It is the early hours of the morning in the post-natal ward at Makhado Memorial Hospital. A bundle, a new born baby, is cradled in one of the nurse’s arms. He is covered in a blue baby blanket.
Fresh tears stream down Mrs Munyaimukalanga’s face. Mr Munyaimukalanga looks expectantly at the doctor, who is standing behind the nurse. “Doctor, what have we done to deserve this?” he asks.
The doctor reaches out and the nurse places the baby in his arms. He uncovers the blanket and lifts one of the baby’s arms. There are no fingers on the left hand, and the thumb is half-formed; the other hand is the same. The doctor runs his forefinger gently over the skin where the fingers are missing. When he looks up at the father, he sees the question in the man’s eyes.
“Did we anger God in any manner so that he had to punish us in this fashion?” the father asks again. “This is so strange, doctor. And how could it be like this for our very first child?”
Not only does the boy have no fingers and tiny stumps for thumbs, but his one leg is noticeably shorter than the other and one arm too.
“Doctor,” says Mrs Munyaimukalanga, “does it mean that when he grows up he will limp? Will he walk properly with legs of different sizes? How will he write if he doesn’t have fingers? How can he go to school?” Mrs Munyaimukalanga’s voice is getting higher and higher. The doctor’s eyes are filled with empathy.
“My baby will go through a lot of hardship,” says Mr Munyaimukalanga.
“The deformity may also affect his ability to learn. And – oh, dear God – if you remove us soon from this world, who will look after our baby!? Wouldn’t he become a beggar, sitting with a can on the pavement, asking some coins from passers-by?” His wife is hysterical. The baby starts to cry.
Mr Munyaimukalanga paces up and down the small maternity room. “We had wished to have a child who would study and qualify as a veterinarian or chartered accountant. We knew even before the child was born that it was a boy, and we had great expectations for him.”
Mrs Munyaimukalanga adds, forlornly: “We were expecting a beautiful and complete prince to grace our lives. But now … now the opposite has happened. And we are weeping. We are not saying that we don’t love this baby … but how will we cope with a deformed child?”
The doctor shakes his head. “In the world of today, we do not say a person is ‘deformed’ or has a ‘deformity’,” he says politely. “He is of your blood and a gift from God. His birth should be a cause for celebration, for all of us in here now. For later, there are special schools which cater for the needs of physically challenged children. So now I urge you to celebrate the birth of your child, who has so much potential in life. Do not put limitations, and your anxiety, on him before he has even said his first word or taken his first step.”
At once, Mr and Mrs Munyaimukalanga raise their faces and look at the doctor, eyes shining with rays of hope.
“He is a gift from God,” the doctor repeats, as he hands Mrs Munyaimukalanga her son. “Look how beautiful he is.”
The mother looks at her son, and her tears subside, and she sighs. “Doctor you are right. This child is our blood and we’ll love him, take care of him and, if circumstances are such, protect him.”
Her husband nods and says, “Yes, we will.” He comes to sit next to his wife on the bed, and puts his arm around her shoulder. He leans his face in to look into the baby’s. “We welcome and accept this beautiful boy in our lives. His name is Lutendo – one who believes in himself – because he will need courage in this world,” says his father, and the mother nods.
Tell us: Do you think it is only other people’s stereotypes about people with disabilities that make parents of such children fearful and frustrated?