The Mourning After
Week 1 Heading link
Aubrey Meunier, MS Student
“Sometimes carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement.” –Albert Camus.
The topic of death is always tricky to address, especially in a country with a wound still fresh from the genocide against the Tutsi. I did not fully expect to encounter fetal demise during my time here in Rwanda, considering I have only encountered it once during my clinical experience in Chicago. I acknowledge that it is a heavy topic to read, so this serves as a moment to stop and reassess if the rest of this blog post is appropriate for you.
If you are familiar with Rwanda’s history, you can imagine how the dialogue surrounding death has evolved over the last 50 years. If you are unfamiliar with the topic, I will do my best to offer a summary. For one hundred days, from April till July 1994, there was a genocide and attempted extermination of the Tutsi class of Rwandans. This genocide was performed by other Rwandan citizens, typically from the Hutu class, with clubs and machetes. This genocide was influenced largely by the colonization of Rwanda by Belgium, pitting Rwandan citizens against one another. It is estimated that 800,000 people were murdered at the hands of their neighbors.
This genocide ended less than 30 years ago, so many people in Rwanda today remember, directly participated, or were directly targeted by the genocide. With a history so fresh with the wound of mass death and murder, how do citizens of Rwanda cope with unexpected fetal demise? During my first shift observing care in the labor and delivery department, I saw a live birth from the first stage of labor through delivery. At the end of my shift, I happened upon a woman in the maternity ward who was loudly crying. My first instinct was to go over and assist her as I imagined she was having painful contractions. However, I was stopped by my preceptor and told that she was mourning her fetal demise.
“It’s just too much,” I hear her cry.
I feel my heart sink with the realization that as babies cry in the background, so does a mother mourn the loss of her child. Fetal demise is one of the most common pregnancy complications, and it becomes even more prevalent when we look at the rates among lower-income countries such as Rwanda. The collective trauma the people of Rwanda already share is a heavy burden to carry. When we take into consideration the increased risk and consequential emotional burden Rwandans face daily; it is truly impressive the resilience the people exuberate.
Aubrey Meunier is a Masters nursing student at University of Illinois at Chicago. She also works as a nanny in Wrigleyville and as a standardized patient at UIC Nursing. Her passion is women’s health and midwifery.