A good start
September 4 1995
Mother arrived home with the twins today. I hadn’t been able to visit her at the hospital, not with being fully engaged with taking care of my younger five. But I immediately saw that my responsibility had grown to seven. Mother’s eyes were blank and I knew that the doctor’s verdict had been more than accurate.
“You don’t have the strength to carry another baby full term. Even if you get pregnant and do, you won’t ever be able to care for the child yourself.”
That warning had been given a year ago, soon after Dare was born. But mother had been unable to resist stepfather and had gotten pregnant soon afterwards not with one baby, but two.
Now, her face was dull and listless. The ten-hour birthing process had not only drained her of strength, but of life as well. She was an empty shell and I was a mother seven times over now.
“There you go,” Stepfather announced sheepishly as he thrust the female twin into my arms, “they need to be changed and fed. I’ll take your mother upstairs now.” He had the grace to look chastened. I laid the baby girl down on the sofa and reached for the boy who was sleeping peacefully in mother’s arms.
She flinched slightly at the intrusion but gratefully relinquished the burden she held.
“Go on, mother,” I said, “go up to bed and rest. Papa will tuck you in.”
She nodded, slipped a limp hand into stepfather’s hand and ambled up the stairs with him.
She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer during one of the routine checks during Dare’s pregnancy. Before any of us could blink, the death had metastasized and spread through her body, attacking her lungs and bowel. Miraculously, she had delivered Dare naturally and had even been able to care for him awhile.
Then the doctor’s warning.
And then the pregnancy and the twins.
My eyes watered uncontrollably. She had been my bulwark of strength for so long, now I was to be hers. And I wasn’t going to be responsible for her only; I was also going to be mother to seven kids and help for stepfather. Numbly, I went about the task of feeding the babies and getting to know them. I had sent Bimbo, Segun, Funmi and Lekan next door to play with the neighbor’s children shortly before mother arrived. Dare was asleep upstairs.
“Lord, help me because I can’t cope on my own. We all cannot cope. Help mother to cross fearlessly to the great beyond. Help stepfather cope with the loss and be a good father. Help these kids grow in the knowledge of you. Help me…help me be a source of strength to everyone. Please help me…” After a while, I couldn’t pray anymore. I just kept singing a litany of “help me”.
September 5 1995
“I’m sorry.” Mother whispered despondently as I went up to check in on her.
“You need not be.”
“I’ve ruined your life,” she went on. “At your age, I had the whole world at my feet. But you, I’ve ruined you, putting the whole world on your shoulders at eighteen.” She began to weep silently.
“Shh. We’ll cope somehow.”
My assurance seemed to calm her a bit. “I know I don’t have to ask you to take care of them because I know you will. But how…how can children begin their lives without knowing their mother?”
“Shh, mother. You need to rest.”
“Not yet, dear.” She sighed a tremulous sigh. “But I know they have a good start with you. You’ll teach them to love the Lord, won’t you?”
“And the others, especially Funmi. She’s strong willed and…”
“That will do. Now get to bed.”
Meekly, she slid underneath the sheets as the argument went out of her.
She died that night, chanting “a good start” over and over again. I don’t know which she meant – a good start for the babies or a good start for her in heaven.
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