Hope, born anew (ii)
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
The pregnancy is easy on me. No morning sickness whatsoever, but saliva gathers in my mouth and I spit often, too often for Sule’s liking.
Three months into my pregnancy, we discover that Jelilat is also pregnant. We are over the moon with collaborative joy; sit in front of the house in the evenings, discussing the changes in our bodies. In the mornings, we eat huge plates of rice for it happens to be a common craving.
When I am six months gone, the midwife tells me I am carrying twins. Her face betrays no emotion whatsoever as she calmly informs me of this new twist. I am not at all delighted. I am hardly prepared for one baby. How on earth am I supposed to cope with two?
I vacillate between joy and despair. The weight of the entire world presses down on my shoulders and my belly seems to grow at an alarming rate.
Our eldest wife helps me shop for baby things.
I await the delivery.
They rip the first baby from my body, then wait a full five minutes before they rip out the second one. Several walls of pain slam into me, relentless, unforgiving, hell-loosing. I scream until there’s no more breath in my lungs, weep until there are no more tears to shed.
Then they hand me the babies, two boys, faces red from exertion, little hands clenching and unclenching. Love erases the pain of the past ten hours. I cuddle the first, then the second, almost wail in anguish when they are taken away to be cleaned up. My arms feel empty and my breasts experience the first twinge of separation.
But soon, they are back in my arms and love gathers the three of us up as we fall asleep.
The first signs of trouble show up two days after. Sitting astride the toilet, I cannot control the flow of urine that escapes me. Even when I think I have stopped urinating, pee still escapes me.
Not quite five minutes after, my body is rocked with a sneeze. At the end of it, there is a warm trickle in between my legs.
Before noon, my underclothes are wet and have a slightly disorienting smell of ammonia. My heart has begun to race in a manner that is unsettling and frightening. The suckling motion of my twin sons bring me the greatest joy…and the greatest discomfort. Each time I suckle a baby, the pull in my groin escalates into a roaring fire. I feel like there a thousand soldier ants down there, biting, tearing, invading.
By night, I am a sobbing mess.
The following day, Sule sends for my mother. At the sight of her face which I’ve not seen in more than ten months, I am reduced once again to childhood, to the building of sand castles, to imaginary play houses, to roasted groundnuts and kunu drinks.
“My baby. My very own baby.” Her arms are warm and large enough to encompass me in a hug. I feel myself melting into this special woman, inhaling her unique fragrance.
“Mama, mama.” I sigh into her arms again and again, afraid to let go of her.
“It’s going to be okay. It will be okay.” She assures and steps back from me. As she inspects me, I can see the tears bubbling in her eyes. But she does not shed them.
I put a rein on my own tears, but feel my stomach tightening with dread. The now familiar warm trickle descends my thighs and I rub my thighs together to keep the urine from flowing down my legs.
After Mama has been introduced to her grandsons and my elder wives, we sit in my room. She wants to know how married life is, how being a mother has changed me.
“Mama, I urinate when I sneeze, when I cough, when I stand too fast. That’s what motherhood has done to me. Can’t you smell me? Can’t you?” Anger has replaced the love I’d first felt for her when she arrived. If she and Papa had not sold me off into marriage, I wouldn’t be a mother now, and if I wasn’t a mother now, I wouldn’t be a perpetual leaker.
“Don’t shh me, Mama. I begged you to let me be. I asked you to let me wait till I was older to get married.”
“Hajarat…” There’s a world of pain in her voice. “It’s the way of our people to have daughters that marry early. A woman should spend her productive years in her husband’s house, not her father’s.”
Tears burn brightly behind my eyes as I turn away from this woman that I love so much, this woman that I hate so much.
It’s been four months. My boys have grown bigger. Mama has left. Jelilat has delivered a baby girl. Life has gone on as usual, but not for me.
Confined to my room because of my smell, allowed to hold my boys only under supervision, my world has shrunk to the four corners of my room.
My tears have dried up and in its place, there’s a rigid anger in my heart. Anger at my parents, anger at Sule, and anger sometimes at my babies.
After examining me, the midwife had said that my pelvis was underdeveloped, had been unable to take the strain of pushing out two robust babies, had perforated a little hole in my bladder that was somehow connected to my vagina.
After her proclamation, despair had driven me to the brink. For the first time in my life, I’d contemplated suicide, had stashed a knife in my room only to lose the courage to stab myself.
As morning turns to noon this sunny afternoon, Shehu and Musa are brought in. At four months, they are little bundles of joy, full of smiles and with faces that are heart wrenchingly innocent.
“Hello babies.” Even though it’s going to cause me some major leaks, I reach for the two of them, one in my left arm and the other in my right. They smell of powder and Vaseline, of innocence and hope.
Shehu, the one who is a split image of Sule smiles up at me and attempts to grab my scarf. A giggle, girlish and almost forgotten, rises in my throat. I laugh and rub my cheek against my son’s, the velvety feel of his skin a tender caress.
I repeat this action against Musa’s cheek, and for this moment I am contented being who I am, happy with my station in life.
For two hours, I suckle my babies, play with them, watch them sleep. As I drift into dreamland myself, a gentle tap at my door stirs me awake.
The midwife is in her customary white uniform, and there’s a huge grin on her face.
“Hajarat.” She greets, pushes her way past me.
Stunned, because she’s always been prim and proper, I turn to follow her.
There is a certain breathlessness about her and her eyes are twinkling. “There’s a surgeon from the UN who specializes in operations for VVF. He’s around and I think you should see him.”
“Vesicovaginal fistula. The thing that makes you leak? It can be repaired, and the doctor is around. We have to make arrangements for you to see him though.”
For a minute, I am speechless. Then hope, long forgotten, rises from its ashes and buoys my spirit. “There’s someone who can make me stop wetting myself?” I ask, incredulity almost overshadowing hope.
“Yes. And I want to take you to him tomorrow. Will you come?”
Laughter bubbles out of me. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Hope, born anew, finally calms the terror I’ve lived with for four months.
NB: This story is one of the stories from my upcoming book, These Issues.