Expat Life: Giving Birth in Africa

by Miss Footloose

I arrived in exotic Ghana puking my guts out. Not an auspicious beginning for a new expat life in West Africa. But don’t worry, this was some time ago. I remember this not-so-charming scene as the most memorable arrival in a foreign country I’ve experienced, and as you may know I’ve done a lot of arriving and departing.

So, my man and I found our luggage on the belt and stood in line at customs. Our turn arrived as I was busy making good use of the barf bag taken from the airplane, one of several I had filled on the miserable trip over.

The custom official took one look at me, and waved us through.

I was five months pregnant with our first child.

You may wonder what I was thinking going to live in tropical Africa while pregnant. But it was on my Life Path, my Fate, whatever you want to call it, so I went.

Soon after arrival I acquired my first African doctor to guide me on my Pregnancy Journey. No, I do not mean a medicine man who kills white chickens and mixes up secret potions with its blood (a little saliva, some ashes, a dash of powdered bark–you get the idea). Please, get real. This man was a western-style physician, a gynecologist-obstetrician with an impressive string of initials behind his name, as well as the notation that he was a Fellow of the Royal College of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.

Dr. Azu (not his real name), then, had received his education in England and had an excellent reputation in the expatriate community. He was “approved” by the American embassy so there you have it. Not that I was American at the time, but it was good enough for me.

Our daughter was born in Doctor Azu’s shiny white clinic on a Tuesday morning.

I remember it well

I remember Doctor Azu very well. For one thing, he was one of the blackest people I have ever seen – a deep, rich ebony black that made an impressive contrast with his white doctor’s coat. Only on this Tuesday morning he was not wearing his white coat.

Here I was, in the throes of labor and in he comes, wearing a white singlet, a white butcher’s apron and plain rubber boots. He was quite a sight, and not a sight I had witnessed before. However, since I was rather occupied, I had no time to contemplate his bizarre appearance.

I was not having a good time

This sacred birthing thing was not going according to the books I’d been reading, and sacred I was not feeling. (No soft music, no candle light, no crystals.) I’ll spare you the unholy details and make it short: My prince was taken out of the room, I was knocked out and the baby was born with the help of forceps. I try not to picture the procedure. The image of a man wearing a butcher apron and rubber boots, sitting between my spread-out legs holding a huge clamp in his hands is not spiritually inspiring. However, all went well, sacred or not.

Poor baby . . .

They never gave our daughter a little identification bracelet. She was the only white baby among a group of about eight newborns in the nursery. Not only was she the only white one, she was the only bald one. Most black African babies are born with an enviable crop of hair. To tell you the truth, next to these brown beauties, my baby daughter, hairless and colorless, looked a bit pale and sick, which she wasn’t. Context is everything.


Bald baby

So that was the tale about the excellent African doctor and his butcher apron who pulled my baby into the world when Mother Nature did not want to cooperate.

Actually . . . 

there is another little tale I’ll tell you here: Some time later, our nanny, the Ghanaian girl who helped take care of our baby, was in need of some medical attention for a minor problem of the female variety. She wanted time off to go to her village, which would take her away from my household for at least two or three days. I had a better idea: She could consult the eminent Doctor Azu and I would pay for the visit, which was worth it, since she would be back in a matter of hours rather than days.

Rose, however, did not see things the way I did

She wanted to spend hours on a rickety tro-tro lurching across rutted roads to go to her home village. The village boasted an American mission hospital staffed with white American physicians (one of whom was called Doctor Brown, I kid you not). She wanted an American doctor, not my excellent African physician to whom I had entrusted myself and my baby, the doctor “approved” by the American embassy, no less.

So, African Rose took off to her village, to see her white American Doctor Brown, and of course her many relatives.

And so it goes in the mind of women.

* * *

Over to you: Have you had a baby abroad? Oh, do tell!

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How interesting to hear of your previous life!!


Hoi Wendela Wat een leuk verhaal. Ik kreeg Carin in Semarang. Met als complicerende factor dat ik Rhesus negatief ben. En geen Indonesiër (op een enkeling na) heeft deze bloedgroep. Het was net vóór de opkomst van het aids tijdperk. Dus we hadden een paar personen in de expat community gevraagd om eventueel donor te kunnen zijn. Alles ging goed met de bevalling; geen complicaties of bloedingen waarbij ik bloed nodig had. Nu achteraf vraag ik me af of mijn veilige gevoel van een paar potentiële donors in de buurt te hebben, wel terecht was. Er was niet echt iets… Read more »

Als verloskundige in opleiding zijn deze verhalen natuurlijk super interessant! Maar wel een heftige bevalling pfoe. Forceps en alles.. Wat mij niet helemaal duidelijk was; viel je flauw of gaven ze een roesje? Ik vind het indrukwekkend! Was het bij Rona een hele andere ervaring? Ik hoop dat ik volgend jaar of het jaar daarna een stage mag gaan doen in een Afrikaans land. Erg leerzaam en zo compleet anders dan hoe we het in Nederland doen!

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