MarySmith’sPlace ~ Pregnant in Pakistan#03 #Finale

The next few months were busy. As always reports were needed and funding bids – I laboured over one from WHO which, from diary entries seemed to take forever to complete (all those objectives, outputs and activities) –meetings and travelling. Quetta weather was becoming colder and wetter. It rained solidly for five days, ending with a terrific thunderstorm (and several leaks in our roof) then it became colder and the pipes froze so we had no water and the gas pressure was so low there was scarcely any heat from the fires. The staff was fetching water from the nearby mosque but even after leaving the buckets to sit for hours it was still dirty looking. A trip to Karachi let me soak up some much needed sunshine.

We had meetings in Peshawar in North West Frontier Province where we were woken on our last night by an earthquake. We’d become accustomed to earth tremors in Quetta but this one shook the bed, rattled the windows and made a terrifying noise. We learned a few days later around 1,000 people were killed across the border in Afghanistan and flooding afterwards caused further deaths.

Oh, and the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait began. Quetta was suddenly emptied of expat workers. We were provided with two armed policemen at night – not quite sure what anyone thought was going to happen. Anyway, they enjoyed dinner with us and on the only occasion the dog barked, they sent young Sultan out to check what was going on. I think they must have been sorry when their bosses told them they were no longer required to protect us.

Jon had brought Sughra back with him from Jaghoray. We’d offered to send her to school in Quetta and, in exchange, she would help me with the baby. The school was closed when she arrived and she wanted to be with me all day, standing beside my desk watching me type. Poor girls was probably horribly homesick. Once she started school she loved it and was an extremely cheerful presence in our lives.

I needed that. One diary entry reads: “I’m scared. I’m scared about the baby, about the hospital, about who will do the delivery, about the baby not being healthy – and I’m terrified about the future and my ability to look after a baby.”

I was still visiting the anti-natal clinic. We upset her by saying we didn’t feel happy about having the baby in Civil Hospital, especially as she’d said Jon could not be with me. We chose, instead, a small private hospital. Dr Shahnaz pointed out the private hospital did not have all the hi-tech equipment available at Civil Hospital. I think she was insulted – she is in charge of Civil – but I saw no point in having access to special equipment when the walls are growing fungus.

On March 20, the night before the Afghan New Year, Jon, Sughra and I went shopping. It’s customary to have new clothes for the New Year and we thought as well as treating Sughra we should buy some clothes for the baby, due in about ten days. Poor thing only had a couple of little jackets sent by its grandmother.

When I got up to pee in that night, I noticed there was some blood-streaked mucous. I went back to bed but when I woke in the morning there was more blood. Jon phoned Dr Shahnaz who told us to come to Civil Hospital immediately. I’d had a few contractions but nothing much. I didn’t pack anything as I assumed I’d be told there was plenty of time, we’d come home and pack and head for the private clinic.

Dr Shahnaz examined me then sent me to another room for a foetal heart monitor. The machine had no plug, just bare wires which the nurse stuck into the socket. I wondered if my baby was going to be electrocuted. To my relief, the machine didn’t work. Dr Shahnaz found the heart beat with a stethoscope. She said labour had started, but the head was not engaged and she wanted me to stay in the hospital until 7pm to be monitored – just in case. ‘You may need a Caesarean. I will discuss with your husband.’

Before I could say any such discussion would be with me, she noticed the pad I’d just changed. ‘What’s this?’ she demanded.

I peered at the brownish/greenish stains. ‘Um, meconium, I think.’

‘And what does this mean?’

I shook my head, feeling like a medical student about to fail an exam.

‘Baby is in distress. No time to wait – we need to do a Caesarean.’

I burst into tears. ‘I want to have a normal delivery.’

The doctor tut-tutted at me. ‘I promise, you will be having a delivery and a baby.’

Still wearing the clothes I’d arrived in, I walked into the operating theatre and climbed on the table, being careful not to let my dirty feet touch the catheter lying ready at the end of it. Jon, of course, was left outside. Two anaesthetists were present. I handed one of them my glasses.

The next thing I remember was being wheeled on a trolley somewhere outside. I could feel rain on my face and it was cold. I was taken inside again and transferred to a bed. The porter, wanting me to look neat and tidy, pulled on my ankles to straighten my legs. The pain where I’d been sliced open was excruciating and I pulled my knees up. He pulled my legs straight again. ‘Leaving my fucking legs alone,’ I hissed. He may not have understood the exact words but he understood the message.

Jon came to my rescue, persuaded the porter he should leave – and told me we had a son. He was asleep in a cot beside my bed. He opened his eyes and looked at me and I was lost.

In the hospital

We were given exclusive use of what was a four-bed ward and Jon was able to stay with us, which was a relief and he was able to take over my care. I’d panicked a bit when I saw air bubbles in the syringe the nurse was wielding. They also had a habit of cracking open glass phials and leaving the shards of glass on the floor. Most days, either the blood pressure set or thermometer had gone missing. As a thank you for the all they’d done we bought some blood pressure sets which fastened to the wall.

We had the cradle made in Quetta. The joiner was horrified we wanted it to wide. He said the baby would move around!

The moment Jon left the room, other patients and nurses swarmed in to look at the little white baby – usually waking him up after I’d just got him to sleep. I was so thankful when, after ten days, I was discharged and could go home. To a very different life!

Sughra and baby David
Jawad’s daughter, Shahnaz
It’s a hard life!
Jon & David
An early picnic with Nauroz, Sughra, Ibrahim and baby in his carry cot.
We soon got used to David being ‘kidnapped’ wherever we went.

85 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace ~ Pregnant in Pakistan#03 #Finale

  1. Enjoyed the read and got quite nostalgic about those days of Quetta. As a young kid from a remote Afghan village, I had just arrived in Quetta to join my father and pursue my school.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for your comment. Quetta was never my favourite place in Pakistan – much preferred Karachi – but I do feel a bit nostalgic and would like to take my son one day to see where he was born.


  2. What a beautiful and heart-stopping description of the hospital and delivery. I was lucky enough to deliver in an American hospital–so I cannot relate to the conditions. But I think every mother has a vision of how they expect birth to go. I was put on pitocin and told to stay in the bed until it worked to make the baby come out. I stared in resentment at the ‘birthing ball’ I couldn’t use for the hours I endured waiting for my son to arrive. No where near as dramatically as your David, but I was just as grateful when it was all over and I could hold him. There is something so very universal about that moment between mothers. No matter what how our delivery story goes, it all ends with us falling in love!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. What a beautiful story although a little frightening I will admit. The cradle is beautiful and you look amazing my friend! You have not changed a bit! What an amazing birth story with fantastic photos to go along. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I said to Janette above, he looked like a skinned rabbit! He was very small when he was born and I don’t think he’d have been much bigger if he’d waited the ten days until his due date. He’s over 6 foot now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. David was a cute baby, and it looks like there were no end of baby sitters waiting to care for him. I don’t remember hearing about any other children, so I assume he was an only child.

    My DIL’s mother had short labor and delivery, so she thought she’d have it that way, too. Of course, her labor was over 30 hours. That’s why I only have 1 grandchild. 🙂

    When did you finally make it back to the “western” world?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Everyone wanted to cuddle and play with him. If we went out for a meal someone would come to our table and simply pick him up and take him off to join their family! Great, we go to eat our meal in peace. Waiters used to cart him off to the kitchen – and it never occurred to us to worry about him. Yes, he is an only child. I did think about another but the moment passed.
      A 30 hour labour wouldn’t have been much fun – not at all surprised you only have one grandchild 🙂
      I came home to Scotland with David in 1996 when he was five years old. Jon had another year of his contract to do before he came back. David needed to start school and needed to put down roots plus Taliban was becoming an increasing threat. It was time to come home.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. That was nerve wracking, even though we knew there was going to be a happy ending. I was really disappointed when told my breech baby and contracted pelvis required a planned caesarean – I had planned wiff of gas and air then sitting up in bed with cup of tea. Having Jon with you must have been so good, better perhaps than being in Queen Charlottes for 10days and seeing husband for only an hour a day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I maybe in a class of one but all new borns are ugly. Goodness they’ve just been dragged out of a swimming pool after 9 months and put through a mangle. Mine looked like someone had sculpted ET onto an oversized walnut. Still safe and well and with no doubt a fantastic immune system. What’s not to like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think new babies are always beautiful – but they are to their mothers 🙂 David’s immune system was pretty robust until when he was about a year old he ate sand on Karachi’s beach.


    • Taking Nick to Vichy would be a lot more enjoyable than taking David to Quetta, which has become almost a megacity, unrecognisable to me now. Plus, the violence against the Hazara people is horrendous with killings every day. I loved the cradle – it reminded me of one I played with as a child when I visited my gran.


  7. Wow, Mary, I’m quite exhausted after reading all those hair-raising experiences packed into one instalment – I actually felt quite relieved all the way through to already know that you and the darling little David did survive it all! – and what a helpful and practical (typical Mary Smith) pressie to give the hospital – only you would have had the energy and made the time to do that.
    Juliet x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Juliet. The idea of the wall-fastened BP sets came from Dr Shahnaz. We’d offered to make a donation to the hospital but she said it wasn’t a good idea to give money as it would disappear. When I look back on that time – his father’s kidnapping, the earthquake in Peshawar, the Gulf War, his head getting stuck when he tried to come into the world – it’s no wonder David is a worrier!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Even knowing your life in Scotland now, the tesion comes across in your description of the situation back then. I cannot begin to imagine the differences in your delivery and one happening in Britain on the same day. But it does go to show that many of our fears abour ‘foreign parts’ are actually groundless.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. All’s well that ends well as they say! Thankfully. The little girls look so happy holding the baby. My boy is in his 30’s now and 6ft after being 2 months premature and weighing just 3lb, I think they must make up for being too small at the start!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mary, do you look back now and think “Whatever was I doing in those days taking such risks and living one day at a time?” I know I do, but maybe it’s the constant warnings and info on danger that we get from the media. Have to admit, I flew back from Libya to have my second in UK, and it is just as well as she only just survived – which may have something to do with the fact I flew Libyan Arab Airways at 8 and a half months and they did not believe in going up and down slowly! But, like David, she, is now the tallest, and the brightest in the family! Pakistan was just that much further though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes, Lucinda. Especially reading over my diaries for this particular time! But, mostly, as you probably found, things weren’t as dangerous as the media here presents them. I remember when we were planning to go back to Afghanistan for a visit after Taliban had ‘gone’ and there were all sorts of stories of kidnaps, bomb blasts and unrest we chickened out. Our friend Jawad was not happy as he’d worked hard on planning a road trip. He sent me photos of their holiday and we immediately booked our flights and visas. The moment we arrived I relaxed.

      Flying home at eight and half months pregnant sounds far more risky to me – glad it worked out.


  11. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Another wonderful post from Mary Smith about her time in Pakistan and in this episode she is about to give birth, and not under the best of circumstances.. with an emergency C-section and concerns about electrocution…it was not an experience any first time mother wants to be faced with.. as always Mary shows grace under fire…head over to read the post in full.. thanks Sally

    Liked by 2 people

  12. OK, now I think I’ve hit the part where I simply would want to shout “I wanna go home!” You and John (and David!) are incredible, to be in a position where there are simply a long line of things which could go wrong, you two somehow navigated through it all and…wow! Your writing and photos are something special, and the reward of what you’ve been through to me shine in the photo of Jawad’s daughter, Shahnaz holding David… I bet she still remembers. And then there is the beautiful shot of David and I think maybe Sugra? both exhausted and catching a few winks 😉 Such a rich and wonderful world you have created 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your lovely words. For sure, Shahnaz will remember holding David. In Hazara Jat, custom means no one from outside immediate family can visit a new baby until after forty days in case they bring djinn (bad spirits) so to be able to hold a baby only a few days old was something special. Jawad and all his family are very close to us and thanks to technology it is so easy to keep in touch nowadays. Sughra was wonderful with David – everyone was. We had some tough times but they were so worth it to have the privilege of having such wonderful people in our lives.


  13. You still get that reaction here about a white or mixed baby…I remember Aston just being carted off as a baby but always kept safe…A lovely if a harrowing story in places and I can understand your angst as you were about to give birth…But all well that ends well and David was such a tiny dot…Hopefully one day he will get to see his birthplace…:) xx

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It reads like you went back in time but thankfully, whatever the hospital difficulties, the doctor knew what she was doing. I’ve never had a child but the whole experience sounds terrifying in those conditions. The pictures are priceless and David and all of you look very happy. Take care, Sue, and thanks for sharing those magical (and scary) moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. As horrible to imagine beeing in this situation, during these circumstances, its amazing, and looks a little bit like in ancient times the birth of Jesus Christ. 😉 Wow! Mary, you really should consider a storyboard for a movie. Thank you for sharing, and have a beautiful week. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mary, what a dramatic birth! Luckily you were both safe and sound – the conditions sound far from ideal! Ahh … I love the sweet cot and wondering what could be wrong with a baby moving around. David looks adorable and no wonder he was continually ‘kidnapped’!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When babies are put down to sleep in cots or cradles in Pakistan they are tightly swaddled so they can’t move their arms and legs around. Obviously, we didn’t agree with this and wanted our baby to be able to stretch his limbs.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Mary Smith ~ Pregnant in Pakistan#03 #Finale | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  18. Dear heaven, Mary! Another chapter where my heart’s in my mouth. From the political situation to the bare wires in the hospital there’s enough drama in here to make me feel faint. You understate the situation with your typical dry humour and observation but, reading between the lines, it must have been unbelievably stressful. The pictures are lovely and (and reassuring) and David is a wee darling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those bare wires worried me! It was a stressful time. I’d forgotten just how stressful until I re-read my diary entries. Funny how time lets us forget the bad stuff. David was a wee darling – he was very wee when he was born but is now a strapping six-footer.

      Liked by 1 person

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