The first time the doctor told Lilian about having surgery, she had responded with a vehement ‘Tufia’, her right hand moving in a corresponding snapping motion toward the back of her head. ‘But Madam, your pelvic area is too small to allow your baby pass normally. And you know your baby is on the big side,’ he tried to explain.

‘Look ehn, doctor, it’s because I respect you that I did not just stand up and walk out. This my baby will be born naturally, that’s my agreement with my husband.’

Although it was her first time, Lilian had felt very confident in her ability to be a mother. She had waited ten years for this, read all the mothering books her hands could find, what better way to be prepared? Her friends’ stories of their pregnancies and deliveries were stored securely in her mind from which she retrieved them at times like this. They had told her, ‘if you don’t eat well, your baby will not eat too. So eat five or six times everyday,’ ‘these local women are very good and cheap for delivery.’

If only she had taken the statement her friend Tayo had made that, ‘being a mother is a different experience for every woman’ seriously, maybe she would not be in the situation she was now. Lilian’s labour had begun unexpectedly yesterday afternoon when she returned from the market. Her water broke almost immediately but the pain was so severe that she was forced to abandon her efforts to clean up the mess. She comforted herself that it was only a few hours until her pains yielded the baby girl she was expecting. Her bag was already packed so she picked it up and hurried off to the woman she had chosen to deliver her a few streets away.

That was the beginning of the terrible ordeal that had now exhausted her. The woman monitored the dilation of her cervix, and reassured her that everything was coming along fine. Lillian’s baby was ready to jump out and she was excited, initially. Then two hours turned into five, and then eight, and the woman told her, ‘Your baby will be here soon.’

‘Ah!’ Lillian cried, ‘I thought it was here already. I want to push, it’s so painful.’

‘Relax. Every mother knows it’s painful but it will pass. By the time you see your baby, you would have forgotten.’ The woman, whose face was wreathed in fine lines that bore witness of advanced age, smiled at her softly.

‘Okay,’ Lillian whimpered.

When day had begun to break, over sixteen hours since Lillian’s labour started, a deep crease of worry had begun to form on the woman’s face. The older woman muttered to herself as she walked up and down in the house, running into the bowls she had set out for the expected baby’s first bath. The noise of the clanging bowls sent a chill down Lillian’s spine. It was when she first felt fear. Something was definitely not right.

‘I don’t know if you can have this baby by yourself,’ the woman eventually said after Lillian had spent twenty hours in agonizing pain, and lost several degrees of awareness. She no longer responded when spoken or referred to. Her glazed eyes stared unseeing at the opposite wall painted in dark green.

‘Take her to the general hospital’, Lillian faintly heard the woman say in raspy tones to her husband. Her husband must have been agitated because his arms shook as he lifted Lillian and carried her to a waiting taxi.