Mulago -- the largest hospital in Uganda -- isn’t nearly as crowded today as it normally is. Or so Katherine says. It still seems exceptionally congested to me: women lying on the floor, colourful mats beneath them, their bellies large and mighty. They moan, and I watch their faces twist, but there are no beds for them. Not yet. Not until they’re moments away from delivering. And even then some end up giving birth in the hallway.
Dr. Eve meets us in the middle of the women lying on the floor. We’re in section 5C, the maternity ward, and Dr. Eve is a senior gynecologist. Today is supposed to be her day off, but she explains to us that she needs to go scrub up because a woman in the next room is dying, bleeding out from a ruptured uterus. She tells us she’ll call when she’s finished the surgery.
She calls two and a half hours later. Dr. Eve smiles softly when she sees us, and I can’t help but think how exhausted she must be. She thanks us again for coming in, and takes us to a room where we slip off our shoes and crowd around a hospital bed. The woman lying there is Judith, who has just been in surgery. Her husband and mother stand at the end of the bed. Dr. Eve -- with a kindness only learned through seeing death -- tells us that the baby has died. She says it’s a miracle Judith is alive. The miracle presses in on us in this room, but so does the deep sadness of a baby a family will never know.
Katherine reaches her hand to Judith’s leg, and the rest of us touch some part of her too. Katherine begins to pray, and suddenly tears are streaming from me. The grief in the room is both hollow and evident; the woman on the bed pregnant for nine months with nothing to show but an ocean of tears. Judith is not crying yet -- she hasn’t completely woken up from the anesthesia -- but I’m crying. I’m crying for her.
Katherine prays for healing and comfort and when she’s finished, Dr. Eve tells the family that we all love Jesus. She says even in the midst of this sadness God has not left. We promise the family we’ll continue praying, and I’m wondering if perhaps you could pray too.
We pray for a lot of people today. Women who have lost their babies, women who are in the middle of serious pregnancy complications, and over sixty women who are preparing to deliver their babies. We keep asking Jesus to hold them; to please let them feel Him holding them.
Dr. Eve hasn’t drank any water today. There are too many women to see, too many babies to be born. She says to me, “I have learned I am never finished. At some point I have to step away. But every day I go home and think, ‘maybe if I had stayed for thirty more minutes, one more life could have been saved.’”
Things are never finished in this hospital. More is always needed to be done: more prayer, more money, more doctors, more space, more mattresses, more bathrooms. The list goes on. Women are easily forgotten here. It’s not Dr. Eve’s fault. There are too many women and too few doctors. Save The Mothers has helped enormously, but Dr. Eve tells us more is still needed to be done. She asks us to please tell the people back home. She asks us not to forget these women.
We walk into the room where the mothers are kept who have just delivered. We go to a woman and Dr. Eve talks to her quietly. I stare at the baby lying on the bed beside her mother, a beautiful little girl who is one day old. Dr. Eve looks at me then hands me the baby. I hold the little girl close against me. She’s sleeping. She feels feather light in my arms but also like the most precious treasure I could possibly carry.
Dr. Eve says, “The mother wants you to name her baby.”
I whip my head up at her. “Me?”
She laughs. “That’s right. She’d like you to name the baby.”
Immediately I think I’ll name her Olivia after my sister. But Olivia isn’t a very African name, and I want to honour their culture. This is a lot of pressure -- the most I’ve felt in my life, I think. I stare at the baby girl; her dark, curly hair soft and downy against her forehead. I pray quietly, begging God to give me the right name.
I turn to the woman beside me: a woman who dedicates her life to saving the mothers, a woman who loves both God and people, and suddenly I know.
I look back at the baby girl. A baby girl who is now named Eve.