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No Other Pain Like a Mother’s

By Tracy Achieng

I am not much of a storyteller; I’m more of a reality escapist. My mind more often than not drifts into a safe zone where we live in a perfect universe, and all our hearts desires are possible. I know this does not exist because when my niece was born, my mama said ‘welcome to the cruel world’ more than once. My sister and I thought it was funny that she thought to say it more than once, but thinking about it now, I don’t think she thought about it. I know it just slipped out of her mouth.


A month has not passed since we celebrated our mothers with paragraphs and paragraphs of heartfelt messages that were probably downloaded or just written without thought. You know, the cliché, ‘a mother does not only carry you for nine months in her womb but forever in her heart’ quotes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against it, it’s your world, and I am just living in it.


I don’t know what motherhood is to you; I thought I knew it all until I had to accompany my sister to maternity. I thought I knew what it meant when the good Lord said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with the pain, you shall give birth to children’. I thought I knew what to expect when we parked and left the house for the hospital.


I was wrong.


Guess what, even after the whole experience I had with my sister, I still don’t know. Public hospitals are shit holes, we all know that but I don’t think you know how deep the pit goes in maternity wards and just the same way a choir cannot learn by listening, you too cannot but I’ll be singing anyway.


The beginning was easy, all I had to do was be patient and chatty, both of which I have learned to score straight As at when need be. Nurses just like in any other public institution in this country were serving people based on ‘kujuana’, and even in as much I couldn’t take it, I had to bite the bullet because who wants to create a scene in a hospital? Finally, it was our turn, my boiling blood cooled back to room temperature. Once admitted, however, I wished the nurses had cut the line some more because now I did not want to leave.


The ward is set up such that three women share a single bed until labor elevates and you are moved to another section for close supervision. On arrival, the majority of the women were at the latent phase of their labor, conjuring a little chat over a plate of white cabbages and ugali.  One of the women suddenly launches complaints about the lack of salt on the food. Then another jokingly replies, ‘Na hii pressure iko hapa, hawaezi weka chumvi’


Moments after my sister settled in, the security guards come in to get all visitors out. I kept asking my sister unnecessary questions. More so if she’s comfortable or thirsty like I could change any of it. I only left after assurance of her being well and the prospect of being embarrassed by the guards.


You can imagine my displeasure when I returned in the evening only to find my sister the exact spot and condition I left her; uncomfortable and thirsty.


I could only solve the thirst. The discomfort was caused by one of the women, a girl of about seventeen stretching from the pain forcing my sister and the other woman to be cramped up at one corner of the bed. This girl was sweating and groaning from pain and her mother kept calling the nurse on duty who kept saying she’s coming, but she never did. This went on for about an hour, and the nurse finally checked out at seven without attending to this girl. How cold can humans get!


Among the new team who had just got on duty, there was a tall, handsome doctor with full beards and fluent Kiswahili to foot, who the girl’s mother approached. He came over alright,


Umewahi fanyiwa upasuaji kabla ya leo?’


In my mind I was like, from the look of things, it’s obviously her first time here.


Hajawai fanyiwa upasuaji’ the mother answered


The doc in a sarcastic voice asks the mum, ‘Basi shida iko wapi? Kama ni uchungu, acha iongezeke ajifungue, ama wewe unaonaje?’


My mind was having none of it, in my head I was like, “dude what is so hard in doing a quick check up to see if everything is fine, aren’t you here for the service of these women after all?”


So bad he was also not a mind reader, so he walks back to his station and even before he gets there, this girl’s mum opens up her daughter’s dress, and I kid you not, I see a child. Yes! You heard me right, this girl delivers on her own in a hospital without the help of the caregivers, and I am in utter shook. I scream in shock and walk out, drawing attention and people from the waiting area rush to see what’s up.


I feel tears rolling down my checks, a lot is going through my mind; I am starting to blame myself for even bringing my sister here in the first place and how such a smoking hot dude could be so cruel and careless, (like looks matter) and did I just see a newborn child just now? And why are they so white? Then I remember I did not hear the child cry, so I rush back in. The bed has been sealed off and people were complaining to the nurse in charge.


She rudely says, ‘its okay, a child has been born, and that is what you are here for anyway’


“No, not like that!” I am almost yelling.


The security guards walk in and cut short this whole fracas by sending visitors out. I walk home muttering to myself how I have to move my sister out of that hospital tears rolling down my checks, wondering where we went wrong as a country.


The next day was less eventful; my sister got induced before I could move her, in the evening the pain increased. I did not want to leave her alone, but then again I did not want to be there when the pain got worse, I was scared. So I hid behind the curtains that were beside the beds, sat next to her and puffed up my trench coat, so it looked like I was also pregnant. This act worked until 8.30PM when suddenly from nowhere a woman started screaming. She ran from the nurses’ station and fell intentionally on the alley separating the latent phase section and the active phase section. She was crying so bitterly like she was in a funeral. Everyone was now watching her; one of the nurses was calling her by name, telling her to get off the floor.


She was repeatedly cursing, ‘Siku ya mwisho, Mungu mbona umekubali akufe siku ya mwisho!’


And I thought her daughter’s child had died because she seemed older and when I saw her earlier, she did not look pregnant. Turns out, her child had died inside her, and the nurses had just told her. I am not in the medical profession so I don’t know how such things should be handled but when my father passed and the maid waited outside the gate to inform us immediately from school, I could feel cruelty. The very way I do now. Again, the security guards came just in time and noticed I was not pregnant; they whisked me out.

I got home and went straight to bed. Instead of putting my phone to charge, I dreamed that I did and when I woke up at 4.00AM, I found it cold.


I had a message from my sister. One word;



I died, I could not make sense out of it, and I did not know exactly what it meant. At that very moment my mother calls, she had the same message; both had been sent at 2am. My head couldn’t stop spinning. I didn’t know whether to go left or right. I don’t know how but I convinced myself to take a shower before I left.


Still struggling with the door locks, mum calls yet again;



‘eeh, ndio ninatoka’


‘Did you pray before you left?’


I started sobbing, why would she ask if I had prayed. She managed to shush me before I hung up. I prayed, I kept saying ‘Lord, let your will be done’, like Jesus on the cross. I did not know what to ask for because I could not imagine that the text meant my sister was actually dying. I got to the gate of the maternity ward at 5.00 Am, the watchman was sleeping, and visiting hours were not due until due 6.00 Am. These people were strict, I did not know what to do, I walked in and stood in front of him, then he moved and made a sound, but he did not wake up.


The policy is when you walk into the gate, your hand is stamped and they check for the stamp when visiting hours are over, but I did not care, I tiptoed and went to the ward. Majority of the people were asleep except for those who couldn’t because of the pain and my sister was one of them. The first thing I noticed was she was not wearing a sweater as cold as it was, all my fears of her dying disappeared, it was the pain talking in that text. She had been in labor all through the night, and the nurses kept telling her she was not ready.


I was crying, not knowing why, all the nurses were asleep. No one was checking on any of them. One woman in the next bed kept telling me to rub her back, I did except all my attention was on my sister. One of the nurses woke up and I had to run out so she couldn’t see me. I walked back in as my sister was saying how she thought the baby was coming, there was no nurse around so I had to walk her to the delivery room myself. While I waited outside, more tears were rolling down my cheeks, I did not hear her cream or the baby cry, but moments later a nurse walks out and says

‘It’s a girl.’


The first thing I did is call my mum.


Still standing outside, as the cold wind hit my face, one thought kept crossing my mind.

‘We couldn’t possibly appreciate mothers enough!’