The Midwife’s Story by Emmanuella Inah (Nurse Peggy)

I arrived in Sapeba in the cool evening of the harmattan breeze, just when the church bell had rung for the close of mass. My eyes wandered through the quietness of the large span of land that held the primary health center. An udala tree stood by a corner with litters of its leaves flying about in the air.

It was all too quiet for a health facility. I expected to see women with babies tied on their backs, children playing around, and mothers screaming out their names to “come here” or “sit down,” or Nurses in white, crowned with the nightingale’s cap encouraging pregnant women to dance, exercise or bring their husbands on the next visit.

I expected noise, the usual noise in Abakaliki I was used to, which was always spiced by Nurse Veronica’s bass voice. Sometimes, I used to think the midwife who took her delivery forgot to tell her she was a lady.

“Bring your husbands oooh, you are not the only one who is pregnant. You are both preggies. You and your husband!”

Male inclusion in maternal and newborn health had been her focus until her retirement. At some point I began to look out for possible traits of a man who would be by my side throughout pregnancy in my Dele. He had begun to talk about marriage, he ticked every box but never knew when I menstruate or when it’s delayed. He never even bothers to ask.

Staring at me was Sapeba Primary Health Centre, the harmattan dust which laid proudly over my eyelids made me blink too often and weakened my gaze at the hospital with a broken roof, bat-infested, and maybe desolated. My hope was in the old bicycle parked by the udala tree and the whispers from the door.

I took each step towards the door with dedication. Dedication that made me leave the warmness of Dele's embrace, the previous night had us in a hot tangle, lips savoring our mouth, his weight over me pushing each thrust dutifully. Dele sniffed my breath, I heard him shed a masculine tear and I felt his eyes watch me go to sleep. But I had to volunteer, I had to leave Dele, I had to be the Midwife Sapaba prayed for.

“When we become nurses, we become God’s outstretched hand.” Nurse Veronica once said.

Those words hit me more when the first delivery I took in the poorly lit labor room was an asphyxiated baby. This first-time mother had wanted to prove her “strength,” so she parted her legs over a white basin to deliver her child unaided. His head was between her legs when two elderly women brought her to the facility. Eyes swollen, lips purple and cheeks bulging as if someone had tucked in eba by the sides. I feared he was dead. His eyes were shut. The pregnant woman fought with looking me in the eyes when I raised her son to announce his sex. An episiotomy had done a little magic but the survival of Ebuka came from his spirit, the baby responded to resuscitation in little time. Ebuka became the first of thirteen children Sapeba gave me.

The Sunday of Ebuka’s christening was bright and sunny. The choristers sang with voices so high pitched I feared their vocal cords would burn. I decorated my slender face with Mary Kay, dotted my cheeks with a bit of red blush and left my lips shining from the lip gloss I got as a gift from the second woman whose baby I had welcomed after Ebuka. I heard she had begun to behave like an ogbanje, saying little, eating less and frowning when her baby was brought to her.

The woman whose head tie covered my view from seeing the pulpit whispered the words as her husband tiptoed to the second pew.

“I am sure he is here to pray for her. Poor man!” mama Rebecca said. She was always first to collect the communion, poking out her tongue until the slim bread rested on it. Sometimes, I wonder if her ears never hurt from the tight, strong “canopy” she carries every Sunday.

“Our nurse! It is almost time to usher in your baby oooh. You will lead the women, and we will dance behind you.” Mama Rebecca whispered.

The choir erupted in another praise chant, I held my Ebuka tightly. Swinging him from side to side and also very cautious about my koikoi shoe and the red slim-fit gown I wore.

After the testimony by mama Ebuka who deliberately omitted the part that she had attempted to deliver her baby at home, I took the microphone, pushed two loud breaths into it and proceeded to thank Father Linus for everything he has done in helping the health center. Then I talked about “baby blues” and about the ogbanje symptoms the women had talked about. I stressed on how baby blues would lead to postpartum depression if it does not resolve after 14 days.

“This is serious oooh, what causes it please” Father Linus interrupted. I didn't realize how the simple question led to me talking about preeclampsia and rhesus incompatibility and the need for women to register in the health center when pregnant.

Dele had stopped taking my calls but I never stopped calling even though not as frequently as I used to. My heart was captured by the safe child births and beautiful children the women called mine and the love that was lavished on me. Health education in the market was fun, the crowd always listened with rapt attention. The women who sold ugba were interested in how to prevent pregnancy despite “daily mmemme.” The girls fetched me water and swept the health center. Fathers trusted my health advice and Father Linus never stopped sending me chicken every Sunday. The cases of postpartum hemorrhage ceased.

One morning while I laid on the six spring bed in my room, imagining if Dele had met someone else, if he now kisses another woman or if she visits him in his home, a loud noise jerked me to reality. It was a woman in labor, flanked by her husband and sister-in-law. She was a blind pregnant woman. The first I have met and the only one since I left Sapeba.

Her words were selected, her aura was something special. She spoke in sweet tunes and her eyes stared open in the air. I call her beautiful. Her teeth had little gaps between them and I imagined fish hanging by the corners when she eats. Her smile is contagious especially when her nose goes “pointed” from her face. She cried when contractions came but bounces into a smile when she gets a relief.

We arrived at 8cm dilatation, when she began to talk in Pidgin. "My eyes dey open. I dey see my pikin. All the things I struggle to do, you go over do them. You go be my eyes, you go see road, you go win, failure no be your own."

When the baby was delivered unto her abdomen and I announced it was a boy, I thought she would ask me to help her touch her baby's genital, I thought she would want me to really prove it was a male child. So when I inquired if she would like to touch her son's genital, her response shocked me.

"Nurse you no fit lie me, na man I born as you don tell me."

Her trust for me fueled my passion for the profession and made my stay a memorable one until I left on a Sunday morning, three days after my Ebuka turned a year old. The boys brigade band marched me to the okada stand, we danced to the songs they played as mothers waved their handkerchiefs in the air. All the excitement turned sour when I mounted an okada to begin my journey back home. My Ebuka clung to my leg, his wails pricked my heart. Someone snatched him away, the bike roared and there were louder wails of tears.

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