Having-a-baby stories are definitely for women. But frequently, though – alas! – not always a husband is involved. In the case of tiny Baby Pauly Hunter at Nairobi Hospital on the early morning of May 30, 1972, husband was present. And because he was a writer, he made a record of that momentous event’s effect on him. A version of that record, titled “Night Vigil” was published as part of a collection of short stories called AFRICA, AFRICA!
What appears here adapts that record and a letter I wrote my family.
Last Monday morning, May 29, Donandy got up at 4:45 and headed for the bathroom emitting mystified little squeals. Her water had broken and so we knew the baby was on its way. We got back in bed and read that week’s wonderful Bible lesson on “God the Only Cause & Creator. Then we had breakfast (cold cereal, tea & toast) and got the laundry ready for Murugi, newly hired, who will serve as a washerwoman for both our laundry and little Paul’s nappies. Then we went to the hospital, arriving about 6:30. D was put into a “labor” ward of four beds. Ursula Johnson came in about 9:00 and I came back here to work since nothing seemed to be happening. Ursula called about 10:00 to say that Dr. Mary Robertson-Glasgow, D’s obstetrician, had mentioned “inducing” labor in the afternoon if the body hadn’t done it. We hoped to avoid induction, if at all possible. I prayed.
I went back to the hospital about 11:00, Ursula going home for lunch. I stayed the rest of the day until 6:30-7:00. In the early afternoon a missionary brought a Kamba woman to the hospital; she took the third place in the four-bed “labor ward” to which Donanne had been assigned. This birth would be the Kamba woman’s eighth. She was the wife of a catechist who worked for the missionary. He explained that because the couple had so many children the husband had not come in from his catechizing safari.
There had been rain on and off all day. Donandy and I watched it from the labor ward, wondering if the baby were merely teasing us or truly intended to come. All afternoon we studied clouds, monitored birds hunting insects on the fragrant, new-mown lawn, observed black and white heavy-bodied kites soaring from the tops of flame trees that blossomed orange-red. At nightfall a pair of aardvarks came to graze with their long, extensible tongues and the rain fell on with steady timelessness. When I wasn’t watching and praying with D, I walked the halls. D felt some slight something about mid-afternoon, enough to cause Dr. Mary to agree to let the natural course take its way overnight.
I got dinner at the Hilton, returned to the hospital at 8:00 and stayed for an hour. I went home and, although there wasn’t much happening yet, I made a bed on the living room couch, only an arm’s reach from the telephone. Donanne called at midnight to say that she’d just wakened with labor having started. The pains were coming at intervals of about five minutes. I called Ursula, got dressed and went quickly to the hospital.
On the way in I saw something that I had never seen before in Nairobi: army trucks in the streets. What were they doing? Was a coup about to be sprung? Out of superstition, out of fear of spreading alarm, I told no one about the trucks. I did mention them in my prayers. The wife of a friend had gone to the hospital to have her first baby the afternoon the Luo politician Tom Mboya was assassinated. There had been riots in Nairobi and she had called her husband, instructing him, “Bring the dogs and get me home.” That baby had waited another full week to arrive.
After about an hour Donanne seemed to be suffering with every contraction. A young Kikuyu nurse entered the ward and instructed Donanne not to push, not till the doctor arrived. The nurse struck me as officious, being busy, not doing her job so much as playing a role: Miss East African Efficiency. Not handling my wife’s pain very well, I spoke sharply to her, saying, “Can’t you do something here? My wife’s getting ready to deliver.”
The nurse took offense, the last thing Donanne needed to happen. In fact, she complained to a supervisor, claiming that Donanne was rude to her. The supervisor spoke to me. This charge against Donanne infuriated me. Donanne was a saint. She was never rude. By contrast, I practically always was. Nursie, as I fought of her, should put the blame where it belonged. I started to say: “Hey! we’ve never done this before. You do it every day. Give us some help here!” But he realized we needed the nurse as an ally. I smiled at her in tacit apology and held my tongue.