Shanna let out a cry while I was downstairs talking with Jide, the wedding photographer via video call.
“Jide, let me call you back. My daughter just woke up.” I said with a heavy sigh.
“Okay, madam. Have a great morning.” He replied.
“Jide, if you want me to have a great morning, send the wedding pictures. Your excuses already ruined my morning. Don’t tell me to have a good morning!” I rebutted.
“Okay, Ma,” Jide answered, as casually as he always did.
“Don’t call me Ma! Jide, Send me the wedding photos and stop calling me Ma!” My face must have looked really fierce because Jide was fidgeting.
Shanna let out another cry and I angrily banged the laptop, visibly irritated. Why was she crying again? I had just put Shanna down barely twenty minutes before and rushed downstairs to prepare some eggs and sausages for breakfast. Before I could start, I remembered that our wedding photographer hadn’t shared our wedding pictures yet, eight months later.
Everything was virtually frustrating. Even walking up and down the stairs bothered me. The smell of paprika nauseated me and there wasn’t a single thing that made me happy. The fact that I couldn’t tell why Shanna was crying made everything worse. I’m her mother, and ought to know everything about her. But what could be wrong after I bottle-fed her, bathed her and lay her in bed after changing her diapers? Was I a bad mom?
The walk up the stairs was slow, unlike the usual flights the first few weeks she was born. As I walked up, I dragged my feet. I didn’t want to get there just yet, but I also didn’t want my daughter to cry for too long. Could she tell that I was trying? Shanna stopped crying as soon as I opened the nursery door and I stood there quietly. Her legs were hanging in the air, little hands clenched into fists. The yellow and grey decor of her nursery turned out just as I had imagined and everything about her pregnancy and delivery was just beautiful.
Somehow, I expected that Shanna’s presence would bring me automatic joy. An award-winning actress, the wedding of the decade and months later, a baby girl to show for it. What more could I ask for? I had escaped society’s humiliation of being over thirty, unmarried, childless and successful in just a year. While I didn’t think marriage would be my ultimate success, I felt whole, when my husband and I learnt of my pregnancy while we were preparing for the wedding.
“Come here baby,” I said as I walked towards Shanna’s cot. Her cough snapped me out of my thoughts. She looked up at me, her eyes teary and she wiped her eyes with her little fists.
“Let’s get you some mittens! Right Shanna?” I carefully opened the uppermost drawer and reached for a white pair.
I moved to London soon after the wedding, because Sam, my husband and I thought it wise that we deliver our baby in London. Better facilities were our major reason, though most of our friends said we just wanted a ‘mzungu baby’. Regardless, we had plans to relocate back to Kenya once my husband finished his contractual employment and delivered our second child. We only want two by the way.
Mama was on the phone for longer hours, teaching me everything I needed to know about pregnancies, but nothing I hadn’t quite googled already. What I was afraid to ask, to tell her, was the insurmountable amount of sadness I felt after delivery. Why, what I thought ought to be the happiest time of my life wasn’t exactly as I hoped. She scolded me when I told her that as hard as I tried, my breasts were not producing milk, so we had to put Shanna on formula.
“Hee! This career woman wants to kill my grandchild for me. What do you mean milk is not coming out?” She questioned, her voice over the roof.
“The doctor said that it happens to some women, first-time mothers, Mama.” I was gently caressing my painful breasts as we talked on call.
“They will not succeed!” she screamed. “God will bring shame to them!” she continued.
“Who Mama?” I asked rising on my feet, alarmed.
“My enemies! The God of Hannah, Naomi and Mary will not let allow it!” She persisted.
“Mama, you are scaring me. What happened?” I asked.
“What do you mean you can’t breastfeed your child? Nani amenirogea mtoto? Who bewitched my daughter?” She asked.
I got off the phone about an hour later, and she prayed loudly and relentlessly, that God defeats her enemies. I was done seeking her help from that day. I made a mental note to never consult her ever again, lest I needed a prayer marathon.
The doorbell rang as I sat on the velvet cushioned sofa in Shanna’s nursery where I always feed her at night. I was expecting Sam back from his Germany trip. My face lit up with a smile and feelings of blue, the sluggishness sort of disappeared into thin air. I made for the door, Shanna in hand. Sam greeted me with a warm smile and I bouquet of roses. I didn’t hesitate to place Shanna in his arms.
“Welcome back baby!” I offered.
“Thanks love. Your under eyes… did you at least get some sleep?” Sam asked as he handed me his grey travel bag.
“Barely.” I paused. “The paediatric nurse says she has colic,” I added.
“She will be alright,” Sam said. But I didn’t want Shanna to be alright. I wanted her to stop crying non-stop late into the night. I wanted to sleep peacefully, without her screams disturbing the peace of the night. At least, I wanted to understand why she was crying yet her diapers were dry, and she was well-fed and properly laid down. I had told Sam these things, but his utter silence meant he didn’t understand me, after all, he slept like a log.
I reached for a flower vase, carefully placing the red, thorny roses into the glass vase when Sam asked, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
“No. She woke up before I could do anything,” I replied, cutting some of the flower stocks with a pair of scissors.
“Okay, I will prepare some for us,” Sam offered.
“No! I will. Just hold her. I’m tired.”
“Look.” Sam called out to me, “She’s sleeping.” he added.
I turned my head towards them and unbelievably stared at them, “amazing!”
My mind was so engrossed in the roses, I didn’t notice Sam go to the nursery and back, till I heard him whisk the eggs. He had placed the eggshells carelessly on top of the white spotless kitchen counter and I lost it.
“Sam! I just cleaned the kitchen. How could you be so careless?” I screamed.
“Calm down, I will clean up after cooking.” He responded calmly, looking directly into my eyes.
“No Sam, I want the kitchen cleaned always. We have a baby in this house, we need to observe hygiene.” I said as I hurriedly walked past him and wiped the kitchen counter with a dump piece of cloth.
Sam gently grabbed my hand as I reached for the sink and pulled me closer.
“Darling, You are okay, but we’ll go to see a therapist next week. I talked to a friend—”
“A therapist? You think I’m insane for pointing out we need to observe hygiene?” I interjected.
“No darling. I think it’s amazing that you care for our daughter, but you need to care for you too.”
“Meaning?” I asked.
“I talked to our family doctor about your constant fatigue, the unhappiness and everything else, he says these are signs of post-partum depression and probably OCD. He recommends we see a therapist to help you through it,” Sam said.
I was getting irritated but at the same time, felt seen.
“All this is too much change for you. You used to be on large movie sets with great company, but you stopped working and moved miles away to grow our family. That is a huge sacrifice and it has its own challenges. I think that is why you can’t help feeling lonely. I hope you will be open to seeing a therapist, it could help. You aren’t as happy as you were and it shows.”
I was tongue-tied. It actually made sense. While everything has changed for the better, the deep sense of unhappiness was hovering around and it was probably because of the reasons Sam listed. For the first time since Shanna was born, I felt a weight lifted off my back. That I didn’t have to know everything because I was a mom. I looked at my husband with admiration and leaned in for a hug. “I would love to see a therapist, Sam,” I whispered.
He kissed my forehead and announced loudly, “I need to prepare breakfast. I’m famished. Did you say you talked to Jide?” We ate, talked and laughed that morning. Shanna didn’t wake up until later in the afternoon, and she suckled my breast gleefully for the first time in a while.
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