How babies make their appearance in this world is such an uncontrollable and miraculous thing. And the preparations, rituals, and events surrounding birth vary so much by culture. It is really amazing to me that this thing so necessary to the human race, that people everywhere experience can be so different and yet so similar. There are also many difficulties, things out of our control, worries, and vulnerabilities revealed in the process of having kids. Refining.
I am now 6 months preggers (24 weeks) and have about 100 days left to go. I know this because I am still counting down the days until I can evict this little girl from my womb. I know; horrible but I still feel miserable most days and as I told Jason through many tears yesterday I just hate being the person that every time you ask them how they are they report “terrible.” It gets old. That is just not me. I feel like I should be at least dying of something the way I feel and the way it affects my emotions but I am ONLY pregnant!! Which only serves to make me feel like more of a complete wuss. I am usually able to get out of a funk with relative ease; go for a run, take a weekend off, pray and reflect, journal and read, watch a fav movie, and if all else fails eat some Mexican food. But I just cannot make myself feel better and everyday I am still throwing up, weak, and generally feeling craptastic I just feel sad. Really sad and I know I am being a drag. On some days I feel brave and optimistic and glad and encouraged we made the decision to stay here and work through all of this and other days I cry. A lot. And wish I was done being pregnant and somewhere I was more familiar with everything, with everyone, with life. On those not so great days I worry a lot. I worry that I will not connect with this baby as I did the moment I saw Annikah. I worry that because this pregnancy has been very traumatic for me, for us, I am looking forward to being done so much that I do not have the mental energy to be excited about having this little being entrusted to us. And then follows the Guilt. I feel guilt because mostly I just want to go one hour without being nauseous, one meal being able to eat what I want, one day just feeling like “me” and I just want to be done. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. I have forgotten what “me” feels like but I am pretty sure she was much more fun than the present me (Jason assures me of this while encouraging me I will feel better at some point and this baby will eventually come out…no one has ever been pregnant with a 2 year old, right?). We still have a lot of decisions to make about the birth and after a few weeks and another scan to recheck the uterine blood cord flow we will better be able to make an action plan which hopefully will help me feel better. And I do feel better. I am no longer a permanent resident of my bed and everyday I am able to eat something and I am gaining weight. So things are looking up. The gift really is that no matter what we have have always felt His presence, concern, and care. Learning to trust, learning to accept whatever comes my way, and still chose to have joy is the biggest lesson I am learning.
Some of my local friends were over the other day and we were discussing pregnancy and the birth of our kids. We discussed everything and since many words were new to me they laughed as I ran inside to get my dictionary which proved to not be that useful (there was much acting out and pantomiming to their amusement). These times of sharing are precious to me a I learn so much and get to share about my experiences as well. There are two ways to say giving birth in Kiswahili; one is kuzaa (which when made passive becomes the verb to be born) and the other common word is kujifungua (literally “to open oneself up”). Yep; that is what happens!
One of my friends said she was never sick during either of her pregnancies while another woman commiserated with me because she was so sick that she had to move in with her mother because she could not function. Pregnancy is different for everyone. everywhere. Ramadan started this week and it affects every aspect of life here. Many rules and cultural traditions are involved; no one can eat or drink from sun up to sun down (you are not even allowed to swallow your own spit and it is law that no one can eat or drink outside), there are breaking the fasts meals and special calls to prayer throughout the night (ear plugs are my new best friend), even the TV channels change, and many spend extra time praying and celebrating with family. It is the holy month and many are earnestly seeking God. I asked a lot about what this time means to my friends, what traditions they follow, and how it affects their lives. It was great to be able to engage these issues so central to life here since last year I could barely ask for veggies at the market. I shared some of what Jesus had to say about those that seek Him. We were discussing everything about this month because women who are menstruating, breastfeeding a newborn, or pregnant do not fast. They are supposed to add the time later and “make up” for the lost time. They pointed out that even though I am pregnant I still cannot eat outside because (in their exact words) “you are not fat yet” so no one will believe I am. Argh!
As I have mentioned before many of our friends here are very shocked that I breastfed as they have a stereotype that many Wazungu sorts do not. We were discussing breastfeeding and I shared I had a low milk supply problem and asked about what women here (without access to lactation consultants, hospital grade breast pumps, and gram scales) do if they have that problem. A friend told me that her neighbor had the same problem with her milk and so she would bring her son over and my friend (who had a baby a few months older) would nurse him everyday when he was not getting enough to eat. The neighbor also began to eat tons of fish which I have been told helps with milk production (bummer since I am not a big fan and they were sure to say they would cook me fish after the baby comes so I do not have the same problem). But she did this for 2-3 months until her neighbor was able to produce enough for her son. Amazing. The women here are resourceful and they watch out for each other. Of course there is gossip and back biting as well which is unfortunately true anywhere but the separate spheres of life that men and women have mean that women really help and heal one another, they have to.
My good friend that lives down the street had her baby here on the island in a local hospital and shared what that experience was like. She had an ultrasound at 30 weeks and loved seeing the baby before he was born. She was in labor for 2 days and then went to the hospital. Her mother in law was there to coach and help since men are never present at the births of children here. The wife of our Mlinzi shared that she had Zawadi alone in a small hut. She said people were around but she knew when the time came to push, pushed her out, pulled her on her chest and tied the umbilical cord with a small rope made of banana leaves. Blows my mind! More of history has been defined by births like that then by births like Annikah’s. But I am grateful for options. I told them a little about American hospitals and how birth varies (just like here, although no home birth I have heard of ever used banana leaves:) and how women can take classes in child birth. They found this very interesting as here is seems that the older women pass on the knowledge and depending on their age and experience they know very little going into the birth experience. They also agreed that I need to go to a hospital for this baby; they know as well as me that I am NOT that hardcore (I cannot even make rope from banana leaf and thus am completely unqualified)! I shared that Jason was there every step of the way with me in giving birth and actually was a pretty great coach. I told them he made me a CD of praise music and held my hand through everything and prayed for me. By far the most laughter came when I shared (I am sure to Jason’s dismay) that his most infamous-never-will-live-it-down quote came right as I was pushing Anni out. He keenly observed OUTLOUD that “it smells like meat in here.” Now, me sitting there with all my girly bits exposed, not looking their best I might add, did not appreciate this comment. Jason quickly said it was because of the blood and that it was just an observation. I curtly reminded him to keep such observations to himself, thank you very much. My friends thought this was hilarious and we all had a great laugh. They added “this is why men do not come here.”
We discussed how amazing it is that God created our bodies to be able to nature, grow, give birth to, and feed a life. We agreed that women are pretty hardcore (ok, I don’t know how to say that in Kiswahili but we did agree on very strong). We talked of our fears, what happened after we gave birth, and the surprises of giving birth. It was refreshing and helped me focus a bit on mtoto mchanga’s arrival and for that I am grateful. Again and again I am reminded that although outwardly we are so different we are really so similar. We are born, search after meaning, seek our Creator, want joy for our families, experience pain, love and live. Na tunazaa. And we give birth.