By Roseline K. Njogu
The nausea woke me up. I shuffled to the bathroom and threw up. My hands went instinctively to my belly. Then I remembered. Slowly like bits and pieces in a dream, the goings on of the day before Unexpectant: Losing My Pregnancy and My Mind (Part I) came together.
For a few hours while I slept, I had managed to forget that we’d lost the baby. Now the realization of our loss hit me afresh like a bag of bricks. I hang on to the loo for dear life and wailed. It was guttural. Undignified. Soulful. As I heard myself cry, I thought of the phrase, “a wail fit to wake the dead.” What sick humor – nothing could wake the dead inside me.
Mugash arrived dutifully with crackers, and I could hear the kettle going. Lemon tea, crackers, baked potato and maybe boiled eggs. That’s all I’d been able to eat for weeks, and so this had become our little routine. Throw up, receive ministrations of crackers, lemon tea and baked potatoes, take Nosic, put on my big girl undies and go to work. Now, the familiar routine mocked me. My body didn’t realize that it was unexpectant. I’d lost the baby. Why wouldn’t the nausea leave me be? What was the point of crackers and lemon tea?
He helped me dress, sip my accursed lemon tea and drag my feet to the car. The deed was going to be done at Nairobi Hospital. We called Dr Kinyua just to firm things up.
It was time to tell family. We had been unable to tell them the previous night. In our minds, we were sparing them the grief one more day. I typed the text and spell-checked it through blurry eyes. I changed “were” to “we’re” and put the appropriate punctuations. I figured that if I couldn’t control the hell I found myself in, I could at least describe it in good grammar.
So I did.
“We lost the baby. We’re going to Nairobi Hospital for a procedure. Please pray for us.”
I clicked “send” and wept afresh. As Mugash drove, he reached over and held my hand. Hymns played in the car radio. Saturday morning traffic was sparse. My heart was breaking. Then the calls started coming in. My folks. His folks. Our siblings. We ignored them all. What does one say?
By the time we got to the hospital, my parents were there. They hugged us. My mom didn’t have to say much – I knew at that moment that she wished she could carry my pain. Motherhood. I had lost my motherhood. My best friend and her husband came too- and more family. They hugged us and cried. I wondered: how do they grieve for what they have not seen? Perhaps they were just grieving with us. They prayed with us. They sat with us.
Then the doctor called us in.
“What’s going to happen?” I asked. I like having a theoretical framework to things I don’t understand. Frameworks help me feel my way through the darkness of the unknown.
“The procedure is called a dilation and curettage – a D&C. In simple terms, we’ll go in, and clean out your uterus,” he explained.
Clean out my uterus. Was it now dirty? I thought.
As if reading my mind, he said, “While we no longer have a baby, we have to remove the… uuum… products of conception…”
Products of conception. More like by-products, really. Stupid, useless by-products. The main product was gone.
“But what happened to my baby? It didn’t just vanish. So where is it?”
He was at pains to explain.
“Sometimes the body just reabsorbs it.”
What? The body reabsorbs it? It was a sucker punch.
“My body ate my baby?” I asked and didn’t really hear the answer.
His lips were still moving. I could see Mugash nodding. Now Mugash’s lips were moving. Dr Kinyua was nodding. Was I now a monster? What do you mean my body had reabsorbed the baby? The doctor had explained that with a blighted ovum, sometimes there are malformations at conception, so major that they cannot support life. So the body just gets rid of that gross abnormality very early in the pregnancy. I hadn’t thought about the “getting rid” process. I assumed that I would bleed out. Or the D&C procedure would take care of that. Apparently not. The body is so efficient and ruthless that in this case, it just recycled my baby. Recycling. Garbage. Cleaning out the uterus. A lot of the concepts I was dealing with were so disagreeable.
“Is it going to be invasive surgery?” Mugash was asking the doctor.
I was drifting in and out of the conversation. My mind was on trash and cannibalistic monsters.
“No, we’ll go in trans-vaginally.”
I wonder what the body does with the reabsorbed tissue. Does the body do this with abnormal growths? Is that what happens with blood clots. Deep vein thrombosis. Thrombosis. That’s a fun word to say. Thro-mb-osis.
“Will you use general anesthesia?” Mugash was asking.
“We’ll sedate her. She won’t really be awake for this,” Dr Kinyua was saying when I re-joined them in the conversation.
We signed some forms. I changed into one of those delightful hospital gowns that are completely open in the back. That’s when I noticed the blood. I had started to bleed. I mentioned it to a nurse. She gently rubbed my back and said, “I’m sorry.”
There was so much pain in Mugash’s beautiful eyes as he kissed my forehead and squeezed my hand. He didn’t say a word. Maybe he couldn’t. They put me on a stretcher and wheeled me to the theatre. The anesthetist explained the difference between sedation and general anesthesia. I wasn’t keen. I just grabbed him by the hand and said, “Dr Were, I don’t want to feel anything. Please make it so that I don’t feel anything.” Everyone in the room knew that Dr Were’s drugs could do nothing for the pain I spoke of.
He smiled kindly, placed a mask on my nose and mouth and asked me to count backwards from ten.
10, 9, 8… nothing.
I woke up in the recovery room, maybe 2 hours later. A nurse checked on me. I told her I felt fine. She helped me dress and gave instructions for the antibiotics I was taking home. I looked at the discharge sheet. Even with the terrible scrawl that is doctors’ handwriting, I could see words that continue to scar me.
“D&C courtesy of spontaneous abortion.”
Spontaneous abortion. That’s what medics call a miscarriage. Why? Why use such a loaded term? I didn’t choose this! Spontaneous abortion. I immediately felt guilty. What had my body done? I sat for a while.
The nurse threw her gloves in one of the dustbins in the room. The other bin was lined with a red bag. I’d seen a similar one in the theatre. She left the room as an orderly came to empty the bins. As he pulled out the bags, I asked him:
“Where do you take this trash?” My mind was back to thinking about garbage.
“The ones in the red trash-bags have to be burned. We take them to the incinerator,” he said and left. I absent-mindedly googled types of medical waste, as I waited for Mugash. What I learned just hurt me further. Pathological waste – like human tissue, organs, blood, etc are disposed off in red bags.
Red bags. That’s where they put my products of conception. The bits of my baby my body hadn’t absorbed. What my body hadn’t recycled they were going to incinerate.
The tears came hot and fast. They were burning my baby! Mugash found me in a state. He didn’t know what had set off the new wave of tears. He helped me up and into our car. As we drove out of Nairobi Hospital, I looked back to catch black smoke rising from a chimney. Someone apparently had fired up the incinerator.
As the smoke rose to the heavens, so did my wails. Wails fit to wake the dead, but not my dead.