Every Monday I have OB-GYN clinic at the hospital. It usually runs from 9a-5p and I see sometimes over 40 patients. The pathology is variable, but the type of women that come to see me is also quite variable. Sometimes it’s a little hunched over old widow, wearing no shoes and a dirty wrap, coming to see me for her uterine prolapse. Sometimes it’s a fancy looking woman with well done hair and perfume, accompanied by her husband holding car keys and a giant stack of medical tests, seeking help for infertility. I see farmers and teachers, nurses and business women. They come from Kibuye, Gitega, Bujumbura, and even sometimes Tanzania. Young and old, rich and poor. All seeking the hope of healing in some way or another. That last piece can be hard to remember in the crush of the day, with a long line of patients and a large stack of charts waiting. Trying to get through the day, skipping lunch, going as quickly as I can...but trying to remember the humanity of each person and their own brokenness in some form or fashion. That they need hope.
One such patient came to see me about nine months ago. She was actually a nurse, a maternity nurse no less, at a different hospital. Her first pregnancy had ended in disaster: she went into labor at term with a healthy baby but her baby's heartbeat had started to look distressed. They performed a C/S for her, but her baby died just after birth. This is sadly not an uncommon scenario, but for it to happen to someone whose profession is to deliver healthy babies...a double blow. There is a falsehood that I probably subscribe to at some level as well, that a better job or more financial resources somehow guarantees a certain outcome in health and in life. This is not always true.
Well, she was pregnant again, now just 5 months after her first loss. I placed the ultrasound on her belly and we were both surprised to see not one but two heartbeats: twins. This is usually joyful news, but does cause a bit more apprehension for the obstetrician! Her risk of another loss due to miscarriage or fetal death was somewhat higher, so we made plans to follow the pregnancy more closely, having her come back for follow-up visits every 4-6 weeks. And I can say that the rest of the pregnancy was wholly unremarkable. I wasn't even the one to follow her for the most part, my generalist colleagues being fully capable to perform her ultrasounds and follow the babies' growth. Her C/S was scheduled at 37 weeks' gestation. I don't even do very many C/S any more, because there are so many well trained doctors working at Kibuye these days, but that morning I happened to walk into the OR before the day had even started, and she was already on the OR table, prepped and ready to go. So I scrubbed in, said a prayer, and began the surgery.
First, a girl. I held her up over the drape for the mom to see her and announced, "Bukuru!" The traditional Kirundi name of an older twin. The baby girl screamed her lungs out, and the mom began sobbing. Then, a boy. "Butoyi!" The younger twin. I likewise help him over the drape and the mom sobbed harder. It was, like the pregnancy, an unremarkable C/S. But as I closed up the layers and dressed her incision, a song that we sometimes sing in church came to my mind. "My beautifier, you've taken away my shame, you've taken away my pain. You've made my life so beautiful." And I couldn't help but think about how this pregnancy HAD taken away shame for my patient. Shame of feeling like she had done something wrong, that despite her profession she couldn't save her first baby. Cultural shame of not yet being a mother. These two babies HAD taken away the pain of childlessness and the loss of her first baby. Maybe not completely, as cases like this are intense joy mixed with intense pain, but healing has begun. The loss of her first baby will always linger, but redemption is now happening. Life is being made more beautiful for the loss and the pain and the joy and the new life. And I'm glad that God allowed me to be a part of it.