Look up..

“Jonathan, what is three times one?” Mary grilled her son. It was a school night and she was taking her boys through the times tables. Jonathan, her seven year old, whose concentration span is as short as the life of a fly threw her a pensive look and said, “Mom if you ever have another baby, I will move out of this house.”

“Where has that come from?” she chuckled.

“Unless it’s a girl.” Kristian quipped.

“Doesn’t matter. If you get a baby I will go with Jonathan.” Jeremy was the last to cast his vote.

Mary — commonly known as Shortay — cast a glance at Paul — commonly known as Bugz — her husband, who sat on the other end of the room. Her lips turned slightly upwards. Behind where she sat, was a broad framed photo on the wall with the words Jordan. She didn’t need to look at it to know it was there, she only had to remember the first time she told them about it.

******

In 2010, the 19th FIFA world cup, for the first time, was hosted in our backyard — South Africa. Even if the distance is over 4000km from Kenya to SA, it’s as if the matches were being played in our living room. We would stay up to watch every single game and as our favourite teams went on to score goal after goal, we scored some of our own and conceived a baby.

We had been married for two years by then and had held off starting a family because of the nature of our work. We both had demanding jobs in the advertising industry that sometimes required us to work nights and weekends. So two years in, I resigned and went into self employment. Paul remained in employment but we now felt stable enough to start a family.

The pregnancy was easy. I had alot more free time so I took to reading books on pregnancy and birth. I read up on what symptoms to expect at what stage, what to eat (down to the micronutrients), how much water to drink, what exercises to do. I subscribed to countless baby apps and tracked the baby’s size. I remember it once said the baby was the size of a kumquat and I wondered what fruit that was. Only to discover it was the same as a loquat. (In Kenyanese we call it lugwad). Towards the tail end of the pregnancy, we found out we were expecting a boy so I turned to reading books on names.

Because I am from the Kamba community and Bugz from the Kikuyu community, we asked our folks for a name that had the same meaning in both languages and they chose Mwendwa. We picked his first name — Jordan. Then the countdown began. As we waited, we ticked off the things we wanted to do on our bucket list. We assumed when Jordan came we would not be able to travel or enjoy a day at the water park. So we crisscrossed the country in search of adventure saying, “we might not do this in a while so lets go all out.”

When I got to 39 weeks my water broke. My baby bag was already packed and in the trunk of our car. We drove to a private hospital where we had planned to deliver Jordan. It was about 2:30am when we got there and the midwife who reviewed me, confirmed that my water had indeed broken but I was not in labour.

When the doctor came in to see me the following morning, he mentioned, “Mary you are rather short. I suggest we go in for a cesarean section because I am not sure you will be able to push.”

I felt as if my exam sheet was being marked before I had a chance to fill in my answers so I said, “Please let me try. If it fails, I am not opposed to it.”

Because I had mild contractions, a decision was made to augment labour at 11am, so a drip was put up. Things escalated from zero to 100 in a flash. I felt as if someone was holding a flame to my skin. The pain was indescribable. I started to wretch and each time I vomited my head spun round in waves. I beat down the path of the maternity ward, all the while with Bugz or my mum rubbing my back. Each time the pain gripped me, I would pause to try the breathing exercises I had read about. But nothing helped. Instead I sounded like a broken wind instrument that was out of rhythm and tune. I lost sense of time so much so that when the doctor came in to check me and said, “You are 4cm dilated,” I gargled out my frustration.

“But it’s been hours. I feel like I am ripping apart.”

“Not yet. Keep walking. You are doing well.”

Two hours later when the pain became impossible, the doc checked me and said, “You are not fully dilated but you are almost there. Let’s walk to the birthing suit.” While there, he examined me again and inserted a pessary into my vaginal canal. A short while later, I got the urge to push and the midwife held my upper trunk and said, “Push Mary.” If you ask me, I felt as if my legs were stapled to the back of a stationary 18 wheeler and I was being asked to move it. And if my will was anything to go by, I must have moved that truck a mile away. But the doctor kept saying, “You are not pushing Mary. Push.” And I did. With my voice, my will, my strength. But nothing. My palms were aching from where my nails had dug in. I tried to keep still to focus all my energy but even my thighs were slapping against each other continuously.

The doctor’s face was suddenly over mine. He looked at me stone-faced and said, “Mary.you.are.not.pushing.” I felt his frustration. I opened my mouth to respond but the words stuck to the walls of my throat. If he had known me better, he would have known I was frustrated too. He turned to the nurse, “Get me the vacuum.” She handed him a small plastic device with a cup like thing which he attached to Jordan’s head. “Ok wait for the next contraction and push.” Then he took the stance of someone ready to play tug of war. When the contraction came, I heaved and hoed but I could tell from the look on his face that there was no progress. We did this about three times before the doctor said to the midwife, “Get the consent forms. We are going in for a CS.”

All of a sudden, the room emptied out. Where previously there was so much action, now it was just me, Bugz and the midwife in silence. Amidst the quiet, I was left with a hollow feeling. Like I had scored an F in an exam and the teacher was displeased with me. And even if the doctor had decided on a CS, Jordan did not seem to be on board. The urge to push was still present. The contractions still persisted as if taunting me to keep trying and the nurse could tell I was grunting, “Mary don’t push.” What did these guys think I was? A switch? “Push now.” Then, “Stop pushing now.” Time passed as I lay on that stretcher wiggling my toes trying to stop the force of nature. I lay on that stretcher in that corridor for what felt like eternity before I was finally wheeled into the OR.

At 4:30 pm Jordan was born. He weighed 2900 grams. Because I had been under general anesthesia, I was seesawing in and out of consciousness but when my eyes came to focus, Bugz told me, “We have a baby boy. But I haven’t held him yet because he is on oxygen.”

“Why? What happened?”

“I don’t know. They said he has breathing difficulties.”

“I want to see him.”

I was later wheeled to where he was. He was in an incubator on oxygen, breathing sporadically as if he needed to be reminded to breathe. I placed my palm on the glass and prayed for him. I reminded God of His promises and spoke them over Jordan. I prayed with my mouth and then when I ran out of words, in my heart, until I got tired and asked to be taken back to my room.

The pediatrician passed by to see me the following day and said, “Jordan needs respiratory support and we don’t have the equipment for that here. He needs to be transferred to a Neonatal ICU.”

“Just tell us what we need to do to start the process,” Mary’s mom who was present chimed in.

“Ok.” Then she addressed me directly and said, “Sometimes some of these things happen. Don’t worry, Jordan will be fine.”

I was suspended somewhere between confusion and hope. Confusion because how could this perfect pregnancy go so wrong? And hope because they said he would be fine. This was simply a rumble strip. I continued to trust in God, recite verses and remained positive. When the doctor came to review me, he said that I shouldn’t lie in bed all day. “The more you walk around, the faster you will get back on your feet.” So I walked from one mouth of the corridor to the other and while at it, I prayed.

Jordan was transferred out to another facility with better care. I wanted to accompany him but it was too soon after my CS to leave the hospital. It was hard being in the maternity ward next to mothers with their babies. Visitors would come to see me and ask, “Where is the baby?” And waves of emotion would come over me as I tried to explain what I did not understand.

The more people asked, the more I also started to wonder what exactly went wrong. A friend who happened to be a medic came by to see me and when I described the whole process of labour and delivery to her, she asked, “Mary, did Jordan cry at birth?”

“I don’t know. I was under.” Later, when I asked one of the nurses, she told me, “No he did not.” And for the first time my hope began to shrink. I asked my medic friend what the implication of that was and she said he might end up being a child with special needs. So my mind became preoccupied with what caring for a child with special needs meant. Now I really wanted to leave the hospital to see him. I did my steps up and down the hospital wards so that I could get discharged faster. When I asked Bugz how Jordan was he said, “He is on a ventilator with so many tubes attached to him. But they are hopeful. They say he just needs time and soon he might be able to breathe on his own.”

“Ok. The doctor here says I will be discharged tomorrow so you can come for me so I can get to see him.”

“Cool.”

The following day I was up before the sun. The sky was aquamarine blue with no cloud in sight. As I waited for Bugz, my phone buzzed and I saw it was my friend’s mum, “Hi.”

“Oh Mary, I am so so sorry.”

“Sorry for..”

The line went dead.

I tried to call Bugz and he said he was on his way to me. Any attempt to get information from him was futile.

He was with my mom when they got to the hospital. The moment my eyes met his, I knew. And the minutes that followed cannot be put into words. He told me, “Someone from the hospital called me at 7 am and said, ‘I am sorry to tell you Jordan has passed away.’”

“It’s ironic you know,” Bugz said amidst tears, “they couldn’t allow me to hold my son when he was alive but now that he was gone it was ok.” And we held each other and cried.

After a while Bugz started the process of discharging me from hospital with an axe in his sternum. When the doctor who deliverd me came to see us, he spoke with lightning speed. His words came out tumbling over each other as if he couldn’t wait to leave. I don’t remember much of what he said. I however recall him saying, “You should have taken a CS when I offered it the first time.” I turned away from him so his words could hit the back of my head but they still hit a soft spot. I was shocked that I still could mount an emotional response to his words. But more than that, I felt he used nails of blame to hammer me to a cross.

When we were finally out of the hospital, I asked to be taken to see Jordan.

The first time I held my son was at the morgue. A friend had dressed him in a white romper that made him look so angelic.

The next few days were swallowed into each other. Friends and family took over and planned a memorial service and a funeral for him.

When we came back from the burial, Paul had to go back to work while I stayed home. Then the grieving began. First, I had a nanny who I had hired to take care of Jordan. Now there was this extra person in our home with no job description. My breasts felt as if someone had stuffed rocks inside of them and I was still bleeding. Everywhere I turned, there were physical reminders of a baby who was to come home but never arrived; freshly painted walls, stacks of diapers, baby blankets, basins, bottles. The sky would turn from grey to blue to orange then grey and I would go through the cycle over and over again.

“Bugz how come you seem to have moved on?” I once asked him. I knew he was grieving but I felt like I was taking the full brunt of it.

There are days I felt God had set me up. Friends would visit and every so often someone would say something funny and we would all laugh but my smile never reached my eyes. My heart felt cold inside. And the situation was made worse when I was told I had to wait two years to conceive. There was just no immediate balm for my pain. So I read books on grief and joined facebook groups on grief and loss but all it did was make me immerse myself in self pity. I got to a point I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror because all I could see was someone who couldn’t do something so simple like bringing forth a child. Someone who didn’t deserve to be a mother. I would just sit in the living room potted like a plant, replaying the events of the past weeks in my head.

To this end, I joined a bible study for some ladies that met once a week. I needed a different environment. They were studying a book called, “The Names of God.” The idea was to have a discussion during the meet, then go home and do some assignments based on the discussion. I did it mechanically, going through the motions until the day we did the name, ‘Jehovah El-Roi’ which means ‘The God who sees.’ Under this name was the story of Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, and how God saw her situation and never left her. And it just slapped me. That God saw me. From the beginning to the point at where I was.

I started reading the book more intently. I would memorise the verses, write them down on sticky notes and put them up all over the house. So that anytime I looked up I would see them. The one that stuck to me the most was the one I placed on my bathroom mirror Jeremiah 29:11 — I know the plans I have for you.

Two months after Jordan’s death, I went back to work. During my lunch break, I would go to a nearby children’s home to hold and feed the babies. I felt I had so much love to give and wanted to deposit it somewhere so that’s what I did. It felt like such a perfect match. I was a mom who had lost her baby and they were babies who had no parents. I spent so much time there, I started to think of adoption. But they wouldn’t allow me to as part of their policy; again I had to wait two years. What was it with the number two?

Slender strips of time passed and I slowly started to find a rhythm in my life. Then one day, I got a pain. It was centered around my cesarean scar. The pain was so acute in it’s onset and so sharp, I thought that the doc had left a foreign body in my uterus. I found another doc who I gave my history and I ended by saying, “I think they left something in there. Why else is the pain centered around here?” I asked as I outlined the scar on my lower abdomen.

“Well it’s been six months Mary. If there was a foreign body, the symptoms would have come much sooner. But for your peace of mind, let us do an ultrasound.”

He switched on his machine and placed his probe on my abdomen. He kept turning it round, creasing his forehead as if trying to solve a puzzle. I almost wanted to tell him, “Just say it. Whatever it is, it can’t be worse than losing Jordan.” And as if on cue he said, “Mary can you hear this?”

“What?”

“A heartbeat. Actually two of them.”

I sat up startling him, “Where? How? You mean I am pregnant? Twins?”

“Yes.”

And the room began to spin.

My second pregnancy was a rollercoaster of emotions. I had been told to wait two years and barely a year had gone by. What did this mean? Would they survive? Would my uterus hold the weight? I had numerous panic attacks. I would be ok one minute and then lost the next. Then 39 weeks later, Jeremy and Kristian were born. When they were eight months old, I conceived again and Jonathan was born.

If at that time you would have told me I would have come out of this, I would not have believed you.

Bugz and I understand that our children are with us only for a time. We are just but stewards. We don’t know how long we have them for and we are not waiting for a, ‘when they grow older date’ to be present or to make memories. We are present now. We make the memories now.

Jordan would have been 10 years old this March.

As narrated to me by Paul and Mary Gitari (Bugz and Shortay respectively)

Shortay pregnant with Jordan
Shortay, Bugz, Jeremy and Kristian
Shortay, Bugz, Jeremy, Kristian and Jonathan