|Jean and her husband Mark Mwongera|
Jean Mwongela, 28, went into labour at only week 25 giving birth to baby Zoey, a preterm baby who unfortunately died nine weeks later. She talks to Wangeci Kanyeki, of their agonising journey
Like any couple eager to make an addition to their family, TV presenter and event manager, Jean Mwongela, with her husband Mark Mwongela, could not contain the joy of learning that she was pregnant.
She cried with excitement. Her first trimester was tough and she had to be put on bed rest twice owing to spotting. By the second trimester, she became a little active and was allowed to engage in gentle exercises like walking and swimming.
“I attended pre-natal clinics, which were fairly basic. No urine or blood tests were ever done. Being a first pregnancy, I did not know what to expect and was heavily relying on my doctor to guide me through the journey. By week 23, I was excessively fatigued and had developed a vaginal discharge. I called the doctor, but he did not pick his phone, so I decided to go for a check up at AAR,” remembers Jean.
Jean and her husband Mark waited over an hour at the clinic as the hospital staff took the vitals and her history before being sent to Nairobi Hospital for a scan.
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“I remember the radiologist squinting and looking uncertain about something as he conducted the scan. But then we got caught up with exhilaration at the sight of our baby girl yawning and playing,” says Jean adding that the doctor read the written report, but did not examine the actual scan.
She was informed that she had an infection and was given antibiotics and told to rest.
That night, she remembers tossing and turning in bed and could not eat. The following day, she decided to go to her doctor’s clinic after she could not reach him on phone.
“After a pelvic exam, I panicked as I observed his reaction. He looked perplexed and barely communicated with me. It turned out that I was apparently four centimetres dilated and in preterm labour at only 25 weeks. The next thing I knew was being whisked away in an ambulance to Nairobi Hospital casualty and clasping at my belly repeating to myself, “I can’t lose this baby”.
“I had no contractions, but I was put on a drip, which would prepare the baby’s lungs for birth. The hospital requested us to raise Sh70,000 so we could be admitted and for them to slow down the labour as I waited for my doctor. Unable to raise the money, my husband got desperate and decided to take me to an affordable hospital,” says Jean.
At that point, her doctor handed her over to the hospital doctor and was put on a five-day bed rest. “On the fifth day, I felt something engorging from my vagina and I started screaming for the nurses, “I think the baby is coming out!””
She was taken to the delivery room, but was informed that the ventilator that could have been used on the baby was at another hospital branch. The paediatrician also recommended that the delivery be done at a hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). By now she had dilated by nine centimetres and had to be transferred to Aga Khan Hospital.
“I prayed that my baby would not be born on the way as we had been informed that if the baby was received as a preemie, the hospital would require us to deposit Sh1million upon admission.
After one hour of labour, baby girl, Zoey Nzilani Mwongela was born on March 30, 2012 weighing 880 grammes.
“I felt such a huge sense of loss as I never received my baby and was dependant on hospital staff to take care of her. I was so sad and angry with God and with myself. I felt like my body had failed me. When I finally saw the baby, she was so small, yet amazingly she was a complete human being and looked a lot like my husband Mark. I felt so empty and cried all the way home after I was discharged, leaving the baby behind. I had no pregnancy bump and no baby and the house felt cold and empty,” says Jean.
Struggle to survive
Jean and her husband visited and prayed for Zoey daily as she also had to take her expressed milk.
“Mark would sing and play the guitar singing for Zoey, singing her songs like I couldn’t love you more by Matt Hammitt and she would clasp my finger while in the incubator,” says Jean.
When she was one month old, the couple blew a balloon and sang happy birthday for her. But there were difficult days as well. One day, they found Zoey’s fingertips had turned purple due to a blocked artery and the doctor said that her hand would slowly wither and fall off.
“We prayed for her and her hand started pinking up with restored blood circulation,” remembers Jean. When Zoey was six weeks old, her left lung collapsed and was struggling to breath. The couple was informed that the bronchoscope equipment that could go into her lung and unblock the cause was only suitable for babies weighing two kilogrammes and above, while Zoey was only 1.2kgs. So, the doctors decided to undertake another procedure to try and remove the obstruction in her lung, but on that day the baby was limb and unresponsive.
“We were told she may not make it and we were requested to sign consent forms accepting that the medical practitioners would not resuscitate her. Together with our mothers, we sat and watched our baby who was unresponsive and cold to touch.
“We kept praying, but inwardly I was giving up hope. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and the monitor started showing signs of her breathing and her fingers and feet began to twitch with life,” she says.
At eight weeks after an unsuccessful procedure to open up her lung, her heart rate dropped to zero. The medics declared baby Zoey clinically dead for 15 minutes, and then suddenly she took in a deep breath and woke up. The doctor had no medical explanation for it, but the couple believed God was showing them He could still perform miracles. At that point, Jean was allowed to place her on her bosom skin to skin for about an hour.
“It was a scary experience because of all the tubes attached to her tiny body, but it seemed to calm her. Later on, she had seizures and as long as I touched her in the incubator, she would remain calm.
“For three days we watched her struggle for life as her heart rate oscillated from good to bad. Feeling desperate, I changed into a hospital gown and held her. My milk would freely flow as I felt her fighting for life. It dawned on us that baby Zoey had refused to die untill we emotionally released her. Mark placed his hand on her and we prayed and thanked God for her. We asked that God’s will be done, kissed Zoey, told her we loved her and that we would see her in heaven. At that point, her body relaxed and without jerking up and down, her heart rate gently lowered to zero,” Jean painfully recalls.
“That’s how Zoey died. I dressed her for the funeral and even put her a diaper,” she says.
In the 63 days they interacted with Zoey, whose name means ‘God’s life’, it taught them to draw closer to God and to each other. After the funeral, the couple went for counselling to help them cope with the loss.
“I miss her terribly and can still remember her scent. I carried her teddy bear in my bag for a while, but I have now packed her clothes and teddy away and trying to move on with life a day at a time.