The Overnight

Clara Sekowski - Senegal


February 25, 2011

Once or twice a week, I stay overnight at the maternity ward with the sage femme, waiting for expectant mothers. It’s heavy and cramped, and there aren’t any mosquito nets to cover us from the beasts that plague the halls at sunlight. I am wary of a coming storm of numbness where I begin to think that things really aren’t that bad. I don’t get to see the patients that come once to treat an infected wound, again. I can think they are alright if I want to. After four months, I want to. I want to really bad. So now I’m thinking, everything is fine, right? Wrong.

Jan. 12, 2011 – Tonight at around 2 am, a woman screamed.

We drudged off of our mats and I whispered out a glove reminder. In the waiting room, we brought someone who was more of a girl than a woman into the delivery room. Three hours later, she is still screaming in contractions, and the doctor has finally arrived to evaluate the problem – the baby was backward. The plan? To pull it out. I help hold down the girl’s knees while the doctors attempt to stretch a being into life.

Later, when the baby’s newborn cries had died down, we transported the girl to the floor where she would be more comfortable to wait for her husband. As I walked past her to get her some water, her hand tightened momentarily around my ankle, but I didn’t look back. When I returned, I saw the hand that had touched me lying on the cold dirt, and I knew it wouldn’t reach for me again.

Everything is not alright. It is not alright to fill in charts with births and deaths like fractions. January: 32 births, 27 still alive. 27/32. Something is familiar about those numbers. Those are the numbers you see on the non-profit pamphlets; those are the statistics on which we define development. Am I digesting this loss with the preconceptions of a World Bank report? Am I still, after four months, looking for numbers to tell me what to feel? As if they could show what it feels like to have a phantom grip on your ankle. As if they could say what it was like to look at her baby and feel happy again.

I refuse to be numb again. I should have looked at her. I should have looked at her straight in the eyes when she reached out for recognition and I should have let her know that she was more than a number and that I would remember her. I have been ripped away from my structured perceptions as her baby was ripped from her, and I am grateful. Her name was Kumba, she was 17, and she changed everything.

Clara Sekowski