While World Prematurity Day aims to raise awareness about preterm birth and how to support mothers who deliver prematurely and their families, this day also means different things to various women. This day can often be a difficult time for pregnant women who have lost their babies prematurely.
Radio News Anchor and MomConnect Ambassador, Tsepiso Makwetla, bravely shares her experience and explains why she has become the Department of Health’s MomConnect Ambassador.
I was reading a novel recently and the main character had a premature birth. I only found this out two days later. Before I arrived at the part where she gave birth, I experienced a sudden change in my body. I was sure it was a premature death. Further, into my reading, the character yelled “I wanted to die with him!” and at that instant, I knew these were words I had always been too scared to utter.
I wanted to die with Him! (my son). That is the truth. But God, the Greater Power, replied: “No!”
This realisation came through a fight I had with my mother, bless her soul.
She reminded me of how selfish my recollection was. Through tears, (bitterly sobbing), she asked: “how do you think I felt?”
Mama spoke of how the machines went off every hour and how she had just been dragged away after holding her grandson for hours, praying he would come back to life. She had me there. I had no idea what it felt like for those who watched me journey down the road of my baby boy’s untimely death.
I vividly remember leaving the hospital after several days in the ICU. I also recall a congregation of friends, family and colleagues visiting me. They showered me with so much affection and care that even nurses reluctantly asked that I tone down the number of visitors.
Everyone who came to see me noted that I looked normal, as though nothing had happened. But behind the scenes was a solemn woman. I had no clue where I was. My laughter, my smile, my warmth towards all those who came, while genuine, was from a very distant place. My brother, with whom our relationship has always been a grunt of words at most, gave me a sad look. I suppose it was a gesture of some kind, a display of emotion. When we left the hospital gates, we wept. As he changed gears we held each other’s hands and cried uncharacteristically on the highway all the way home to the East Rand.
It really was the most comforting and loving moment, my moment of truth – leaving the hospital without the bundle of joy, energy and love.
In my role as #MomConnect ambassador, I have been requested many times to help fight maternal and newborn deaths by sharing my experience through writing. Each time I agreed, I let people down. I pondered on whether I could rise to the occasion, given my own experience. I blamed everyone, including my body for failing my child. I just wasn’t ready. My child, Amo, died due to gestational diabetes.
His death was unexpected. The dreadful experience, I remember, began when I went in for my weekly check-up. It was on a Thursday. The next Monday I received a call saying my gynaecologist was concerned about my tests.
On that day, the nurses at the laboratory shared they too were concerned throughout my pregnancy. As they attended to me, they watched my glucose levels rise to 17. Shortly after this, I was taken in for observation. One of the nurses conducted her routine. During this time she pretended to search for a heartbeat. Her action came as a surprise because another nurse had been unable to find it for about 30 minutes. The gynae reassuringly told me they could try and save my baby but I knew it was a futile exercise. Amo’s usual and very vital kick at am3 was weak.
And then, the moment of reckoning came. They cut me open and pulled Amo out. I was pretty much conscious. I could feel the struggle to get him out. I faintly heard the medical team ask my doctor “did you tell her the baby might not make it?”
It hit me hard. After all, the nurse who examined me after many tries had been adamant “we can feel his heartbeat!” The team kept telling me to stay and not let go but all the while, my entire body felt like rivers of pure ice flowing through it. Before I went in for emergency surgery, I said a short prayer. “God if you want him for you, I give him up to you!” Those were the most difficult words I could have ever uttered.
Two weeks later I asked my gynae if he could have done anything differently? Eventually, he replied: “I have successfully handled patients with glucose levels of 20”. Sadly, he got it wrong this time.
A month later, during a casual dinner conversation with friends, I found myself sitting next to another gynaecologist. I shared my experience and he was shocked by my loss and equally disappointed that I never received a second opinion.
It dawned on me how important the power of information is around miscarriages, stillborn and fresh stillborn. As mothers, we are united in our individual pain and experience. How these terms manifest at times is a result of a bad opinion or ignorance. Indeed, knowledge is power.
A dear friend named my son Amani – which translates to peace. Amo loved that name and would dance to it in my belly. He would wake me up an hour before my crazy 4am shift. He ruled the roost and I loved every moment of our sometimes challenging journey together. So when on June 2, 2014, I heard of the deaths of nine newborns at Maphutha L. Malatji Hospital in Limpopo, it was all too much to bear. It was the 5th anniversary of my son’s death. I knew then that had to make a choice – to spend the rest of my life crying over my loss or assist other women to prevent them from going through the same loss that I had experienced.
That night I made a call. I disturbed the peace of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi by sharing my hurt and anger with him. Fortunately, he was compassionate and shared his plans with me. Dr Motsoaledi revealed he was looking at launching an initiative that would be known as MomConnect – a digital health programme that registers pregnant women, delivers targeted stage-based messages, and supports them post pregnancy.
Today I am MomConnect Ambassador and proudly so. One death of a child is one too many. I urge all women and mothers to be aware of medical conditions that could result in preterm labour and to attend all the eight recommended antenatal appointments in order to have a safe pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. Drinking alcohol and smoking during pregnancy is totally discouraged.
Tsepiso Makwetla is a Radio News Anchor and an Ambassador for MomConnect