I met death, once upon a time

Thobo was born on the 16th September 2010 at Bokamoso Hospital. The cesarean section was some by Dr. Eishler, the German Gaenacologists, who later, together with his doctor wife, skipped the country under the cover of the night. They remain the best doctors I’ve ever met. All rounded best.

The story started when the anesthetic procedure knocked me out. We had agreed to a bottom half of the body ‘paralysis’. I wanted to participate in the birthing process. I had done that with the previous two.

That was not to be. This time I was out. Dead. Unaware of life.

When I came to, I had moved from the theatre to the hospital room. Thobo was in ICU, under strict observation. I learnt later that he had not cried immediately after birth – and all the usual tactics doctors often engage failed to produce a cry.

They were worried for his health, especially his lungs.

I think I was discharged two days later, pushed in a wheelchair. I had a throbbing headache that wouldn’t allow me to stand on my own. And when we got home I had to be supported from the car to the house.

My health deteriorated so fast the next morning I couldn’t see clearly. The world was blurry.

One of my sisters is a medical doctor – and we normally check things with her before seeking medical attention. She was in the US. They called her. She explained what could be the problem.

To ‘paralyse’ me the anesthetist had injected me on the spine, they call it epidural.

So my sister explained, from the US, that the small opening from the injection is supposed to close immediately after. But it would seem, in my case, it had not and as such I was losing pressure needed to keep me intact.

The thumping headache and the near blindness were a result of this pressure loss.

I was losing Cerebral Spinal Fluid and if not attended to, this structure called Oesi would collapse.

So when we rushed back to Bokamoso after the call, we had all the medical jargon and explanations; to the shock of the medical team.

I was quickly wheel-chaired in and drips inserted on every visible vein.

The headache had gone violent.

I was not sure whether I was crying or it was my head’s spontaneous response to this brutality. But tears poured uninhibited.

I was to spend the next 4 days in Bokamoso. The headache, the anesthetic doctor explained, needed to be treated with caffeine containing medication. But the ministry of health had not allowed that kind of medication into the country yet.

My near addiction to caffeine started here, I think.

In the four days I was at Bokamoso, the anesthetic doctor instructed that I get a glass of coke with each meal – and he was always by my bedside, ‘for control’, I guess.

Eleven years later, it is still as vivid. My truth about the pain of ‘normal’ child birth

Wawo ready to go home for the first time

My pregnancy was smooth. I had no extreme cravings like demanding freshly baked bread in the middle of the night, or begging for rain scented soil from an ant hill. I was ‘normal’. I followed a routine; a visit to my gynecologists once a month which went down to two weeks, then a week as the day got closer. I did regular physical and breathing exercises with a physiotherapist. The breathing lessons were to help ease labour and delivery pains. I was even taught belly flattening exercises for after the event.  I wish I had obeyed the latter.

Like all the mothers-to-be I knew, I devoured all the pregnancy books and magazines I could lay my hands on. I was thus well equipped; book knowledge, exercises and information from forerunners.

I knew that the Expected Day of Delivery (EDD) was an approximation; the baby could arrive 2 weeks early or late? My child opted for the later.  Two weeks after the EDD, my gynecologists decided it was time we induced birth. In other words, start the labour artificially. Mid-morning Wednesday 2nd March 2005, I checked in at the Gaborone Private Hospital, hoping to be done in a few hours. But at evening fall, there was not much progress.  The following morning, Friday 3rd, a drip was inserted into my veins.

And everything changed.

Years before, I had heard about strange things expectant women do at the on- set of labour pains. Bothale’s story comes to mind. She shared the maternity room with another women, they were both in labour.  And one thing she still remembered, years later, was her roommate wearing a headscarf, which was not a problem until the pains hit. Labour pains usually come in intervals, they do some kind of hit (really hard) and run – give you time to recollect yourself then hit again. So when she felt them approaching,  Bothale would confront her roommate:

“…O rwaletseng tukwi wena? Rola, rola tukwi eo. Ka na ga o mo dithabing mma? Ija! …”;  to the amazement of the other women.

It was only after delivering the baby that Bothale reflected, with embarrassment the insanity of all this.

So I decided long before my day that I won’t do anything weird. Anyway I had breathing exercises to fall back on. How wrong I was. I totally forgot about my time with the physiotherapist. Shuu! I could not understand how a human being was supposed to go through that kind of pain and remain sane.  I remember thinking, about my gynecologists ‘how do you speak that slowly when I am in so much pain’.

“No, please just do cesarean. P-l-e-a-s-e take out the baby. I cannot handle this” I pleased for her mercy.

At one point I was holding onto her hand- and wouldn’t let go. I don’t know where the thought that a fast speaker would be tolerable came from. But suddenly I could not stand my doctor of 9 months – and never did even afterwards.  I changed both the doctor and the baby delivery methods immediately after.

My husband was torn between the doctor and the ‘wailing’ wife. I was grateful he was there, praying around the room and squeezing my hands to calm his groaning wife. I really do not wish this kind of pain on any person.

Friday late afternoon, I was too exhausted to do anything and apparently the baby was also too tired to make any further movements towards the outside world. The clock was ticking. Preparation for theatre complete, just when I was about to be wheeled out, Wawo descended; a perfect child. I loved him with my life.

I had wished to immediately  hold him tight to my chest so we could both derive the benefits of body contact. I had also wanted to breastfeed him as soon as he could suckle. But none of these happened.

Imagine the overwhelming sadness and guilt when on the second day a nurse inquired whether I had asked for my baby. I don’t remember what I had in mind when the first day ended and the second was almost over – and I had not seen Wawo. I just slept. May be I thought it was procedure. I don’t know. But the nurse’s question aroused a war of emotions.

I felt like I did not care for the child I so eagerly waited for and nurtured in the months I carried him. But I had planned it all during pregnancy, how I would mother him.  I had, for example, bought breast pumps, cups and everything to ensure strict breast milk for the first six months. The pIan was to pump and freeze excess milk; to strictly use a cup – no bottle – and so many other recommended things. So how could I fail before the race?

I asked for him; one and half days later, I held my first child for the first time. My eyes welled up and that became my common, especially when he cried.

Counselling sessions with a psychologist helped me deal with the trauma and the guilt. I forgave myself – and became the best mother I could be. I kick started what I had promised myself; strictly breast milk for the first six months.

I went on to have two more children. This time through  elective cesarean section . So I knew from the beginning, in fact we discussed, with the doctor, the delivery time and date for both children. There is comfort in having control.

Years later, I still have deep respect for women who delivered more than one child ‘normally’.  I respect their resilience. But I also wish all women were able to choose between ‘normal’ and elective cesarean. While I know of women who don’t experience labour pain at all, for most women, the pain is real and unbearable.