She’s 17. In the miscarriage ward. Alone in the room full of beds with brightly colored sheets, none of them very clean. By American standards it would be a health hazard. She’s laying on the small, wire framed bed, a thin mattress holding her slight body. Barefoot and stunningly gorgeous as so many people are here. Curled up, she’s turned away from us as we gather around her bed – our own views and “rights” of privacy unknown in Zimbabwe. We’re touring this hospital to get an idea of what maternal health is like in Lupane.
This is a new facility, we’re told. One of the best.
I can’t wrap my head around what others might be like in that case.
The nurse tells us her story while I think of all the HIPAA violations happening right now. There isn’t that level of confidentiality here – a land where the people are more group oriented in their actions than just individual ideals. Culture shock hits a little harder for me.
Her name is Love Joy. She lost a baby at 5 months at home, and the nurse refers to it as a fetus. I cringe, remembering those words well. She was brought here after, traveling miles in a cart, because of complications with the placenta being delivered. This hospital saved her life – but so many others never make it here in time. When you have to travel 30 kilometers in a rented wooden cart with a donkey pulling it and a man leading over rocks and boulders, surviving something like this is a miracle.
Love Joy nods and murmurs answers to the nurse’s questions. She looks at us briefly, hands under her head, and her eyes are so full of pain that my heart aches to connect with hers. I briefly tell the nurse about how I lost twin boys at 5 months too, and she translates. I see a flash of curiosity in her eyes as she studies me and nods.
I ask what sex the baby was. She says it was a boy. The nurse tells us that they decided her vaginal scarring is probably from a self induced abortion.
I feel like my heart is going to stop beating. I look at this broken little girl. I can see she’s in shock, and I know the feeling from suddenly realizing you carried a baby – a real baby. Does she care? Did she know? If she had, would she have done that? When I was 17, I didn’t know much about pregnancy. Even when I lost the twins at 28, I was stunned that they truly were babies. I don’t know what I’d expected, but nothing could have prepared me for seeing them as tiny little humans. At 20 weeks along, you still think of them as a bit surreal.
We leave and I can’t get her out of my head. I feel like she needs to know that I’m going to remember her and her son for the rest of my life. That they mattered to me. I feel this sense of urgency, almost panic, to go back. But what reason? To intrude on her again? Tell her my story?
I remember I have a scarf in the car. I almost didn’t bring it on the trip, then I almost didn’t bring it with me to the hospital. Amanda sent it to me for Kaden’s birthday, she wanted me to know she remembered. It has little elephants all over it, and I brought it because it matched my skirt.
You have to give it to her.
That’s silly, I hear myself saying. What on earth does she care if you give her that scarf? It won’t change anything about her life or what happened to her baby.
You need to give it to her.
I can’t shake the feeling and yet I’m torn by these thoughts of how stupid and insignificant this is. I’m going to be a bother. It’s a hassle for my team to wait for me. I’ll have to get the nurse to translate.
I tell Kristina, who has the most tender heart imaginable, how I’m feeling. “Let’s go!” she says. “We’re not done yet anyway, no one will mind.”
We grab the scarf from the jeep and head back to the concrete building where Love Joy is. Her nurse asks if we need a translator as I explain what I’d like to do, then leads us back to the room. She’s sitting up now. I tell her again that I lost twins at 20 weeks, but also a son at 3 weeks old. I explain that my friend gave me this scarf to let me know she remembered my sons, and I want to give it to her.
“I’ll never forget. I want you to know that your son mattered too.” I hand her the scarf and lean over to hug her, and her whole frame sinks down as she begins to cry, hugging me tightly back.
Suddenly I realize how much this mattered to me too.
It wasn’t me that did this. I know God prompted my heart to go back, while my own humanity fought against it not being good enough or make a big impact. But even though in that moment it seemed so insignificant, after it happened the full enormity hit me of what God had used her and I for.
In Zimbabwe, and in Africa in general, miscarriages/abortions are never spoken of. Ever. They believe and are taught that if you talk about your loss, it will happen again. The chances of Love Joy sharing about her son or being able to grieve him are nil. She will go home and life, whatever it looked like for her, will move on. I don’t know if she’ll be able to have more children. I don’t know if a self-induced abortion was what happened – or a myriad of other things that could have. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter – she’s a mama and she’s hurting.
And I, two and a half years later, was able to try to give back the reassurance you all have given me. Our children matter. 6 weeks. 19 weeks. 34 weeks.
3 weeks into this world.
They matter. They are loved and remembered – and all this time and struggle and fight and heartache later, God led me to tell someone that who will never hear it again, with the little I had to give and the words that I’m sure didn’t come out right. I won’t ever forget her or her baby.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.