DENNIS OKEYO | NATION: Catherine Don and Mwanike together with their daughter Ailsa Zawadi during the interview.
“I have accepted, but I haven’t forgotten,” begins Don Mwaniki.
“I have just had to accept that my baby is no more, but it is difficult to forget. The memory is as fresh as though it happened yesterday,” Mwaniki says of the day he lost his new-born baby, exactly seven months ago.
His wife, Catherine, had checked into the maternity ward on the 1st of March this year at 7 o’clock in the morning. After a series of traumatic events, their new-born daughter passed away at 1:17am the following morning.
Their first born, Ailsa Zawadi, who is four and a half years old, was anxiously waiting to cuddle her little sister, but this was not to be. And unknown to them, their house-help too was excited about having another little girl to help take care of.
As it is, her death affected her psychologically, and she had to go through counselling to deal with the loss. The tragedy is one that this family has had to accept, live with, and learn from in a number of ways. Here is their story.
How I lost my baby
Catherine: “At 38 weeks, I get some stomach aches in the morning and notice some bleeding. I consult a nurse, as well as my parents, over the phone. They advise me to rush to hospital. We get there at 7am. But fifteen minutes later, we still have not been admitted. It is the last time I feel my baby kick,” Catherine recalls, tears building up.
“A few minutes to 8am, I check into the maternity ward and lie on a bed. Two rubber bands are fastened on my stomach as the doctors’ check on the baby’s heartbeat, which fluctuates from 150 to 70 and then zero.”
But the nurse who is attending to me seems not to be concerned and instructs me to ring the bell when I feel the baby kick. She walks out of the room, assuring me that everything is okay.
And at about 8.30am, she comes back and this time round advises me to lie on my left side, arguing that with a change of position, the baby might respond.
A few minutes later, I am shocked when several doctors approach my bed and ask my husband to excuse them, which he does.
One of them, an experienced doctor I think, looks at the results of the baby’s heart-beat and immediately punctures the amniotic sac.
A dark green fluid flows out and immediately, he sounds an emergency. I am wheeled to the theatre. It is 10:22am.
Mwaniki: “I insist that I want to be in the theatre and I am allowed and change into the proper gear. The baby is delivered very healthy. He weighs 3.58 kilogrammes, but cries not.”
She is rushed to the nurses to clean and I follow. A pediatrician comes in and sees that she is not breathing. She starts the suction from the nose but she doesn’t cry or open her mouth.
She has taken in a lot of fluid, the doctor says. But she assures me that baby will bounce back once placed at the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for monitoring. My mother-in-law arrives and my attention shifts to her and my wife who has now been transferred to the ward.
While at the ward, the paediatrician calls, saying that our baby’s vital signs aren’t good, meaning that her breathing is bad, therefore she lacks sufficient oxygen.
She also informs me that she has been transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to be hooked to a breathing machine.
She advises me to rush to the accounts office since I first need to deposit half a million shillings (Sh500,000) so that she can be connected to a respirator. I plead that I only have Sh200,000; but I can find the balance as soon as possible if they first connect her to the machine.
She refers me to the hospital’s accountant. At that moment, I feel helpless as my baby’s life, it seems, is pegged on my pockets.
I plead with him to connect my baby to the respirator as I find the rest of the money. He is hard to convince and after arguing for a while, I lose patience and tell both the doctor and the accountant to call me when she dies.
It is then that the accountant calls the ICU and directs them to put my baby on the respirator. I make the Sh200, 000 deposit and immediately rush to the ICU.
Each time the doctors are doing the suctioning, it is only blood that comes out of my daughter’s lungs. The pediatrician explains that due to lack of oxygen, parts of the lungs are damaged. It is as if she is drowning in her own blood.
The situation is so horrible that I keep asking whether she will make it, but doctors assure me that she is okay. However, the chief pediatrician follows us to the ICU. She calls me aside and bluntly tells me that my baby will not make it.
She asks me to ensure that my wife sees baby while she is still alive.
I inform my mother-in-law. The pressure is too much and I take a walk around the hospital compound. I then toughen up, go to the ward and inform my wife that she needs to see our baby in the ICU.
One of the nurses helps her to get out of bed. Blood is seaping from her caesarean wound, which is still raw. We manage to get her there and looking at the baby, she starts to vomit and doubles up in pain because the stitches are too painful.
We pray and I take her back to the ward to stay with my mother-in-law.
Then the levels of gas start to fall from 120 to 90 and by the time I leave the hospital at 10pm, I am very sure that she won’t make it. However, I can’t admit it to myself. My wife insists that I stay, but I am in a state of helplessness.
I feel that I am not of any use to her. What shocks me is that a week before, we had gone to the same hospital and done an abdominal scan that confirmed that our baby was okay. Exhausted and bitter, I go home and place the car keys on the stool, put my feet up and try to sleep.
Catherine: That night, from 10pm up to midnight, I don’t sleep. I feel as though I have the strength to walk around. I go to the ICU, wash my hands and request if I can hold my baby.
The doctor tells me that I can only touch her and I see that she is struggling to breath. I call Mwaniki and tell him that I am going to sleep and the baby is not too well. I also inform my mother that I am scared that the baby might not make it.
She assures me that she and dad are praying about it. A few minutes to one o’clock, a nurse comes to my room and tells me that she needs me in the ICU since something is not right with my little girl.
I find five pediatricians doing transfusions and trying to resuscitate my baby, who is not responding. Seventeen minutes later, all the readings click zero and she is no more.
It is a harrowing experience to watch, very depressing. At some point, the doctors want to take away her body but I refuse and tell them that I will have to wait for my husband and parents.
I then struggle to call and share the sad news. By 2am, my parents and husband have arrived at the hospital.
Mwaniki: At 1o’clock, I get this call that I do not want to pick. My daughter is no more. I try to console my wife over the phone. Then I look for the car keys and I can’t find them.
I get agitated and I call out loudly for the house girl to come and search for them. She just picks them up on the stool where I had placed them and asks me what the problem is.
I inform her that we have lost the baby. She bursts out crying, and I caution her not to wake up Zawadi. I got outside and I start looking for my car, I am so confused, it is my father-in-law, who does not live very far from us, who offers to drive me to hospital with his car.
At the hospital, I look at our baby, who for the first time appears peaceful. I wipe off some blood oozing from her nose. Apart from shedding helpless tears, there is nothing else I can do.
She starts getting cold and the nurses want to take her away but I insist I need to have some time with her. I sit there holding her as we pray until morning.
This is a very trying moment for my wife as the mothers next door have babies that are crying. I ask the hospital staff to transfer her to a different room. I disagree with some doctors, who want to have a post-mortem done.
We refuse since we can’t take it anymore. My wife argues that we cannot open up such a beautiful baby.
The funeral arrangements begin and I get somewhat busy. Then a week after the burial, a kind of depression overcomes me.
I feel as though God is against me and I cannot stand it when people keep telling me about the power of prayers and God, who I question.
Then in a sudden twist, my elder sister who had a very rare tuberculosis strain that had affected her brain, passes away.
The grieving of my daughter takes a back-seat as I now get involved in her burial. My wife seems like she has accepted our loss, since she can talk about it. I am still struggling psychologically and eventually, I tell God that if He must take somebody from me, then let it be me.
Then with the help of my mother-in-law, who is a professional counsellor, it becomes easier for me to open up. I delete some of the pictures that I had taken of our daughter with tubes all over her body.
I have to be strong for Zawadi and we allow her to go through the grieving and burial process. At one point, she inquires if ‘mtoto amekufa’ (has the baby died?) and it is hard for me to explain to her what exactly happened, but I try.
At the burial, she touches her sister’s face and asks if she is asleep.
As she is being lowered to the ground, Zawadi asks, horrified, “Kwanini mnaweka mtoto wetu kwa shimo?”(why are you putting our baby into a hole?)
She immediately disappears from the house after the burial only for her grandmother to find her at the grave side, struggling to pull away the cross.
She intends to get her sister from the grave, she explains. She asks why the baby cannot leave the grave.
She always wants to look at the burial photographs and watch the video tape. At least, she can now understand that when someone dies, they cannot see, eat or talk. But she still asks about her sister and if she is going to get another one.
The issue of having another baby crops up but at the back of my mind, there is some fear.
Even our house-girl who had also anticipated the baby, was so affected, that we had to find a counsellor for her. She could not bring herself to look at the burial photos or video-tape.
Catherine: It has been difficult for me, since everyone who saw me pregnant now expects that I have a baby. Explaining what happened isn’t easy.
Mwaniki: This experience has brought us closer as a family. We have been there for each other, through it all. We went for the ante-natal check-ups together and I had been part of the pregnancy from the very beginning,”
Source: Daily Nation