BY FLORENCE BETT
I’ve had two miscarriages.
Today, I’ll tell you about the first one. It happened in late March 2010. I was 25; I was a year into my first job as a financial auditor and living at home with my folks and siblings. I was still dating my campus boyfriend and didn’t know much about life and people and why they do the things they do, I didn’t even know who I was as a person.
Existential questions never featured in my mind. Questions like, ‘Am I happy?’ ‘Is this the life path I want to walk to eternity?’ ‘What does fulfillment and purpose look like?’ ‘What am I truly good at?’ ‘What exists beyond the comforts of a steady chunky pay check?’ ‘If my fate ever changed, would I be comfortable being uncomfortable, being uncertain of what-next?’ ‘Am I a bird in a cage?’. I was living my life the way I knew how to at 25. In retrospect, I was really a sitting duck.
The pregnancy was unplanned, of course. It happened after a drunken New Year party and a pair of blue skinny jeans. I remember taking three pee tests at home and two blood tests at my obstetrician’s with the distant hope that the tests would return negative. They didn’t. My obstetrician shared the results of the blood tests in a phone call and I can still feel the chills that tickled my naive skin. “You are pregnant,” he’d said flatly.
I really didn’t know what to do with the news. What do you do when you find out you are pregnant at 25? Me? I cried.
I was in a bus on my way home from work when he called. A #46 Citi Hoppa. I alighted at my stop, went straight into Coco J (remember it, the bar off Chaka Road?), to the washrooms, sat on a toilet bowl and cried myself to a throbbing headache.
I didn’t want to be pregnant, I didn’t want a baby. I loved my life as it were. I loved the pressure of the deadlines at work and the endless possibilities for my future in corporate Nairobi. I loved the competitive arenas me and my grademates had been thrown in to; fighting to the death, blood and broken jaws, we were like gladiators. I loved that I could commit 150 per cent to my career without feeling that I was over-committing. I loved my audit clients. I loved my starchy dress shirts and the sexy heels I wore daily, I even loved those heavy ugly laptops they’d issued us at work.
I loved going out with my pals for drinks and partying like most young adults in this town did. I loved that I’d gone back to school, to Strathmore, to become a certified accountant.
And I loved the money. God, I loved the money.
An unplanned pregnancy felt like a thief I’d invited unto myself. A thief who would come into my space and steal everything that mattered to me. A thief who would make me regret why I didn’t shut my doors tight in the night. A thief who would steal what defined me and leave me stripped bare in shambles, with no anchor, no bearing.
I was the good kid at home, the ones my folks used as an example to the others. I was independent and dependable and had made the right choices in my life thus far. A child born out of wedlock at such a seemingly tender age felt like a blotch to my sparkling record. Like shame and failure. Like disappointment to those that looked up to me. Yet my Mum was thrilled when I hesitantly broke the news to her.
First trimester was rough. That sluggishness and lethargy that underlines every day of those first 13 weeks felt like an illness. I felt sick half the time. The inability to get work done on time annoyed me.
It was only toward the end of the first trimester that I settled into my new life of mum-to-be and thought, ‘Hmm, this isn’t so bad after all.’ One Saturday at Adams market, after doing the weekly shopping for fruits & veges, I bought some onesies and socks from some stall not too far from where we’d parked. I would later go through the trouble of washing them myself and soaking them in generous amounts of Sta Soft water. I hang them carefully then sat by the window to watch them dry.
I also subscribed to the weekly updates from Baby Centre. At 13 weeks, their email said he was three inches long and the size of a pea pod. His birthday would be on September 25, 2010. It was only March and I was already giddy with anxiety and a new excitement. I gave him a beautiful name and talked to him when we were alone.
A day into my 14th week, at the stairs at work headed out to lunch, I felt what I thought was pee gush out and soak up my knickers. I was confused and clueless, somewhat alarmed. I rushed back up the stairs and to the washroom to check myself out. There was nothing to see, nothing to suggest a bleed or rapture or whatever. Google didn’t give me much insight but I spent my afternoon tying up any loose ends of client work. I went in to see my obstetrician at 4PM. I was alone.
“Your amniotic fluid has leaked,” he said in that colourless voice all doctors adopt to give you bad news. It’s in the medical school curriculum, isn’t it, learning how to speak to patients in this voice? We had left the scan room and were now seated across each other at the desk in his office. He carried on, “The ultrasound shows that there’s very little left. The foetus isn’t moving, it needs the fluid to move. I’m going to –”
“But his heart is still beating? He’s still alive?”
He nodded and held my eyes with his. “Yes…it is.” I didn’t like how he was saying that, referring to my baby as a ‘foetus’ and an ‘it’. He was a baby, my baby boy. He said, “I’m going to admit you right away and keep you on strict bed rest for five days. You mustn’t leave the bed for anything.”
I immediately wondered about bathroom visits but I’d later encounter the funky and all-so-sexy bedpan.
He added, “Hopefully the fluid should regenerate itself.”
“What if it doesn’t?” I asked feebly.
He swallowed hard then said, “Then we’ll see what to do on Friday.”
It was Monday. He admitted me to the maternity ward at Nairobi Hospital later that evening; it smelt of disinfectant and mopped floors, I could hear newborns wailing from somewhere behind the thin walls. My Mum, my big sis and my ex were there with me; we walked in a silent helpless unit, like cattle being herded out of the boma at dawn.
I went in for an ultrasound at around 10PM. The corridors were lonely and cold. The scan showed that my baby had already shifted position and had turned his face away, the only thing I could see on screen was his spine and his bum. It was as if it was in symbolism, as if he already knew.
The white-coat technician doing the ultrasound asked me some questions. “Have you been working too hard? Are you stressed? Did you do any strenuous work in the past few weeks? Are you eating well?”
I mumbled the yes’s.
She showed me where the fluid was. It was very little. It was like water sitting in the bottom of a bowl.
I asked, “Will the fluid come back? My doctor said it could regenerate itself.”
She exhaled as she peeled off her gloves. “Well, take some rest then we’ll check again after a few days. Sometimes it comes back.”
I slept for most of those five days of my rest. I really was tired; it had been what we call ‘busy season’ at work – juggling numerous report deadlines, early mornings, late nights, 12-hour intense shifts, sometimes longer, sometimes stretching into the weekends. I hadn’t been taking care of myself, I admit, because the circumstances of my work demands hadn’t allowed me to. I was eating really well but I wasn’t resting. So I slept.
I also finished reading two novels – Off My Chest by Yusuf Dawood and Wedding Season by Katie Fford – and I wrote in my journal. Deep down, I was guilty about what was happening. I felt like it was my fault, that I had wished this upon myself. I felt that my baby was leaving me because he had sensed I didn’t want him in my life, so he was doing the gentlemanly thing and showing himself out. I prayed God for forgiveness.
The days and nights in the hospital were mostly the same; dull meals, nurses checking my blood pressure and giving me this and that pill to swallow, sponge bathes, family visits.
On two separate occasions, an agent from my insurance company and another one from the PR department of the hospital came into my room bearing a greeting card and a hearty message of congratulations. They imagined I’d given birth simply because I was in the the maternity ward. I found that so careless and insensitive. So… foolish. Who does that? I was a strained smile away from tearing the cards up and stuffing the pieces down their throats.
Friday, at noon, my obstetrician did another ultrasound. He didn’t have good news. “Whatever fluid was left has been leaking since Monday,” he said in that doctor voice of his again, “the foetus hasn’t moved since then.” He gave me a minute to process the news, then continued, “I’m sorry, Florence, we have to terminate the pregnancy.”
I was in an emotional jungle. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. What do you say when a pregnancy you didn’t want then later really wanted ends much sooner than you’d imagined? Are you allowed to grieve? Where does the ache of the heart and reason of the mind meet? Where does one end and the other begin? Which do you address first? Does the antagonism ease the pain in any way?
He continued, “We’re going to induce you. The foetus should come out in clots. There’ll be a lot of bleeding and cramping but it won’t be painful.”
He lied: At midnight, in the still of the night, I had what I’d later learn was a contraction wash up to the shore of my pelvis. Then another came. Then another. Then another. It hurt. Oh, it fucking hurt. I buzzed for the night nurse. One of the juniors came in. I could tell she was junior because she was wearing a green stripped dress as her uniform, the seniors wore white.
“I’m in so much pain,” I groaned to her. “What’s happening?”
She looked at me lying there, pocketed and unpocketed her hands in confusion and mumbled, “Let me, uhm, let me get the…” She ran out of my room like a bat out of hell. She returned a few seconds later with the senior nurse; she had white pants on and a very heavy Meru accent.
The senior nurse poked around my belly and birth canal then said solemnly, “You’re in labour. Relax and breathe, the baby will come out soon. Just relax and breathe.”
He came at 12.45AM. My little boy came and he was there but not quite there. He had my ex’s angular face and long fingers. His knees were bent. He had tiny toes. His hands were near his face, as if he was going to sleep but hadn’t gotten there. He was so small he could fit in the cup of my palm.
I didn’t hold him. I couldn’t.
I crouched over his little body and I cried.
I didn’t stop crying for the next three years.
An edited version of this story first run in the November-2017 issue of True Love magazine