When all you can do is still not enough, but it's all you can do
I have wanted to scream, every day since after Mothers Day I have felt like screaming on and off. Something has got to give, yet at the same time I find the strength to keep going, because steps forward are being taken, progress is being made. This blog is a really sad one. As much as I want to share my tears with you and encourage you to read on, please if you have a weak stomach, this blog entry is not for you. All week I thought I would not share this, but a close friend encouraged me to rethink it.
You may have heard about Fantanesh from Marcie’s website or Leith’s Grace Calendar.
Fantanesh had a baby last week, the day after Mothers Day. This would normally be wonderful news, except he was not alive. She and her new husband could think of nothing better than to parent a baby together, except that Fantanesh has a rare A- blood and a condition that meant that her babies have a little chance to live through to birth. We did not know about this condition until it was too late. Fantanesh has one healthy 6 yr old son in Grace ASC. She was married recently and her and her husband were expecting a baby. She had already lost one child in a miscarriage. Had we known about Fantanesh’s blood condition we could have monitored her more closely. This pregnancy, her baby lived for almost 8 months in her womb, then died. We do not know for sure if it was due to the fall she had the month before, the medicine she has been taking for depression, or the rare blood condition. While I and Sister Ababu waited with her in the OR for her c-section, she lay next to a mother who had just given birth to a healthy baby boy. I worried about the emotional and mental effect that this could have on a mother waiting for her dead baby to be removed, the medical profession here do not think of things like that. But she had no choice anyway. All 3 of the doctors that were at the hospital who could perform c-sections had left to open private practices, this meant the hospital was turning away mother after mother who needed a c-section, sending them to private clinics. If the mother can not afford to have a c-section at a private clinic then there is no choice for her and her baby, and at least one or both will die. This is happening right now. So SAD, so WRONG. While we were waiting at the clinic, having also been turned away from the hospital, we saw 4 more mothers being told there was no room at the clinic, not because they couldn’t pay, but because there were no beds for them to lay and no time for them to have the operations. My prayer was that they would find a clinic willing to operate in time, and that they had the finances needed.
As Fantanesh picked her catheter up and walked herself into the operating room, she was crying, ‘please Dee if I die... Solomon (her son)’. Her cry was also to the doctor to do the c-section well as her future hope was to have another baby. She longed to have another baby. This may have been her mother instinct and desire, but it was also my feeling, living in this country and seeing these ladies, that when they are married, giving her husband a baby gave more of a guarantee to her that he would stay around and not go looking elsewhere for a lady to bear him children. She wanted to be able to give her husband a child. He, by the way, stayed by her side the entire time, and did not leave her.
The operation took just over half an hour and half an hour after the operation had finished, she was awake. Sister Ababu was very pleased with her progress and recovery. While she was in recovery, I asked where the baby was and what would happen to him/her, so Sister went to find out. She came back and asked if I wanted to see the baby. I knew I did... but wasn’t sure if I did. I had seen babies die, I had seen some really horrifying things, but this was new. Part of me really needed to see this baby, I couldn’t say no. I took a deep breath and breathed out a confidant but quiet sounding ‘yes’, then followed the lady down the stairs and around the back of the clinic to the wash area. She led Sister Ababu and I to a orange wash bucket with a pile of dirty bloody laundry, which I presumed were sheets from Fantanesh’s operation. She lifted off the pile of dirty laundry to reveal at the bottom, a bloody piece of material...and a baby boy. It took me aback. I could not believe how very beautiful he was. I did not know what I was expecting, but not someone so complete, so perfect. He was 7months and 3 weeks formed, his body was still soft. I had felt deeply disturbed that it seemed that he was discarded out with the laundry, then found myself standing there in awe of this beautiful baby, I felt so privileged to be meeting him. He was not trash, he was not a patient’s unwanted waste, he was a beautiful baby who was wanted and had been loved so deeply. I felt privileged to be the one who met him. The young wash lady told me they had a man coming to put him in the ground where they put the other things. I said that he needed to be buried properly; otherwise we would take him and bury him ourselves. Sister Ababu is getting really good at understanding our hearts towards her people, even the when it is not always the normal thing, she will often push to see that the right thing is done.
The washing area where in the orange bucket the baby lays.
Beneath that, the babies casket- 2 cardboard boxes.
I know that when someone dies, it is only their body that lay there, that it is no longer the real person anymore, but this was not about that. It was about doing what I could do, about continuing to care about the things that others no longer see as significant or important. It was about not conforming to this society’s way of seeing life, it was about it not being ok that this child died, that he was thrown out. It was about a lot of things that I can’t put into words, I just had to do what I could. We found the only boxes available for his funeral casket; two cardboard boxes- a small one and then a larger, and looked for a spare sheet. They could not afford to give any of the sheets away. I rang Marcie who was close by and she was able to buy new material from the market to wrap his body in. As Marcie and I stood there watching Sister Ababu place his little arms and legs together and his head straight resting on his shoulders, he looked more adorable, innocent and sweet than the first time I looked upon him. The new wash lady who had just started her shift seemed shocked to find out that there was a baby left there, which was a relief to me because maybe this meant this was not a daily routine. She stood there with tears streaming down her face, she did not think she could bring herself to look, but as soon as she saw him, she also could not take her eyes off his little body. Sister wrapped his body so carefully and perfectly in the Ethiopian scarf and laid him in the box.
Due to a generous donation from Australia, Fantanesh was able to have the expensive anti id (medicine) she needed to greater the chances of her next baby being born healthy, as well as have all her medical costs covered. She has been advised against having another baby as there are other medical issues of great concern, that she is dealing with, but being Africa and the society she lives in and options available to her, we have done all we can to protect her and any future children.
Fantanesh is at home and resting well. She told Amdu and Kidist that she is so thankful to Grace. She said that it is her desire to die in our presence, apparently that is something said in great honour. I am certainly aiming, God willing, that she will have a long and happy life. I think about the other mothers that are just faces to me, but real as Fantanesh. What happens to them?
At the end of the day we walk away knowing we did all we could... but also knowing it is never enough.