Home » Waiting to Exhale: My childbirth Experience in Kenya

Waiting to Exhale: My childbirth Experience in Kenya

by Wanjiku Wanderi - Jorgensen

My pregnancy had been complicated physically, mentally and emotionally. Having undergone nearly eight months of the gruesome hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) meant that I could not take any more extensions with it. I was desperate to evict my in utero tenant; before notice or on the due date. However, this child had a set mind of its own, with different plans on how he/she would enter the world.

The estimated day of delivery (EDD) was May 26th, 2013, yet it came and went with no sign of labour. Anxiety was beginning to mount, and worse was the sheer physical exhaustion that I felt. This baby had to come. I knew that I was taking a substantial risk with the option of a natural, unmedicated, vaginal birth, given that I not only had multiple fibroids, but the baby was in a breech position (at least according to the last antenatal scan). I had limited options though because an epidural was not on the menu of my birthing hospital in Nyeri.

EDD – where is my baby?

There is nothing more dreadful to an expectant mother than being sent back home by your birthing hospital because, either your labour is imagined, the cervix has not dilated, or your baby has not engaged. Such was the case with my EDD. I had no visible signs of active labour. The child in utero was still actively kickboxing my ribs, pushing my bladder, and making me walk like a penguin. Perhaps I was one of those women who didn’t go into labour, or maybe I was about to have silent labour? I kept entertaining these strange thoughts. In my opinion, every mammal that births a youngling has to undergo labour; the only difference is human maternal labour is notoriously rough on the mother-in-waiting. Well, this labour along with the baby that I was carrying, was very unpredictable.

I was desperate to meet my child. He/she had decided to remain anonymous by not revealing its gender during all previous ultrasound scans. Nothing extraordinary happened on my EDD, expect my frantic nesting. I went about cleaning the house, arranging and rearranging baby’s clothes in drawers, unpacking and repacking my hospital maternity bag. Mother was concerned. She felt that I was wearing myself out. She repeatedly asked me to relax, in her opinion; I would need the energy to survive labour.  The nesting mode was a necessary distraction against the dread of carrying this pregnancy into another fortnight.

Silent labour

I kept telling my mother that I was praying for short and quiet labour. I was unsure of my pain threshold. I have a severe trypanophobia, how is it then that I would survive tokophobia? The scenario was different; a baby depended on my strength for a safe delivery. I kept dashing to the toilet to check for signs of the elusive mucous plug. I was anticipating something earth-shattering dramatic – water breaking with a splash and a bloody show. Like how they show it in the movies. Expectant mothers in Hollywood films always seem to have their water break somewhere in a mall, taxi, or in a fancy restaurant, for the extra dramatic measure.

I went to bed that night feeling downcast, but was woken up around 2 am by menstrual-like cramps; a quick run to Dr Google revealed that these could be a sign of false labour. I wanted active and fast labour. I was impatient, and frankly, quite miserable. The crampy feeling did not wane. Instead, it continued at very lazy intervals.

By 8 am, my mother’s anxiety was palpable. It seemed like she was pregnant by proxy. On the other hand, I was too relaxed for her comfort. I agreed to ring Doctor Samuel Njuguna, my gynaecologist in Nyeri to appease and calm her nerves.  I explained to him the intensity of my contractions, how I had self-diagnosed it to be false labour.  The Doctor’s response startled me. “Let’s meet in the hospital, now!” The urgency in his voice brought reality home.

I need to use the ATM

I could hardly believe it, in my quest for something more dramatic, I nearly gave birth at home! My mother had remained hawked eyed on me, insisting on standing outside the door every time I went into the toilet. She did not want to take chances; there is no way I was going to give birth to her grandchild, in the loo. I thought her paranoia was comic. My mother is a funny person, and so was my labour.

No sooner had I managed to drag my expanded belly out of the house, then I decided it was of utmost urgency that I go to the bank and queue at the ATM. I needed money since I was not sure the hospital would accept payment by Card. By now, my darling mother was beside herself with irritation and simmering impatience. She thought I was talking about the whole situation too lightly. I thought Hakuna Matata. I am still waiting for my dramatic moment.

I walked up to the ATM; huge baby belly in front, and a larger behind. As soon as the men ahead in the queue saw my clenching walk, arms akimbo, the bulging baby bump, tired eyes, and heard my intrepid breathing, they took quick retreating steps and let me cut the line. I do not know what they were most perturbed by; the wrath of a constipated, pregnant, woman, the possibility of me going into labour right there and then, or perhaps it is the sight of a pregnant waddling woman that brings out honor, even in the most macho of men?

Precipitate labour

We reached the hospital at around 11.am. By now, the contractions had begun to intensify in their sting and frequency. In retrospect, it finally dawned on me that I was giving birth only after I arrived at the hospital. I went in for my first vaginal examination (VE), much to my surprise, my cervix had dilated to 5 cm. I was in the active stage of labour. The midwives scolded me for taking this birthing too lightly and immediately sent me to the labour for admission, but first, they made me walk a long flight of stairs that felt like an 8-mile trudge. I have climbed hills and a mountain before, but that walk up the stairs (I think they were 20 flight of stairs in total), during labour, was sheer torture. My Mother came to the labour ward at 11.30am, in time to witness the beginning of the precipitate labour.

In short, I was about to undergo a maternal phase of birthing madness. The pain I had been waiting for finally came with such overwhelming, unusual and rapid intensity. It left me confused, hyperventilating, and with no epidural or gas to ease me into the transition phase of labour. Everything was unfolding so fast. A midwife came in time to massage my back, and relieve my poor mother from the stress of my screaming and crying; she also showed me how to breathe rhythmically through the pain and contractions. A technique that saved me from the – angst, delirium – that would have caused me to utter all manner of Kikuyu profanities in that labour ward.

It is time

At 12.00 pm, the midwives came again and asked me to accompany them to the Delivery room for another VE which revealed a 9cm dilation. I could hardly walk. A penguin waddle would no longer suffice to take me from the labour ward to the delivery room. I wanted to crawl on my fours. I begged for a wheelchair. I cried to my mother, who by now was crying too. Exasperated and fraught with hormones, I surmounted some maternal superpower and glided myself against the wall. The cold white wall felt good on my hot flushes. Back to the delivery room, my mother resumed her praying, cold air fanning and lower back massaging duties. By now, I had crossed my pain threshold.

My water had not broken by the time Dr Njuguna got into the delivery room. He tried to engage me in some little-hearted banter, as he prepared his paraphernalia. I could barely remember his name. I kept referring to him as Dr Ndirangu.

Finally, I screamed out, “Dr Ndirangu, let us get this baby the fuck out of me, or I will die!”
No holds barred, I was ready to push this baby out, with or without the help of my Doctor.

The pain was driving me mad. I couldn’t take it when he asked me to calm down, and let him perform the last VE. I had had enough of people poking their fingers into my vagina. I was becoming increasingly hysterical and panicked too. The doctor instructed the midwives to give me some laughing gas aka Nitrous oxide to help calm me down, but it had little effect on my flared nerves. I began to push.

“Judy, please do not push!” Dr Njuguna implored.
I was grunting like a wounded lion.
“Judy, kai ugwiciarithia?” (Judy, are you going to self-birth) asked my mother, her voice dripping with concern and panic.
I damn well would. The Doctor and midwives had just made me mount on and off the birthing table. This labour seemed to have caught everyone off-guard.

Every time someone said, “Don’t push the baby”, I would push. I was overcome by “temporary insanity”.

“Judy, you are going to put your baby in distress if you keep pushing without the aid of contractions.” Dr Njuguna attempted to sneak reason into my defiance.
My breathing calmed, and for a brief moment, I let my mind wander into the beautiful blooming Jacaranda trees that dotted the skyline. It was the calm after a storm. Suddenly, I felt a gush of water between my thighs. The Doctor broke my water.

I knew this was it. It was time to push out my Earthling out. I had to listen to the Doctor’s instructions since self-birthing was not my forte. I sat in a semi-upright position, propped with extra pillows for comfort, the doctor instructed me to touch each ankle, and look down at my navel for focused breathing and pushing.

“Would you like to have an episiotomy?” the doctor asked.
“No, I prefer to tear naturally,” I replied, completely unsure of the decision that I had just made.
“Ok, now 1, 2, 3…and push!” he instructed.
I pushed, and out came a gush of poop. Nobody warned me about the likelihood of releasing stool on the birthing table. It was not only embarrassing, but it also felt like I was doing more of number 2 than giving birth. Everything was following the law of gravity; from that morning’s breakfast to blood, pee, and the baby.
“Judy, it is no big deal. Let it all out; we shall clean everything for you.” The kind doctor reassured me for the umpteenth time.

I finally threw caution to the wind and agreed to defecate publicly. The medical personnel, comprising of total strangers who were keenly peering into my womanhood, had probably seen it all, and even worse. There is no shame on the birthing table. Indeed, the more this baby pushed onto my nether region, the more the contractions intensified. He/she crowned with every poop and push.

Four hard pushes later, and the baby was out. He screamed his way out — a pink, wrinkly, adorable little boy. Everything, from labour to birth unfolded rapidly. I had not anticipated that it would all start with such intense madness, then end with delirious joy. I was a first-time, clueless, mother.

Today, two years later, I look at our son Fadhili; the feisty, kind, sweet, handsome boy that he has become, and all I can recall is the wrinkly yellow-eyed boy he was at birth. The pain and trauma of childbirth remain safely tucked into some amnesia part of my brain. I can recount the details, but I cannot feel the pain, for in its place is an overwhelming sense of love and devotion to this little boy who chose me to become his mother. The entire birthing episode was remarkable and unforgettable, but watching my son grow has to be one of the most beautiful experiences life has accorded me.



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judy gitonga February 26, 2015 - 5:12 am

And your my name sake

Ninette Kung'u February 26, 2015 - 6:46 am

Beautiful piece Wanjiku.

Divoe Phill February 26, 2015 - 7:47 am

That reminds me of 21/10/2014….and also a Fadhili was born,my sweet grandson.but i didn't cry like wanjikus mum did when i saw my gal in pain,i kept on praying and giving her hope..what an experience!

Askah moraa February 26, 2015 - 7:47 am

Wow, You have no idea how helpful this article has been especially to young girls who are always curious about what really happens during the last straw of pregnancy. Thumbs Up Judy.

maria February 26, 2015 - 8:47 am

loved the story. as i read i could visualize everything. I know Dr. Njuguna. He is a very nice doc n gynecologist.

Sheila Wachania February 26, 2015 - 9:09 am

Awwww…..that boy is lovely. That article is off the hook…something for all young and clueless mothers to read.

Lovely…missed you tonnes. God bless.

Sheila Wachania

Wamboi Waweru February 26, 2015 - 9:30 am

A great piece… tho it refreshed the chills i had too. Gosh!

Alis Chemtai February 26, 2015 - 9:31 am

I love the piece..its very informative to say the least. It is extremely couragious of you to share the finer details of your experience..I salute you dear. motherhood is devine!

Esther Muriuki February 26, 2015 - 9:50 am

Wow… a must read piece.

Anonymous February 26, 2015 - 10:09 am

Awesome Judy it is Very informative indeed you are a real mother.

Charity Shogz Kagotho February 26, 2015 - 10:12 am

Woow! i love the courage in writting, am a mum but never experienced the pain of labour………………still afraid of what will happen when its time for bby no. 2.

Winnie Nyandoro February 26, 2015 - 10:35 am

Judy you are a really mother. thumbs up

Hellen Gichohi S February 26, 2015 - 10:48 am

Waoh interesting scary and funny at the same time but u give us details no one ever does about child birth

esther osiel February 26, 2015 - 10:49 am

Indeed women are special beings.The narration left me shocked, surprised and scared at the same time. How I look forward to become a mother in the near future.

Kathy Mwathi February 26, 2015 - 10:58 am

hahahaha, you should see how I am reading you would be sure I am in labor. Very beautifully written.

Anonymous February 26, 2015 - 11:13 am

Hey Judy. Thank you for highlighting the journey to bringing a precious being in the world. Girl you have educated me. God bless you and your family.

Faith Imani February 26, 2015 - 11:15 am

Nice piece, I cringed at the last part….that is how real you made it for me. Joys of motherhood.

Monica Wairimu Njoroge February 26, 2015 - 11:26 am

Very beautiful and well written. Very funny as well…especially the part about forgeting the Doctor's name….lol

kinjo February 26, 2015 - 11:43 am

Hehehehe….. You are such a great writer! I can exactly see what transpired even in absence of the real thing.

Nnaku Wafula February 26, 2015 - 11:47 am

Ohh woow!this is a lovely piece! well written! I can relate to this.totally!

Winnie Katuu February 26, 2015 - 11:56 am

Your article is very well written… its funny, serious and very informative especially to new mothers.

Ladybird February 26, 2015 - 12:18 pm

I went through the same, luckily the pain I was experiencing could not allow me to open my eyes and see the poop. But I vividly remember the amount of blood during cleaning up, it was so so much! Mine was a wrinkly baby boy too, who was so lazy to cry he had to be slapped. He had been lazy throughout the pregnancy. 2 weeks down the line, he had changed so much, the wrinkles all gone and some flesh in place. Its 5 years now and the experience is still fresh and the love at his sight still overflows. I think I am ready for number 2

Dorothy Godier February 26, 2015 - 12:30 pm

Wow wow wow wow!!!!!!!!
Well done mama.
A very well written article.
The description is heart warming and touching at the same time.
Lady you can write..
I would read a second time.
A very beautiful story from a beautiful woman and mother. Bless you and your family. Much love

Christine Mukhwana February 26, 2015 - 1:27 pm

Lovely piece! You carried the baby bump so well, am liking your pregnancy photos.thanks for sharing your experience and giving hope to those who feel they have inadequate facilities

Edith I February 26, 2015 - 2:09 pm

Wow ,This a very informative Piece especially for mothers to be.I can identify with 90%of the story

Njahira February 26, 2015 - 7:52 pm

Very well written piece. ��Your Mum's concern though funny, is touching.

Annie Wanja Kamau February 27, 2015 - 9:25 am

Well written piece Judy Wanderi Jørgensen! Very informative & you have a sense of humour! God bless you & Fadhili!

Beatrice Wambui Njuguna February 27, 2015 - 9:32 am

This piece has sent chills and thrills within me. I could say many things but you are an amazing writer and your expressions are on point. Your command of English is impeccable, and the the matertiny lesson n terminology … Wacha tu, very beautifully done by a beautiful lady May that boy forever grow to be amazing in all ways

Anonymous February 27, 2015 - 1:41 pm

Just brilliant!

Miriam March 10, 2015 - 11:58 pm

Epidural any day, every day! i would have married the anaesthesiologist in that delivery room if he had proposed.

Kui July 8, 2017 - 9:54 pm

I know this is an old post but I laugh-cried through the whole birthing episode. I have been on the helping end of a birthing process. You are a great narrator!

Kenyan Mom Abroad July 18, 2017 - 5:00 pm

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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