Courtesy of a highly unusual set of maternity circumstances at the Letsholathebe II Memorial Hospital, a Maun woman has been going through the most emotionally trying time of her life for more than month now. However, the Hospital Superintendent, Dr. Maxwell Mungisi, is confident that this story will definitely have a happy ending. When rushed to the hospital on September 9 by a taxi, Granny Tembwe never made it to the maternity ward. She gave birth right inside the taxi. Thereafter, she was attended by two nurses – one male, the other female. As Tembwe remained in the taxi, the female nurse took the newly-born baby away to the maternity ward.
The male nurse, who stayed behind, told Tembwe that her child was a boy. However, later when the mother was reunited with her baby, she was shocked to find that it was a girl and not a boy. Anxious about what could have happened, she and her mother sought clarification and were told that the male nurse had made a mistake. Hospitals around the world have mixed up new-born babies and no amount of explanation would dispel the family’s doubts. When she left the hospital, its management had promised that it would request the police to do DNA testing in order to resolve the issue. That took a long time to happen and Tembwe complained to Sunday Standard that the hospital management for not only dragging its feet but for also keeping her in the dark. On the other hand, Mungisi maintains that the misidentification of the baby’s gender was an honest mistake.
“In my heart, I am 100 percent sure that the baby was not swapped with another,” he says. His account is that being a general and not specialist nurse, the male nurse mistook the umbilical cord for the male sex organ and communicated such false impression to the mother. The other point the doctor makes is that, at that time, Tembwe’s baby was the only one in the maternity ward and so could not have been mixed up with any other. Another baby was also born at around the same time but the delivery was in the theatre through Caesarean section. As per standard operating procedure, this baby was tagged. The latter was attended by the midwife on duty who on getting back to the maternity ward, found Tembwe’s baby. It was the midwife who told Tembwe that her baby was a girl and not a boy. However, even as she was discharged from the hospital and went home with the baby, Tembwe had grave doubts about her maternity of the baby. Mungisi says that having been initially insistent on the conduct of a DNA test, Mungisi says that Tembwe’s mother changed her mind along the way and told the hospital that the family was “forgiving” it for the mistake it had made.
However, fearing how the lingering doubt could adversely affect the present and future welfare of the baby, hospital management advised that the testing was the best course of action. Mungisi says that with such doubts could bode ill for the baby’s future. The example he gives is that if in adulthood, the baby displayed any waywardness, family members might see that as confirmation that the baby doesn’t carry their blood and reject her. “We want to ensure that they are satisfied that the baby is theirs,” he states. The process towards that end began last Thursday afternoon when the Maun police collected blood samples from both Tembwe and the baby she is not sure is hers even as she continues to provide motherly care to her.
The police will conduct forensic DNA testing and communicate the results to the hospital and the mother once they are ready. Sunday Standard learns that it can take up to three months for the results to come out and that exceptional cases (which this one certainly is) jump to the head of the queue. Unless resolved promptly, this complication could make it somewhat difficult for mother and baby to bond during this critical phase.