At term, he took Ugonma in,
the taxi had rattled, creaked, bounced
and chugged on the dirt road, all the way
to the maternity
A midwife, looking fazed in her faded uniform
feet and lips swollen,
screaming in pain, water breaking,
into the labour room
every dragging step slow,
laboured and painful
A wait long and weighty like eternity,
and then a delivery attendant,
her face the picture of nonchalance,
eventually shuffled out of the labour room
to thrust roughly into his trembling hands
a list of items required
for the delivery.
The Okada rider, his machine idling,
spotted Obi as he hurried out from the maternity
signing and screaming
“chemist shop”, yes, “chemist”
the rider on sensing his desperation
doubled his fare, cursing the country,
swerving and swearing as he rode.
Places and people flew by and past on that mad rush
to the chemist shop, an airless suffocating place
running over in dirt and disorder
where a a dishevelled male plied a messy trade.
Obi rushed back to the maternity,
straining his ears, lips moving in silent prayers
his hands trembling,
items handed over with haste
the attendant checking with indifference and
troubling sluggishness, and then shuffling back
into the delivery room with the items.
Obi waited outside, counting the minutes,
the seconds as long as hours and twice as slow ,
his heart pounding,
fatherhood within reach at last ,
after seven heavy years of wearying waiting
Totally immersed in imagining what must be going on inside,
waiting for the beautiful moment, oblivious to everything else
vaguely aware of when his mother and Ugonma’s mum arrived
and how they both laughed at his fretting and fidgeting
assuring him that all will be well
saying that “God never sleeps”
He saw the midwife as she came out,
her apron all blood and stains
saw her signal the two women to follow her
and now alone, he dreaded his loneliness
soon he thought he heard a wail
that came from the soul, the wail of one broken
They brought the baby to show him,
looking so small, fragile and delicate
and when he asked after Ugonma
Her mum, her voice brave, but broken by pain
yet tinged with pride said
“Ugonma has left this world, “uwa nsi”, she spat out
“a woman at last,
to the shame of those gossiping tongues
who had chattered that she was a “male””
God gives and God takes, she said
and when Obi said “why, Ogom nwanyi, why”, she replied
“a man can never wrestle with his god, his personal chi
nor challenge the decision of God”
His groan was deep and heart rending
his voice saying slowly, chilled numb
“This death cannot be a decision of God,
we wrong God when we blame Him for our failures
“Chim, sudden total darkness has fallen on my life at high noon,
a driving torrential downpour has caught me in the middle of nowhere,
blinding me, my path has now become a thicket of dense inpenetrable prickly shrubs”
he cried and sang, inconsolable, lost and broken
His mum laid her hands on him and said slowly
“a woman who can do this,
who can abandon a new born at the moment of birth
must be an “Ogbanje””
and his look of pain, rage and disgust froze her.
He called the baby Chiwetalu (Brought by God)
and at night when Chiwetalu screamed from hunger
when Chiwetalu cried,
troubled by gripe and colic from formula milk
his heart bled, he cried and held her
and rememered Ugonma and still asked her why
even though his age mates had warned him not to,
had advised him to reject any advances from her
if she walked into his dreams from the land of dead
They had advised him to wear two tight underwears to bed
as she may return to seduce him
and then tear off his manhood
since they all knew how much she loved him in life.
In Obi’s mother’s village,
an unmarried teenage girl had lost her baby
to fever and diarrhoea
one month after delivery,
a girl lost, Nwadiuto
who had now lost virtually everything
– her baby
– her innocence in a moment of madness,
– her schooling as she was expelled from school
once her pregnancy was noticed
– and the support of parents
who had thrown her out for disgracing them.
Her mother’s village proved to be her sanctuary
there they welcomed her, kind aunts helped her
manage her shame and the pains of pregnancy
Her mother frequently visited her there
whenever she thought her dad was not looking
(her tough and puritan dad saw all,
looked the other way, said nothing,
but silently thanked God that she did)
Now her chest full of grief and still sore from her loss
her breasts full, swollen and tender,
her life emptied of meaning and attachment
she agreed to nurse and breast feed Chiwetalu,
this life so fragile, so trusting
The hungry ruby lips needed some coaching and guiding
flesh and rubber feel and smell differently
but soon the hungry lips tugged and sucked at nipples
engorged, tender, touching her,
awakening her and flooding
her with images of her own child
who now sleeps forever
and Nwadiuto cries for him,
for a father he never knew and would never know
a man whose heat she had felt
but not his love nor his affection
regretting their brief interaction,
rushed and unfulfilling for her
She laments this and her loss
laments her parents
who further lost her
when they threw her out
when she felt most lost and needed them most
and occasionally when Chiwetalu cried from hunger
she would also think of his mother
that the hungry earth had claimed and swallowed
And from a distance,
heart still broken, but filled with gratitude to Nwadiuto,
Obi watches these two lives and surveys his
united by loss, by losses that could have been avoided
And he ponders how one life had in coming
taken another life,
how another young life had flown
emptied the life of a teenage mum
but leaving her full sorrow and milk
how that milk now bonded
two lives and a third
and His tears never cease to flow
from a mixture of missing, thanking and wishing.
*****First raw and rough cut of a song that invaded me in its inchoate form, begging to trapped on paper. MMR and IMR are my targets here – and I now agree that overt didactism ruins creative writing. This shambolic song is one good example. OK, I pack it here for now and will come back to retouch it later, hopefully. Noel
35 thoughts on “Mother and child”
Oh, please, don’t change a thing–I love this, it is beautiful. It blew me away! It is all so tragic, and tragically powerful.
This is a great poem. so true. so graphic. so poetic. it calls for a lot of soul searching. it almost made me shed tears for many of our families in Africa who have gone through this. But it shouldn’t be. thanks to midwives who are doing a great job. thanks to men who are participating in child care. thanks to family members who are there for mother and child. and my heart to our mothers, especially.
Sure Noel is a great advocate for mums and kids and he deserves some commendation. Even if no aid agency recognizes you for now, we ‘the people’ do. On their behalf “i salute you oga noel”.
B for Bayo, thanks for the very generous comments. Share the link with your colleagues as the theme resonates with an issue that is central to your agency’s mandate!
The poem is replete with negative cultural practices against girls and women. However the power of women to nurture life in the lines is second-to-none. Life stands on the shoulders of women!
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Noel–just caught bye in here where I think you meant by.
ki ki key bo bo bobo keyboard sta sta stammers stammers! Ta ta ta ta TA – thanks awfully!
you are most welcome! I read over it the first time I read it, and didn’t even notice it…
Very sad and touching daddy. Great work again
Thanks Iyk. Glad the poem could connect. Susan, thanks for the eagle eyes as always!
Nothing to retouch. ..”the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” will be lost “in the shadows of rightness,goodness and acceptance…” You left me in the mood you wished to create, and I now stare “unseeing, as the yam mounds mimic the graveyard…” Iwuu nkpuru.
Ochi nnem, songs and poetry still dwell in and with you – your last sentence is simply pure poetry in motion! Wey your blog dey sef make I go read am? Imela, ezigbo nwannam.
Catharsis!! Captured in its raw form which makes it stronger.it is difficult not to be touched except one was stone but even a stone cannot resist the sheer force of emotional avalanche which this poem unleashed.
Boys are brought up not to cry but now I wonder.
Imela, Vicky nnem!
Noel, Great poem and story and unfortunately so true all over our world. When I started to read the IMR part, i thought you should keep the themes separate, and then I saw the poetic connection – death giving birth to life and death giving the chance to live. I look forward to a collection of your writings in a book. Awudu
Awudu, sanu, yar uwar na. Na geshia ka sosei!
I am happy the themes resonate with you, particularly given your strong professional and leadership role in reducing IMR and MMR in Africa and beyond. A geida yara. Read “the long mile” and “a song for the boy who waits” in my blog too.
Chief, who knew you were such a good poet!? Well I guess most people know already and I’m just a little late to find out. Very sad but beautiful piece. Looking forward to reading the rest.
Thanks, Sheila! Glad it spoke to you.
wow…powerful stuff and so well written…a sad reality in our world…this would def have fit the beautiful sadness prompt over the weekend too…but glad we got it for openlinknight
Thanks, Brian. Reducing Infant and mortality is a challenge for us in the third world.
Such a powerful write and just heart-wrenching
Audrey, Yes, it is!Such deaths can be reduced through effective health policies in developinf countries!
This is heart-wrenching, Noel, I love your narration…
Thanks, Mohana. You are so kind. Please share the poem with your colleagues and friends. We need to keep calling attention to the unnecessary human wastages and pains that MMR and CMR signify.
Dee Noel,i hope i can call u that.this is so touching.very revealing n real.as i read the poem over n over i began to see de faces of de characters n visualise each scene.it was like watchin a motion picture.May God bless u sir as u continue to share.
Imela, Ify, ezigbo nwanne nkem. It is a moving poem. I visit Health centres in LGAs and I am shocked at the quality of services there. why will women not die in such situations? why would something which should bring joy bring so much sadness. Thanks for dropping by my blog. Please also read the “the long mile” in the same blog – Dede gi Noel
And again – and again – I feel the faint flutterings of tears behind my eyes. Shall I let them fall or shall they spur me to action. MMR, IMR – colossal waste, so unnecessary, so reversible. Obi, Ugonma and Chiwetalu will force my resolve to stay away from corruption. Now I know what to do – I’m going home. Thanks Noel for another explosive piece!
Bella, It is sad and such a colossal waste. The death of Marilyn, a young girl, my young nephew’s wife, at childbirth breaks my heart and once again reinforces the poignant message of the poem. we need to act. Bringing a life into the world should never mean another life should go prematurely. Greet Zoe!
Powerful, real, tumultous to the emotions, yet calming with reality because what is, is! Beautiful oga. Write on.
Thanks, Katiti! The poem speaks my pain over deaths that are avoidable.
Its HER burial this Thursday and I couldnt but read through this mind blowing narration. This should be published. It isa great work big brother. Whao!!!!
Thanks, Auntie Vera!It will appear along with other poems in Volume 2 of my collection of poems titled Songs in the seasons of life. I am so glad that a keen and sensitive mind like yours finds the poem mind blowing! Can you get Labake to publish it on Thursday as Merilyn is being laid to rest? Just thots!
Thought provoking…. I daren’t say more. A transient life we live
and we must protect life and see that the act of bringing a life into this world does not end in death!
Dr. Noel this poem kept me spell bound particularly your brilliant use of words in explaining the deficiencies of our health care system including the aftermath which oftentimes leaves lasting bitter memories in minds of people who lost their loved ones as a result of the unruly attitude of some of our Nurses in attending to patients and inadequately equipped hospitals and health care centres. Great job Sir.