As I pass through the overcrowded aftercare wards, I see a young girl who stands out from the rest of the patients. She has beautiful deep black skin, and there is an air about her and her family that persuades me go to the nurses’ station to ask about her. I can’t recall if she is a patient of any of the doctors. Is everything OK, I ask? Each nurse just shakes her head and looks away.
I find out that her name is Jemate and she has arrived last night from another hospital. There, she had tried to give birth to her baby, but the baby could not move through her birth canal. They tried many things to extract the child, but to no avail. With her baby wedged in her birth canal, Jemate walked many miles to Gimbie Hospital, and her baby was delivered swiftly by cesarean section. Her baby, Emanuel, is now holding on, yet fading fast. Jemate’s family sits in silence.
As we move through our days, I make sure that I check in on Jemate each day to shake hands with each of her family members. I learn how to say “beautiful” in her language and keep saying it as I peer over Jemate’s father’s shoulders at his grandson, baby Emanuel.
There is stillness between these family members that is difficult to describe. Coming from a culture where maternal and infant mortality is low, we don’t know the signs of impending death very well. Everyone here knows that the baby will soon die, and they sit in this accepting silence as other healthy babies cry and are nurtured by other mothers in beds surrounding Jemate. In addition to baby Emanuel’s fragile condition, Jemate’s body is also recovering from this trauma birth, yet she musters a few smiles through her devastating sadness.
Two days later, we hear that baby Emanuel is still holding on, being fed formula by a syringe. But, as often happens in Ethiopia, Jemate has slipped into death’s grips while the doctors’ concern was focused toward her child.