It was at midnight when the contractions began. At first they were mild, and 30 minutes apart…I would just wake up to some twinges in my belly…at first I thought Sondra(my unborn child) was just acting up again since I had had two false ‘labours’ already…so I paid no attention to her. At four a.m the contractions were getting closer and closer and more intense; so I woke my husband Dayo…he’s a sleepyhead, that one.
”wuzzgoinon” he asked groggily
”I think I’m having the baby”
He was up and by my side of the bed like a flash of lightening, the contractions were now three minutes apart and the last one still had me clutching at the bedspreads and gritting my teeth till my jaw ached…
And then my water broke.
Till this very day, I wonder how Dayo got me to the hospital, no scratch that, I don’t. I wonder how he carried me the inflated human into the car.
Not to digress from the point, there were two expectant mothers in the labor room that night. There were two obstetricians there as well. There were two sets of nurses; there were two beds and two sets of sets of medical equipment, and two scared husbands helping their wives with their breathing.
And there were two pairs of screaming lungs that rent the air 9 hours later as two umbilical cords were cut.
But they never knew each other.
In actual fact we were discharged on the same day, left the hospital at the same time and never even looked at each other. We were too engrossed in our babies.
And so we went our separate ways, I to my beautifully expensive house in Ajah with Dayo, and she to her just-above-average house with her husband and never gave each other any thought at all.
Until eleven months later.
Now a baby does bring a drastic change into your life, and I for one wasn’t expecting any other change that big…at least not for another year or two…but fate had something else in mind.
Sondra had just started walking, and I had resumed work.
The day our lives changed, the baby sitter cancelled just as I was about to leave for work, so I had to take Sondra with me. My husband had already left a long time ago.
I hurriedly dressed her up, and put her in the special car seat my mother had bought, and then I carefully strapped her in, all the while praying my boss wouldn’t be mad that I had brought her to work.
Of course the Ikorodu road traffic was just terrible, and we aint just talking terrible here, we r talking TERRIBLE. So I made a u-turn and took a longer but faster route. And that’s when it happened.
The delivery bus(and I’m glad it wasn’t a truck) was coming towards us with such speed that I had to pull over to allow its passage.
But unknown to me, the brakes had a fault…so of course it came barreling toward us, and I swerved again. I was screaming as the bus managed to crush the tail of my car and went into the nearby bush.
Then everything went eerily quiet…and no, I didn’t pass out. I looked back in utter fear I hoped would not be confirmed…but there she was…my baby, in a mangled mess on the floor of the car.
Then I began screaming in earnest.
Sondra didn’t die. But she lost so much blood doctors were pessimistic about her survival. They asked Dayo and me to donate some blood.
The sight of blood usually made me nauseous, but my baby’s life was on the line, and I wasn’t gon let no fear of blood prevent her from getting better.
So Dayo and I gave blood, and lots of it too, so that when we went back to the waiting room we were so dizzy we had to support each other.
”if I had only waited! It was just traffic, just traffic, why wasn’t I patient? Ah Oluwa o” I wailed
”stop it” said Dayo, ”this isn’t your fault, it isn’t your fault at all, do you hear me??”
I nodded mutely with desperate tears rolling down my cheeks.
He pulled me to his chest and I wept my eyes out. He didn’t tell me to stop, just patted my back while I let it all out.
We prayed and prayed and paced and paced, I’m pretty sure I walked a thousand miles that night.
After what seemed like forever (it was only 40 minutes), a female doctor came towards us.
”Mr. and Mrs. Browne?”
We jumped up expectantly, yet hesitantly, we didn’t want any bad news.
”yes?” we both answered.
”are you the biological parents of Sondra Browne?”
”yes” said Dayo
”are you sure?”
We looked at each other quizzically
”why, yes of course, is there a problem?”
The doctor peered at us out of her half-moon glasses.
”I’ll need some form of identification please, if you don’t mind”
”why? Of course we mind” I began hotly. ”that’s our baby in there, and instead of asking us silly questions, why don’t u…”
Dayo put his hand on my shoulder. ”Lola please relax”
Then he turned to the doctor ”certainly, would a driver’s license do?”
Dayo pulled out his battered driver’s license and handed it to her.
She turned it this way and that, studied it in the light as though she expected it to suddenly sprout hands and feet.
Then she turned back to us and began her scrutiny again, so I began to feel uncomfortable.
”listen, u gon’ treat our baby or what??”
”ahh, I’m sorry, would you come with me please” she stated rather than asked.
we trudged after her like farmers after a hard day’s work. She led us to her office and asked us to wait for her, then went to fetch another older, possibly more experienced doctor. That’s when I knew something was wrong.
The man, also wearing half moon spectacles and peering out of them at us, shook hands with us and asked us to sit.
”well, sir and madam, we could not use the blood you donated for your…” there was a significant pause ”daughter”
”what?’ I said, ”why?”
”well mrs. Browne, the blood you donated does not match the blood type of your…” there was that significant pause again, only more pronounced this time ”daughter”
”ok, then use her father’s, is that why you’ve been acting so strange?”
They looked at each other.
”mr browne’s doesn’t match either”
My brows furrowed in confusion.
”soooo, what does that mean?”
”well” said the female doctor ” your daughter’s blood really doesn’t match yours, that only leaves us with one conclusion.”
We waited patiently.
Then dr male came forward again
”what dr female (he didn’t actually say that) is trying to say is that Sondra isn’t your daughter.”
There was a very loud silence. Even the birds outside had stopped singing, and there was no honking of horns.
Then I laughed loudly “hilarious, very funny” I said, but no one joined.
”you’re serious” I squeaked.
They nodded gravely.
My head felt light and fizzy, like someone was shaking a bottle of coke in it. My hand reached for Dayo’s.
”but how’s that possible?” he asked ”she was born right here, in this very hospital, she was born here, I was there when she was born, 11 months ago, what the hell are you saying??”
They looked at each other, confused.
”she was born here?”
”yes, yes, right here” I answered.
They looked at each other again.
”when exactly please?”
”25th april 2008, why, what’s wrong?”
”Nothing, nothing, hang on, we’ll be right back.
They went for a really long time, almost an hour, and I don’t even know what we were doing during that time, but when they came back, it didn’t look good at all.
”mr and mrs Browne” said dr female ”we don’t really know what’s going on”
”well then, have a guess” I said rudely.
”alright, on that day, only 6 babies were delivered in this hospital, and only 2 women were in the same room. You and another woman”
My mind knew what they were getting at, but I wanted them to spell it out for me, in case I was wrong…but when have I ever been that lucky?
”we think there’s a high possibility that the babies were unknowingly switched that night.” Dr female said hurriedly, as though the words were hot and would scald her tongue if she didn’t say them fast.
There was that loud silence again.
Well, I shouldn’t bore you with the gory details, I’l just make it simple and quick.
There was a lot of screaming( I did that) and a lot of yelling and swearing (Dayo did that) and a lot of calling(drs male and female did that) that night.
In case you were wondering, Sondra still underwent surgery that night, we had to buy blood from the bank…and we were asked to come back the next morning. Needless to say, we didn’t go home that night, not just because of Sondra, but also because we wanted to see what our…I wouldn’t say real, maybe, the other Sondra looked like before we did.
Sure enough, at 6 am prompt, there was a slightly harried mother who had her baby in a pouch in front rushing up the hospital hallway. A man in a hurriedly donned suit was trotting along in her wake. I assumed that was her husband. Dayo and I stood up as though in sync as they passed, but they barely spared us a glance.
So of course we followed them. As we passed, I saw my reflection in a glass window…my eyes were red and puffy, one of my earrings was missing, my hair was all mussed and messed up and my nose was shiny. I looked a fright.
I had cried all night, especially at the thought of saying goodbye to my Sondra…but I was all cried out now, or so I thought. I had decided to love the new Sondra, but from a distance. I would do every and anything that needed to be done as a mother, but she would never have that hold that Sondra 1 had on my heart.
My husband put his hands around my shoulder in wordless support, and I leaned against him as we walked through the door those folks had just disappeared through.
There were tears, plenty. I watched the woman break down as the doctors broke the news to her. It was like watching a scene from a movie. I didn’t cry.
Until it was time for goodbyes.
The other mother looked at me with eyes just like Sondra’s that I broke down again.
Then we hugged each other.
”she needs special care” she said.
That got me very annoyed ”so does Sondra” I said with spite.
She sniffed, and wiped her eyes, but she needn’t have bothered, fresh tears appeared immediately.
”no no, she needs special care” she said again.
My brows furrowed again
She sniffed again (our husbands were just standing like zombies, except tears were silently rolling down their cheeks.)
”she’s a little different. No…” she held her hand up as I prepared to talk again.
My heart dropped all the way into my stomach.
”what do you mean?” I whispered, afraid.
”she has spina bifida”
”she has what??”
”it’s a malformation that occurs when the spine isn’t fully formed so that there’s a little hole in her back. And hydrocephalus”
”come see for yourself”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the place where Sondra 2 was sitting. She was looking at Sondra 1, who was in a deep sleep, but a bonnet was covering her head, so I couldn’t see the hydro-whatever.
The other mother gently removed the bonnet from her head and I gasped.
That’s a mild word for the sound I made. She turned her head towards me and a sudden rush of love and tenderness swept over me that it had me gasping and clutching at my chest.
She was so beautiful it hurt to look at her. Her head was full of shiningly black and curly hair, but the head itself was so big.
Just seeing the head was enough to make anyone cry. But it didn’t detract from her beauty at all. The other mother and father were bonding with Sondra 1 who was now crying loudly. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, even the doctors were crying. And the parrot in the cage by the door. It was a sweetly sad day, a memorable one too, I’ve never seen that much tears in my life.
Its been two years now, and every time I look at Sondra and my husband I can’t believe there could be so much love in my heart for them and someone else, but that’s how much I love Sondra 1 too.
Our two families have kept in touch. Yes, the two girls are practically twin sisters, and it gives me joy to see them so happy. Sondra walks with a brace now, and the water in her head has been surgically reduced twice, so that her head isn’t so big anymore. We are waiting for her third birthday so we can go for the third and final surgery. She will survive in Jesus’ name.
p.s. turns out her first parents had given her the name Vanessa, so we called her Sondra Vanessa Adesola Browne. Nice, isn’t it?
Sondra 1 is called Vanessa Sondra Aderonke Wickliffe. Very nice.
I’m glad the hydrocephalus didn’t affect sondra’s reasoning capability, she’s one of the smartest kids I know.
I hope the girls will continue this way, they’re great with each other. That is the story of my life…or my baby’s life.
Now I hope we live happily ever after.