It’s been just over a year since I returned from Somaliland. And it’s been a year since I’ve posted anything about the trip. People have been asking me, “How is baby Mohamed?”. My answer is usually, “As far as I know, he’s still alive.”
I think about Mohamed everyday. I’ve been putting off posting anything because it has been painful to write about that time. While I was there, I needed a way to tell the story as it was happening. When I came back to the States, I no longer had a story. I kept my head down, recovered from illness, and continued about my business as a midwife in Seattle.
About three months after I returned, I received a video from my friend, Tom. It was of Mohamed and his mother, Leyla, visiting the hospital. He was sleeping in her arms. That video was played again and again, pausing here and there to catch a better glimpse of his small face. His hat looked like it was fitting better – not loose at all. Was he thriving? Was he acting like a normal baby? There’s just no way to know.
According to UNICEF, one out of ten Somali children dies without seeing his/her first birthday, and one in six die before the fifth birthday. These numbers are for Somalia, but are probably translatable to Somaliland. Statistics. If we looked at Mohamed case strictly by numbers, he would have never made it as far as he did.
After I left, Dr. Eve, an American-born physician from Ireland, took over his care, and the care of the other preemies in the ward. Through her attentive care, Mohamed was finally weaned off of blow-by oxygen, and began to nurse without aspirating milk or his oxygen sats dropping. I was on Facebook everyday, several times a day, to check on his progress. I felt tremendous angst over leaving him during such a critical transition. I was also harassing Dr. Paul about Mohamed’s status whenever I could. My former colleagues were incredibly patient with me. He was discharged from the hospital about 2 weeks after I left. Given the circumstance, it was probably the best thing to ever happen to him.
During my time in Somaliland, I knew, without a doubt, that if Mohamed had died, I would have left on the next plane out of the country. End of story. I would have been done.
It took me about a year to reconcile the guilt I felt over possibly giving up over one baby when there were others who needed help. I felt weak. I was only there for a month before I needed to tend to my midwifery practice. I still feel weak, but I accept it now.
In spite of the terrible odds against his survival, Mohamed lived. Other babies came and went, either because they became well or died, but he stayed on. He was the tether when everything was going wrong, when there was not enough supplies, equipment, or expertise.
I wish I could say that I learned about keeping my distance and healthier boundaries. I didn’t. Things became very black and white at the hospital. Either we could or we couldn’t do something. When I volunteer in the future, inviting weakness is the risk I have to take. Perhaps there’s a better word for it, but viscerally, weak seems to cut it for me. It’s not a weak in the knees feeling, but more like a crumbling sensation in the chest, like something was breaking off and losing structural integrity.
Would I leave a post in the future because I got attached? It’s hard to say. I would like to say that, since then, it’s become more clear to me that there’s more than one thing going right at a time, and with each right thing there are hundreds of other things that happened to make that moment occur. This is not rocket science, but the recurring theme of take it day by day, minute by minute, second by second.
So onwards to posts about my practice here in Seattle. Welcome to 2014.