Born With a Smile

If I should ever leave you whom I love, to go along silent way, grieve not nor talk to me with tears. But laugh and talk of me, as if I was beside you there. ~~Isla Paschal Richardson

In one of my many posts on Facebook, I talked about end of life. I challenged the African approach to end of life. I advocated for better management of the terminally and chronically ill in our society.

Just like any creative non fiction writer, I hit raw nerves. I shook trees at their roots. I shook them in their forests. I upset a lot of hearts. One of my readers reached out to me on Messanger. I read all messages and decide which ones to reply to. This one I had to.

She was gutted. She was not amused that I had discussed end of life that plainly. I needed to walk a mile in her moccasins and feel where it pinched.

It didn’t pinch my toes though. It shredded my heart into mince and made pulp out of it. Dinah had never talked about her baby’s death since July 29th 2020. Her husband never talked about it either. Sylvia, as the baby was dearly named, remained an untouched subject. Too raw to approach, too real to bear. Dinah didn’t want to talk but she wanted me to stop talking about end of life.

Yet the memory of Sylvia stood there. Stubbornly refusing to leave. It was as if she was still part of the family yet hiding from it. As if she was still alive but lived in her own shadow. Present but only felt through the whispering pines and seen through the setting skies.

It may be easy to deal with end of life for the chronically ill. Perhaps even expect it a little. Nonetheless painfully devastating. What happens though, when babies die? What happens when a one month and three day’s’ old baby stops fighting and simply crosses over to the other side? How do parents then fill the void left in the shape of the baby’slittle heart?

Dinah wanted to talk about Sylvia so I let her. With her permission I have shared this story. She has asked me not to edit the names. She wants Sylvia’s name immortalized. I wish mine was indelible ink. I gladly would.

****

Sylvia was sweet and calm. She was beautiful. In my own eyes at least. Every mother thinks that their babies are the most gorgeous anyway. Her smile lit up the room. And my family’s life.

She was named Sylvia after my great maternal grandma. And Kwamboka after my mother in law. I loved to call her by her first name, Sylvia.

A month before I gave birth I was sitting at work, and a thought crossed my mind.(I am a pharmtech. My husband too). I thought to myself, ” I don’t know why, but I think I’m going to have a very difficult delivery.”

But then I had the easiest delivery of all three. Shortest labour of all time. From when it started at 0413hrs, I delivered at 0645hrs. I was elated. I did not even get an episiotomy like in the previous deliveries. I was ecstatic.

I have two other children both under 10 years and I had delivered them in untold agony. Sylvia’s birth was rather fast and easy for lack of a better word. She brought scintillating joy in my life as a mother. She was just a beauty! Sylvia was born with a smile.

A month later, my baby fell ill with pneumonia. Hubby and I took her to Machakos Level 5 hospital. While on our way, I noticed she was becoming very weak. She had refused to breastfeed. She was too sick to suckle. My baby was too sick to suckle and this tears me to pieces even now

I called her once. She tried opening her eyes, only the left one opened, somehow I think she was bidding me goodbye at that moment because after that she didn’t open her eyes again.

I have so many unanswered questions you know. Hubby and I are medics and we couldn’t save our own. How fair is that? When she passed on on that cold July night, they removed the big needle they had put in her shin just below the knee.

She bled so much. I saw her soul flow with the blood. My baby left me. She had had that needle because the nurses and doctors couldn’t find a vein to insert a cannula. They tried 32 times. I counted Cate, I counted. She had given up. She was not crying. She was not fighting. She kept gasping for breath and let the medics have her tiny little body.

She didn’t even flinch when they scratched her airways to do a Covid-19 swab test. It turned out negative.

Hubby was with me through all that, he was devastated. But at least he was there when it all happened, he supported me and I didn’t have to break the news to him. I have no idea how I would have.


I remember one nurse however who fought for my baby. My Sylvia. I forgot her name. When my baby died, she was unable to tell me. When I asked her whether it was confirmed, she looked at me, nodded and shed tears then quickly left the room.

That gesture has never left me. I saw how much she gave for the sake of my baby. When the doctor gave up looking for a vein, this nurse didn’t give up. She told me three words,”I will be here.” She was until the very end.

She later came to the room as hubby and I cried into each other’s shoulders. She took a blanket and wrapped my baby as if she were still alive and feeling cold. She never let me see me see her eyes but I could tell she was crying. I pray for her you know. I pray for her. She is a brilliant nurse. She is a kind nurse and we don’t get those often in public hospitals in Kenya Cate.

I refused to go home though. I didn’t know how to face my two children. I didn’t know what to tell them. Hear me out Cate.

When I was pregnant, they kept saying I’m delaying them, they should have fed the coming baby already. You should have seen them selecting baby clothes for their sister. We are blessed to have such good children. They even had a pink bow to go with pink baby shoes.

When I went to the hospital for delivery, they kept calling me to check on me through hubby’s phone. I have never felt so much love in my life. My family was there and this brightened my life. When I brought Sylvia home they were over the moon. Sylvia fitted in like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. She was a bundle of love being welcomed into an ocean of more love.

Any time I suggested changing the diapers, they’d rush to get me a fresh diaper, baby wipes, baby powder and baby oil. Then they would hand them to me.

When we took her to the hospital, they both asked me what was wrong with Sylvia. I told them we would go to the doctor and say she was not breastfeeding as she should. That the doctor would do something to help her suckle. They cried. Especially because they could not feed her the same food I served them. I had reassured them that everything was going to be alright. I promised.

Here I was though, with no baby. No sylvia and yet I had to go home. I felt like a failure to my own children. I felt like I had let them down. I failed to keep my promise.

But they are sweet little children. I told them Sylvia has rested, that when Jesus comes back, she will rise again and we will continue from where we stopped. We will change her diapers. We will carry her. And they understood.

In retrospect though, I think I was saying that more to myself than to them, reassuring myself that one day I will see my baby again.

They’re okay now. Occasionally they tell me they miss Sylvia, I tell them pole, I miss her too. Hubby misses her deeply though he never talks about it. I wish I knew how to help him through this pain. He misses her smile. Such an innocent smile. I know he feels what I feel; like our baby was a gift that was taken from us even before unwrapping.

*****

I read this with tears rolling down my face. I remembered my own brother who passed on at one month old. Just like Sylvia, Simon was born in a June and passed on in a July. I said a silent prayer, that our Simon will meet her Sylvia in heaven and that they will be friends. Everyone is friends with everyone in heaven. Isn’t it?

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