Donanne concludes our eight part series, resuming the day of Pauly’s birth:
Several hours later after we had napped – he in the nursery and I in my private room – a smiling nurse brought him to me and then graciously left us alone. I held this tiny bundle of dearest boy close to me and we had our first good chat. I told him how perfect and beautiful he was and he looked quietly and sweetly earnest. After a bit I got brave and placing him on the bed unwrapped him to view his whole self and admire his completeness and exquisite fingers and toes. I’d never seen a newborn before except in the movies where they’re mostly red and wrinkled and prunelike! This child was well-formed, finely featured and alert.
But when I realized the bundle was mostly blanket and saw how tiny he was, I panicked. Feeling like the total amateur I was, I rang for the nurse to help me rewrap him lest I inadvertently cause some sort of damage. I recalled my Mom’s story of her leaving my Dad to babysit his infant daughter one afternoon. He faithfully stayed at my side, but never touched me, fearing that I might break! Babies are made of sturdy stuff I now assured myself and together we would discover strength.
Nairobi Hospital required new moms to stay for a week. The routine was both educational… and social. The educational portion had its difficult moments. I soon got the hang of it, but not without shedding a few tears of frustration the second afternoon. I’d been told to take two salt baths a day, but while the hospital had the rule, it did not have the salt. Once again I padded down the hall to phone Fred. Within an hour my hero appeared with a sack of salt from the local market. As I slid into a relaxing bath, things began to look much more hopeful.
I was soon instructed in the fine art of baby bathing. Then when my milk came in, I received lessons in how to feed the baby. This was not like in the movies either. In the beginning it was exceedingly and uncomfortably not fun! But as the days progressed so did we. And also there was the routine of feeding me. It began each day with a cheerful awakening to morning tea at 6:00 a.m., followed by breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, all delivered to my room by friendly African staff. And when the supper tray was removed, the bouquets disappeared into the hall for the night.
I became quite fond of the unofficial social aspects of the hospital routine. Baby showers were not the custom in Kenya. Instead, friends would come to visit. With freshly shampooed hair and dressed in my prettiest peignoir set, I’d sit in bed on a comfortable doughnut pillow, like a queen holding court. Along came a happy parade of friends including “the world press” and their wives bearing gifts for the baby and flowers for the mother. It was delightfully civilized to be able to chat with visitors and let them glimpse the new arrival and to have room service bring in the next meal! The first visit, mere hours after the baby arrived, was from Ted, Ursula’s dear English husband. He arrived smiling behind a huge bouquet and a teddy bear.
The most memorable educational and social activities of the week were, of course, getting to know Pauly. I noticed little changes. His face filled out slightly and his skin got a lustier, pink-cheeked hue. I thought him exceedingly handsome with his dark hair and ears that snuggled close to his head. Though he occasionally exercised his lungs, unlike some of his cute little “dorm” mates he tended to observe, when awake, rather than to cry. He was definitely the one for us.
One bargains in Africa – for trips and souvenirs. One could say that the baby – our best “souvenir” included in this “trip of a lifetime,” thanks to Kenya’s socialized medicine – was a real bargain. The entire nine months, the delivery and a week in a private room cost us less than US$100.
And now it was time to go home. When Fred fetched the baby and me after our seven-day residency, the trip across town – our first journey into parenthood – drew to a close. We drove up to the Riverside Paddocks bungalow in our Datsun sedan and the “staff” – that is, Laban, a Kikuyu – came out to greet us, grinning his approval. We had taken his advice and in the tradition of his people had named our first-born son after Fred’s father (and also his twin brother). With Laban stood Murugi, the ayah and washerwoman I had asked Laban to find for us. Among other chores, she would iron the baby’s “nappies” to make sure they were completely dry.
As we got out of the car, Pauly began to cry. I felt confused: What was I supposed to do? And Fred laughed from embarrassment. Murugi stepped forward and reached over, with a sweet, knowing smile to shade Pauly’s eyes from the strong sunlight. The crying stopped and we all smiled together at the best souvenir there could possibly have been of an African trip – the trip that had just ended and the journey that had just begun.