None of us men could even begin to imagine what it would be like. Maybe you ladies could. Try to imagine living in a family; being the first of four wives all living in the same compound; there are plenty of kids from babies to teenagers; you’ve delivered fourteen babies and they’re all dead.
Now you’re pregnant again and your heart is so full of hope!
Your husband loves you, but you share that love with three other wives. The months go past, your belly fattens, the kicks start coming, your hope and your fears grow and jostle in your mind. Seven months gone, only two more to go. A few days pass and your waters break. Oh, no, surely not another so tiny that it won’t survive,
But your husband loves you, so, although babies are usually born at home, he gets a horse and cart and takes you to the nearby infidel’s hospital so that maybe you’ll get a live one at last. He does really love you.
They have funny customs, but they look after you and you deliver a scrap that when you see him you can’t believe that he can live, and he certainly wouldn’t have in your home. They take him away from you. Not to say they are nasty, they care for you, express your breasts (both of them) and feed him through a little tube down his nose. They make another uterus for him out of a card-board box lined with cotton wool. They put an electric light in the end to keep his new home warm. They run oxygen into the box at first but after a few weeks decide he doesn’t need it any more.
One of the foreign women takes him to her house each night because she explains that she wants to make sure he gets his 2-hourly feeds at night. You can see she loves both of us and wants him to live. You learn her name is ‘Hirut’ but lots call her ‘Ruth’. Her own two boys love to come and watch him with you. They love him, you can see, like a brother.
Gradually they teach you to sponge him down, and to feed your own milk down the little tube. Eventually you’re allowed to hold him for a while. He holds your finger; he pees into your face as only little boys can; he takes your heart in his hands and your hope grows. But then goes back into his box.
Then your breasts dry up and they start to feed him in a powder from a tin which they mixed with boiled water and let him drink from a bottle with a breast slipped over the end. They teach you to test the warmth of the milk substitute by dropping a bit onto your wrist. They always clean up the bottle and the little ’breast’. They explain this is necessary and teach you how to do it properly. They explain it is very necessary to do all this.
He’s soon no longer living in his box. They teach you to do it all so well. He grows so beautiful. You see Hirut would love to keep him, she has spent so many nights and so much effort, but she just encourages you and gives him lots of little clothes that her own boys wore. All the hospital love and they call him Tom. He kicks, he laughs, he cries, He’s beautiful. It’s time to take him home. The nurses give you a little party and then your loving man takes you home. Everyone there is excited for you and they love him.
Five days later, he’s running a temperature; another two days later little Tom is dead.
No one at home boiled bottles and their water came from the creek in which people bathed and near which they did their ‘business’. He got diarrhoea, started vomiting and died.
Later you got the courage to go back to the hospital and told them the news – they cried with you, and hugged you and loved you. As you left you missed hearing them say to one another ‘It was all our fault. We should never have been so clean.’
But sadly, Tom is dead.