If you’re a facebooker and follow the Karibu Centre posts or see my status updates then you will know that on Monday we got the devastating news that one of our vulnerable pregnant moms had a nonviable baby.

She was 40 weeks when she got the diagnosis, a day away from her estimated due date.  She had felt the baby moving just 2 days previous and had pains like her body was preparing for labor.

After 2 full days of being poked, prodded, and taking a variety of medications to induce labor, she delivered a baby boy this morning.  Stillborn. 

The doctor called our house and let us know.

I went first thing in the morning with Naomi, our housemother who watches after the girls.  Our girl was sitting on a  bed with another women and her baby, in the room where women go after delivering.

Can you imagine?  You’ve just finally delivered a stilborn baby after 48 hours of finding out, and then you are expected to “recover” in a room of about 15 women and their newborns.  Torture.

I asked the mom if she had a chance to  see or hold the baby.  She replied, “No, I was too scared” which isn’t surprising considering that in most hospitals in Kenya a woman labors alone and is told very little of what is going on.

I asked if she might like to  see the baby, if we were with her.  “Yes,” she replied.

The housemother and I went to the nursing staff (4 employees sitting at a desk in the hall chatting like it was happy hour at a bar) and inquired if we might see the baby.  “It’s in the nursery” they asked.  “Uh, no……it’s dead,” I replied.  Seriously, I have to say these kinds of things????  Thank God the mom wasn’t standing there with us.   They looked back at me with this look on their face that read CRAZY WOMAN and said, “You want to SEE it?”  


Now I guess that it might seem strange to someone, but my reasoning was twofold.  One, you never know what goes on in these kinds of places and I wanted to see with my own two eyes the condition of the baby and that it was actually deceased.  Two, this mother had carried this baby for 40 weeks and it seemed pretty reasonable that she might hold it or at least look at it if she chose.  That whole bit about acknowledging grief and what an incredible loss this had been for her.

We (myself, housemother and mother of the baby) went to locate the morgue where they said the baby had been taken.  We were stopped by the man in charge who indicated that it was much too busy currently with people picking up bodies for funerals.  I thought, “Really?  She can’t take a minute to say goodbye to her baby?”  

I really didn’t understand what was going on, although I should have read between the lines.  The housemother walked the mother and I back towards the maternity ward and we left the mother to go check on another girl that we had brought to the clinic for her well-baby check up.   The housemother and I walked towards the van, but then she veered off on the entrance road like she was leaving the hospital.

She looked back at me as I was going towards the van and the well-baby clinic and motioned for me to come with her.   “What are you doing,”  I asked.   “The doctor is meeting us” she replied, and proceeded to walk outside of the hospital grounds to one of the main roads.  We walked a short distance on the dirt shoulder of the road, passing  the line of matatus that were waiting to pick passengers up.  And then I realized we were going to the public entrance of the morgue.  We came to an opening in the hedge, and the opening to the morgue, and there I saw a huge gathering of people.  All waiting to view and possibly pick up their deceased for burial.  It was quite a sight.  I imagine for them too.  When have they ever seen a white chick at the morgue with her tiny baby strapped onto her chest Kenyan style?

The housemother and I went inside and she said a few words to the man we had seen earlier who had said it was “too busy” for us.  Ahhhh, I thought.  I got it then.  He didn’t want the mother with us.  The man proceeded to speak to the housemother in Swahili, speaking fast enough and with difficult enough words that I couldn’t understand what he was saying….but his tone and body language sad enough.  He was annoyed and mad that we were bothering him.

The housemother came out and told me that we couldn’t see the baby because it was piled together with other ones in a bag.  I shrank back from her in horror.  “In a bag?”   “Who put them all in a bag?”   The housemother didn’t know and so I said we were going back in there to ask.

We went back into the “office” of the morgue where there was barely room for 4 people to stand.  The man must have heard me and understood me because he said, “Ask your question.”   I didn’t hear him at first, or realize that he was speaking to me so he repeated himself, quite forcefully.

I asked who had put the babies all together in a bag?  The doctors?  Nurses?  Him?

Now that I think about it, he didn’t really answer that question but just said, “You can dig through and find the baby.”  I thought he meant right then, so I started to follow him into the next room where I assumed the bodies were, and he turned around, pointed at me and yelled, “Not with her!”

Ok, he had a point.

I went outside and waited with the 30 or so Kenyans and took Ameena off of me in preparation for going inside.  I handed her to our housemom Naomi with the awareness that everyone was watching me as I did so.

And then the man opened the door to the office, and the double louvered blue doors to the morgue “room” and the people formed a line and walked through  the office door, through the morgue room and back out.  They didn’t pause or look at anything that I could tell, they just passed through and were done.

One wooden coffin was brought out by a funeral company and placed in a van.  I’m not sure what happens with the other bodies…if they remain or if they are collected later.

And then the man closed the double louvered doors to the morgue room.  A few seconds later he appeared at the open door to the office and yelled in my direction.  I assumed that meant I should go in.  It did.

He led me into that morgue room which must have been about 10×10 feet in size with a medium table in the middle, a cabinet against the wall, a dirty bucket of water on a much dirtier floor.  There was an adult body under the sheet behind me on a stretcher and another in the corner uncovered that I didn’t linger on.

Then the man went to a bright yellow plastic bag (about a 30 gallon one) and told me to look for the baby. 

“That’s full of babies?”


“How many babies?”

He shrugged.  He was so nonchalant I almost couldn’t handle it.  But then again, this was his job, and this was everyday for him.  “Maybe twenty,” he responded after a moment.

Suddenly another man appeared, and he opened the bag and started bringing babies out.  My eyes welled up with tears and I covered my nose to avoid the smell that was permeating the entire room.

The babies were each wrapped in the lassos or kangas that the mothers had brought with them to the hospital.  The kangas are used before delivery as a cover-up for the mother, at delivery to wrap the baby, and afterwards as a cover for the mother when they are going to shower or nurse.   In this case, they remained with the baby after delivery.   Each baby was swaddled completely in the kanga, and was labeled on their torso and on the wrap with a piece of tape indicating the name of the mother, the date of delivery, and where the delivery had occurred. 

I asked if all of these babies were from the hospital today.  The men replied no, that they were kept together for disposal.  I cringe even typing that word, but that is the word I heard over, and over, and over today.

The 2nd man continued to pull babies from the bag.  Tiny, tiny babies and also what appeared to be full term babies.  One label read “home delivery”.  I began to cry over the sight of each of those babies all stacked on each other in a bag as they were.  Would we really find the baby?  We were nearing the bottom of the bag and I was getting pretty nervous when the man finally pulled a little bundle out labeled with the name of  our mother.

“That’s it” I told him.

He read the name to confirm.  “Yes, that’s it.”  I asked if he could open up the wrap so I could see the baby.  He looked at me as if to say, “Really?”   I nodded.

He opened the wrap and there inside was a little boy.  Perfectly formed.  Tiny, tiny, his face a miniature version of his mother. Still covered in lanugo and blood from birth.  I asked the man to wash the baby off as I wanted to take a picture in the event that the mother wanted to see what the baby looked like.   There was no way we could possibly bring her into this place to experience this.  I wouldn’t and won’t tell her what it was like.

The man washed the baby with water from the bucket I had seen against the wall.  I wanted to tell him to be gentle, but I didn’t.  I wanted to  take that dirty cloth from his hand and bathe the baby myself.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t do anything. 

 I took 2 pictures.   

He asked if they should preserve the baby.   I said, “Yes.”  

And that was it.  We walked out of the morgue, and then I realized that Naomi had been with me, inside that room, without Ameena.  I had a frantic moment where I was searching for who she might have given Ameena to, and then I saw an old woman sitting on the cement edge of a large flower bed, holding Ameena covered in the kanga I had used earlier as a sling to hold her in.   I went to the woman, collected Ameena,  and then Naomi and I left the dirt lot of the morgue and walked back to the hospital.

I then proceeded to collect the birth notice which indicated that the baby was born dead.  Fortunately I knew exactly the form  to get as I spent 2 full weeks fussing for Ameena’s birth notice in order to get her Kenyan birth certificate that was needed for US documents.   The birth notice would be required of us  in order to obtain a burial plot from the municipal council.

We returned to the young mother and told her that we had seen the baby and all discussed arrangements.  Almost everyone here seems to prefer she forget about it, leave the baby at the hospital for disposal, and pretty much sweep the whole experience under the rug.  She would have been pushed to do just that by everyone involved and likely discouraged from anything we consider normal grieving.  I have demanded that we allow her to make the choice about what to do.  I have made certain that she understands we will arrange for whatever she wants so that she can be allowed a healthy grieving process.  She wishes to bury the baby.   The young mother indicated that she couldn’t bear to think of her baby being “thrown away in the trash.”   I don’t disagree with her choice one bit.  I’m proud of this young mother’s strength and thankful that we can help her voice be heard and wishes respected. 

I’m thankful that I was the one who went to the morgue, and saw that sight of the babies in the bag, and not this mother.  I’m thankful that when and if she sees her little boy, he will be clean and wrapped neatly in a beautiful soft blanket inside a beautiful coffin.  That her first and last visual memory of him will be him resting  peacefully…just as I know his soul is.

I am thankful that we have been here at Karibu Centre and that we have helped so many women have safe and successful pregnancies.  I am thankful that this young mother will have a funeral for her baby surrounded by loving staff and fellow young mothers.  I am thankful for the prayers of comfort and peace that have been prayed for us all this week.

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We’ve lived here in Kenya now for almost 14 months.

I’ve been to the different markets here in Thika plenty.  So much so that the locals all know me and I’m old news.  Gone are the days when everyone would turn and stare, call Mazungu, or try to charge me insane prices for items.

But then last week I took the Centre girls out shopping for their babies with some money that was left over from Janet Fraser’s shoe project.

They suggested that we shop on Friday, which was open market day.

Why have I lived here for 14 months and yet no one has told me about “open market”????  

Open market is as close as Kenya can come to g-saling in the states.  While the regular market days boast permanent stalls housed in stone, wood or metal; open market day allows for people to lay out tarps on the ground on which they lay heaps of textile items.  Each vendor sets their own price.   They hawk their wares by yelling as loud as they can the prices of their items:  “Thirty bob, thirty bob, thirty bob!”  Music to my ears.  That’s 30 shillings, which is equivalent to just under 50 cents US.

So, I went with the pregnant girls, all of their babies and their house-mother to the open market.  Oh, and Ameena too.  Tied on African style, with a twist–carried on my front in a kanga.  The Kenyan women didn’t seem to appreciate my style.  Too many comments about Ameena’s head being “too low” or “too crooked”, or my kanga not being tight enough.  At least they’re concerned for Ameena.

So concerned, that once they realized there was a Mazungu baby in there, all mayhem broke loose.

You’d think they’d never seen a white baby before.

Oh wait, they hadn’t.

Here’s the visual picture:  Ameena wrapped up in a brightly colored cloth, as she lays prone across my front side.  She’s tight, like you’d find in an american sling.  She’s sleeping, happily.  

So, I was nice.  I let a few women peek inside the cloth at sleeping Ameena.  And then I turned back to looking at some shoes.  Then I turned around and saw a line of women and children and thought, “What are they waiting for?”

And then the light bulb turned on and I realized that all of those people were waiting for their “peeks” at Ameena.  So I indulged.  And more came. 

And more.

So many viewed Ameena that I seriously thought I should start selling tickets for viewing.  I might have made back what I spent in the market.

We must have made quite an impression because when I went back to the open market yesterday (um, yeh, I’ll probably go every week now) everyone asked “Where is the baby?”  

To which I answered, “With dad”. 

You can’t seriously shop with kids in tow can you???

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Ian has always had a special relationship with his hair. 

He won’t admit it though. 

When I met him in college he had long straight hair that went past his shoulders.  I used to watch him mess with it during chapel.  He’d pull it back into a ponytail and flip it up and down when nervous. 

He’s making a lot of jokes these days about the lack of hair on his head.  He definitely knows how to make up for it with hair on his face. 

In his honor, since it’s Father’s Day, I decided to post a sampling of his facial hair adventures: 

This was his beard a few days ago....it's shaven now

This was in November...he really was starting to scare the native women here with this beard. I think it made him look too aggressive??? I thought he just looked kind of biblical.

This is Ian's 1st beard ever, in 2006




Ian's a natural trucker

Ian's title on this photo: 6 weeks, I shaved for Anne since she rented the house

Wow. Looks like Lincoln.

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It’s 70 degrees or more outside, you have no AC in the house and you sleep like this:

Yes, this is a knit stocking cap and long sleeved pjs on Eli


Makeshift mittens on Lucy's hands aka socks


Yes, those are socks on Eli's hands too. Who started all this craziness? Dad.


Good thing we’re going home in the height of the summer heat, otherwise, these two kids would be forced to dress 3 layers deep!

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That place

Yesterday Eli asked us, “Do you think when we get back to Oregon we can go to that place that has hamburgers and toys?”

Uh, you mean McDonald’s?

Wow, 4 full years of indoctrination from television, weekly visits with grandma/grandpa (ok, I take him too)  and almost daily drive-bys have taken a full year to remove from his memory.  That’s some serious marketing strategy.

I haven’t missed that one bit.  Any guesses on how long it takes for Eli to be begging for McDonalds?

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Ian informed me last night that my last 4 blogs have been about the baby and that people might get bored.

I don’t know  if you have realized, but our blog is generally pretty lighthearted.  We’ve tried to keep it about our personal experience, and still, there is so much that we witness and experience here that I don’t talk about.  It’s either too depressing, horrible, or just not conducive to the positive work we’re trying to accomplish through Karibu Centre.

I’ve been thinking a lot about women & pregnancy here in Kenya.  There is a large campaign by UNICEF here to increase awareness and reduce the number of deaths related to pregnancy.  This week, the country also celebrates The Day of the African Child on Wednesday.

With all of that in mind, here are a few things that I have witnessed here that must be shared & honestly, should not be happening in the year 2010.

A woman should not lay unassisted on a plastic covered metal hospital bed in a pool of blood while waiting to pass her placenta.

A woman should have the right to view an ultrasound scan taken of her fetus…even if her pregnancy is in jeopardy.  She should not be denied the right to know what is going on.

A women should not fear that she will contract HIV or some other disease because she is in premature labor & bleeding, and  is being told to share the remaining ONE hospital bed with TWO other women who are bleeding on said bed and have gosh knows what wrong with them.

No one should take it upon themselves to lie & say that a baby is dead, if it isn’t.  Even if the mother is an 11-year old girl.

In the US, 15 out of every 100,000 women die due to pregnancy related complications.  In Kenya, that number is 414 women.   Every woman, if they desire, should have access to some type of skilled care during labor, whether in a hospital or elsewhere.

Newborn babies shouldn’t rest 2-3 deep in a metal gym-like basket so that there are 31 in a hospital nursery made to hold 16.

A hospital shouldn’t be in a position where it is housing newborn abandoned babies, yet is unable to clothe, feed or nurture these babies.  These babies also should not be 3 months old and never have had the opportunity to be outside.

Babies should not lie in feces because the incubator’s cleanliness hasn’t been attended to in days?  weeks?

A HIV positive mother shouldn’t have to run all around the country looking for infant formula provided free-of-charge through foreign aid programs, otherwise, yes, she’ll nurse that baby and possibly infect it.

Babies should not be  refused a family/home because they were not born to a relative.  A life is precious whether it is from your blood or not.

A woman should never have to beg and plead to know what kind of medical treatment she has or will be receiving.

And despite all of these things that go on in the hospitals here, that shouldn’t, please know that this care is better than NO care, which is a reality for about half of the population.  And, how much does having a baby at the District Hospital cost?  About as much money as your cup of Starbucks….

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Wow, I can’t  believe I was actually able to copy and paste her entire blog!  Could this be a trend?  She might not appreciate that, but darn, she’s such a good writer!  Erika actually left for the airport 2 hours ago, as today is Monday and already I am missing our plotting and planning for the next day.  Dear friend, thank you, thank you for your visit  and help while here.  Can’t wait to see you next time, only at home!

Here you have Erika’s take on our Kenyan Friday:

“On Friday we took the kids to school early and headed into Nairobi. Nairobi is really not that far away, but due to the roads and traffic, it takes a long time to get there. Most of the time we travel the “back way” which has much less traffic than Thika Road, the main “highway” (and I use that term loosely).

This is the typical “road” (not highway) scene around here – hard for me to even capture the magnitude of pepole always walking alongside. Lots of lorries and trucks and matatu vans full of people.

Ian dropped Anne and me off at Utamaduni, a restaurant/shop about 9:30am. He had some business to do nearby that we thought would take about an hour (wrong). We sat down and had coffee and shared a slice of carrot cake.

The restaurant, The Verandah, is outdoors – partly covered. It was a beautiful garden setting. Definitely a mzungu place. The only other customers were all white.

(Jackson, look at the next picture — Anne is in the back using the green nani to cover Ameena!)

After coffee and changing Ameena, who had blown out her entire outfit, we shopped. The main building had lots of rooms with different wares for sale – paintings, jewelry, carvings, artifacts, baby items, shoes, and so on. After about an hour and a half of being there we got a text from Ian. We thought it would say “I’m on my way,” (how silly were we) but it said, “still waiting.”

(The business he had to take care of was this: go to an office, get a check, and go to the bank and cash it. Back home, this might take 15-30 minutes.) However, the check he was waiting for had not been signed, and the signor was in a meeting. Ian had to sit and wait until the meeting was over.

We were done shopping, and it was nearly lunch time, so we sat back down at The Verandah and ordered lunch.

Around noon, we got a text from Ian saying the power was out where he was (not surprising), which curtailed the meeting unexpectedly, so he got the check and was headed for the bank. Good news.

Around 12:40pm Ian arrived back to pick us up. Sadly, his mission was still not accomplished. When he got to the bank to try to cash the check, there were insufficient funds in the account on which the check had been drawn. Someone had forgotten to transfer the necessary funds into the account. And of course the office where the check came from was now closed due to the power outage. So no money, and a whole day wasted.

Such is business in Kenya.

Side note: Ian has to do this same business monthly. It is the way he receives the funding for the monthly operating expenses here. He goes through similar exciting measures each time. It is always a challenge; always a chore. It would be very unusual for him to go to town and have that whole song and dance go off without a hitch.

I drag that story out to say how amazing the things are that have been accomplished here at KC this year by the Mays and their staff. Amazing, especially considering that things on the whole here move like molasses. There is always red tape; always bureaucracy; always a hurdle (or 2 or 10) to jump. It is very different from business in the Western world. You have to be patient. Very patient.

So we left Nairobi without accomplishing the task of the day, which will have to be tried again on Tuesday. Monday would be too soon, Ian thinks, and he doesn’t want to waste another whole day sitting around.

We made a quick stop at Spinners’ Web, a local artisan co-op gift shop (in Nairobi) and picked the kids up at school.

We drove through a short-cut on the way home, which Anne hasn’t done the entire time I’ve been here because the road has been messed up. There were so many ruts and problems due to the rain (and general disrepair of the dirt roads) that the DelMonte work trucks who go from the slums to the pineapple plantations could not get through. So DelMonte “repaired” the road. Unfortunately the repaired road has effectively dammed up the road to the Centre here, so anyone driving to the Centre (it’s still walkable, just not driveable) must now go around another way.

Here is Tito at the gate, welcoming us home.

We also had a visit from Anthony, the elder of one of the slums nearby. He came by with his wife and granddaughter Nicole. The kids enjoyed playing legos together while the adults visited. Here they are. Guess which one Nicole is.

We had burritos for dinner and I started a new book: Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum. It is a novel about a girl born in Germany during WWII and her life. It is hard to put down.”

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My wonderful friend Erika arrived this last Monday for a week long stay to visit and help out with the new baby.

We fondly refer to her as “America” because Eli and Lucy would say SOOOO often when they were smaller, “Um, Erika….” followed by a million different questions or requests.  So now, she pretty much just represents all of America while we are here in Kenya.

Erika last visited with her husband Rhett in January.  That was a very different trip….a lot more sight seeing and running around, which makes sense since baby Meena wasn’t  around then, or at least she was just “a round” in my belly!

Now, this visit is filled with a lot of:

Ameena gets some Erika love

Erika is a wonderful multi-tasker. I think she's updating her blog here.

You get the idea. Baby's have an affinity for Erika.

Joyce brought her baby Araelio for a visit, so Erika went for the double hold....

I have to say, we’ve done a lot more than just hold Ameena and sit around, but I’m not quite on my game when out in public, so you don’t see a lot of pictures that I have snapped.  We have enjoyed doing all of the usual “girlfriend” kinds of things:  catching up on news from home, news from each other’s families, news of the weird, plans for the future, good food and of course some shopping.  We have also had a great deal of visits from local neighbors and contacts who remember Erika from her last visit and want to say hello.  It’s been a wonderful week and I am sad to think that Erika will be on her way home in a few days, but thrilled that I have gotten to spend some nice quality time with her.

We love you America!

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