PART OF ME DIED WITH MY BABY
Christine is one of those girls whose smile can brighten up the dullest of rooms. She laughs from her stomach. Hers is what I would describe as a “bubbly personality.” Have you seen Diana Kubebea of Urban Radio 90.7FM smile or heard her laugh? Yes, Christine’s personality both in person and online oozes of such goodness.
However, behind the perfectly made-up face and the ear to ear smiles lie a deep scar that very few know about. Not even the people closest to her.
Christine grew up as a very happy girl but today happiness is a facade she only wears in public. In the privacy of her house, she often breaks down in tears. For three years now, she has suffered from depression and feelings of rejection that she is yet to know how to deal with.
Let me take you back a little to the first time I made contact with her. I had written a long post on my Facebook wall about my experience with depression and being suicidal in my late teens and early twenties. The reaction to that post was beyond my wildest imagination. A lot of people shared and tagged friends on the post. There were comments of encouragement and people asking about how they could be of help to friends and family members. Of course, there were the usual negative comments too. Then there were those who came to my inbox and Whatsapp DMs thanking me for the courage of speaking out about this topic that many would rather ignore.
Christine was one of those. She told me she was fighting to stay alive. The day I made that post was one of her toughest days. Coincidentally, it was exactly three years since her six-month-old baby died. She had no one to talk to about her feelings. That evening I stayed late in the office chatting her up – mostly it was just listening (or should I say reading what she wrote).
I met Christine a little over two weeks ago, for the first time. We had been friends on Facebook for a very long time. I have no idea who sent the other a friend request. If it’s her who sent one, then I must have accepted because of the numerous friends we have in common. I swear I am not one of those dudes who accept friend requests from ladies based on their looks. I don’t even look through their photos. If we don’t know each other in person we have to have at least 100 mutual friends.
When Christine asked where we could meet for coffee, I said Acacia Hotel’s Buzz Bar without thinking too much about it. It was a Monday morning – about 8.30 AM. It was so convenient because it’s just a short distance from my former office. I was hoping to be back in time for our usual 11.00 AM meeting.
Ordinarily, I would have just walked the 578 steps that stand between my former office and West End Mall, but on this particular Monday, the Kisumu sun seemed unable to make up its mind whether it wanted to shine or let the rains take over. I did not want to take chances by walking, so I jumped on a motorbike. It took Samuel Ababu; my bike guy when I am at the office, less than three minutes to get me there. One day I will tell you a story about Sam.
Christine wore stone-washed denim pants, a cream turtle-neck sweater, and brown leather boots. She had a brown leather handbag that was now resting on a seat directly opposite Buzz Bar’s entrance. Her sunglasses were on the table next to a gold iPhone 6 Plus. She wore a golden Michael Kors wristwatch with brown leather straps.
Her head was bowed when I walked in. She was perusing through the contents of the menu. It was not difficult spotting her despite the fact that this was our first meeting. She looked just like her Facebook and Instagram photos, if not a little prettier. I guess I was not that difficult to notice either. She stood up with a wide smile on her face the moment she lifted her head off the menu and saw me walking towards her. Perhaps she had heard my footsteps. She gave me a tight bear hug before motioning me to take a seat opposite her. Still smiling.
“It’s good to finally meet you, ” she said to break the little awkwardness that came with the brief moment of silence after I had taken my seat.
“Yeah, it is, ” I said trying not to look uneasy. I did not have any reason to be. Maybe I was taken aback by her beauty.
Have you ever met someone so beautiful that the words you had get lost in your mouth? You just stand there or sit down staring – at times with your mouth wide open…Yes, I was having one of those moments. I almost forgot why I was there for a quick minute.
“Daniel, are you okay, ” she inquired.
“Yes, I am, ” I replied trying to compose myself. Small droplets of sweat were starting to form around my face despite the chilly weather outside. I took off my half jacket and hung it on the back my seat.
I was a little uneasy. It had everything to do with our sitting position. When meeting someone, I like to get to the venue before them so that I can choose a position with a vantage view of all the entrances and exits. On this day I had my back turned to the main entrance to Buzz Bar and the other glass door that joined the first-floor restaurant with Buzz Bar was on my left side too. Not that I felt that she might be dangerous, I just don’t know how many enemies I have created out here in the line of work and I never want to be caught unawares.
I however relaxed with the hope that Murphy’s law will not apply. I ordered house coffee – double espresso while Christine settled for the “Irish Devil, ” a signature Buz Bar cocktail that is made from Jameson Black Barrel.
“I hope you don’t mind me drinking this early, ” she said. Her eyes peering into mine, perhaps in an attempt to read what I was not saying with my mouth. Christine did not just have a beautiful face and figure, she was also tall. About six feet tall. So you can imagine her looking down on my 5″ 6′ frame. Kinda intimidating.
One of the things I have learned from personal experiences and interacting with people from all walks of life is never to judge anyone. Before I pass judgment on other people’s choices I often remind myself that “not everyone I meet has had the same experiences as I have.” It helps me respect each person’s choices and opinions.
“No, I don’t, ” I said with a smile.
“I can never start my day without a drink. I usually have bad hangovers in the morning and a shot of whiskey helps me stabilize. At night I can’t sleep without having a drink. I can’t remember the last time I slept like a normal person, ” she explains.
Christine is in Kisumu visiting with friends and family. Not even they know of her depression problem that’s now compounded by alcohol dependency. She was not always like this.
Three years ago, Christine was your average girl next door. That is if your next door girls graduated top of their medical classes, work at one of the country’s top private hospitals and are taking their Master’s Degree specializing pediatric surgery. That was Christine’s life. But she was also looking forward to starting a family.
Her boyfriend was a young medical researcher working at a research institute in Nairobi that is affiliated to Nagasaki University Institute of Tropical Medicine. They had been living together for two years but had dated since her campus days. Before her last pregnancy, Christine had had three miscarriages. The first two were within the first trimester. The third was at six months. She says her boyfriend had really wanted them to have a child and she was becoming increasingly worried about not being able to give him one. They saw different obstetricians but none seem to know what the problem was.
After her last miscarriage, the bond between Christine and her boyfriend began to weaken. She says she felt as though she was less of a woman.
“I could not give him the one thing he really wanted. He was capable of making me pregnant but I could not carry a baby to term. It weighed me down. I was afraid I would lose him to someone who could give him a child, ” she explained the first time we talked on Facebook.
One of the doctors she saw after the last miscarriage advised her to wait for six months before she tries getting pregnant again. She could not.
Not when every single day that passed she felt as if she was losing the man of her dreams. A man she saw herself growing old with. In her mind, she had always played this scene where they had both moved to work in Kisumu. Her husband was teaching at Maseno University’s school of medicine while not conducting research at KEMRI – Kisumu station. Their two children were now both grown-ups, living away from home. On Saturday afternoons they would sit on the balcony of their four-bedroom maisonette in Riat Hills on the side that overlooks the airport, immersed in books with occasional glances at each other. At times she would engage him on a surgical case she is working on at Aga Khan, Avenue, Kisumu Specialists or any other big private hospital that would be in town at that time. Some of those weekends their peace would be disrupted by cops who came by after their Christian neighbor snitched that they were smoking weed in the balcony. The highlights of their afternoons would be gossiping about their kids. Their son who now acts all independent, throwing all his energy in his tech business. He would act like he did not need any help from mummy and daddy but quite often would run to his elder sister to borrow money promising to return if his business picked up. Of course, his sister would get the money from their folks but they would all promise to never let him know that the money was from them. Boys and their pride. They would talk about the girl and their worries about her disinterest in getting married.
Chances are that these were now just going to be dreams playing out in her head. She could not wait for six more months. Not when her boyfriend now spent more time at the bar with his work colleagues than he did with her. Some of them female. She had lied to him that she was on the pill but she wasn’t. Just three months later she was pregnant again. She did not tell him. She had raised his hopes three times and ended up disappointing him. She wasn’t going to do it a fourth time. So she waited. He only became aware when her morning sickness became intense, by then she was already four months in.
She still remembers the day they brought the baby home from Nairobi Hospital. It was the happiest day in their lives. Their house had never been that warm. At least not in the recent past. That night, her boyfriend went down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage. In front of his mother and two sisters. She said yes. She had said yes months before he asked. At times she wondered if he ever would. That night he uttered the all important four words.
This baby was going to grow up in the most loving, caring and protective arms. That is what she thought. How could she not? Their baby was going to be raised by two doctors, what could go wrong?
“Daniel, I still can’t believe it. I can’t believe that he died on me, ” she said as a drop of tear escaped her eyes rolling down cheeks, messing up her makeup.
I stayed there still. Not uttering a word. Avoiding eye contact. I did not want to see her cry. We had talked about her experience before. Each time we talked she mentioned a detail she had not mentioned before. Coming to this meeting I had not known what to expect. I to some extent thought we would just be buddies having coffee and catching up. It happens that I am one of the people she confides in and that conversation that started with her explaining why she is drinking at nine o’clock opened the gates to this moment.
I kept my eyes on her right hand which was rested on the back side of her iPhone that was lying on the table – face down. I started at her nails which had brown stick-ons.
I did not ask her what happened to the baby. Maybe as a journalist, I should have. It would have satisfied the curiosity you have right now. But on that day, I was not a journalist. I was just a friend who was listening. Another thing that experience has taught me is learning to listen. I was not going to intrude into her grief by asking questions that would make her relive the most traumatic moment of her life. If she volunteered the information, well and good. At that time I did not even think that our conversations would make it to one of my Monday stories. I am glad she later granted me permission to use them in a story.
“A part of me died with him. I had him for six months. I was a good mother, then I was not a mother at all, ” she said as more tears rolled down her cheeks.
I wanted to hug her but I did not. I wasn’t sure if it was even appropriate. So I extended my left hand and gently rested it on top of her right hand which was still on her phone. I handed her a napkin with my other hand. She gently dried her tears. I moved my other hand so that she could use both of hers.
“You know we don’t have to talk about this. We can talk about other happier things like your coming final exams or the fact that you are no longer doing graveyard shifts at Kenyatta National Hospital’s pediatric unit for your residency, ” I said trying to change the topic.
“I haven’t talked about this with a lot of people. I feel like I need to let this out. It’s okay if you feel overwhelmed, ” she said.
I understood her. I felt her pain. We had lost a child at birth too about four years ago. We also had had multiple miscarriages. I know how difficult it is to find someone to talk to about these things.
“No, it’s okay. You can talk about anything you want to, ” I said with a gentle smile.
The death of their son left her depressed. She resigned from her job. She hardly took care of herself. She had no idea how to cope. To make matters worse her boyfriend left. One morning he just left as if he was going to work and he never came back. He did not even take his clothes with him. All attempts to mend their relationship failed. She thinks he left because she could not give them a baby. She blames herself for him leaving.
Christine registered for a Masters programme and buried herself in books and her new residency program at Kenyatta National Hospital as a way of dealing with the loss. It was not enough, so when she was not studying or working, she was drinking.
She is almost done with her course work. She still drinks. At times a lot. There wasn’t much I could do other than listen. I gave her contacts to an organization called ‘Still A Mum’ that offers help to women who have lost their babies. It was started by a friend of mine known as Wanjiru Kihusa. They are based in Nairobi. I also gave her my brother’s number. My brother is a psychiatric clinician, I am sure he can be of more help to her or even give her better referrals.When I reached out to her last week, she was yet to contact either of them.
That Monday I missed my eleven o’clock meeting. I don’t regret it though. I picked up the tab to pay the bill but she would not let me.
“This is on me Daniel, I know we are still a little far from month end but let me take it. The next date will be on you,” she said.
I would never let a lady pick the tab on a first date but because she said “month end” and not “end month” I let her settle it. I have never understood people who say “end month” when they mean “month end.” Christine wasn’t one of those people.