Its hard to fathom that when we arrived in Kijabe, we arrived as strangers.
When we knew Ashton’s due date, we learned that the staff OB and pediatrician from Toronto and IU would both be out of Kenya. After much discussion, we felt that a delivery at Kijabe AIC Hospital– a missionary hospital 4 hours away– would be a safer option than remaining at our public hospital without them. As the due date approached and all of the physicians and nurses remained on strike at our hospital here, our decision to go was further confirmed.
Kijabe Mission Hospital
Our connection to Kijabe Mission Hospital was that we were friends of friends with a family doctor, Scott Myhre and his wife, Jennifer Myhre, a pediatrician, who both worked there. The Myhres were missionaries initially in Bundibugyo, Uganda for over 20 years and then moved to Kijabe. We met Scott at the hospital once, months ago, and felt welcomed and in good hands. We then booked a little hotel apartment a short walk to the hospital. We hoped and prayed that details, like who would watch Gavin, would be in God’s hands. Little did we know that His fingerprints would mark details that we could never have anticipated.
Kijabe Guest House
On September 28, we drove a car full of everything we might need for a 1-5 week stay and we moved to live in the hotel and wait for Ashton. Upon arriving, we were instantly welcomed into the small community and soon became connected to multiple families that taught at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for third-culture kids from all around Africa. Gavin had endless playmates his age and within the first week, several families had offered to watch him on whatever day Ashton was born. We, prematurely, even suggested that it might only be for 6 hours based on Gavin’s quick arrival. We did not plan on staying at the hospital long after delivery as, even in the best of hospitals in Kenya, we did not want to risk any of us getting some sort of hospital-acquired infection.
Waiting for Baby Ashton- Bath time in the hotel
The night Ashton was born, we walked to the hospital and called the OB. Scott was out of town but had left us in the very competent hands of one of the Kenyan OB’s. Ashton was born within 20 minutes of us arriving at the hospital and within 5 minutes of actually locating the doctor. Note, at some point, we will learn to accurately gauge our stage of labor and at some point we will not be delivering in our street clothes. Ashton was a tiny, healthy peanut at just over 5 pounds and Geren and I had a few moments of high-fives before the complications arose. The events that followed were a whirlwind.
Retrospectively, it appears I likely had something called placenta accreta where the placenta had attached into the muscle fibers of the uterus and therefore was unable to be removed. After over an hour of unsuccessful attempts in the delivery room, I was taken to the operating room for what was described as a 10-minute procedure in order to remove the placenta and stop the bleeding that would continue as long as the placenta was in place.
Meanwhile, Geren was left alone in an empty delivery room, holding my wedding band and an hour-old Ashton. The ten minutes became over 3.5 hours and the D & C resulted in a perforated uterus. The perforation ultimately resulted in a cesarean section-like surgery to repair the perforation and fully remove the placenta. During the procedures, I lost nearly 2/3’s of my blood but by the grace of God never dropped my blood pressure or lost perfusion to my brain or other essential organs. The OB’s very aggressive manual techniques stopped the bleeding for a condition that often is treated in the US with an emergency hysterectomy secondary to the high risk of maternal mortality. We are so thankful for her diligence and skill.
In the hours that followed, we stayed on the general wards in a large room of about 20 beds separated by thin curtains. Scott and Jennifer returned that afternoon and took over our care. They were the perfect blend of physicians and friends. Geren donated two units of blood to me (by first presenting left arm to one technician and then his right to another technician to bypass the 3-month-wait-between-donations rule). Another unit was donated by Jennifer. For you medical people, my hemoglobin started at 12.1 and dropped to an estimated 4-point-something. By the time it was checked post surgically, it was at 5.7 after I already had received one of Geren’s units. With the 2 more units, it reached 7.7 where they left it instead of risk further complications with subsequent transfusions. When we appeared more stable, we were switched to a private room were we stayed for the next 2 nights before returning to the hotel.
Scott Myhre and Ashton
There are many things that we are grateful for from the experience. In addition to having a very healthy Ashton, being taken care of by competent physicians (both the Myhres and the Kenyan staff), recovering well from delivery and surgery, and going to a good hospital, there were many other things that we feel God had orchestrated. Looking back, we see His hands were holding so much. Here are just a few of these things:
A Middle of the Night Delivery:There was an operating room readily available because it was the middle of the night and there were no scheduled surgeries taking place. Also, the fact that it was Columbus Day in the US meant that Geren could call and talk to our families during the workday hours that correlated with our midnight.
Jennifer Myhre and Ashton
My Blood Type: Thank you, Mom and Dad for giving me AB+ blood. There are 8 types of blood and only 1 of those is able to receive blood from every other type—AB+. While we talked in the past about me being a “universal receiver”, we had no idea that it would be so critical. Not only could Geren donate to me, but so could any other person. Jennifer donated without hesitation and there were multiple other volunteers should I have needed more. There was something so beautiful about seeing my pale-faced husband and our friend and knowing that half of my blood was actually theirs. As a side-note, as Jennifer has spent the last 25 years living in East Africa, I am hoping to have been bestowed immunity to a host of things by having her blood in my veins.
The Kijabe Community:People that we did not know prior to this month befriended us and loved Geren, Gavin, and me well. There are no American children near where we live in Eldoret and Gavin enjoyed his time with his new “fliends” (l’s and r’s are hard, people). Gavin spent multiple nights with other families while we were in the hospital. Additionally, one of the families arranged dinners for us and we were provided with meals for every night after Ashton was born. Again, we were strangers when we arrived just one week before.
Ashton’s Hospital Card
The Claud’s: The first week we were there, we had dinner with Erika, a neonatologist, and Dan, an emergency medicine physician from Chicago. We were introduced to them by a mutual friend over email. The night Ashton was born, Geren asked Erika to come assess him since only a skeleton crew was working overnight. What would have been a 5 minute infant check became an all night affair as Erika then saw the complications and volunteered to stay with us throughout the night. She remained with me in the operating room, updating Geren, suggesting blood donations, and serving as a liaison between the OB and Geren. Per Kenyan medical culture, without Erika, the time in the operating room would have been 4 hours of silence for Geren without communication from the OB. Erika also called her husband, Dan, in the wee hours of the morning and he arrived to sit with Geren through what was one of Geren’s darkest nights. Dan held Ashton, provided a shoulder to lean on, and was a great friend. I cannot thank the Clauds enough for walking through this not only with me but more importantly walking through it with Geren. Without them, he would have faced the hours of uncertainly alone—sitting in an empty room of a Kenyan hospital, watching a cockroach scurry by, hearing no updates, and holding a tiny newborn. Their presence was such a gift to us and I am so thankful for their ability to care for people they had just shared dinner with once before.
Friends and Family across the ocean:After Geren called our families, many family and friends were praying for us. Several friends prayed for us outside our old apartment in Boston, my mother mobilized family and friends across the country to pray, and others prayed for us while speaking to Geren on the phone. In the hours after surgery, a praying mantis hovered over my bed, serving as a very tangible sign that we were loved and supported by family and friends across the ocean.
Geren: I. Love. This. Man. I cannot imagine what he went through in those hours, I thankfully was under general anesthesia and have no memories of much of the night. Jennifer later described the night that Ashton was born as one in which Geren walked through the Valley of the Shadow. And I know there is no one I would rather have in my corner, donating more units of blood than he was permitted, advocating for me in what can be a more broken medical system, continuously following up with the nursing staff to make sure that procedures were done as they were ordered, working closely with Scott to make sure that all my needs were met, and caring for both of our sons in the recovery days that followed.
The experience was an incredible one for us. Geren and I ultimately find it to have been several of the best weeks of our marriage. The only way we feel like we can describe our thoughts and feelings in the wake of the events are with gratitude of where we were and where God has brought us.
Our Packed Car- Coming Home
Shane Claiborne has written a book that we read daily called, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. He includes the following words that have resonated well with how we feel and what we know of what God has done.
“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing, once again into our doors.”
And so, we come home protected through the storm and rejoicing in the wonders He has shown us. We come home seeing that His fingerprints were all over Ashton’s story. And we come home with a pale-faced husband, the blood of friends, and a 5 inch abdominal scar serving as our Ebenezers.