with his frame.
“Nataka kuona na wewe,” you say.
“Ni sawa, but first si you let me finish setting things up and then I will show you?”
Instead, he switches off the computer and says, “let me confirm something from the daktari. Narudi tu saa hii.”
He does not come back as he promised. You are left lying on the bed wondering kwani this confirmation is taking how long? A nurse walks in. You know her. You say “Kendi, what is happening? Si mniambie tu?”
“Eeeerrm, me nilikuja tu kuchukua these gloves.” She says and then scampers out of the room.
Now you know for sure that something is not right. Everyone in this clinic is acting funny. Not funny funny. The strange, odd kind of funny. You get up, put on your blouse, and walk out towards the doctor’s office at the end of the hall. As you do, you pass by the nursing station and you peep inside. There is a bunch of them murmuring about whatever nurses murmur about in the nursing room. Then you spot the sonographer. He is seated at the corner, not hiding, but definitely not trying to be seen by whoever is along the hall.
“Hapa ndio kwa daktari you were getting confirmation?” You do not even need to say who you are talking to. He already knows.
“Sharon, relax.” Is all he has to say.
You tell the room that you are going to Dr. Kariuki’s office, walking away. A nurse stops you, says that daktari is seeing another patient and would you mind waiting for him in the lounge? No, you won’t. You say you will wait right outside his office. And as soon as the patient walks out of the office, you walk in uninvited.
Dr. Kariuki was not expecting to see you. At least not from the look on his face. You look on his desk and you see the sonographer’s report that has your name on it. He asks you to sit. You do not. He reaches for the report. But you are faster. You grab it before he can get to it. You open and look inside.
You cannot remember everything right now. It has been nine months since it happened. What you remember is the phrase “heartbeat not felt” and the word “laceration”. Basically what the report is saying is that Marx, your baby, is already dead inside you and has even begun decomposing because the placenta has also detached.
It is incredible just how fast your body turns into a tomb. So fast that you do not notice how the thought of it makes you sick in the stomach and you begin to puke. You throw up all over Dr. Kariuki’s desk. You vomit a waterfall. It has been a while since you puked this much – since your first trimester. You puke like a tap has been turned on in your intestines. You puke all the food you have been overeating. All those pizzas and Artcaffe chicken wings come flowing like El Niño. The ground beneath you begins to move and you fall to the ground. For every second you are not emptying your innards, you are screaming the howls of a hurricane.
The daktari does not even know what to say or what to do. Looking back, you do not think he has ever seen such a thing. He just stands there looking you, helpless. Your mind shuts down and you are left with just one thought. You remember reading somewhere about people dying because of babies who died inside them. So you know that you are dying. You think of your first-born son back home and all you want to do is get home, hold him and tell him that you’re going.
—The Hubby works on Limuru Road. So you can imagine how long it takes for him to get to Cardinal Otunga Plaza on a late Thursday afternoon. He gets here to find a shell of a wife. You have been removed from the doctor’s office for it to be cleaned. You are seated in the lounge with a bucket at your feet and a jarful of water by your side. You still want to go home, but the doctor has refused.
“This is an emergency, Sharon…” he begins. What does he mean emergency? An emergency is when there is something to be saved. You rush because there is a chance, a hope, that something can be redeemed. Your baby is dead. The sonographer’s report said so. We are past emergency here. “The baby has been dead for about 24 hours now and has started releasing toxins into your system. It needs to be removed from your body right now.” You listen to him in shock because you know your baby would never harm you. Why would he do that?
A friend and a cousin who are around town when they are told of what happened, have come to the clinic. So at around 4pm, you guys leave the doctor’s office, and get into a car, heading for Aga Khan. The doctor does not come along. It is just the four of you in the car. It is the longest journey you have ever taken. Not because by this time, Nairobi roads have turned into carparks, but because just this morning you had left the house thinking you’re carrying a living thing, and now your body has turned into a graveyard.
There is silence in the car. No music. Nobody is talking. The car drags into itself into University Way, then up the flyover into Museum, takes the last lane past University of Nairobi Parklands Campus, then dips into Limuru Road, and then finally takes a left into Third Parklands Avenue. By the time you get to Aga Khan Hospital, it is sunset. A devastating darkness is creeping into your world – and for a moment there, you believe it is coming from you.
You are wheeled into a ward. Cousins have called cousins. Friends have called friends. People are leaking in and out of your room. Forms are being signed.
That is when you walk in, remember?
[28 years ago, my mother gave birth to me in that hospital. I was in too much of a hurry, and I came out while they were wheeling her into the maternity ward. So of course, I have always felt a kind of connection to that place. It is, according to me, the place where beginnings are found. Lakini last year when I walked into it, for the first time, it did not.
A friend of a friend had lost her baby while it was still in the womb. And when we went to see her in the ward that Thursday evening, they were waiting to induce her so that she could push the baby out. And I felt so terrible, looking at her on that bed; she was feeble, her eyes swollen and defeated. I didn’t know what to say, because how do you console someone who is about to go through labour pains, knowing that she is going to give birth to a dead baby?
We shook hands, and someone introduced us, and she recognized the name. Turns out she is a fan of the blog and the nonsense we do on these apps. In that state she was in, she just started confessing her love for my writing. I didn’t know what to do with those compliments.
Generally, I suck at receiving compliments. Now imagine receiving it from a woman who is going through one of the worst forms of pain imaginable? I cannot even remember what I said.
Seven months later, I met her at this Java. She was late by one hour, I almost went away thinking she was having second thoughts. We introduced ourselves, this time properly, and she took me through her child loss journey. In between, she cried. Almost finishing all the tissue at Java. At some instances, I also felt like crying, but I am a man. I know, I know. “Toxic masculinity” and all those difficult new words, but it is what it is. Sasa tukilia sisi wote, ingesaidia nani jameni?
We spoke for an hour plus. She did not even finish her passion juice. I am to go back and write this story. But where to begin? When she left, I remained seated, held down by the weight of the story. Waiting for strength to find my legs, but the agony of my waiting cannot come close to the way she lay in a hospital seven months ago, waiting on death to come.]
HOW TO GIVE BIRTH TO A DEAD CHILD FOR DUMMIES: A GUIDE.First of all, you need to leave your house thinking that the next time you’ll be passing through that door, it will be with a baby. You have done the last bit of shopping, and told the help to wash them. Hope is very important because that is what finishes you in the end when the doctor tells you that your child is killing you slowly. You find yourself on a hospital bed, surrounded by your husband and friends, listening to a doctor explain to you the procedure. He says that they will put in two tablets through your vagina to soften the cervix and induce labour. They will put the first one in, then wait six hours, then put in another. Meaning, you should expect to be in labour for about twelve hours.
It is around 7pm when they do the first insertion, they put you on pain relieving drips. As if there is such a thing as painless labour. You will fill a form that says you allow them to do a blood transfusion in case they need to. You will hear them say these things, but you will not be listening. All you are thinking about is when exactly am I going to die? Aki nakufa na bado sijaambia mtoto wangu kwaheri.
At 8pm, the first contractions set in. A contraction basically refers to the periodic tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle, the largest muscle in a woman’s body. It causes the pelvic bones to detach, and it feels just like that. Like your pelvic bones are detaching. The Hubby and your friend Lisa will be the only ones left in the room – everyone else has been asked to leave by now. They will take turns rubbing your back. It helps with the pain. The drip next to you is supposed to do this, lakini it sucks at its job. But then again, the real pain here is not in the detaching of your bones, rather, in the knowledge that all this suffering is for nothing. Juu hutoki hapa na mtoi.
You labour until a little past midnight. If you want to know the feeling [of labour pain], just take your bottom lip and pull it over your head. I am not the one who said that. Carol Burnett did. You can google her later. But that is pretty much what it is when it gets to 12.45pm. It is so bad you tell The Hubby to go call the doctor. This is only the first six hours, though. If you remember correctly, they are supposed to come to insert another tablet after which labour itaanza vizuri.
A doctor comes in. Or is it a nurse? You do not know, and at this point, you do not really care. It is someone in a hospital uniform – might as well be a janitor. Whoever he is, he better make the pain go away. He checks your dilation. But as soon as he puts his hand inside you, he looks up to you and your husband and says “I want you to listen to me very carefully -” if you have watched enough movies, then you know nothing good ever comes after those words, “-this baby is coming out and you do not want to have him here.” You’re still in the general ward.
You appreciate the way he talks to you. You can smell the urgency in his voice, but you can also taste the kindness from his words. The way he talks about your Marx in the present tense and like he is still a human being. He says him and his. It is the most compassion you have received from a hospital staff the whole day.
He turns to meet your eyes, “Just hold on a bit. I know it is hard, but we need to get to the delivery room,” he says, then turns to The Hubby, “Quick! Go get a wheelchair!”
So…no second tablet needed. The first one did all the work.
As soon as Lisa and The Hubby help you get up, you feel your baby coming out. You shut your eyes, clench your teeth, and squeeze him back in as hard as you can until you land on the wheelchair. He is this close to slipping out.
The distance from the ward to the delivery room is just a few meters, but it feels like a mile. The doctor-nurse person is running ahead, The Hubby is pushing you, and Lisa is behind in hot pursuit. You get to the delivery ward and Marx is now running out of patience. His head is already slipping out, if you wait one minute longer, you will be sitting on him.
“He is out!” You shout.
The Hubby and Lisa support you by the shoulders, and as you stand, the doctor-nurse person receives him on his hands. There is blood all over. You see the doctor wrap him up and puts him on the cot next to your bed. The Hubby and Lisa carry you onto the bed, but they have done it badly. You are facing the wrong side. The doctor-nurse person asks them to turn you around, because you are about to do the second delivery.
—It is 3am or something close to that. Nurses have cleaned you up and changed your blood-soaked sheets and clothes. One of them comes to ask what you will eat tomorrow. Either The Hubby or Lisa decides. You do not know who. You are looking at these people, chuckling, feeling sad for them. Yaani mpaka saa hii they do not know? Ati food for kesho? Me sitakuwa hapa kesho.
You know, people prepare for good deliveries, because then, they know what to do and what to say. They wait to say congratulations, and to lie about how the baby looks like the father and that the mother was just a vessel. They arm themselves with internet downloaded messages, GIFs, and memes. They buy birthday cards from the supermarket. Nobody ever prepares for a stillbirth – never mind that in Kenya approximately 28 out of every 1000 births are stillborn. That is around 11,000 babies a year. 916 a month. 229 a day. That is nearly two Boeing 737 Max plane crashes daily.
You, The Hubby and Lisa sit in silence. Blank. Not knowing what to say to one another, because there is no training to remember. When Marx left, he left you all with nothing. You lie on your bed until first light, awake, because sleep seldom follows death. You watch the day break through the hospital curtain. The way it turns from dark to orange to yellow and then to a white-washed streak pouring through.
Haiya! Kwani sikufi?
*END OF PART ONE*
As told by Sharon Chebet to Magunga.