Her eyes darted around with curiosity. “Are they here yet?” she asked, scanning the room and listening to any movement in the hallway. “Are you sure they are coming today?”
At exactly 4.30pm on August 22 this year, visitors were allowed into Ward GF/B of Kenyatta National Hospital, and two very special visitors were among them. A little boy and his sister were about to see their mother — for the first time ever.
The lucky woman, 38-year-old Mercy Muthoni, was beyond herself with excitement, disbelief and relief.
As the pair of babies was handed over to her, she received them with such joy and emotion that it was impossible to control the welling of tears among those gathered around to witness the special moment.
The twins, like the little lovely babies that they were, had decided to take a nap just when they needed to be wide awake, and so Muthoni delicately held the blue and pink bundles of joy before gently placing them on her hospital bed.
She then lifted her head, twisted it to the left, and then to the right. Little bodily movements that we take for granted all the time, but such important, joyous milestones for her. She may have been seeing her one-and-a-half-month-old babies — named Joy Muthoni Mugo and Daniel Muthoni Mugo — for the first time, but she was also making those all-important movements for the first time in 40 days. That was such a sight to behold for the scores gathered by her bedside.
It had all started at 2pm on July 9 this year. The day, as is characteristic of July days in these parts of the world, had been quite chilly.
Muthoni was having lunch, coiled in her couch and enjoying her favourite TV series, when she felt a stabbing pain on her lower back. She did not think much about it at the time because her delivery date was approaching and thought it was the onset of labour.
“Standing up, I noticed blood on the couch. I knew that was a dangerous sign of pregnancy as I had been warned about it at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi, where I attended my antenatal clinics. I called my sister about it and asked my househelp to take me to hospital,” Mercy recalls.
She met with the sister in Dandora and went to Pumwani Maternity Hospital. By then, the pain had escalated and, shortly after 4pm, she delivered the twins naturally.
HUSBAND WAS AWAY
It was after bringing forth this pair of lives, however, that hers started to hang on a shaky balance.
Her husband, George Njoroge, was away at the time. He is a truck driver who regularly does the Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda-Burundi run. So Muthoni had only her sister to share this trying yet joyous moment with.
George, however, remembers the call from his wife that he does not think he will forget for a long time.
“At around 3pm, she called to tell me that she had gone into labour. I was elated, but that elation soon turned into worry as the news from Nairobi was not that comforting.
“I kept calling, but my wife was not on phone. I was almost losing my mind when my wife’s niece called, but she had both good and bad news.
The good news was that my wife had delivered two healthy twins. The bad was that she had developed complications in the process. She did not go into details about what exactly these ‘complications’ were, and that made it even harder for me to wrap my mind around what was happening back home.
“I don’t think you can ever understand, but picture this: I had left home just a few hours earlier and my wife had seen me off. She had been in perfect health and high spirits. And then you are told that she is in hospital; that she has complications and you can’t talk to her. I was so frustrated, so confused that, for a few minutes, I couldn’t even drive.”
What had happened was that, despite being expectant with twins, Muthoni had risked her life delivering them naturally rather than the recommended and much safer Caeserian section — almost standard nowadays for multiple births.
She had lost a lot of blood in the process, and a few minutes after birth, she had convulsed, had become paralysed, and had blacked out.
“When I came to,” Muthoni remembers, “I had an oxygen mask on my face and I could not feel anything in my body. I thought it was the drugs I had been given to relieve the pain, but before I could understand what was happening, I blacked out again.”
Her babies were taken to the nursery and the mother wheeled into the Intensive Care Unit. By Friday, July 11 — two days later — her condition had worsened so much that she had been transferred from Pumwani to Kenyatta National Hospital.
A week later, DN2 team was in Kenyatta Hospital to mark "Twins’ Day", hosted by the hospital and the Twins Association. It involved a visit to mothers with newborn twins in the maternity ward, and it was here, in Maternity Ward GF/B, that Muthoni gave us her story, telling us how proud a mother she was, and how much she had longed to hold her twin bundles.
“I have twins!” she exclaimed, but you could tell she was straining to breathe. Her face was ashen and swollen, with a conspicuously shiny patch of sweat in thick capsules on her forehead.
She could not turn her head, and when she tried, the sweat would pour down in streams and another would form almost immediately.
“If you are here about twins, I have a baby boy and girl… they are in Pumwani Hospital,” Mercy insisted, trying to move her head to face the crowd that was forming around her bed.
Unknown to her, she had developed preeclampsia in the last trimester, and it was presenting as very high blood pressure. It was that dangerous condition that had almost killed her soon after the delivery.
Preeclampsia is pregnancy-induced hypertension that is characterised by a sudden rise in blood pressure, excessive weight gain, swelling, water retention, severe headache, visual disturbances, and excessive protein in the urine. It can lead to stroke, brain damage, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or baby.
According to Dr John Ong’ech, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at KNH, women carrying multiple babies have more complications.
“Minor symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, fatigue and backache are exaggerated due to the mechanical and hormonal effects of multiple pregnancies,” says Dr Ong’ech.
“In Muthoni’s case, her babies were big. One was 3.3kgs while the other was 2.9kgs. This meant that her placenta was quite extended and the big babies were putting a lot of strain on her body.”
Preeclampsia is one of the major causes of maternal deaths in the country. Currently, it kills 488 mothers out of every 100,000.
“If it is not treated quickly and properly, it can lead to serious complications for the mother, such as liver or renal failure, or future cardiovascular issues,” warns Dr Ong’ech.
NOT SEEN BABIES
Despite the pain she was in, Muthoni struggled to explain to us what she was going through and how it was affecting her.
“I have not seen my babies,” she said. “I cannot feel my hands or legs, and I have headaches and pain in the upper right abdomen. As you can see I am struggling with shortness of breath and I need to rest now.”
She was scheduled for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) the next week in order to get detailed images of the organs and tissues within her body to know the extent of her condition. We left, hoping that we would find her feeling better the next time we visited.
That visit happened on August 22, and it was also the first time she saw her babies. She was barely recognisable — smaller, energetic, and sitting upright as she supported her back with the headboard.
“The MRI showed that the blood pressure had stressed my brain, but it is being controlled,” she informed us. “I can now move slightly, except from my knees to the toes.”
When the babies were brought in, we watched as her husband lit up, and then smiled at his wife as she struggled to hold them.
“Seeing her hold the babies has given me hope and joy,” he said soon afterwards. “Our other child, a daughter who is seven, has been prodding me about her mother. I cannot wait to tell her this great news. I was shattered but my wife’s optimism and resilience have encouraged me to be hopeful. However, I am still seeking answers regarding what happened.”
GET MINERAL SUPPLIMENTS
Dr Ong’ech encourages expectant mothers to attend antenatal clinics for early confirmation of the pregnancy status and avert complications in good time.
“Pregnant women, especially those expecting more than one child, should get mineral supplements, constant blood pressure check-ups, and rest.
“In addition, women should try to get children before they are 30 as their bodies are strong and most suitable for motherhood.”
Back in the ward, Muthoni looked at her babies in awe. She smiled, tried to sit up and hold them but her shaky hands failed her.
A few weeks later, on September 2, she was allowed to go home, from where she would continue with her medication and physiotherapy.
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