Growing up, I was taught that being a woman meant I did not cry ‘ovyo ovyo’. It is a sharp contrast from what I see in cartoons and movies, women portrayed as criers. But my family is on another level you see. Tears were measured, happiness was measured, living life had a method to it. I learned, as a girl, I had to have my legs covered to a certain length. My heart, I could bear it, but not all. I was queenly in a ghetto kind of way. The women in my extended family are fierce in a quiet kind of way. They cry, but you do not see their tears. The men know it and accommodate it. In funerals, for instance, the men will say ‘finish up (the crying) we do not want disruptions’. I became, through them, a fierce go-getter who does not cry ovyo ovyo.
When I Officially Became A Quitter
It happened so fast. I was on assignment, looking for the then vice president Kalonzo Musyoka to comment on the death of his former colleague, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize.
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I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy. I went to the toilet, because I tend to pee frequently, sometimes I think the pee is in my head and not the bladder. A waste of time that is fuelled by my anxiety when trying to beat deadlines.
I saw blood. I panicked. I called the office to say I was going to the hospital. I did. The doctor ordered a scan. I waited for hours on end with a full bladder. When I finally got the results, my pregnancy was no more. Everything else after this was a bloody blur. I was all jagged edges. Privately. Weeks passed.
I returned to work. A normal routine on the outside. Inside, a volcano was slowly waiting to erupt. It was not long before the secrets of my heart were shared publicly, in a humiliating kind of way. It started with a headache. Intense. My heart was in pain. The way the heart pains is so exclusive, daunting, personal. You feel your soul say how tired it has become. You have no taste for anything. Music becomes noise. People become destructions. Solitude is your friend. But it is what you do in solitude that makes or breaks. Mine fuelled the heartache. You cry.
You curse. Your pulse rises and falls as if to a tune that is not in your playlist. What is it like to reside in an embattled body? Mine was full and rebellious. The day I went for the D & C, I wanted to abandon it in the hospital. It wasn’t mine. The ravaged shell that was in such pain felt out of place. My boobs had grown big, sour and tender. Pronounced. I was ashamed, consumed by what it meant to have boobs ready for a child who is no more. I loathed them.
I asked God why. I had a plan. A name. A project. I prayed. I cursed. God and I were not the best of friends. All the things that I grew up believing I was, were crumbling. I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t fighting anymore. I would pray and ask God to tell me it is not true. It was.
Officially, I had quit the club of those who cry in dark corners, those who need good reasons to bear their souls, I started to cry ovyo ovyo with the tiniest of provocations.
Overwhelmed by the intense headaches, I went to the hospital. I ended up hospitalised for depression. It had a fancy name, one day I will recall what it was, but it had to do with grief. I was still fighting to the day that I sat opposite the doctor. I was all jagged edges, furious about life, God, family, trees, flies. Everything that came my way was a trigger for something. I desired stillness, a monotonous kind that was untouched, virgin, exclusive. It existed in my head.
I felt helpless. I wanted to resign to fate and let this thing that had no name just take me with it.
I was in the hospital, catching some sleep I guess. I had hardly slept for weeks on end. Because my nights were mine to go to battle with God. We wrestled about whys. I was blindsided by pain. The kind that has no physical cure. Its depth is intensely tasking, it consumes you. A child crying was enough to take me back to my darkest pit. A pregnant woman would easily make me surrender to the weight of loss.
Friends visited. Some said they had gone through loss, too. I was shocked. How did they make it? I began to compare. To feel insufficient. I was indeed a quitter. I had abandoned the exclusive club of women who bare their pain privately and with ‘strength’. Mine was public and naked. Then I wondered. Why didn’t you tell me? Perhaps my journey would have had a reference? Isn’t that what friends are for? It was evident, there are things that you just cannot explain. They run in families, cultures. Things we tell ourselves about loss are varied, some border on hilarity.
I was told not to say I had lost a child. It wasn’t one. It was simply a pregnancy, the knowers said. I was told not to talk about it publicly, the gods might deny me another chance. I was told not to say I was even pregnant, some people will cast their evil spells in my womb. There were other cautionary tales. Many.
When you have grown in a family like mine, you learn to break rules gently, even when they are made by the same family. I talked about my loss. I read widely about depression. I talked about it openly. I never had the energy to write about it, even though often I write for me, for healing, for laughter, for whatever makes me tick. I was not sure. I wondered what kind of emotions this would evoke.
Then a friend of mine lost a pregnancy. She was bitter, she was torn, she was lost. Hers, too, had a name. She said she was a beautiful girl. She had a head like her fathers. Yes. It is true. The connection you have with the unborn is intense. You visualise them. You talk to your child. You have a me-time with them.
This thing broke me, it crushed me, chewed me and spit me out and sneered.
I read her text and it all came back to me. A flood of emotions. Mixed. I know this place. It has no name. I sympathised. On my own, I prayed that society was not giving her the dose of secrecy and silent consumption of your own pain. I warned her, that she should walk away from those who tell her not to cry. Not to feel. To just pray it will go away. To get pregnant she will forget. Not to tell.
I am now writing. It is now fitting for me to share about losing a pregnancy in a society that has a script on when it is right to mourn. When it is a pregnancy, deal with it ‘macho’ after all, your body was made to carry pregnancies, some that make it, some that don’t. My gynaecologist then told me that a big percentage of women who get pregnant lose their pregnancies in the first trimester, fewer in the second. Yes, that is how easy it is to become a statistic. This kind of loss is different from what most know.
Society says, it is not a human being people knew, so be all grown and strong. When it is for an old person like my grandfather, deal with it after all he was old. As if age will assuage your pain. People do not show up the way you want them to. They have drunk from the cup that tells them who is to be mourned and who is to be blacked out. My child had a name. My child was planned. I mourned, feeling alone because there was no reference.
Yet, comparatively, I was lucky. My friends showed up. There are those who go through the motions on their own. Because they cannot deviate from the sociocultural script that conscripts our emotions to a warped standard.
Give me a break and deal with your own demons. It is a travesty to keep telling women there is a certain measure to their loss. Dear you, who resides in this sick society whose expectations violate, it is time to change. Loss is loss, it doesn’t matter when it happens. If there is anything you can do to make the loss less stinging, do it.
To my friend who send me a message, mourning her daughter, I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you. It is okay to go to battle every day asking the same odd question. Why me? Honestly why? With time, I know this because I have been here, it does get better. It won’t make sense now. But the pain does subside. Your heart mends and you begin to feel your pulse again.