Baby Grace’s birth was marked by all the normal characteristics of a typical small town Tanzanian birth. So vastly different from anything we could ever imagine in the US, but pretty typical for Dodoma, nonetheless. The nine months leading up to her birth, however were anything but typical.
We were in Dar es Salaam. We hadn’t been planning on being gone very long, but delay after delay after delay had extended our stay much longer than we originally anticipated. We were enjoying a meal at the only Mexican restaurant in the country when I got a text from Prisca. “Please pray for me,” she wrote. “I have been having severe pain in my abdomen.” I immediately texted her with as many clarifying questions as I could in Swahili.
Have you gone to the doctor?
What did the doctor say?
There is a swelling/mass/tumor. (It’s all one word in Swahili.)
Where is the mass?
In my abdomen.
Do they know where in your abdomen? On your stomach? Ovary? Uterus?
My breath caught in my throat.
What does the doctor want to do?
To take out the mass?
No, to take out the uterus.
My heart stopped. In Tanzanian culture, having babies is so. very. important. Prisca had waited until her mid-thirties for God to bring a godly man into her life and they had been married less than a year. This news was so absolutely devastating. I took a deep breath and called her.
A very weak voice answered the phone. We cried together and I told her over and over again how very sorry I was.
There really wasn’t anything I could do, but I just felt like I needed to go home. So, with surgery looming for Prisca, I left my husband in the big city and boarded the public bus with my 9-month-old baby for the 8 hour ride home.
I thought it was bad. But it was about to get worse. Much worse.