On Monday, I went to the district health office in Luwero to speak with a child services officer about how I could help Nyambalu, the mama with sepsis that I have been working with at Kasana hospital. Her husband has asked me repeatedly to take the baby and I told him I couldn’t. Then one day he asked me if I could help him find an orphanage for the baby. I was shocked when he asked me that. He said he cannot take care of the baby because he has to work and mom does not take care of baby or even want it. When the dad asked me to help him find an orphanage, my instant, and instinctual, reaction was to see if private adoption was a possibility. After speaking with the officer at the DHO, she made it very clear that private adoption was out of the question and taking the baby to an orphanage was not happening either. It was a frustrating situation and a wake-up-to-reality kind of day. My heart was breaking at the uncertainty of what would happen, especially after my time spent at InStep Children’s Home in Kenya and hearing the horror stories that many of the babies and children went through.
Tuesday morning I went to Kasana to check on Nyambalu and her baby and to help out in the delivery ward. Mama and her son were doing great. He is putting on weight and his skin color is getting better by the day. Mama’s recovery from her c-section and sepsis is very slow but she is on the mend and starting to move around with more ease. All of that made me incredibly happy to see.
After cuddling my little guy, I went to the delivery ward and saw a young mom getting deep into labour. She was a tiny thing but was she ever strong. It really blows my mind how these women go through labour without any medication, barely saying a word or making a sound, and with very little or no support at all. I was with her, supporting her, going through the peaks and valleys of labour, from seven centimetres dilation until her baby boy was born. He came out screaming and feisty. He was born on my best friend’s birthday and the baby boy totally reminded me of her—loud, proud, and he had to let everyone know he was there! I got to hold him for quite awhile right after the birth because mama was bleeding out quite heavily, and we didn’t have any Oxytocin to make her uterus contract and stop the bleeding. The midwife massaged her uterus like crazy and eventually another midwife showed up with some Oxytocin and then mom was fine. It was a great birth and after everything, mama kept saying to me, “God bless you. God bless you.” It is an indescribable feeling to be here for these women when everyone else is barely kind or caring towards them during labour.
On Thursday, I went back to Kasana to check on Nyambalu and her baby boy. As I was walking up to their ward, she was sitting outside on a bench and I could see the stress on her face. I asked her how she was doing and she just shook her head and she said baby is sick. I went in the room to check on him and he was sleeping on the bed, limp, struggling to breathe, and had a fever. I went back out and sat with mama. She was waiting to see the doctor and get the test results for her baby. She came out from seeing the doctor, sat down beside me, and handed me the medical booklet. Baby has malaria. Nyambalu started crying and said to me, “I am tired.” It tore me apart to see her to go through this as she has been through SO much already: the traumatic and difficult birth, her being sick for a month with sepsis, and baby was sick for his first two weeks in the world. I rubbed her back and asked her what I could do for her and she just kept saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I asked her if her husband Musa was going to come back today to see her and the baby. She said he was supposed to come in the evening. He is the one that buys her medication for her every morning and brings it to the hospital. We went into the ward and she sat on the bed next to baby. I kneeled on the floor next to her, held her hand, and put my other hand on baby’s head. Her friend walked in a few minutes later to check on them. I asked Nyambalu, again, if there was anything I could do to help her and she just shook her head. Then her friend told me, with her being in the hospital for so long and being on the amount of medication she is on has been a huge financial struggle for them. I didn’t doubt it for a minute! She has to buy all her medication, everything to clean her c-section, literally every little thing needed to receive treatment at the hospital. I asked if Musa was going to buy the malaria treatment for baby tonight when he came and she said she did not know. Malaria is something that you absolutely cannot mess around with. The longer you go without treatment, the higher chance you have of dying, especially for a baby. I told them I would buy the malaria medication. The look on Nyambalu’s, and her friend’s, face was pure shock and relief. Nyambalu started crying and gave me a big hug. I walked into town and bought the malaria medication and went straight back to the hospital. She looked so amazed that I came back with medication and she gave me another hug and said, “God bless and thank you.” I didn’t stay with them long because I was so upset—crying and raging for the lack of resources that the hospital has for patients. I just wanted to scream. There are no mosquito nets over any hospital bed. It is absolutely insane! Malaria is a preventable disease if the proper precautions are taken, and you would think that the hospital would want to prevent their patients from getting sick, when they are already sick. And to top it off, if Musa and Nyambalu were not able to buy the malaria medication, the hospital would not have provided it for them. It honestly blows my fucking mind. Just thinking about the situation and writing about it makes me cry because of how many families and babies are going through this daily. It is fucking heart-breaking.
Friday morning I went back to check on them. It took so much pressure off my chest to see Nyambalu looking so happy and relieved. It was a breath of fresh air to see her like that. Baby’s fever was gone and he ate in the morning, a great sign. That’s the good thing about intravenous malaria medication—when you get it early enough it works fast. She was so grateful for the medication and that baby was feeling better. It was an amazing feeling to be able to help her through that.
This week I have been thinking non-stop about Nyambalu and baby. Her not wanting the baby and not taking of care of him is definitely not normal, but her situation is not normal either. Female mammals are hard-wired to love and care for our offspring. It is an innate feeling and has been in our biology forever. But her birth was so difficult. C-sections are not a natural part of birth, then add a septic infection to her experience. It is no wonder that she did not immediately bond with her baby and fall madly in love with him. If a mother, in the animal world, went through a traumatic birth like that, she would have eaten or abandoned the baby. So to see Nyambalu slowly shift towards loving and caring for her son has been an amazing experience. I am so grateful to have been here and gone through this with her. It is absolutely life changing.
This morning I went back again and everyone is still doing great. Baby has one more malaria treatment and Nyambalu has three more days of her treatment. I am so happy to see her on the mend. She is starting to have a glimmer of hope in her eyes and that fills me with a ton of hope for all.