Bintou was due to give birth on the 23rd of October. Andre, our child, was not impressed with the date. In fact, we will never know which date he had in mind as we took matters into our own hands (actually the hands of Professor Dolo) on the 2nd of November.
On the first of November, Bintou looked like she had a watermelon in her belly instead of a bowling ball. Andre’s head was tilted at an angle instead of facing down. His reluctance to put his head down had our doctor worried that if Bintou went into labor, it was going to be a risky birth with a strong chance of an emergency c-section. This did not sound good to either me or Bintou, so we went ahead and scheduled a c-section for the following morning.
I kept a lid on it, and I don’t think Bintou realized at all, but I was more or less having an ongoing panic attack between the appointment where we scheduled the c-section and the moment Andre arrived. Bintou was plenty anxious as well, and neither of us slept much the night of the 1st.
At the hospital, I was told about 2 minutes before Bintou was to head into the operating room, that I would not be allowed to attend. This was news to both me and Bintou. Professor Dolo had previously cleared me to be present for the birth, but I learned that was only in the case of a normal birth. My anxiety level was officially maxed out at this point. As they wheeled Bintou into the OR, I paced around the recovery room while the pediatrician tried to calm me down.
And then 15 minutes later, I heard Andre wailing. It was both reassuring and distressing to hear him. The pediatrician told me everything was OK. A short time later, the sage-femme carried Andre into the recovery room, and the pediatrician immediately put him under a heat lamp and began examining him.
In between moments of staring at Andre in pure wonder, I was asking anyone and everyone “where’s bintou, where’s bintou, where’s bintou, what’s happening, where’s bintou???” Bintou was wheeled out about 10 minutes later, looped out on who know’s what. She wasn’t in pain, though, and she was able to smile.
Room 208 at Clinique Pasteur would be our home for the next 3 days. It was clean and comfortable, and filled with mosquitoes. When I asked for a room with fewer mosquitos, one of the nurses told me that no other rooms were available, and that I must have opened a window for there to be so many mosquitoes (I did not).
From the moment we settled into our room, the nurses were either annoyed and impatient or nowhere to be found. I know nurses are often overworked, but every time I went to their area, they were sitting around as if they really needed something to do. We got into an argument about this and relations were irreperably damaged.
Rita was the exception. She was an angel. Rita worked the night shift. She would come at a moment’s notice and solve all of our problems. There is nothing that can prepare you for being a parent. Many people told me this before Bintou gave birth. It turns out, they knew what they were talking about. It doesn’t take long to realize that anyone who has already gone through the process of caring for a newborn is an invaluable resource. Their mere presence is incredibly calming. During the day, Bintou’s mom served this role. At night, it was Rita.
In addition to their inattention, the nurses-not-named-Rita also offered conflicting advice. Bintou was already eating food (well, liquid food in the form of a broth) roughly eight hours after her operation. The following day, she began to have some solid foods. I asked a nurse if she could drink apple juice. The nurse said that would be fine. Some time later, a different nurse came to our room and saw Bintou drinking apple juice. Her reaction was along the lines of “ARE YOU INSANE WHAT IS SHE DOING DRINKING APPLE JUICE?!?!” This kind of thing — someone telling us to do or not do something and then someone else telling us the opposite — would continue throughout our stay.
However, all things considered, Clinique Pasteur — the clinic that was extremely negligent in their handling of the case of ebola that led to the only outbreak of the disease in Mali — was perfectly fine. Dolo did a great job with the operation, there were no complications, and we were able to leave the hospital after three days. Outside of a handful of dreadful nurses and the apocalyptic quantity of mosquitoes in our room, there was not much to complain about. Even the food was good!
The first evening in the hospital coincided with game 7 of the World Series. I had some serious chemical imbalances going on in my brain by the time the game rolled around (1AM in Mali), but it had to be watched. I laid down on my thin une-place student mattress and tethered my computer to the 3g on my phone in order to illegally stream the match. I also downed a couple of nescafes, which turned out to be unneccesary as my body somehow found hidden reserves of adrenaline.
The Indians lost, but it was a great game. For a loss, there were plenty of highs. I accidentally woke Bintou up and then almost went into cardiac arrest when this happened:
If we were going to lose to anyone, it might as well be the only team that had a longer championship drought than us. Most importantly, I will always be able to tell my son how I watched game 7 of the 2016 World Series, laying next to him and his mother, on the floor of our room in Clinique Pasteur while getting mauled by mosquitoes.
The first two days in the hospital were not easy. Bintou was in varying amounts of pain and more or less immobile. I did my best to keep her and Andre comfortable. I don’t know what I would have done without Bintou’s mom who was without question the MVP of our time in Pasteur. She came every morning and stayed until the evening.
We also had a near constant stream of visitors (mostly Bintou’s friends or friends of her family) during the daytime. At certain points, Andre had just gone to sleep and Bintou and I were on our way to do the same, but then someone would knock at the door and our plans were foiled. This is Mali, and there is no refusing visitors. Everyone who came was extremely generous, and we received everything from soup to diapers.
We enjoyed the extra company and all of the support, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was one of the more tiring aspects of our stay in the hospital. After three days, we were thrilled when the doctors cleared us to go home. We could still receive visitors there, but in a more comfortable space, and now if one of us needed a break, we could dip into the bedroom for some rest.
Andre is a bit over 7 weeks old now. He has a bit of colic, which would appear to be nature’s way of testing the upper limits of mine and Bintou’s sanity, but otherwise he is a fine chap who makes me smile around the clock (ok, maybe not at midnight when his colic is in full effect). Bintou has been incredible. Certain aspects of her personality — her patience and warmth — lend themselves to motherhood, and like most Malian women, she was helping to raise her younger siblings by the time she was 7 years old. Andre and I are truly blessed.
For my part, I have come a long way in a month and a half. I am now a diaper ninja, and I can often bring Andre down from the heights of colic induced wailing. I still need some work in other areas. You might regret asking me to dress Andre, for example.
Long story short, Bintou and I are both very happy and looking forward to the many adventures to come.
Here are a few pics:
Bintou likes dressing him in his rabbit hat. It’s unclear how he feels about it.
This is the “I just had a major blowout in my diaper and now one of you is going to have clean it up” look.
Before the end of this year, I am going to try and squeeze in a couple more posts, one with an update on the Postcards from Timbuktu project (since the project was featured in the BBC, it has taken on a new life) and another with a look towards 2017.
Happy Holidays to you and yours