BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
I’ve had two miscarriages.
I had the first one when I was 25. I was a year fresh out of campus and as naive as the next 25 year old is. I was still dating my campus boyfriend.
When I have the second – at 32, in July 2017 – I’m a mum and wife: Muna is a year and seven months old, I’ve been (traditionally) married to GB for just as long. I know who I am and what I want for my life because at 28, I’d finally been introduced to the real Florence Bett – I’d quit my audit job to become a writer.
In my writing, through my words, I’d found a happiness, fulfilment and purpose I didn’t imagine existed or I deserved. I didn’t even imagine it was within my reach. Or for me to take.
I’d also learned other things about myself. Things that had been hidden in the nooks and crannies of my banal routines. Individually, these things are mundane and honestly a little vain and pointless, but put together, their sum total defines my values as a citizen of our creative society.
I learn that I’m a creative, I’m not a suit. Hell I’m not a suit. My personal style is street – distressed jeans and brown boots. That doesn’t mean I can’t be girly when I need to.
I’m a female cheetah. I hunt alone, sometimes with my cubs so I can also teach them how to hunt. I purr, I don’t roar. I don’t stalk my prey, I creep up close then chase them down. I get restless when I stay in one place for too long, yet I fully embrace the principle of home. Unlike a female cheetah, though, I’m not a sprinter but a long distance runner.
My primary language of love is physical touch and quality time.
I prefer my githeri boiled in the outdoor for hours over a jiko than in the kitchen on a pressure cooker.
I love indie because the lyrics are spare but rich, and the artists seem to record their music with live studio instruments. What’s more, indie is soft to my being and flings me back to a nostalgic era, the era you relive when you look at the hand-written words behind an old black and white photograph of your parents.
I liked silver jewellery, not gold. Now I like gold because my wedding band is gold and I want to match my jewellery and they, whoever they are, decided we’ll now wear the large gold loop earrings they wore in the mid 90s. Question is, what do I do with the boxful of silver jewellery I’ve collected over the years?
I prefer cold showers to hot ones. I over-brush my teeth and later in my 40s, I know I’ll get cavities along the gum line of my upper premolars.
I’m a visual learner. When I sketch it or write it in my notepad and see it in my own handwriting, my ideas mature into a 3D render in vivid colours. You know how you go to iMax to see a 3D movie and after the trailers, that little white clay bot comes on and you’re told, Please put on your 3D goggles now? Then you put on them just as those multicoloured balls around the bot start to bounce towards you and you duck because for a split second, you were certain the balls were coming straight at you? Yeah. That’s what writing my ideas down is like – it’s like that moment of putting on your 3D goggles and seeing the world in the multi dimension it is.
I suffer through wine, red or white wine. Jack Daniels is what I like. (Although some would say it’s cheap whiskey. I don’t care. It’s what I like.)
I learn that politics is one big game of badly played chess. The queen has the real power, the king the perceived power – but in this big bad game of local and global politics, the king moves around as though he were the queen, and everyone else on that board is a casualty of his mindless and manic manoeuvres. Except the queen. Ofcourse.
I love light reads and books on humour to entertain me a lot, educate me a little. That’s because I want to enjoy myself. It’s necessary I enjoy whatever I’m engaging in. So when I read books, I don’t want to think too hard or be told how I should live, that’s what newspapers and school is for. I felt about this shallow at first, then I stopped feeling shallow, then I felt shallow again. Now I don’t care. It’s my looming insecurity as a creative but it informs my ideals.
We wanted a second baby, GB and I.
I remember the moment when the broodiness manifested: It was a Sunday morning in early June, Nanny Viv was away on her day off. GB, Muna and I were cuddled on the couch in our sleeping clothes – frumpy, unwashed faces, morning breath to knock out the matriarch elephant. We were eating Urban Bites out of the bag and singing along to ‘Wheels on the Bus’ on ChuChu TV. Sunlight strayed from the spaces between the billowing sheers and waltzed around the messy living room.
I turned to GB and said, “I want another baby, a boy this time.”
I don’t know what the experts say about this, but I’ve observed that there’s a small window between baby #1 and when an urban woman broods for baby #2. And if she doesn’t strike while the iron is hot, it’ll be another several months – or years – before that broodiness orbits back into her atmosphere.
I wasn’t on birth control. Which means that my menstrual cycle was as predictable as sunrise and sunset. Wednesday morning, I WhatsApp’d GB and said, the moon has been sighted. The werewolves are coming out tonight. The ship has docked at the station. The stars have aligned. The fat lady is about to come out and sing. The engine has… OK, you catch my drift. In a few words, I was ripe for the business of fertilization.
Muna was conceived on the living room couch after a drunken Valentine’s Day weekend. She was a 50 Shades of Grey baby. Hahha. We wanted to do it in style this time around. That Wednesday evening, GB and I checked into Tune Hotel in Westie to make our second baby.
(They’ve since rebranded it to Ibis Styles Hotels, I haven’t been back there since.)
Tune Hotel/Ibis Styles markets itself as a “posh business hotel” for the “budget business traveller”. It has this concept they called express. So, for example, they don’t have room service, telephone extensions or Bibles in the room. They don’t do laundry, woe unto you if you forgot to pack enough socks or underwear. The shower room is like being inside those old KPTC phone booths. There’s a communal ironing board at the end of the corridors.
Express also means that our suite was the size of a shoebox. It wasn’t a suite that encouraged lingering; you slept the night, woke up, showered in the cubicle of the shower room, wore your ironed dress shirt and checked out right away.
Every piece of furniture – straight-back chair, reading desk – was folded into the wall. It felt like you needed an engineering or architectural degree to unfold that furniture out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the “budget business traveller” could fold up the bed and pack it into his briefcase for his next stopover.
The suite was so minimalist that when I stood at the foot of the bed, my nose pressed into the TV screen. And yes, you guessed right, the TV was screwed into the sunken wall.
If I was the quintessential millennial, I’d have complained to GB that my waiting-to-be-fertilized egg didn’t like the claustrophobic energy in the room. Hahaa.
We had terrible sex that night. Terrible terrible sex.
I’d gone through the trouble of getting lingerie that afternoon from some shop on Moi Avenue. I got what is called a lace mesh babydoll and thong. Raunchy, aye? I must have been blinded by my own excitement because it wasn’t until that evening at the hotel, when I went into the (phone-booth) bathroom to change into it, that I held it up and asked myself, How the hell am I supposed to fit into this? Me? A 32-year-old African woman with a child? An African woman who’d failed gym? This set was made for a pre-adolescent Chinese girl.
What was meant to cover my boobies was just enough to cover my nipples. Which were all the way down there! The lace was tight against my skin and dug into my shoulders. I was hunched over. I arranged and rearranged my boobies as practically as I could but the lace strained so much I was sure it’d snap. I looked at myself in the mirror, I was a practical joke gone bad. There was no way I could pull the look off without wearing a bra. Sigh. I don’t know why these people haven’t been told that we left our perky breasts when we crossed the border from our 20s into our 30s.
And the thong, sweet heavens, the thong. It was one of those size-tiny ones that needed acrobatics to put on. I had to lie on my back, on a towel on the floor, and poke my legs into the air. Once I’d synchronised gravity against elasticity and slid it past my knees, I got on my feet and wiggled it past my hips and around my ass. I was growling all the while.
GB knocked on the door and asked concerned, “Are you OK in there?”
I panted and said between breaths, “Yeah, yeah… I’m fine. You better be ready for this jelly, haaha.”
Aki the lengths us women go to feel sexy.
By the time I got out of the bathroom and walked two steps toward him, the bloody thong got stuck between my buttocks and gave me a friction burn. Or a paper cut. I couldn’t even tell. Something was grazed against something, though, and there was some bit of first aid required. But who had time for first aid when there was a baby to be made?
As if the lingerie wasn’t enough, I had gas from the chocolate cake and wine I’d had for desert earlier. So each time I turned, my stomach either rumbled or I farted. Sometimes both.
GB himself was knackered from jobo. He’d been in a workshop all of that week and had more sessions to complete the next day and the next. And you know how draining workshops can get? I always – always – get a splitting headache after Day one of our Creative Writing Masterclass.
What we were doing here making our baby was a performance.
GB and I were performing to the gallery of our anxious egos.
It’s like wedding night sex. Or first-time sex. Or sex with someone whom you’ve crushed on for so long you feel privileged to have them unclothed next to you.
It’s awkward. And mechanical. And you’re self aware. And your expectations are high. And you don’t know whether to be selfish or giving. It’s an experience that leaves you underwhelmed.
Most important, this is not how babies are made. I don’t think babies can be planned to be made. To some degree they can, but to a greater degree I don’t think they can. You can’t play the drumbeats and expect your reproductive system to align itself to your rhythm. Nature doesn’t dance to our tune. Neither can we dance to nature’s tune because the wondrous world of Mother Nature means that things happen when we aren’t looking or waiting upon them. They happen in their own time. At their own tempo.
Like how the caterpillar changes into a butterfly – if you meddle with the pupa and force it open before its time, you’ll kill the beautiful butterfly inside.
Anyway, it was terrible baby-making sex and we were both snoring in under five minutes.
I expected a positive pregnancy test result two weeks after that Wednesday but it returned negative. GB told me to give it a week and try again. I did. The result was still negative.
GB calmly told me to give it another week. “Kwani how many weeks are we giving it?” I spat back. Anxiety was making me come undone. “Sorry… I…” I sighed out aloud. “Something isn’t right. It should be positive. My period is already two weeks late. And I feel pregnant.”
And I did feel pregnant. What I was experiencing though was phantom pregnancy symptoms.
My mind had fed my body so much expectation that I was making up an experience as I went along. It was an illusion.
I was reliving old memories of pregnancy.
I took yet another pee test the following week and it returned positive. We were elated. I blamed the first two negative tests on the pharmacy where I’d bought the kit. I told GB, “Those guys are selling expired nonsense! Hahha.”
I had my first ultrasound at seven weeks. My obstetrician noted some stunted growth: we couldn’t hear a heartbeat and the average diameter of the foetus was small for its age.
“Let’s take a blood test,” he suggested as wiped the off the cold ultrasound gel from my belly, “then come back Friday we take another one. Ideally the HCG levels should have doubled in those two days.”
“What if they haven’t?” I retorted. I could already feel a sense of loss washing over me.
He peeled off his gloves and said, “Then we’ll see what to do then.”
I returned Friday and took another blood test. HCG levels hadn’t quite doubled but they corresponded to what we’d expect for an eight-week pregnancy. We didn’t do an ultrasound. Everything, he said, was OK.
But it wasn’t OK: my symptoms hadn’t come in full blown and in hindsight, that should have been another warning sign.
You know how you get to around eight weeks of your pregnancy, and you no longer have the energy to get out of bed or go through your day? You know how anything you smell makes you want to throw up, and food tastes like saw dust? How your nipples feel tingly? How you suddenly hate people? You know that feeling of sitting useless at your desk, bloated like a round fat cabbage that has been grown in Limuru? Or how your cravings have you walk around with a food bag as if you’re running a mobile deli?
I didn’t have any of that. Whatever symptoms I had were mild. GB and I believed I was having it easy because it was our second baby.
Muna was still breastfeeding but I stopped her cold turkey. I didn’t want to take chances and deny the unborn any nutrients. Muna could drink store-bought packet milk, she was a big girl after all. I can still remember how hard she cried that entire week. “Mummy, nyonyo?! Nyonyo!” “No, nyonyo, mama. No. Mummy has another baby.”
I was nine weeks in when I started spotting. It was a Saturday. I’d had a bikini wax earlier that day and assumed it had brought it on. I paid it no mind and carried on with my day. The next day, Sunday, we had lunch at my Mum’s place (my mum-in-law). We shared the news of our pregnancy to the fam, even told them it was a boy. Mum broke into a loud Kikuyu hymn, Dad took us through a sermon and prayer.
Looking back, it was foolish to share so prematurely. News of a pregnancy should only be shared after the first trimester, when you’re out of the danger zone of a miscarriage.
The light spotting continued through the night and by Monday morning, it was as if I was having my period. I called my obstetrician, he told me to go in for a check-up.
Was I worried? No, I wasn’t. Not at all. I believed it was unlikely I could miscarry twice in my life. Miscarriages are things you hear about happening to other people, not to you, not twice. Also, I’d bled in my first trimester with Muna. Doc had given me two weeks of bed rest and all turned out well. He’ll probably do the same today.
Plus, I’d been taking good care of my health and rest.
2 p.m.: I was at my obstetrician’s reception waiting while reading from my Kindle. I was reading this bad book by Matthew Norman, ‘Domestic Violets’. I’d read Matthew Norman’s first book and had cackled for most of the read. This second book was such a drag.
3 p.m.: The bleed was now an alarming bright red and was gushing into my sanitary towel. Now I was worried. My obstetrician had been called in to Nairobi Hospital for an emergency c-section. I asked the receptionist, “Is he far?” She shook her head, “He’ll be here in 30 minutes. Can I make you another cup of tea? Water?”
4 p.m.: I went in for the ultrasound. Readings showed that my poor baby hadn’t grown an inch since the last scan. What we had seen at the seven-week scan was the same thing we were seeing now – no heartbeat, stagnated growth. My baby had been stuck in a moment.
“I don’t like to give you bad news,” my obstetrician said when we were back to his office.
“Nobody likes to be given bad news.”
He smiled demurely. “But you, not you. You look so calm on the outside but inside…” he trailed off, “it’s something else.”
I was seated across from him but my body was turned toward the door. My arms were across my chest. I was tapping my foot on the floor. I couldn’t hold his eyes because I was fighting back tears. “Is my baby OK?”
“No, I’m sorry.” He exhaled. “It’s called a blighted ovum. It happens to some eggs some times. Your body is expelling the foetus that’s why you’re bleeding.”
I felt a stubborn tear roll down my cheek. “So what do we do?”
“We can either let the body continue the process naturally, the bleeding will go on for some weeks. Or we can go in and surgically remove the foetus and tissue.”
I was crying. My lips trembled as I asked, “What do we do? Tell me what to do?!”
“I suggest we do the surgery.” He pulled out his desk calendar. “I have a 9 a.m. at Nairobi Hospital tomorrow. Then some appointments here from noon. I can see you at 4 p.m. Or would you prefer early morning, at 6 a.m?”
I nodded my head, sobbing now.
He continued. “Are you able to come in at 5, we do the surgery? You’ll be back home by noon.”
I took off my glasses and wiped the tears from my eyes. “I…I have another baby. I can’t make it by 5.”
“Let me admit you this evening, I’ll start with you first thing in the morning.”
I nodded and bit my lower lip.
I called GB to tell him our baby was no more.
6 p.m.: I had cried on the drive home. Couldn’t even tell my Mum on phone the whole story. My blood pressure had spiked and I couldn’t see past my tears to the cars in traffic ahead. I could have knocked someone over in my daze. My head felt like it was about to explode, I don’t remember what was playing on the stereo. When I got into our bedroom, GB was propped on the headboard reading a book. He looked sad but composed. He’s always composed, he never loses his cool. It’s because he resorts to logic, never to emotions.
I buried my head in my pillow next and I wept. And wept. And wept.
GB asked me after some time, “Why are you crying?”
I was lost for words. My goodness, what sort of insensitive question is that?! Why would he even ask me that? Doesn’t he understand what has happened, why I’m breaking apart? Here’s the truth though: At nine weeks, when I had the miscarriage, there’s no baby – scientifically it’s a foetus that’s one inch long and the size of a grape. A grape that has a heartbeat. A woman who mourns a miscarriage isn’t mourning the grape, she’s mourning the opportunity she lost to become a mum to the person that grape would have become.
He later got me some cold water and Panadol from the kitchen, and told me to take a nap.
9 p.m.: GB had me admitted to the maternity ward of Nairobi Hospital, we spoke very little along the way because I couldn’t stop crying. Being at Nairobi Hospital a second time for a miscarriage felt like playing a tape on rewind.
6 a.m. the next morning: I was in the theatre. It was cold in there. Theatres are always cold.
10 a.m.: I was back in my room, awake and recovering. My baby was gone. I numbed myself to the bleeding and pain, and slept all day.
I returned home that evening and held Muna for so long and so tight, she almost lost her breath. “Dear Lord,” I prayed, “no more miscarriages. No more.”
The tears just wouldn’t stop coming.
I was on bed rest for the next two weeks.
During those two weeks – alone, in my warm bed, my bulky uterus – I told myself what I should have when I had the first miscarriage: It had nothing to do with you. This isn’t your fault, it’s nobody’s fault, really – there’s nothing you ate, no toxic substance you sipped, no stressful environment you immersed yourself in, no bad music you listened to (maybe Bruno Mars) that would have caused the miscarriage. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent it either.
Miscarriages happen because there’s a problem with the baby at the DNA level, when it was being formed – so nature steps in and terminates it for your survival. There’s absolutely nothing you would have done to cause or prevent the miscarriage. This isn’t your fault.
Mourn this loss because it hurts and you are hurting and nobody, except she who has experienced such a loss before, will understand how helpless the tears feel. How empty your womb feels right now. Your baby was there with you and now he’s gone, forever. He’s never coming back.
You will try again for another baby. And it may happen again, you could have another miscarriage, or it may not. But give yourself the chance to try again when you’re ready to.
Nanny Viv was a trooper and kept Muna busy with their strict routines. I’d sometimes hear Muna giggling and singing along with Nanny Viv. Or she’d ride her bike up and down the corridor, squealing. Hearing her warmed my heart. I’d step out of the room at 6, 7 p.m., and Muna would be taken aback to see me. Like I was magician who’d materialized to the stage from thin air.
On the first day of the third week, GB woke me before he left for jobo. He said, “You need to go back to work now. We can’t let this linger.” I sat up and nodded. He added, “You had your website, Craft It, build it and write those stories you wanted. You also wanted to get a camera for your Instagram, si you get one?”
I gave him a broken smile. Muna and GB had been my therapy, I couldn’t have found acceptance and peace without them. God knows how to plan these things. I said, “Yeah, let me throw myself into Craft It. I’ve been on WhatsApp with kina Hanafi building it, we’ll launch the site and the brand in September.”
“Also,” I said, sitting straighter, “Why don’t we do our wedding? Next year, 2018? We’ll have it on February 3, on the Saturday he was supposed to be born.”
An edited version of this story first run in the December-2017 issue of True Love magazine