It is a sad reality that in Kenya, in this day and age, giving birth is still a matter of life and death. What is even more heartbreaking is when a mother or child dies, or life-threatening complications arise due to a doctor’s
negligence. Juliana Mbinga understands the perils of childbirth having experienced it firsthand. She bravely opens up to LILY RONOH about her difficult childbirth experience.
We find our way to the heart of South B where this interview takes place. Juliana Mbinga and her husband George Wachira welcome us to their abode. George is carrying a baby, no more than six months old, who is crying nonstop. He informs us that the baby had been vaccinated the previous day and thus is feeling pain from the injection. Sitting next to him is Juliana. She is petite and her swollen belly is easily noticeable. If one didn’t know better, they would think she is either expectant or has recently given birth. But no, Juliana is recuperating from a near-fatal incident that robbed her the joy of breastfeeding her son.
In January 2015, Juliana Mbinga and her husband George Wachira were elated when the pregnancy test came out positive. This marked the beginning of a nine-month wait for their bundle of joy. Juliana, an accountant by profession, says the pregnancy was uneventful save for the normal discomforts here and there that come with pregnancy. The first trimester was marked with the usual nausea and morning sickness and she blossomed as her baby grew in her womb.
“The expected date of delivery was somewhere in October. Being first-time parents, we didn’t know what to expect and thus every new milestone was something to celebrate. We watched as my tummy grew bigger and bigger by the day and the delivery date neared,” Juliana recounts her journey to motherhood.
It is a natural law of nature that when you are waiting for something so badly, days seem to drag. This was the case for Juliana and by the time October came rolling around, all she wanted was to give birth, hold her baby in her arms and relish in the joy of motherhood. She didn’t have to wait long as on the evening of October 7, 2015, she experienced the first signs of labour pains. The contractions were mild and far apart but this being her first pregnancy, she did not want to take chances and proceeded to a nearby hospital where she was admitted.
Her water hadn’t broken prompting the doctor on call to initiate the process. But it seemed her baby was not ready to sever ties with its mother and so Juliana laboured for almost three days. The medications and labour inductions that she was put through were not enough to bring her baby to the world.
“It was crazy. I didn’t know that it could take that long to get a baby. When the labour pains started, I knew I would go home the following day with my baby in tow. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. It was psychologically challenging to see other expectant mothers delivering their babies without much ado. When I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the doctor gave us the most exciting news; I had dilated enough for the baby to be delivered,” she says.
Juliana was wheeled to the delivery room. Again, she was proved wrong as a procedure that she thought would take one hour at most lasted longer than expected. The doctors attempted normal delivery but this could not be as the baby was still too “high” inside. They then tried suction to pull the baby out but even this proved futile. Hence they had no choice but perform an emergency Caesarean section (CS), marking the end of a nine-month wait. Indeed, things worth having don’t come easily.
Unfortunately, Juliana couldn’t immediately meet her newborn baby boy, christened Ethan, as she had to recuperate from the after effects of CS. But this was not an issue; what was a-few-hours wait compared to a nine-month wait? Her husband was also kind enough to show her pictures of the baby, whom she instantly fell in love with. She was informed that she and the baby would stay in hospital for four days for observation before they could be allowed to go home. If only that were the case…
When the medication had slightly worn off, Juliana was handed her son. Her excitement knew no bounds and she immediately started breastfeeding him. The baby was okay but she felt pain on the right hand side of her upper body but she didn’t give it much thought assuming it was normal. In addition, she had her son in her arms and that is all she cared about at the time. It was when her belly started swelling that she got concerned; a concern that she shared with her doctor who assured her that it was bound to happen especially after a CS.
“I relaxed a bit and counted as the hours whiled away wondering when the four days will end for us to go home. To our disappointment, we were informed that our son had jaundice and thus had to go through phototherapy and we would, therefore, stay a bit longer in the hospital than the initial four days we had been told. To add salt to the injury, the swelling on my tummy did not stop and on October 11, two days after delivery, I had problems passing stool. I was given medication to address this. That night, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. By the following day, the swelling had grown in leaps and bounds and a surgeon had to be called in to give expert opinion,” she recalls adding that they were shaken hoping she wouldn’t need to go under the knife again.
The doctor recommended an X-ray and CT scan of her abdomen. She didn’t need to undergo the CT scan as the X-ray showed she had a lot of gas in her abdomen. She was taken to the theatre on the same day. After the surgery, the surgeon informed Juliana’s husband that she had a perforation that was leaking contents into her abdominal cavity, causing damage to the other organs of the body. Thus the doctor had no choice but remove a section of her large intestine that had been infected. The doctor also fashioned a colostomy – a surgical procedure that brings one end of the large intestine out through an opening made in the abdominal wall.
Stools moving through the intestines drain through the opening into a bag attached to the abdomen.
But this would not be the end of her problems as she developed difficulty in breathing. An X-ray showed she had water in her lungs, which could be fatal as her lungs were on the verge of collapsing. Her kidneys were also failing making the situation even more delicate. She was immediately taken to the high dependency unit (HDU) as the doctors moved swiftly to save her life. The water was drained from her lungs and she stayed in HDU for five days after which she was transferred to the general ward to recuperate.
“The draining of water from my lungs was a very painful procedure but I thank God I came out alive. The other downside was that I couldn’t breastfeed my baby as my milk supply had dried. Up until now, I have never been able to breastfeed him,” Juliana explains.
On October 30, three weeks after stepping into the hospital, Juliana was discharged to be reunited with her son who was then under the care of her sister-in-law. She says she lacks the words to describe the emotions that were playing inside her. She is indebted to her sister-in-law who took care of her and her baby for three weeks before she went in for another surgery to close up the colostomy. This time, they went to a different hospital. The surgery was a success.
Juliana and her husband believe that the perforation was caused by the doctor’s negligence during CS but the hospital has refused to admit liability alleging that Juliana had the perforation before the operation. The hospital also argues that Juliana was not passing stool prior to the CS, a claim that Juliana’s husband refutes. As a result, the couple lodged a complaint against the hospital to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board hoping that justice would be served and that no other woman goes through what Juliana experienced.
Needless to say, the experience was traumatic to the 29-year-old and her young family. The cost of medication also weighed them down with the hospital bill coming to slightly above two million and were it not for the help from friends and family, they could not have managed to offset the bill.
“I am also sceptical about getting another baby as I do not know what will happen and God knows; I don’t want to go through the experience again. The cost of buying formula is also high but we are getting by through God’s grace,” concludes Juliana adding that they are very grateful to all those who stood with them during the trying moments.