The day Hannah was born, I decided I was done with child birth. I wanted a millennium baby and she came in 20 days late but it was still January 2000 and it's easy to remember how old she is by looking at the calendar year and not having to do the math. Joannah had been born two and a half years earlier at Pretoria East Hospital in South Africa where I had the support of family. There are many reasons for enduring pain and none is as fulfilling as labor pain. If you survive the ordeal the prize is a wonderful new life but having suffered my first labor pain at age 19, alone in Nsambya Hospital, I was not prepared to go through it again without the help of family and science.
In 1997 I probably could have got an epidural administered at a hospital in Uganda but I never tried and instead I asked Aunt Hope and Uncle John to indulge me and host me through the birth of my second biological child and they kindly obliged. Uncle John, my father's only brother; had emigrated with his family to live in South Africa in the early 80s and we all knew that the best health care in Africa south of the Sahara was in South Africa; so when the time came to bring my second child into the world, I traveled to stay with family and wait. After weeks of baby shopping and prenatal classes, Joannah seemed reluctant to leave the womb so I turned to science and chose a date when I would being her into the world through inducing labor. Instead of the usual drama of being rushed to the labor ward in the throes of unspeakable pain, I packed my suitcase and checked in for the birth as though I were checking into a hotel.
At the hospital, I got a fabulous room that looked more like a five-star hotel room than a hospital room; where labor was induced. I could not help comparing the service at this private hospital to the wards at Nsambya Hospital in Uganda where Lionel was born 12 years earlier. Nsambya hospital is affiliated to the Catholic Church and was a far better choice than the public hospital Mulago, yet it still lacked the amenities to make child birth the private and intimate experience that it ought to be. The nurses at Nsambya were kind but they still had to be paid a little extra for their kindness in 1985 when all health services in Uganda were in a terrible state. My memories of the place were so unpleasant and I thanked God in 1997 for the rare option of giving birth in the sterile and pristine environment of a private hospital in South Africa.
Nonetheless, the pain of labor is still as unforgiving in Pretoria as it is in Kampala. Moreover, I didn't know that once induced, Joannah would be in a rush to make her entry into the world. The contractions which in Lionel's case had been gradual now came at supersonic speed. I was quickly moved into the delivery room with waves of contractions tearing through my core. I had not come so far to suffer this horrible pain so I called the nurse and said I was ready for the epidural. I seem not to have done enough research because I did not know that it involved getting a long needle inserted in the space between the back vertebrae but any woman in labor will tell you that when a contraction tears through your body, a needle in your spine is as easy as a walk in the park.
Minutes after it was administered, I got the most soothing sleeping sensation and momentarily forgot about the pain. But things did not all go as the obstetrician had planned and my blood pressure dropped to the floor. A flurry of activity followed as I felt myself slipping further and further into dreamland just barely conscience of what was happening around me. The medical crew got excited, my mother was alarmed then I remember them adjusting the hospital bed so that my feet were above my head and they stabilized me. I experienced the sensations of labor as though it were happening to a person outside of my body and carried on a conversation with my anxious mother who was cursing the demons out of all artificial methods of pain control. My honeymoon with the epidural ended abruptly after about two hours and the pain returned with a vengeance. I begged the nurse for a top up like a crazed drug addict but the little drama that had followed the first injection had them leaning towards the side of caution and she refused. Now, every mother who has gone through labor knows that contractions come in waves with the next one being many times harder than the last. So imagine coming from a blissful place to find yourself in advanced stages of labor without the build up!
The pain coursed through my body, attacking every possible nerve center that could feel pain and no one seemed to care that I had travelled a long distance and paid extra to avoid this very pain. I called on God and all my internal strength, having lost hope in anyone relieving me of this Cross, and in the mid-afternoon on 5 November 1997, I found even more strength in the reserves of my being to bring forth a beautiful baby girl.
So two and a half years later when Hannah was born, I had not bothered traveling to South Africa. My family there had traveled to Uganda for the millennium and I knew that the pain of labor would follow me anywhere. So I returned to Nsambya hospital which now had better services - not quite like the ones in Pretoria - but I knew that it did not matter how pretty the surroundings, labor was still going to hurt. Hannah weighed in at 4.5 kilograms and everyone wondered how I managed that without a C- Section. I wondered too, but I was sure after she was born that I was done with contributing to world population and was never going to venture again.
At 50 I know that am in the minority - those who have enjoyed adequate maternal health care in Africa; and not enough has been done to ensure that women survive, let alone enjoy, that special moment when they bring forth the wonderful gift of life.