When his wife went into labor, James Ongwaya panicked.
“You would think that after three children I’d be used to it,” he says. This father’s nerves were not, though, from lack of preparation.
In the days leading up to the due date, James and his wife, Veronica, had packed and repacked the baby’s clothes, nappies and blankets in their “go” bag. They had also asked his wife’s sister to come stay with the children when it was time to go to the hospital.
As he shares, “we thought we were ready.”
Yet, when one of his kids came running out to the farm to say Mom was in pain, he dropped what he was doing and raced to the house, fearing a difficult delivery.
And with good reason.
Two years earlier, Veronica went into labour with her third child. The family lives in Munyas, a community in the Maasai Mara in rural Kenya. From here, it’s a 45-minute drive to the closest medical facility, Baraka—a clinic that has since become a full hospital with the recent addition of a surgical wing.
At the time, Baraka was a health centre providing essential outreach and treatment to the surrounding communities. While it had a dedicated maternity wing, it wasn’t equipped to handle complex birth cases. When Veronica’s baby was found to be in a compromising position, she was referred to a medical facility a two-hour drive away. The Baraka ambulance safely transported her, where she delivered a healthy baby girl, but neither parent forgot the fear of that journey.
With their fourth baby now en route, James actioned their birth plan; he called his wife’s sister, and shouted out to his neighbour—a taxi driver—to get his car and take the bumpy road to the hospital, as quickly as possible.
James waited outside the hospital room as Veronica was admitted. After two hours, he started getting antsy. Recalling the event, he says “as a farmer, I have patience to spare, but a man’s patience runs out fast when their wife is having a child.”
As James paced up and down the waiting room, Veronica struggled with labour pains. She was starting to worry something was wrong when the doctors told her this baby was in a distressed position, and she wouldn’t be able to have a natural birth. She would need an operation: an emergency cesarean section.
A staff member updated James, and Veronica was moved into the surgical wing. “I couldn’t understand what they meant, but they explained that it was the only way to deliver the baby safely,” he says. Flashbacks of two years earlier rose up, but James was reassured Baraka Hospital was now equipped to provide care in complex cases. They didn’t have to worry about travelling somewhere else. The doctors could take care of Veronica right there.
On July 1st, 2017, Veronica and James welcomed their baby Easter Kwamboka through emergency C-section at the surgical wing of Baraka Hospital. Veronica is among the first women to deliver through C-section at the hospital. “I was worried when they told me I had to go into surgery,” Veronica shares. “But I was so relieved when I finally held her.”
The reaction from all mothers, who never before had this type of care available this close to home, is overwhelming in its gratitude. One mother, Abigail Tonui, put it simply when she was asked about her experience at the hospital, after she delivered her second child through emergency C-section: “Kongoi, kongoi missing dagitari. Mungu asaidie waliojenga hii hospitali ambayo imenisaidia,” she said in Swahili. In English, this means: “Blessing, blessing in abundance, doctor. God bless the people who built the hospital that helped me.”
WE has been providing health care to thousands of mothers through services at Baraka Hospital since October 2010. First opened as a health centre dedicated to ensuring mothers get quality care from pre- to post-natal, in early 2017 it secured hospital status with the opening of the surgical wing—expanding its ability to live its mandate to reduce maternal and child mortality.
Nehemiah Kahato, Baraka Hospital manager, says that the new surgical wing will help the hospital provide better care to pregnant women. As he explains, “complications occur, we are just glad we are finally able to do something about it.”
At the time of writing this article, Baraka’s maternity ward was full. Six newborns (one set of twins!) filled the space—cradled by their moms, with dads or family nearby. This is a generation of young Kenyans who will grow up with access to quality health care as the norm—where not having access will only be known through family folklore.
Zeddy Kosgei is a multi-media content creator in Kenya with over three years’ experience as a broadcast journalist. She loves finding stories that matter and retelling them creatively and eloquently.