‘Congratulations on your new born,’ the doctor said to me.
I smiled in response.
I patted the new born I was holding, a baby girl. She smelled of baby oil and talcum. Her long lashes were shut in the kind of sleep only new borns know how to enjoy.
I looked up at the doctor, he stood stiffly like a thief caught in the act. I remember telling myself how sad he must be, a doctor working in a government hospital, probably not well paid and hating everyone and no one in particular.
But there was more to his stiffness; I looked up from the beautiful bundle I was holding to his face. His cold voice made the hairs rise at the back of my neck. I knew, immediately to pay attention to whatever he had to say next. So I held his gaze.
“This baby has a congenital defect; she may never reach full mental development. She has Down Syndrome.”
I stared blankly at the doctor, not comprehending. I felt my brain speed up, it flicked through files of medical jargons I picked up from surfing the net while pregnant. Yet, I knew I was missing much of the information.
Did he just tell me my child would never develop mentally, that she had Down Syndrome? I panicked.
I scrambled to uncover the baby; I searched for her feet, there they were, complete set of ten tiny toes, two skinny legs with sagging flesh- babies are born looking old, I reasoned. I felt for her bum, patted it gently, yep, there was a bum underneath the diaper she was wearing. What more would she need to be normal?
I raised my head to glare at the doctor, my wide eyes asking the question, “What are you talking about?” I did everything I was asked to do, I obeyed the rules. I ate well, slept well, took my drugs, kept myself healthy. How can I have a deformed baby?’
I saw the doctor grind his teeth as he sought for words to explain himself.
“Down Syndrome has nothing to do with what you didn’t do, not in the strict sense, anyway. Yours, I think, would be because you had her at an advanced age.”
“I’m just 41 years! I have friends who had kids at 40, one at 43, a mistake, she said. But the babies are healthy!”
The doctor lowered his head and stiffened.
I’m the first born of five girls. My mother was spitefully called ‘Abi-girl’; meaning, the bearer of only girl children. My father was proud of us girls and sent me to the best schools in Nigeria and abroad. He didn’t live long to do the same for the rest of my sisters. He died when my second sister, who’s my mother’s third born was about to finish secondary school and I was in my third year at the university of Leicester.
I promised Dad on his death bed, to assist mother in seeing the rest of my sisters through school. The girl after me, Tina is the selfish one; she didn’t help out and got married as soon as she got a job after school.
“Tina, you are so selfish. You were supposed to wait to help send the rest to school before you get married,” I tried to prick her conscience. I should have known she had none.
“I’m not Mother Theresa,” she replied and still went ahead with her marriage plans. She had twins almost immediately, effectively leaving me and Mama to slave through with getting Rose, Charity and Nene through secondary school and university.
I shunned marriage proposals, not because I wanted to build a career, that was there, but I knew marriage would make me unable to channel most of my resources towards seeing the rest of my sisters through school. Look at Tina, the world revolves around her twin sons and husband.
I only began to ease when Nene got into her third year. By then, I was 36 years and unfortunately, the marriage proposals had whittled down.
I’m attractive enough, willing to try new things; join fellowships in church, go on blind dates, follow up on referrals, anything for a husband but the men just refused to show up.
On my 39th birthday, I hit upon an idea. I would have a baby, from any man and keep the child. I was financially comfortable enough to care for the child alone. So the hunt for a sperm donor began. I didn’t know that too would be a hard find.
One year and a half later, Moses came into my life. He swept me off my feet. Much younger, I agree, by four years, but at that time I would have taken any man.
The doctor’s words keep ringing in my ears. “Age is the most single important variable affecting the outcome in reproduction. Older women are prone to having babies with abnormal birth defects resulting from chromosomal abnormalities; these children have varying degrees of mental retardation and birth defects…
These days, I can’t sleep, eat or drink. I can’t even show my friends and family the result of nine months of pregnancy. I can’t do much but stare at my baby and wonder why the gods have spat in my face.