I had gathered all my things the afternoon before, and made the two minute walk (or waddle in my case at the time), down the road to the back entrance of the hospital. All the kids from the compound were in tow, each carrying something, quite proud and happy to be part of the event and journey. At the hospital gate the guard tried to shoo them all away, but a few were allowed to follow me inside.
After the formalities of paying for everything, from bed space to intravenous bags, my Canadian friend and confidante, T and I were led to a fairly clean, private room.
We sat on the bed and chatted. We imagined what the baby would be like, what the birth would be like. My nerves ebbed and flowed.
In the evening my husband brought Kobi (Q) down the road to be with me. We all sat, we chatted. I hugged my boy. The nurse came and told me visiting hours were over. This was it. I was to be alone until the next day, after by baby was born.
I felt instantly terrified and sentimental. I wanted my family back. Aunty Maude! My mom. I’m sure I curled as much as I could into a ball and cried myself to sleep, hugging my belly and gathering the strength and bond the two of us needed for the next day.
In the morning I was wheeled down to the surgery ward, past the busy lobby, through the morning prayer being observed by all, made the obligatory stop and then proceeded to a smaller quieter lobby with a few people lying and sitting somberly on the hard benches.
The waiting ensued. I was supposed to be scheduled for 9am surgery, but on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time), I knew this was to be far later.
I was uncharacteristically calm. Serene. Baby thumped now and then to say hello and comfort me, in light of the dangerous events that we were about to submit ourselves to.
There was gathering momentum around the surgery as the time got closer, with nurses and other uniformed strangers moved in and out of the worn swinging doors. I was acutely aware of the dusty floors and hand marks on the walls and doors. Would they use sterile equipment? Would they handle any crisis that might arise with level headed expertise? Would they treat my baby with love and care while I lay there in a drug induced sleep?
The time came, the big white hospital wall clock showed five past ten, and a nurse came to collect my receipts. She pointed to a rickety wheelchair. “Get in”. I obeyed.
The room was blindingly bright. The light drowned out the dirt in the corners, and reassured me. It looked like a real surgery room.
I was heaved up onto a cold table while people shuffled around me. Soon I was connected to an IV and I remember asking semi-frantic questions about how long the procedure would take, where I’d wake up, did they promise to take care of my baby. I was largely ignored.
I looked around for my doctor, who appeared seconds before they injected the sleeping serum. His smile gave me an instant sense of calm. He was cool and collected and had an air of much needed authority. The curdled nervous mess of my insides became a smooth silky pudding. I slipped away while staring right into his eyes. All a mother’s trust thrown across the cold room in a glance that faded away with me.
I woke up dazed, with a heavy thudding pain in my middle. My eyes seemed crusty and my mouth was a harsh unforgiving desert. As I became aware of my surroundings I realized I was in a hospital room. There were three other people to my left. One groaned loudly. This sound was probably what brought me around from the groggy underworld. I wondered in a panic whether I’d been in an accident, what was wrong, why was I here?
Then as my mind caught up with my panic, I remembered everything and it all came rushing to me and up through my throat and formed into a frog-like yelp, “My baby!”
I’d apparently disturbed my bed-mates. One turned to me and talked loudly, as if I were deaf or a small child,
“You are in a hospital. You are fine. People are sick here, please do not shout.”
“Someone call the nurse that the obruni (white person) has woken up.”
Me: “But where is my baby? Where is my baby? I want to see my baby!” I was quite emotional, demanding, frantic. I feared the worst. What if I’d made it and the baby hadn’t? Why was I in a room with sick people? Why not the maternity ward?!
A nurse eventually appeared in the doorway, slouching against the doorframe, she looked at me with heavy lidded eyes. “Madam, you have to stop shouting! You will pull your stitches.” Her voice came across flat, monotone, slightly annoyed.
I was incredulous that no one would respond to my question. I started to cry. No one reacted. One of the other patients made a point of loudly turning over to face away from me. I was sure the baby was gone and that this was the dawning of the worst day of my life.
The nurse left the room and walked slowly down the hallway, her slothly footsteps becoming quieter and quieter, until they were gone. I was so alone, so afraid, so helpless. I considered getting up to go and ask someone in charge. I tried to move but was instantly overcome by shooting pains as my body attempted to twist. That was not going to be possible. There was nothing I could do but wait.
I called through my tears to each person who passed the room. No one was willing to help. Maybe they thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. I began to wonder. Where was my husband and my Kobi? Why wouldn’t they visit me? I checked the clock and it was after 1pm.
This was easily the most lonely I’ve felt ever, and it was the deepest, despairing emptiness that I shudder to recall it at all.
Then an angel appeared. A Canadian friend called G. I heard her sharp accent in the hallway and my anticipation of her arrival at the door was palpable. She appeared in the doorway, her face alive and bright, a huge basket with balloons and gifts and sweets in her arms. She looked so out of place in this dismal ward.
Her expression turned instantly dark once she saw my tear stained face and looked around the room. Still she came to me, dumped the basket and hugged me. Despite the pain, I grabbed onto her and the warmth of her embrace filled me to the brim. Definitely one of the best hugs I’ve ever had. I drank her in. Then she got to business and I was beyond grateful.
“Where is the baby?!” “why are you in here?”
All I could do was shake my head as more tears welled up and spilled, hot and frustrated down my puffy cheeks.
She squeezed my hand and assured me she’d go sort out everything and she ran down the hall.
I could hear her firm and then raised voice as she questioned the lethargic nurses down the hall. She was demanding, shouting now. And then silence. I bit my lip and waited some more.
An indescribably long time after that, she reappeared. Still alone but with a smile that gave me hope for the first time since I’d awoken.
“Well my dear, you are the proud mother of a healthy baby boy!”
I could have kissed her face off. My eyes lit up, by heart soared.
Me: “Where is he?”
G: “The nurses are just washing him and will have him up here in just a couple minutes, or I’ll go straight back down there and get him myself”.
She then went to work to gather up the shattered pieces of my sanity and cleaned me up, in anticipation for the arrival of my little king, Shiloh.
Three nurses came padding much faster than usual up the passage way and I heaved myself up into sitting position. I was gripped with both childlike wonder and a violent maternal desire to protect her young. Bring me that baby!!
And there he was! Wrapped all tight in a soft cotton blanket. His chubby tan face shining out the top. My baby! I devoured him. Grabbed the bundle of him and smothered him with a thousand kisses.
I felt in a bubble. I could hear nothing. The world was just me and my news.
I was at once amazed, frightened, ecstatic and numb. My baby boy had arrived!
They wheeled in a clear plastic bassinet for him to sleep beside me but I had no intention of letting him go again.
G had a mobile phone and we were able to call my mother. I barely said a word, and just managed to blurt out that the baby was a boy and that he was so sweet. I cried and smiled and blubbered. She did the same on the other end of the line…
I wanted to feed him right away but was informed by ‘nurse wretched’ that it wasn’t necessary as they’d given him a bottle of glucose syrup. I was furious. But at least he was with me.
Then G told me about her experience with the nurses downstairs. She had wandered around the surgeries and eventually found Shiloh, alone and unwashed, lying in a cold plastic bassinet. She was appalled and ran out calling wildly to the nurses. They were in a lunchroom, greedily pawing kenkey, fresh pepper and fish from a shared eating bowl. When she asked why the baby had not been cleaned and brought to his mother they casually explained it was lunchtime. I was beyond furious at the story, but at least he was with me.
I mentioned to G that I was sad and concerned my husband and Kobi had not come in yet to visit, she told me that they were refusing all visitors since it was not yet official visiting hours. I was furious, but at least Shi was with me.
Then G went to the nurses, now that she’d quickly developed a reputation as a no-nonsense obruni, and she demanded to know why I was placed in a room with sick patients. Apparently there was no room in the other ward. I couldn’t believe it! The man beside me had a rotting foot. My ailing roommates resented my eventual flow of visitors and Shiloh’s deep newborn cry. I was upset, but at least Shi was with me.
And when, in the night I had to call for the nurses help to use a bedpan, with the man beside me gawking, the nurse annoyed and unhelpful, my stitches pulling and stretching with excruciating pain, I was embarrassed and fuming inside, but at least I had my Shiloh with me.
Happy Birthday Shiloh. 11 years ago you arrived, causing me turmoil, crushing me with worry that I wouldn’t see you, and filling my life with more than a mother could ever ask, once you came. Beautiful, boisterous, ‘bad boy’. You charmed me from that first moment, and had me entranced every day thereafter. I only wish, more than a mother could imagine, that I had you here with me today.
Shiloh Devon Nii Kpakpo Mingle – January 9th, 1999 – June 22, 2005.
We miss you ‘like harmattan paw paw’. Every moment since you left us here without you.