Nothing excites me quite the way the birth of a baby can. While Charles and I have not been able to have our own children, through work, friends and countless other ways we have had the privilege of sharing in the lives of others’ children in many fulfilling ways. Charles’ work through the public defender’s office and now in private practice brings him into contact with children who have had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of law enforcement. Many times he has been able to help these children get on the right track in life by dealing with the circumstances which led them to trouble. In my work as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, I shepherded children through the family court system when the Department of Social Services has removed them rightly or wrongly from their homes. Most of my cases involved getting families to reconsider how they managed crises in the home.
Here in Kapuwai, there is at least one child for every dollar that Bill Gates has ever made. None of these children can be considered privileged in any sense that we use the term in the United States.
But they have privileges that Americans would do well to consider adopting in order to raise more responsible youth. As Hilary Rodham Clinton wrote It takes a Village to raise a child in Uganda. Everyone in the society feels the burden of correcting, rebuking or praising every child in the community to ensure that the child becomes a productive adult. And these children are LOVED so much that I can’t even describe how much the community cares for them. But I have digressed . . .
Meet Christine Acham
In my first crochet class which happened before the yarn arrived, Christine, age 42, was the first to class and the last to leave. As you can see by her picture on the left, she has a warm and engaging smile. She has a magnificent heart of gold and she loves people and helps others in any way that she can.
During the first class, I asked each class member to introduce themselves to the class and to talk about their family. Christine, who was 6 months pregnant at the time, told the class that she had completed school through P7 (primary — roughly the equivalent of 7th grade) and that she had 10 children. Her first question to me was what would the maternity leave policy be for the class since she was due at the end of September with her eleventh child. I told her she would be a homebound student until she was ready to come back to class.
She is a voracious and competitive student despite the fact she is functionally illiterate. She figured out on her own how to read Japanese crochet diagrams.
Christine speaks very little English. Her native language is Ateso, a common language in Eastern Uganda. She quickly became a very dear friend to me and the language barrier grew insignificant as our friendship grew. In class, I nicknamed her “Toto One”. “Toto” means mother in Ateso; she is Toto One because she has more children than anyone else in class. Toto Two has nine children.
And this baby makes eleven.
In mid-September Christine became ill with what the local community nurses thought was malaria. She had a port installed in her right hand and quinine treatment commenced. But she didn’t improve and developed a serious lung infection. She was taken to the local community health hospital in Kibale for treatment. There she was treated again for malaria and for acute bronchitis. She began to slowly mend, but when I visited her at Kibale I discovered that she had never had an ultrasound with this pregnancy and had only had 3 prenatal medical exams. I decided immediately that she would live with me until the baby was a week old. It was the only way I could make sure she could rest and recuperate given her ten other children.
In Uganda, when you are in the hospital and you can’t afford to pay all of your bill at the time the doctor releases you, the hospital will keep you against medical advice until you can pay your bill. This seems really backward to me. How can you work and make money to pay the bill if you are stuck in the hospital? So Christine and her husband scraped together all they could, about 37,000 UGX (about $15 USD) and paid the community hospital at Kibsle. But they still owed roughly 19,000 UGX (just under $8 USD). I paid the hospital the balance and got her out and brought her to my apartment at PACODET.
She was still really sick and the Kibale Health Unit didn’t prescribe a full course of antibiotics to treat the bronchitis. As you may have guessed, when the meds stopped, she got worse again.
By September 20th, she could barely speak for coughing so much. She had tried every cough syrup in Uganda (which are few and utterly ineffective), so on a trip to Pallisa I picked up a bottle of Sherry since they didn’t have Rock-n-Rye with lemon. Miracle of miracles, it helped her stop coughing long enough to get some rest. I knew it was risky giving a pregnant woman alcohol, but the coughing spells had become so violent that she had constant pain in her lower rib cage.
As time passed and I had to buy another bottle of Sherry, she was adamant that the baby was still “playing” inside her. Playing was the term we discovered together to describe the baby’s activity because she didn’t understand what I meant by the baby “moving”. Whether or not the baby was playing, she was very sick and I was pissed off at the poor health care she had received. With a trusted boda driver, the two of us packed up on a motorcycle and headed to the regional hospital Pallisa General.
We met with an admitting doctor right away on that Friday right before lunch. Just prior to going to the waiting room, I heard a nurse tell the doctor that a “muzungu” (white person) was there with a pregnant woman insisting that she be seen immediately.
In the consultation with the doctor, Christine disclosed that she had a heart problem that had been present since her last pregnancy about 2.5 years ago. The doctor also diagnosed acute bronchitis and a severe urinary tract infection.
While she got dressed, the doctor spoke with me in the consultation room. He told me in no uncertain terms that she was going to be admitted immediately and that under NO circumstances should she have the baby at a local health clinic. I asked him many direct questions about birth control options after the baby was born; he was clear that since this was her ninth pregnancy (she has two sets of twins) she should not become pregnant again.
The hospital was nasty, filthy and disgusting; but that is for another blog post. On Wednesday, October 1st at 4:01 p.m. Christine gave birth to a baby girl weighing 2.8 kg (about 6.2 lbsf). She named her daughter Lisa Ellen Grose. She and everyone else in Kapuwai pronounce Lisa as “Elise”. “Elise” is healthy and thriving on breast milk. Christine went back to her home (about 5 minutes from my apartment) on her one week birthday.