‘It’s a girl’. That is the precise moment that the ‘it’ becomes a ‘she’, when the nurse comes to announce to the father the anticipated sex. Wonder why the news is usually about the sex, and not whether the new-born and the mother are well or otherwise. Among some communities this news would immediately trigger the traditional ululations; four for a boy and three for a girl. Why so? The practice of scanning pregnancy to kill the suspense is still not a well-accepted practice. Even where there are resources available, many parents will still rather wait much like a coin-tosser waits to see if the coin will fall head-or-tails. Wonder if ‘heads’ is a boy? That was my moment when you were born.
The nurse who delivered the message stood there looking at me like a Nigerian porter waiting for a tip after assisting one with baggage to a hotel room. I wondered if I was supposed to do or say anything.
“Can I go see her?” I was the first person ever to use a pronoun to refer to you. You need to remember that in case you forget. It was not that you did not have a name, your name had been determined even before you were born. It was not one of those lottery names where parents do not know the sex and have names planned for either a baby boy or girl, like: Dennis or Denise, Paul or Paula, in your case it was a done-deal and your sex did not matter. You were going to be named after your paternal grand-mother and your maternal grandfather. So you were to be Rading’ Nyamwaya. Rading’, my mother’s maiden name is a male-name full of history in Gem where she was born. Nyamwaya, your mother’s father had died of cancer a short while before you were born. Your mother had mourned his demise with you kicking inside her. We decided that we would honor his memory by giving you his name. So, my dear, you started off life a girl with two male names. So had I wanted to I would have said, ‘Can I go see Rading Nyamwaya?” The nurse, waiting like the un-tipped porter would have wondered, ‘Who is Rading Nyamwaya?” because of being accustomed to children being born nameless and their dithering parents showing uncertainty in what name to give their child even after the third day when mother’s get discharged. Unwilling to go through an explanation of yet another name after the long saga about Obyerodhyambo I just said, ‘I can go see her”.
“Oh yes, you can.” I think her response was hesitant because of the manner that I had asked. My tone was a tad aggressive, or maybe it wasn’t but she thought so because she was still smarting from the earlier altercation we had. It was really a tiff over a little thing. Little for them, but big for me. When we had arrived at the hospital, mark you we had casually walked there after your mother sensed that all was not well, she was examined and they somehow determined that she had made it at the right time. Then after sending me around on this or that errand, while they examined and prepared her it go to the labor ward they looked at me rudely when I declared that I wanted to accompany her. You know that look that you get when you tell a butcher who had given you half a kilo of bones when you asked for a kilo of meat. The nurses looked at me like I can called someone’s mother, a whore. I had to repeat that I wanted to join my wife as she delivered. To give her moral support. Was that not rather obvious and being women should they not have been cheering? They dismissed me the way that a drunkard who makes an intelligent remark is dismissed. People assume that you are too drunk to even realize that you have said something that does indeed make sense, and so is best that you are ignored to discourage you form going on. When they realized that I was serious they told me that the labor ward was not for me. I was, if I had not got the memo, a man!!
The way that the, ‘Not for men’ was said accompanied by a sneer and dismissal shrug only a nurses uniform can deliver, was painful. Then she led my wife, your mother away. I had wanted to be there to welcome our new baby. What was all the talk about ‘male involvement’ if they could not allow a man willing to be part of the birthing of his own child? I think they looked at me and concluded that I was a pervert who was probably only keen on going to ogle naked woman giving birth. Some twenty three years later as I made a supervision tour of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga maternity wing and I asked the head nurses there whether the situation in hospitals have changed and if they allow men to accompany their wives to the delivery room. Sister Kerubo provided a more satisfactory answer than that dismissive nurse two decades ago. She asked me, “Here we have open wards, if it were your wife giving birth, and there was a man in the labor ward seeing her naked how would you feel?” Now it been put like that those twenty-three years ago I would not have been carrying this grudge against that nameless nurse from the Jumuia Nursing Home. I recanted all the ill-will I had wished upon her head. AT that moment of enlightenment I wondered why after all these years with men willing to support their wives while in labor our health facilities have not thought of a way of making that support to the mothers practical. This honor is only made available to the super rich and in the movies. Those with means can commandeer a labor ward and even film the entire process. So the poor woman delivering in a not rich facility does not get accorded the dignity of privacy and the chance to support his partner.
So I went inside to see you. “It a girl” I said to your mother, my face cracking with that smirk of one who had won a bet. We had not bet on whether you would be a girl or a boy. We really did not care, but for the nine months that you distended by beautiful wife’s belly I had lived in the hope that you were a girl to balance out because our first child was a boy and it just seemed to make mathematical sense that a girl would be a logical next. I liked the idea of one boy and one girl. As I recall that announcement of your sex to your mother my mind is thrown to a screaming headline in a New Delhi headline that assaulted my eyes recently, ‘India loses 3million girls in infanticide’. These Indians must be smoking something very potent I thought. In India sex selective abortion, infanticide and sex-selective neglect are ways devised to express the high premium placed on the male-child. The idea of paying dowry to the groom’s family at marriage means that families see girls as a high cost to the family; a cost that could sink an already poor family into deeper poverty and misery. So they kill the girls. However, reports say that girl-child infanticide is more rampant among the wealthy, so it’s not just a case of ‘she will bankrupt us through dowry’ argument there is more to it. In China, during the height of the ‘one child’ policy ultrasound was used despite it being illegal to detect the sex of the fetus. It tears ones aorta out to read that and female ones were aborted. Rather unfairly I end up looking at every Chinese I encounter with mixed feelings thinking, ‘Your sisters were aborted so that you can be born”. Every time I think about this I recall I recall my love for Chinese food and make a mental note that the chefs on thise restaurants are always men. The ones the aborter left.
I looked into your face and tried to figure out how a parent would bring themselves to snuff the life out of such a helpless beautiful being. Though we do not have cases of infanticide in our part of the world I know there are cases where couples who desire a child of a particular sex end up with many children. I had a friend once whose wife bore two girls and he was done, kwisha but the wife felt so insecure she insisted that they had to keep trying to get a boy. Her case was made more precarious by the fact that during both her pregnancies she had cheated death. Her blood pressure would be so high that pre-eclampsia would have claimed her any time. ‘Let’s try just once more’ her husband retold her pleading that would not stop. Eventually she orchestrated a method failure and got pregnant. They went through the harrowing experience with her illness. During her pregnancy her husband confided in me that if they got a girl and after that his wife began her quest for a boy he would ask her for a divorce and remain with his three daughters. She could go and try breaking her records elsewhere he said. It was that bad. Luckily for her, they got a baby boy.
So a few days later we brought you home and the male: female ration in the family was achieved. It was the beginning of a great life with you. I want you to know my dear that for us, and particularly I your father, having a girl was never a second choice. So never, even in your dreams ever think of yourself as ‘second choice’. Never think that you were a compromise when we would have opted for a boy. The young woman that you are now is what you were meant to be, the number one choice and don’t anyone tell you different.