Tshego Seane, a mother of two boys, was pregnant with her third child – a baby girl, whom they had planned to name Siphesihle (which means Beautiful Gift in Swati). She was given this name because it was what she was in the imaginations of her parents. A beautiful gift that they were prepared to wait patiently – 40 weeks roughly – to receive.
But what they did not imagine was that their precious gift would earn her second name through blood, tears and prayers. Baby Siphesihle Mohau (meaning Grace in Tswana) miraculously survived a nightmare ordeal thanks to her sheer determination to live combined with the endless love and prayers for all who met her.
On 11 July 2018, a 32 weeks pregnant, Tshego, experienced a sharp, stabbing pain in her abdomen. The type of pain that can only mean bad things. The type of pain that a pregnant woman under 38 weeks prays she will never feel. Realising the seriousness of the pain, her sister rushed her to the hospital.
On arriving at the hospital she was taken immediately to the labour ward for tests to be carried out to try to understand what was causing the pain. One of these tests was to place a cardiotocograph (more commonly known as an electronic foetal monitor) on Tshego’s abdomen. This device measures the foetal heartbeat and the uterine wall for contractions. The test results were not positive. Siphesihle’s heartbeat was very slow and getting slower – this is called foetal bradycardia and it can be mortally dangerous.
Some of the facts: Foetal bradycardia is defined as a sustained foetal heart rate of less than 110 beats per minute. This can be a sign of foetal distress and is an indication for urgent delivery. While the cause of this complication is not always clear it can be caused by placental abruption, uterine rupture and foetal haemorrhage.
Tshego was told that she would need to be taken for an emergency c-section immediately. On arrival in the surgical theatre, the doctor explained the procedure to her, and with very little time to absorb or come to terms with the fact that she was having her baby almost two months early, her baby was being cut from her. This had gone from a blessed time in her life to a nightmare. And it would only get worse.
At 9:30 pm, as her baby was lifted from her abdomen she was struck by two things, the first thing she noticed we will come back to later. But the second thing she noticed engulfed the room, it sucked the air from her lungs, it made her heart hammer against her ribcage and her blood roar in her ears. The second thing she noticed made the doctors briefly avert their eyes and a heavy sadness to fill every space in the operating theatre. The second thing she noticed, that everyone noticed, was the silence. Her Beautiful Gift from God made no sound at all.
The doctor looked over at Tshego sadly and said the words that broke Tshego’s world apart, “I am sorry, but I don’t think your baby is going to make it, she is not breathing.”. The doctors and nurses began trying to resuscitate the baby, to get her to take a breath.
At this point Tshego, having just undergone major abdominal surgery, in shock both from this and emotional trauma, falls apart, she fails to grasp the reality of the doctor’s words and what is happening around her, her blood pressure sky-rockets and she herself was rushed off to the maternity ward to recover. And just like that, she was taken away from her baby.
Tshego remembers how everything unfolded so quickly, she had no time to process what had happened to both her and her baby. She wasn’t even sure if her baby had lived.
After her c-section, she was left physically numbed by her anaesthesia and emotionally numbed by the sedatives. She lost track of time, only to fully regain consciousness by 5 am to the sickening realisation that she didn’t know whether her child was dead or alive. Tshego went crazy. She began to shout at the nurses, demanding answers to a question she both desperately wanted to know and not know – “Is my baby alive? Did she make it?”
For reasons unknown, none of the maternity ward nurses knew where Tshego’s baby was. They searched the nursery, but Siphesihle was nowhere to be found. Tshego searched three wards but still, she could not find her baby.
Losing hope, Tshego decided there was one last place to look for her baby girl – the morgue. As she walked through the hospital to find the morgue, she heard her surname being called. It was one of the nurses who had been helping her look for Siphesihle, “Seane, we found her!”.
Siphesihle was alive.
The beautiful gift, the miracle baby had lived.
She had been in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) from about 12 am after being resuscitated and having several seisures. She was given a blood transfusion, often necessary in treating premature baby’s who suffer from anaemia which in turn can cause bradycardia – the very symptom that started all of this. This pointed to what had most likely caused Siphesihle’s distress and all the life-threatening complications she experienced – foetal haemorrhage.
Some more facts: Foetal haemorrhage refers to the entry of foetal blood into the maternal circulation before or during delivery. Very small amount of foetal red cells are normally detectable in all pregnancies. Massive foetal-maternal bleed is very rare and even rarer is the resultant severe anaemia causing early neonatal death, despite an uneventful normal pregnancy until the end. Antenatal foetal-maternal haemorrhage is a pathological condition with a wide spectrum of clinical variation. Secondary to the resultant anaemia, foetal-maternal haemorrhage may have devastating consequences for the foetus such as neurologic injury, stillbirth, or neonatal death. Source: Oman Medical Journal, 2011 Nov; 26(6): 444-446.
The paediatrician explained to her, that Siphesihle had been without oxygen for a significant period of time after birth. The oxygen starvation would most likely result in some level of brain damage. She continued to explain that Tshego and her family would most likely have to adapt to life with a disabled child.
The doctor ordered further tests to be done to ascertain whether her suspicions were true. And this miracle baby was not done defying the odds – the tests showed no sign of any damage due to oxygen starvation. She was 100% healthy aside from some anaemia and jaundice. After just two days in NICU, Siphesihle was released from the hospital and she and mom returned home.
But Siphesihle’s differences were not limited to her dramatic entrance into this world. This brings me back to the first thing Tshego noticed when the doctor lifted her baby from her womb.
Her baby was white.
Siphesihle was born albino. A congenital disorder that comes with several physical issues but more so a disorder that comes with many social disadvantages as individuals with albinism are often stigmatised, labouring under the weight of false beliefs and prejudices.
Some more facts: One in every 5000 to 15 000 Africans have albinism. People with albinism are susceptible to sunburn, skin cancers and visual problems. Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus, and amblyopia. Lack of skin pigmentation makes for more susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers. Visit http://www.underthesamesun.com, https://lovethisskin.tumblr.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/AlbinismZA/ for more information.
Once more Siphesihle Mohau’s name foretold her future. Her disorder was accepted by her family and her community with the grace to see her albinism as just another part of the beautiful gift that is this miracle baby. Her family are besotted with her, this despite being the first albino born into both the maternal or paternal side of the families. And her community adore her, Tshego and Siphesihle are doted on when out and about – everyone wants to talk to mom and baby, pick little Siphesihle up and give her and her mom a kiss for good luck.
Today, Tshego’s baby girl is full of life, she is bubbly and full of smiles and laughs. She brings joy to her parents, brothers and all who meet her.
And her parents are determined to give her the best and most beautiful of gifts in return – confidence. Because Tshego knows that when you have a child that looks different, or has special needs, or sometimes just doesn’t fit the crowd, that child’s parents have to give them the tools to withstand how cruel the world can be.
Empowered with this confidence, Siphesihle Mohau will have all the grace needed to take on whatever this life may throw at her.
Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.