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Giving Birth in Kenya: Could Chickenpox in Pregnancy Have Led to the Loss of my Baby?

Beverly during her traditional wedding ceremony.

By Maryanne W. Waweru l maryanne@mummytales.com

In 2016, Beverly found out she was pregnant. A nurse by profession, she could not hide her excitement about being a first-time mom. But Beverly’s journey to motherhood didn’t end as she had anticipated. This is her story. 

“I remember being so happy upon discovering that I was pregnant. As a nurse working in the maternity ward, and after seeing so many mothers bring forth their babies and the joy this brought, I looked forward to my own experience.

I started shopping early as I looked forward to February –the month that I was due. The highlight of my days was experiencing fetal kicks. They were so heavenly! I also loved how baby would start playing when the dad would call me. It is still hard to understand how such things happen.

The Start of my Illness

One Thursday in November, I travelled from Embu (where I stayed) to Eldoret for my sister’s graduation. All went well until the following Monday when we returned and I started experiencing back pains. I went to the hospital and was given painkillers. The pain didn’t subside much, and when I returned to the hospital I was once again given painkillers.

Also See: “I Lost my Baby at 37 Weeks Pregnant. This is What Happened” –June Mbithe Muli’s Story

By Wednesday the pain was so bad the doctor even thought I was in labor. I was 31 weeks pregnant then. I was informed that I needed to be admitted.

Unfortunately, doctors in public hospitals were on strike at that time so I had to go to a private hospital. The first one we went to was unfortunately packed to capacity, so we had to search for another one. Thankfully, we got space there and when a scan was done, it showed that baby was fine. However, they couldn’t explain the back pain.

The following day – on Thursday morning, I woke up with a rash all over my face and body. Turns out that I had chickenpox! Apparently, this is what was causing the back pains. I stayed in the hospital that day before being discharged later.

I remember being so frustrated at being sick, dealing with fever, being pregnant, and just being tired all day long. I desperately wanted to be well.

It was not until Tuesday of the following week that I recovered and life went back to normal.

The next month –December, I had my traditional wedding. It was a glamorous ceremony and we were glad to have received the blessings of our parents.

The Surprise Baby Shower

The following month –on January Friday the 13th, I felt some pain that felt like a contraction. I was 36 weeks pregnant then. Hubby was on his way from Meru to Embu for the weekend. After I told him how I was feeling, he called my doctor who said it was probably a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). However, I was sure that it wasn’t. We nevertheless slept calmly through the night.

The following day, I met my good friend Keziah, who agreed to accompany me for my last ultrasound. We went to the doctors but found a very long queue. What I didn’t know is that Keziah had other plans. She and other friends had organized my baby shower on that day!

The baby shower caught me by surprise because my mind was focused on other things. But the baby shower went well and I was very happy. I was delighted to see my sisters, friends and colleagues at my baby shower. We made fun of baby names; my hubby and I had settled on Declan John Karume. I remember them making fun how his short form was going to be ‘Deki’.

With friends at the baby shower.

Reduced Fetal Movements

We stayed home on Sunday and I went to work on Monday. But while baby always played when I woke up, I distinctly remember that that day he didn’t do so. I thought that maybe he was still sleeping.

When I got to work and still didn’t feel the kicks, I sensed something was wrong. I called Keziah to come listen to the fetal heartbeat, but she wasn’t around and so I called another colleague who advised me to take a Fanta soda as perhaps baby just needed some sugar.

At about noon, I called my husband and he advised me to go see a doctor (I don’t even know why I hadn’t thought of doing so). Thankfully, Keziah took me hospital and when the doctor placed the sonicade (the machine used to listen to the fetal heartbeat) the heartbeat was loud and normal. He reassured me that baby was fine but advised on a scan because of the reduced fetal movements.

Emergency Caeserean Section

While doing the scan, the doctor kept asking if I had experienced hypertension during my pregnancy, or if my due date had already passed. I didn’t understand why he was asking this. But he soon interrupted my thoughts by saying that the baby was alive but not moving. He advised that I needed to have an emergency caesarean section; that baby had to be delivered within four hours if he was to survive. That meant that my son would need to be placed in an incubator upon delivery.

However, there was a problem.

The doctors were still on strike in public hospitals, and the best private hospital around had only one incubator –which was already occupied. The only other option was to travel to Nairobi.

We got an ambulance and got to a hospital in Nairobi at around 8.30pm. The admission process didn’t take long. My baby’s fetal heartbeat was loud, clear and regular.

Doctor Unavailable

However, we were soon told that the doctor who had been informed about my case had just been called in for another CS. As we were waiting for them to get another doctor to attend to me, my baby’s fetal heartbeat kept being monitored. At one point, I remember the heartbeat fluctuating and being unstable… and then suddenly, the beats were no more.

Also Read: The Day I Almost Lost my Life -Caroline’s Story

An ultrasound was quickly ordered. I remember asking the doctor why I couldn’t hear the fetal heartbeat. Then she broke the news to my husband and I by simply saying “There is no fetal heartbeat”. I didn’t immediately understand what she said until I heard my husband begin to sob. That’s when it dawned on me.

The Induction and Delivery 

The doctor then told me that my labor had to be induced and asked whether I wanted to have it done at that time or in the morning. I opted for the soonest time possible. The induction started at about 2am.

Meanwhile, I tried sleeping as I took in the sad news. It was a very difficult time for me as you can imagine.

When the doctor checked on me the following morning, there wasn’t much change and I had to be inserted another (induction) pill to hasten the contractions.

Meanwhile, I remember people coming to visit me but to this day I don’t even remember who I saw that day. My sister and Keziah are the ones who I remember being present, supporting me and rubbing my back with each contraction.

With dear friend Keziah in better days.

At around 11am, it was time to go to the delivery room, with my husband and Keziah by my side. At 11.46am I delivered a male infant weighing 2.6 kgs. The nurse asked if I wanted to hold him before she was done or after, I opted for the latter.

Holding my Son in My Arms

When I eventually got to hold my baby, I stared at him, taking it all in. I noticed that while he had my face, he looked so much like his dad and was just as dark as him. Suddenly, I thought I saw my baby move.

But it was all an illusion. Talk about a ray of hope!

I remember asking Keziah “You mean to tell me that I won’t breastfeed him?”

All this in an attempt to come to terms of the reality of what was happening.

We decided to have the baby buried by the hospital. They said the chickenpox might have been the cause of the problem; that the virus may have passed to the placenta and led to complications for the baby.

I got discharged from hospital the following day, and it was the hardest part for me. I felt like I was living my baby behind. It drained me to have to leave, but I had to.

When I got home, I found that my son’s wardrobe was empty. I had no idea where they had put his clothes all of his other stuff that I had bought. But with the help of my counselor Lillian, I was able to re-arrange them back neatly back in the cupboard. That was what I wanted, and it helped me deal with the loss much better.

This is my message to my dear son Declan:

“Heaven and earth may separate us today, but nothing will ever change the fact that you made me a mum.”

Today, I talk about my son because he deserves to be remembered. Even though he is not physically with us, he is not too far from my mind. I talk about him because he is part of me, and I am proud to be his mother. I talk about Declan because I love him still and always will.”

*Photos courtesy of Beverly

Also See: His Name was John. How I Lost my Baby Boy to Preeclampsia -Catherine’s Story

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Maryanne W. Waweru is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.


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