A Story I Couldn’t Write

Four months after the birth of her son Lan, Isabelle Masozera is ready to officially show his chubby cheeks to the wider world, and share their unusual story. While some feel that delivery in Kampala or Kigali is risky already, she had a rather different idea…

I had a decision to make … a life-altering decision, as a new life would begin. My engagement in responsible tourism had brought me to the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, the high season was approaching, and I didn’t want to miss all the action. Do I give birth in a big city hospital or in a remote Ugandan town, I asked myself, and why would I even hesitate in this decision?

I had heard the stories, horrifying stories, of rural births — days of pain and ultimate infant mortality. It is the risky reality for many women throughout the Gorilla Highlands region and I wanted to experience this miraculous moment and confront my fears as they do, and tell their story.

The family felt my radical choice was stupidly putting my child in danger. However, I was determined to do what millions routinely do.

One Friday in June, my C-section was scheduled for midday at a referral hospital in Uganda’s southwestern town of Kabale. Car packed, I arrived full of anticipation. The conditions were far from the squalor I had worried about, and all seemed well. But the adventure took a sudden turn. I was taken in for a scan and minutes later, the smile on the doctor’s face curved south.

In a faint voice he informed me that the baby’s lungs were not fully developed. After consulting two different doctors it was official, there could well be complications, and there was nothing that could be done but postpone. It felt like a warning, perhaps a sign that it was not too late to change my mind.

I considered giving up and going to a city hospital instead. My relatives in Kampala demanded that I do just that. But the doctor had emphasised that I was in no shape to travel for longer than two hours. And I still was determined to see my story through. Weary and confused, I returned to our house on the lake shore for the long daunting wait.

I had sleepless nights, scared of the baby arriving by himself, far from the hospital, in a place with one of the slipperiest roads I had ever travelled on. When we were graciously invited to stay in Kabale Town at Grace Villa, a home for vulnerable girls, I finally felt a little less vulnerable myself. Ruth Bahika’s awesome project is housed in a beautiful old colonial home on the Makanga Hill, just minutes away from Kabale Referral Hospital.

A week later I was again ready for the operation, and again ready for the worst. Checking into the hospital I looked around for the substandard medical care, the byproduct of a corrupt government… and saw none. Still, anxiety ruled the morning.

I was ready to shriek, but instead found myself in a pleasant reverie as my world forever altered. They gave me a pain-free spinal injection, shockingly different than the same procedure in my first delivery. Merely 20 minutes after I removed my shoes to walk towards the theatre, the beautiful first cry of new life soothed me indescribably, and Lan was suddenly amongst us … off to meet daddy and grandma outside the delivery room, emerging in the shaky but comforting arms of the institution’s oldest midwife.

What was supposed to be an exposé turned out to be a most beautiful experience. The medical care was beyond anything I might have imagined. And it all started with Dr. Bandoga, who proved to be a master surgeon, just like I had heard. He was well spoken, so professional, yet with gentle words and mad surgical skills. Assisted by his two colleagues, I didn’t even experience mild discomfort.

The aftermath wasn’t difficult either. Little Lan was breastfeeding by the second day and I was walking down the hallway bursting with pride. By the next morning, I was discharged and on my way home. I had been praising the quality of my first incision and I thought that an ugly scar would be the trade off for choosing to deliver in a village. Instead, what I got was the perfect bikini-line almost invisible scar.

I had nothing to complain about and everything to praise. A city girl had dropped her second tot in a remote town and … all was well. My adventure at Kabale Referral Hospital was magical — as was Dr. Bandoga, as is my son.

photo: Denis Barlow (featured image), Miha Logar, Isabelle Masozera