Helsinki, Finland (Winter 2018)
As I waited, I remembered my childhood. I seem to drift back into my childhood nowadays. Maybe it is because I am a mother now, so I am forced to draw on my early memories so as to parent my newborn well.
My baby was born ten days ago at home. The birth was straightforward and I had thought that parenting him would take the same path. How wrong I was. So far, he had been to the hospital five different times.
The first time, he fell asleep mid-feeding and I thought he had choked and died. The panic that ensued after almost gave me a heart attack. I could barely speak to the paramedic who came to my assistance. I was crying hysterically while grasping my baby tightly. His requests to hand him over fell on deaf ears. In the end, he had to wrestle him off me. I was getting ready to lurch at him, grab my dead baby and make a run for it when he told me that the baby was breathing. The deaf ears became super ears and I was ready to listen to him. Only that he stopped talking. He was attending to the baby. The impatience was killing me. I had so many questions to ask him.
He laid the baby down on the carpeted floor. Immediately as the baby sensed he was not in human arms, he startled and let out a wail. Oh yes; he was alive. How did I forget to try this myself, I chastised myself. The baby hated being placed down, so that would have been a sure way of testing his being alive.
I kept on saying over and over again that he was not dead anymore as if I was a broken record. “He was not dead in the first place, he’d just fallen asleep,” the paramedic had said, while but looking away from me. In fact, I realized that all the time he addressed me, he always averted his gaze. I had thought it was a new medical rule regarding patient care. As it was, when he left, I realized that the reason he was avoiding looking directly at me was because my blouse and nursing bra were undone, and my huge engorged breasts were on show.
The second time, the baby could not stop posseting. Every few seconds, milk was coming out of his mouth. I thought he had a vomiting illness and a quick search on Google said that vomiting could have fatal consequences on a newborn baby. Google was my one stop medical consultant and I believed everything written on there. So, because Dr. Google had said that vomiting could be fatal, I rushed my son to the hospital; but by the time we were being attended, all that posseting had stopped. It had somehow resolved itself so we were sent home.
The third time, I realized he had not had a bowel movement that day at all. Because he was so windy, I thought he was in pain. Dr. Google suggested that only a laxative would work, so I rushed to the hospital to be given this prescription. The doctor took off his nappy to examine him. As he was leaning his head near his tummy, the baby had the most explosive bowel movement ever. It went all over the walls, but first passing through the doctor’s face and hair. The doctor looked a state. He had runny yellow excrement all over his person. It did not bother me at all. What was going through my mind was that the problem had sorted itself out. I was then at peace and I departed soon after, leaving the doctor to clean the mess.
The fourth time, he seemed to pass too much wind. It was like there was a small tornado brewing in his tummy, right to the accompanying rumbling noises. Sometimes passing that wind was so loud that it startled him from his sleep. He was not crying though, but I took him to the hospital nevertheless to see if he could be given something to soothe his tummy. I had suffered from flatulence before, and that had left me in agony for hours. I feared that my baby was in searing pain and he just did not know how to articulate it.
The fifth time, a skin rash took us to hospital. He was covered in little pink rashes that Dr. Google had said it was either meningitis or measles. I panicked and brought him to the emergency room at my local hospital. These two illnesses were severe, especially on new born babies. I was holding my breath for the diagnosis. The doctor ruled out meningitis and measles within seconds. I did not believe her analysis. She said it was a heat rash that I had caused by making the baby too warm. She advised me to remove some of the clothes. I did this hesitatingly because I was brought up to swath babies in layers and layers of clothes to keep them warm. As it was, she was right. When I took off the swathes, the rash went way.
Today was the sixth time. A peculiar illness brought us here. I could not stop shaking as I waited to be attended to. I feared the worst, so, thoughts of my childhood were a welcome distraction.
I was an only child for many years. I was sixteen years old when my sister was born and nineteen years old when my twin brothers were born. I only came to learn recently that my mother had to go through assisted conception to have my siblings. The age gap between them and I was because my parents were battling infertility.
I am old enough to remember how my mother parented my siblings. They never saw the inside of a hospital as my mother believed in survival for the fittest. She thought that those who went to hospitals were cowardly and weak. She preferred battling the illnesses outside the hospital with the body using its defense mechanisms fully. I remember so many nights when anxiety was my portion because I was not sure one of my siblings would last through the night. Miraculously, my siblings did survive childhood and they lived to tell the story.
I was a different mother from my mother. I was a mother who rushed my child to the hospital at the earliest sign of an illness. I was not leaving anything to chance. So, here we were at the hospital.
The doctor called us in. He asked me what the problem was, as if he had no idea. Yet I could see the offending nappy on his desk.
I could barely still myself from shaking so it took a few seconds for me to speak.
“I found two green bugs in my baby’s nappy. My baby had passed them out. They came from him. I am scared that bugs are growing in him.” I said tearfully.
The doctor opened the nappy and looked at it.
“We ran tests on the bugs under a microscope. They didn’t come from a human body. There would have been traces if it went through a human body.” he said.
“But they were in her nappy.” I countered. “Something is seriously wrong with my baby.”
“Could they have got in the nappy by other means?” he asked.
Immediately he asked it, I remembered the vegetables I was sorting out while the baby was sleeping on me. My friend had visited, bearing fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market. Then I remembered the bugs in my childhood that used to be found in plants. They looked similar to the ones on the nappy.
“These look like bugs that are found in vegetables. Were you near a vegetable farm, today?” The doctor asked.
I did not answer the doctor. I was busy gathering my stuff to leave for home. This was yet another wasted visit. I was sure it was not the last. Such were the joys of motherhood.
KENNETH JOE is an international lawyer and researcher by day and a writer at night. He mainly writes on human stories based on his perception about the lives of other people. He has always been fascinated by the lives and experiences of people and getting to understand how they live their lives. He currently lives in Helsinki, Finland.