I remember the day I was born, and that is because I have been here before, in this hospital ward.
Not once. Not twice. Not even three times. This is my fourth time here.
Everyone and everything here is familiar. The bed on the far right; the bed close to the TV; the bed close to the woman with her third set of triplets, and now this bed, the bed I am standing next to. Staring down on the immaculate sheets, I can tell the cleaners have made the extra effort of washing the bed sheets. I sniff for the smell of cheap soap made with palm oil, but the scent of flowers fill my nostrils. This gives a brief sense of thrill, except my eyes cannot help but notice the weary figure of the woman stretched out on this bed.
Rest, Abebi, rest! I berate her. Are you not tired of the long-term pregnancies, the painful contractions, the swollen feet, the tears, and the stitches you get after childbirth? When you and your husband have sex without condoms, I weep because I know it is another call.
Despite the number of times I have left this woman, she will not stop calling. Iya says that I am the only one who will fertilise her egg, even though I always depart almost as soon as I arrive. Locking eyes with her, I feel joy coursing through her, the memories before this particular pregnancy unfurling, the day she found out she had missed her period after a long time. “This one will stay. I can feel it in my gut. I just know it,” she had said when the doctor confirmed to her that she was pregnant. Vehement was she in her belief that every memory of her dead babies washed her of sorrow and flooded her with blind optimism. While some might call Abebi a persistent woman, m I say she is foolish. Some might argue that she is very hopeful, but I argue that hope is a coping mechanism for life.
Before this particular pregnancy came along, and before the recent one where I yet left, Abebi sunk herself in a whirlpool hope and desperation. Like with every pregnancy of Abebi’s, the pastor from Ekiti State tried all he could. He fasted, prayed, and convulsed like a raving drug addict. “This one is pouring water on a stone,” Iya had said as both of us watched from the other side and laughed.
Then there was the woman who sells agbo, a herbal concoction meant to ‘cleanse’ the body. She told Abebi to fasten the sides of her dresses with safety pins. “See, my friend, let me not deceive you,” she said to Abebi one day. “This thing has happened to one of my cousins. She too will give birth, and before her baby recognizes the colour of life, death takes away the baby!”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes oh! It was one Mama that opened our eyes. She said my cousin was carrying her pregnancy wrongly. Mama told her to use pins on the sides of her dress so she could safeguard her child. Mama said that in that way, no evil spirit would exchange her baby. As soon as she heard it, she did it quickly! Morning, oh, afternoon, oh, night, oh, her dress had pins.”
“Did it work? Did she eventually have a baby?”
“Yes. She has a strong son now—a very fine boy. So, my friend, I advise you to do the same. That could be the solution.”
At this, Iya and I laughed. Humans are so foolish!
Soon there was the Osun priest from Osun State. This one took her for a bath many times in the Osun River.
“Listen to me, oh! Open your ears and listen to me carefully. There is no mother like the goddess, Osun!” he would begin in the same loud voice. “She is the goddess of fertility. I promise she has seen your suffering and has taken pity on you. Don’t worry, this bath will ward off the evil spirit. You will surely come back to say your thanks.”
Iya would tell me, “Lies! All lies! Nothing will work. You will still leave them.”
Abebi even switched religions, determined to be a dutiful follower and worshipper of whichever God made her a mother. On the day she was Catholic, she wore a rosary bead and said the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. On the day she was a Buddhist, she laid down a yoga mat, put on incense and candles, and practised meditation. On the day she was an Osun devotee, she wrapped herself in a white cloth while singing the praises of the goddess.
I watched as Abebi, determined as ever, prepared for another cycle of hope. She was so sure that this time would be different and that I would choose to stay. But I knew the truth. I am an Abiku, a spirit child destined to torment my mother with my recurring departures.
The days turned into weeks. Abebi’s belly swelled with anticipation. She had that ‘gut’ feeling again. I was going to stay this time.
“Honey, this one will stay. I feel so close to her. So—so attached… like she is here. I can even smell her,” Abebi often told her husband. “This one will make me a mother. This one will change my name from Abebi to Mummy Baby. Finally, a child will suckle my breast, and it is this one.”
On some days, she spoke to me. Caressing her stomach, she would reiterate that it did not matter what I looked like—tall or short, dark or light-skinned, disabled or not—she would still love me with all her heart.
“My baby, stay with me, ehn. When you come, I promise not to give you one of those ugly names that remind you of your birth history. Nothing like Malomo, Durojaiye, Jokotimi, or Ikukoyi. Those names are not even sweet in the ears, my child. I will name you Ayomitide. Yes! Whether you are a boy or a girl, I am naming you Ayomitide, meaning my joy has come. So do not be scared. Your mother is waiting for you, okay?”
She carried me with such tenderness, singing lullabies and dreaming of a future filled with joy.
The day of my anticipated arrival came, and labor pains gripped Abebi’s body. Her face contorted with agony, and sweat trickled down her forehead as she clung to the hope that this time would be different. I could sense her desperation and her unyielding desire to cradle a living child in her arms.
As Abebi walked into the hospital, her back arched from painful contractions, her steps slowed from sizzling waist pain, and her voice croaked from screaming. The matron from her last three births helped her to the delivery room.
“Madam, with the way you are walking and shouting, one would think this is your first time in labour pains,” the matron said with some sort of irritation on her face. “How about your husband? I do not see him anywhere around. I hope he is not tired. Lady Luck might be around for a visit this time. My God is also a God of good timing! It is your time, ehn.”
Abebi understood the sarcasm. She knew the matron was poking at her pain. She was neither in the mood to shout nor to argue. She was going to be a mother soon. Instead, in a bid to worsen the matron’s irritation, she screamed louder and squeezed her hands tightly.
In the delivery room, there were the familiar smells of antiseptics mixed with the tension in the air. The labour process was smooth at first, te doctor’s encouraging voice as he guided Abebi through each push. “Push, Abebi, Puuusshhhhhh! You can do this!”
“Abebi, just breathe in and breathe out. Okay, push! You are on the path to becoming an amazing mother. You have got this!” the matron from earlier said while holding her hands.
For a moment, Abebi paused the long pushing exercise to look at the matron and the doctor. This matron, who had made snide remarks about her condition, was now acting like she cared. For the first time, she noticed the woman’s horrible makeup and poorly carved brows. She decided she would call her out on it once her baby was out, but then again, she might be too happy to think of that. Then she turned to look at the doctor.
The doctor, who did not know the pains of labour, just kept shouting, “Push!” She saw he was trying to help. Despite being with her in this same position three times, he looked hopeful. He looked like he was not just doing his job as a doctor, but also wanted to help her out. She decided she would give him a little something for all his help once her baby was out. She just needed to push with all her strength. This was the storm before the calm.
“Soon all this will be over, and I will become a mother,” Abebi concluded to herself. So, with all the remaining strength in her, she began the pushing exercise again.
“Okay, Abebi,” the doctor urged, “I need you to give me all you can. I can already see a head, so let us do this, okay?”
True to his words, my head was out and with one final push, I entered the world once again.
“You have a very beautiful baby girl,” the fine doctor said while severing the umbilical cord.
And the room fell silent as the doctor held his breath, waiting for a sign of life. Abebi’s eyes were fixated on my tiny, fragile form. Her heart raced with anticipation, and I could almost taste her yearning for a different outcome.
The fine doctor tried all the resuscitation techniques he learned in medical school—the same ones he had tried with Abebi’s previous kids.
Yet there was no life—no tears, no heartbeat. I laid there, like a baby born asleep. He gently rubbed my back, tapped my buttocks, and did chest compressions—one, two, one, two, three. Yet I didn’t move. He started sweating. He must have thought to himself, “Surely I am a good doctor. I cannot fail this woman four times.” But who can tell the fine doctor that this was above science and good school grades? He tried providing oxygen through an oxygen mask, but I was already down here with Iya, watching his futile attempt to wake me up.
“My dear, ignore him! Leave him to do his own. He is only a child,” Iya said mockingly.
The matron took over the buttock-tapping exercise. She seemed so skilled in that area. One could tell she liked to smack her kids a lot. She rubbed my buttocks, shook me, and did more chest compressions, yet I did not wake up. She kept muttering “Baby, please wake up” under her breath. But I stayed still, unaffected by the repeated smacks and pleadings. I was with Iya, wondering if they could not sense the absence of life. I wondered when they would all come to terms with the truth.
“My baby, cry! Cry, for God’s sake! This is a cold world, so cry! People are dying from horrible wars, so cry! There are hungry children on the streets, so cry! If you will not cry for me, at least cry because of something else,” Abebi wailed while holding me so close to her chest, then she turned to the doctor.
“But she was alive inside me, so what changed? Perhaps she is scared of the world, doctor. Let us put her back in. Please tape the umbilical cord and put her back in. Who knows? She might wake up.” Abebi’s eyes turned mad with grief. Tears streamed down her face as the truth dawned on her. She had hoped against hope and prayed against fate, but the outcome remained the same. I had come and gone, leaving a void in her heart once again.
On some days, I ask Iya why I cannot stay. Iya answers that people like Abebi are destined to suffer such a fate.
“Not every woman will be a mother,” she says.
Chikwado Blessing is a 400-level law student of the University of Lagos. She’s a Content and Creative Writer. She’s always had a flair for writing as a kid and might have solely written and directed a play in her junior secondary school (she actually did!). On the days she isn’t writing, she is reading African literature and listening to good music.