In it together
What I have found to be interesting, and significant here, is the interconnectedness of living in community. How so often, life comes full-circle, in so many subtle yet poetic ways.
An example of that from this week:
It’s Monday afternoon. We have a group text chain with our team that continuously has something going. A message comes through today to please pray for a woman at the hospital who our doctors are caring for. She’s just had a cesarean section but her bleeding is uncontrolled. “No blood in hospital.” The text says.
Josh writes that he’s praying.
Alexis sends the prayer hand emojis.
The woman has to go back into the OR for a second time, the source of bleeding needs to be found out. They send for an ambulance to go get blood elsewhere. That blood is far away in another town. Potentially too far to be helpful.
Alexis happens to be running a few errands when an ambulance, blaring sirens and all, passes her quickly. The timing of the text update and the infrequency of ambulances makes her wonder if that was the ambulance that was sent for the blood.
Later that day we get another text that the second surgery has been performed, the 3 units of packed red blood cells delivered and administered, and the woman is alive, but not stable.
After a long, hard day, our doctors finish their work.
Piper walks by me in the living room. I grab her and put her on my lap. I tell her we need to pray, and she asks why.
“Because Dr. Scott had a very hard day, and he’s tired. And there is a mother who just had her baby, and that mother had an even harder day. She’s very sick.”
We prayed together on the couch. For both of them. For Scott and Mary. I had considered not mentioning it at all to Piper and just praying by myself, in my head, next to her as she played with her stuffed animals. But then I decided against it. I want my children to be included into even the hard parts of life. We can lead and teach them, imperfectly, how to navigate it together.
The next morning, on Tuesday, Mike and I wake up to hear that Mary did not make it through the night. We are all heartbroken, for the baby, Mary’s family, the nurses I work with on the maternity ward, and our doctors. I tell Piper later that day the mother died.
“Did the baby die?” she asks.
“No. The baby is alive.”
“But the baby doesn’t have a mother now?”
She curls up in a ball on my lap, sucks her thumb, and we both feel sad together.
On Wednesday my teammate, Ann, knocks on my door. She’s lived here close to 10 years. The young man who helps take care of her yard, Kwemala, is related to Mary. We all attend the same church.
He says he can’t work that morning because he is attending the funeral. As they are talking he tells her that the newborn has not been fed yet. The family can’t afford formula, and no one is taking responsibility for it. The father has 3 sons, and is looking for someone to breastfeed the baby, but no one is stepping forward.
My natural response is to want to take action and FEED THE BABY.
I also am learning that natural responses aren’t necessarily the best or wisest responses. This is hard for me. Ann shares of a past situation she lived through, where the missionaries heavily involved themselves with a motherless newborn. It became very complicated, as it usually does, and there was fighting over the baby between two different families, then neglect, and the baby died within a few weeks.
With direction from experienced teammates, we realized we could not just feed the baby. Ann strongly encouraged Kwemala to find a woman in the community willing to breastfeed his relative’s baby. There needed to be a proper long-term solution for the health of this child. Coming to us every week for formula money was putting the responsibility on the wrong people and would create a downward spiral of dependency.
Did I want to immediately drive, find this newborn, feed it, cradle it, and take care of it all day?
Yes. I did.
I had to fight the urge.
Thursday came and Mike and I went to go pay our electricity bill in town. We also were looking to get Boston a bed frame. Both places are right next to each other. But the carpenters who usually make bedframes and place them along the side of the road didn’t have any that day. They were busy putting the finishing touches on a beautiful sleek white coffin instead.
I wondered if the coffin was for Mary.
Later I went for a walk at sunset with my teammate. We ran into Kwemala, who was out canvassing the entire town looking for any woman whose husband would agree to let her breastfeed the baby. So far there was one woman who wanted to, Nyakato. She still needed to ask her husband though.
“Has the baby been fed yet?” I asked.
“Not yet.” He said.
The child was born on Monday. It was Thursday. But to involve ourselves in purchasing formula, to take over the situation, could very possibly discourage anyone from stepping forward at this crucial point. Or it could encourage a person to step forward for the wrong reasons.
But how long was this going to go on?
“She hasn’t gotten anything yet?!” I asked.
“The grandmother says the child won’t stop crying. So she is giving it glucose and water.”
That night before bed Piper and I prayed for the baby.
The next morning, on Friday, I saw Nyakato (she works next door). I asked her if her husband okayed for her to breastfeed the baby. She said she was going to ask him later that day, then he would decide.
“The baby was born on Monday, and it’s now Friday. If we wait too long, this child will die.” I said.
Kwemala was working in Ann’s yard and he came over. We all talked and Nyakato left to ask her husband. She came back within a few hours and said he needed more time to think about it.
Kwemala said there was one other person who he knew would consider the task.
He left to go find her.
Meanwhile I go inside to hold Boston, who has been sick through the night with a fever and needs me again. We snuggle on the couch and wait for Kwemala to come back. Eventually, he does.
“She and her husband have agreed.”
To expedite getting this child fed, I offer to drive the woman to the newborn. It seems like a simple offer. Even though I know, nothing is simple.
“They are together.” Kwemala says. “The woman with the baby. They are both at the funeral site now. But they do need transport back to her village.”
“Where does she stay?” I ask.
He points down the road and says the name of a town I can’t understand. But the direction he points doesn’t look far.
He tells me the mother will need extra money for newborn incidentals. I have to think about what the implications will be of a foreigner showing up, giving out extra money or resources for a child I am not connected to in any way. Again, my natural response is to want to give, to provide whatever is needed. But instead I say,
“Since you are working, and they are your family, perhaps you can provide what this baby needs?”
He nods as he thinks.
“I know it is an extra expense.” I say. “So can we give you an advance of money of one car wash- and then you owe us one car wash?”
“Yes. That is good.” He says.
Mike stays with Boston and I ask Piper to come with me.
“Where are we going?” she says.
“Remember that mom who died, and the hungry baby we’ve been praying for all week?” I ask. “Kwemala found a mother who will feed the baby! We get to bring them home back to her village.”
“I get to see the baby?” she says, excitedly.
As we load up in the car, I notice how clean it is and make a mental note that the car wash is probably a few weeks away.
Kwemala sits in the front seat and we drive for 10 minutes, past the center of town, across a bridge with a river rushing below it, then he directs me to a small cluster of mud homes directly off the main road. We park next to a huge tarp with cassava drying on it, and get out.
Piper leaps over enormous mud pits to get to the back of the house, where close to 40 people are gathering, eating, talking, but most certainly mourning the loss of Mary. People are rich in relationships here, I'm reminded again as we are greeted by grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, uncles, and young ones.
I’m offered a seat on a green plastic chair and Piper crawls up into my lap. Still her favorite place to be. They bring out the baby, who is perfectly bundled and content with rosebud lips. Not the tense, screaming, hungry baby I was expecting.
After the formalities I mention how peaceful this baby seems.
“Yes. Because Oliva has just fed her.”
Oliva is the woman who, especially under circumstances of extreme poverty, has taken on the massive responsibility of breastfeeding this child. She is a quiet hero, an answer to prayer.
Piper sits on my lap and takes it all in. I tell her explicitly, “this is the baby with lost her mother. And here is the woman who is choosing to feed the baby for the next six months.”
Piper says “look how cute she is, Mom.”
We are sitting in a circle of answered prayers.
Kwemala introduces me to the late Mary’s husband and sons. “I’m sorry for the loss of your wife.” I say.
I also share that we have been praying for his wife and his family all week. A few people laugh, and I don’t understand why, but I keep going. I wanted him to know that spiritually we are united to him, that in some way Mary mattered to us all, that we were hoping she would live.
And we are sorry she didn’t.
Soon enough it was time for him to say good-bye to his newborn daughter, as she was taken away in the arms of Oliva. Instead of jumping over the too-wide mud puddles on the way back, Mary’s husband picked Piper up gently and landed her safely on the opposite side of each one.
Kwemala held the baby as I drove Oliva, Oliva’s son, and Oliva’s sister back to their village. I should have seen the foreshadowing when I watched Piper navigating the mud puddles earlier. The rain has been heavy this week and I really saw that in the poor conditions of the dirt roads on this drive.
As I drove I contemplated the life of this child.
What will her story be?
Each time the car hit a bump, or made its way through a pothole I cringed as the bundle in Kwemala's arms jolted up and down. I reminded myself that just a few short days ago this tiny baby was bumping around inside of her mother. The cars movements may be somewhat familiar, perhaps even comforting, as she was swaddled snuggly and held tightly. But oh how so much changes in just a few short days. The body that housed her, no longer alive. Her future, uncertain, as she heads off to a new home.
After almost getting stuck a few times, we reached the top of a very steep hill and I looked down to see a fairly small river at the bottom. It was still big enough to make me uncomfortable.
“How far are we from her village?” I asked. We had already driven further into the backroads than I ever anticipated.
“We are very close.” Kwemala said.
“She is going to have to get out here. I don’t think my car can make it across that.”
“But it is not big at all!” he assured me.
“Yes but it is making me feel uncomfortable. I can’t go any further.” I said.
We parked the car and all walked down to the river together, with Piper on my back, red-cheeked from a long drive in our car with no AC, in the mid-day heat. Oliva held the newborn. Her sister carried the young boy. Everyone was sweating.
The water was about knee-high. The women said they were fine to walk across and get a boda boda on the other side. Motorcycles, or boda bodas, seem to show up all the time here, even in the most remote of places. We said goodbye, and the three of us hiked back up the hill to drive home.
On the way back the van got stuck in a big ditch filled with mud and rainwater. As I was doing my best to get out, I forgot to roll my drivers side window up and got completely splattered with mud inside the car; all the way down the right side of my arms, dress, legs and feet. I looked like a two-year olds painting. My mirrors were doused in brown sludge, and I turned my windshield wipers on only to watch a thin paste rhythmically smear back and forth, back and forth.
It took a panicked phone call back to Mike, two people pushing, and some courage to get out. But I was able to check that off my ‘really dreading’ list.
When we finally made it back home Kwemala looked at the car and at me.
“We’re filthy.” I said.
“I need to shower. And this car needs a wash now too.”
Interconnected. Complex issues needing thoughtful responses. Getting stuck and praying our way through it. Seeing God work on behalf of the vulnerable through people like Kwemala and Oliva.
This is a week of life in Bundibugyo.