Yvonne Ndege : Millicent Atieno’s heartbreaking journey to Motherhood
When Millicent Atieno got pregnant in August 2015, she was overcome with joy. Soon she became paralyzed with fear. Millicent and her husband Jackson, who live in Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi, had been trying to have a baby for several months.
Her journey to motherhood was hard. This was the childless couple’s 5th pregnancy. Thirty one year old Millicent had previously lost 3 unborn babies in the first and second trimesters. In 2014, she conceived for the fourth time, hoping for a successful delivery. But it was clear that there were medical problems with her unborn child.
Millicent says, “My unborn baby’s heart beat was untraceable at times. On occasion the ultrasounds detected it, it was extremely faint. There were times the doctors could not detect it at all. This made things very tense. For the whole 9 months I was on edge. A successful delivery was quickly followed by the horrifying realization that her baby boy Mitch, had life-threatening medical problems. Millicent says, “Soon after birth the doctors told me that Mitch had 3 large holes in his heart, and that all the blood-pumping veins to his heart were inverted and tangled, during the fetal development, his heart was not developed or complete.
The first doctor we saw told me point-blank to go and dig my son’s grave and wait for him to die.”
Doctors in Kenya told Millicent that she had a medical condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. (PCOS) Millicent believed this was the cause of the series of miscarriages she had suffered previous to Mitch’s birth. She does not know whether this condition was connected to Mitch’s passing, but Millicent is convinced the condition meant she could not produce healthy eggs and therefore healthy babies.
Millicent says, “Mitch’s death nearly killed me. I had lost 3 unborn babies already, and so the day he was born was truly the happiest day of my life. Realizing soon after Mitch’s birth that he had a fatal condition and knowing he was going to die soon was horrific for my husband and I. One night in February 2015 at Kenyatta Hospital, Mitch died of pneumonia. His heart was just not strong enough to fight the infection.”
In May 2015 Millicent took part in our MumsVillage Mother’s Day luncheon at a Nairobi restaurant where we first met her.
She told us then her tragic story, and we all bonded as a result of that heart-to-heart encounter. Millicent said,
“The MumsVillage lunch event with Yvonne Ndege was one of the things that helped me through that terrible time. It was nice to meet other African mothers, hear their stories and experiences and get their advice. Much of what’s out there is very European and mzungu focused.”
Despite the trauma and tragedy of a fourth failed attempt to give birth to a healthy baby, Millicent and Jackson were desperate to try and start getting pregnant again. “I must admit, I felt a lot of family and cultural pressure to get another and this was not helping. In fact it was making things worse and harder. Given my past I also knew I had to seek help medical help so as to not have another baby die. I took two cycles of a fertility drug Letrozole and I started taking the herbal supplements Black Cohosh and Maca. I also ate a lot of silver perch (omena) and traditional vegetables.”
As soon as I discovered I was pregnant we rushed to the doctors.
Our doctor put me on a heavy dosage of proestrogen and ordered bed rest for the first 20 weeks.” But the emotional roller coaster ride was not about to end. Shockingly for Millicent and Jackson, at 12 weeks pregnant, tragedy threatened to strike again. Millicent’s placenta began to detach from her uterus. Millicent takes up the story.
“I could not believe what was happening, that my baby was going to die again!”
The doctor doubled the dosage of medication (proestrogen.) “After another 10 days, things had settled – the placenta began to re-attach to the uterus, and my pregnancy was back on a healthy track.”
Millicent was told from the beginning that her pregnancy was at high risk. She spent many days crippled with fear that an accidental jolt or a bumpy car ride might provoke a miscarriage and end her journey to motherhood. So, even pregnancy exercises were out. Millicent stayed at home and in bed for months leading up to her due date. Millicent says, “My baby was due on March 28, 2016. In the days leading up to due date, I would sit for hours clutching my stomach, checking for baby movements.
I was wracked with fear that at the 11th hour, something awful would happen. March 28th came and went, but there was no sign of my baby. Jackson and I were full of anxiety.
On the 6th of April we decided to go and see our doctor at South B in Nairobi.
Our doctor suggested our baby be induced as it was overdue by a week. It was like music to my ears. This is exactly what I wanted. I could not wait any longer. At 12:30pm on April 6, 2016 our baby boy was born through vaginal birth, weighing 3.5 kilograms at South B Hospital.” Millicent says her newborn looked and sounded healthy, but was immediately taken for important medical checkups. Nonetheless, Millicent was still plagued with fear that doctors would discover a problem. “I could not take my eyes off my little boy for the first 48 hours. I refused to sleep, or be away from him for even a second, I was so worried something terrible would happen. I kept praying and praying, asking God to protect him and make him well if there was any problem.”Thankfully for Millicent and Jackson, the joy was not short-lived. Their little baby boy was thriving and ready to go home from hospital after two days. Millicent says, “My husband and I got home with the baby and it was just so amazing.
We decided to call our son ‘Imora.’ In my language, Luo, it means ‘you have made me happy’.
It is really the only way I can describe the joy and happiness that Imora has brought to my life. I have been trying to have a baby since I was 25 years old, close to 7 long years, with 4 babies lost. I can’t believe my dream of being a mother to a healthy baby is now real. I do have some moments of fear. There are some nights I stay awake just gazing at Imora, making sure he is okay. Imora is now a month old and so far so good.
Millicent says, “It’s been both a painful and incredible journey to motherhood, but having him has made it worth it. I can only thank God for giving us a healthy baby. I also thank MumsVillage for giving me the forum and space to share my story particularly, shortly after losing Mitch”. Millicent says she wants her experience to encourage other women not to give up if they want to have children. “There were times I thought I was destined not to have children, that I would never have a healthy living baby. So again, I say, I just thank God. I encourage other women and men too not to give up on the dream of having children”.