An African Journey: Post Five – The Very Best Part

There we were, minding our own business,
getting to know this new country,
these new friends,
this new work . . .
and then the world shifted.
Well, maybe not the entire world,
just our tiny corner of it.
And it took a while to sink in, too.
On the 4th of June, 1967, 
I wrote to my mom and dad and said this:
“I have been feeling lousy the last 2-3 weeks.
Attacks of nausea at odd times, extreme sleepiness
and a late period. I am going to see the doctor next week
to find out what the trouble is. Will let you know the results.” 

What can I say?
I was young and . . . naive? 
Let’s just say it . . . 
I was plain old stupid about the process of reproduction.
Yes, thank you very much, I did know how it happened.
I just didn’t have a clue what happened when it happened.
So . . . stupid?
Yeah, that about covers it.
My mother just laughed hysterically when she read that letter,  
and her diagnosis arrived about the same time the doctor’s did:
you are two months pregnant.
About four months along, sipping a Coke on the Garden Route in South Africa.
My husband’s parents and younger sister came to visit us and took us on a wonderful three week trip to game parks and other beautiful places south of our home. I will write another journal entry about our travels to other parts of Africa while we lived in Zambia.
About 6 months along in these two faded black & white photos.
So. We were pregnant.
DEEP breath.
And so, the thinking and the wondering and the planning
and the gathering began.
My doctor was an American,
a member of the denomination with which we served,
and his work and his hospital were 40 miles away,
over a very, VERY bumpy dirt road, out in the bush.
I saw him three times during my pregnancy.
My everything- you-wanted-to-know-about pregnancy reading was limited, 
to say the least.
A friend who was a nurse had an old ob-gyn textbook,
filled with pictures and descriptions of 
all that can go wrong in pregnancy and delivery.
Fortunately, there were women living in our 
neighborhood who had borne babies before.
In fact, over the next four months,
four other women announced that they, too, were pregnant.
It was an epidemic!
Those of us who were newbies learned from the old hands,
and somehow, we muddled through.
Our baby was due on January 9, 1968,
and I worked as a teacher through the end of the term in
mid-December, grateful for papers to grade,
students to love and exams to prepare.
We found treasures to be repaired and painted,
I created curtains out of fabric bought in our town,
friends sent me maternity clothes and baby clothes
from home, carefully folded into 9×12 envelopes.
Over the next few months,
the reality began to sink in:
we were going to be parents.
January 9th came and went.
January 19th came and went.
My 23rd birthday on January 23rd came and went.
I lay on the bed, weeping, convinced that I would have this oversized basketball in my body for the rest of my life.
At about 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, January 28th,
I woke up with a strong back ache.
I went into our bathroom/laundry room and
sat on the edge of the tub, folding clean towels.
I remember being overwhelmed with
the realization that my life was going to change
by the end of that day.

I was, however, still stupid.
I stood in the middle of the lawn at about 9:30 a.m.,
watching my stomach ripple under my dress,
begging my cross-the-street neighbor 
(who was pregnant with #4) 
to tell me if this could possibly be labor.
She just looked at me and said,
“Diana, get yourself into the car and drive to Macha.”
So that is exactly what we did.
If you ever find yourself wondering how you might speed things along in early labor, I have a suggestion for you.
Find yourself a very bumpy dirt road and drive on it for about an hour.
I guarantee that things will pick up nicely.
We arrived at the hospital about 10:30 in the morning, went to a very nice room with a bath and my husband proceeded to talk to me about our travel plans for the summer, 
when our term of service would be ending.
I think I may have thrown the notebook in his face, 
but I can’t be certain. 
It’s all a bit of a blur.
At about 11:45, they wheeled me into the delivery room. 
Only, it wasn’t really a delivery delivery room,
it was a surgical suite.
The doctor was a thoracic surgeon and he did a whole lot of chest surgery out there in the bush.
They didn’t have a delivery table as such, 
just a surgical table,
and that sucker was hard.
His favorite nurse, who happened to be his wife,
gave me a small mask to put over my face with each
pain, a gas called Trilene.
I had no other medication.
At 12:12, just after noon on a glorious sunny summer day,
Lisa Ruth Trautwein entered the world,
a thick head of dark hair and a great set of lungs
announcing her presence.
And I distinctly remember sitting up on the table and
shouting, “This is fabulous! I want ten of these!”
As I said, stupid.
Winnie Worman, the doctor’s wife and an excellent nurse, holding our 1 day old daughter.
I stayed at the Mission until Thursday, eating in their home. Dick spent the first night with us both and then returned to school on Monday morning to greet his students.
The doctor himself (Robert Worman) with our beautiful girl.
With Winnie and Lisa, outside my room. The government asked them to add 5 private rooms and I got to be in one of them. The entire birthing experience cost us about eight dollars.
We had a rocky first night.
Because my husband was with me, the nursing staff left the three of us alone that night. I very quickly learned how much I did not know about mothering, 
and, once again, how much I did not know about being a woman who carries babies and gives birth.
My baby cried non-stop. Nothing would soothe her.
 And I was more than a little bit weak and wobbly from very normal blood loss that scared and surprised me.
Because, as I’ve said . . . I was terribly uninformed . . . 
Yup . . . stupid.
By 6:00 the next morning, 
I greeted the nurse on duty like a super-hero of some sort. She took one look at our girl and said, 
“Oh, this one loves to suck. I can see it. Try this pacifier.”
Glory be! It worked. From there on, it got easier.
In the picture above, Lisa is about 22 hours old.
I’d been up, showered, shampooed, curlered and combed out, (there were no portable hair dryers in the entire country of Zambia!) and in this picture, I am figuring out how to bathe an 8 1/2 pound human person.
Fortunately, she loved it. . . and so did I.
We brought her home and introduced her to our room and to the space that would eventually be her room.
Dick and I were both ecstatic, overwhelmed with gratitude,
sometimes anxious, but basically simply delighted
to be living with this entrancing creature.
She was, of course, the most precocious child in the history of humankind, smiling at 10 days, laughing big at two months, growing blond hair with dark tips.
Our African students adored her. I think she was the only newborn baby they had ever seen who had longish, straight hair, 
and they loved to touch her, to hold her, to stroke her head.
A Zambian friend loaned me her baby carrier and I used it as a pattern to make this one for Lisa and me.
There were no Ergo carriers in the 60’s.
In fact, American and European parents 
knew nothing about carrying babies on their bodies.
I learned about it from my African friends 
and I used this sling all the time.
From the time of Lisa’s birth until the time we left five and a half months later, I was called Bina Lisa by my African colleagues, most of whose first names I never really knew, as they were always called Bina —- (insert the name of their first-born child). I have been unable to find even one picture of Lisa with our African principal and his wife or with the students who earned pocket money by helping me with my ironing twice a week. (Remember ironing??) They are among a small set of pictures that we haven’t been able to locate as we’ve been scanning old memories into our computer.  But I have strong and happy memories of their warm acceptance of our baby and of the gigantic leap of respect our becoming parents engendered in the attitude of our students toward us.
This was Lisa’s favorite position, hanging upside down, sucking vigorously on that pacifier.
All five new babies near the end of our time in Zambia. 
Lisa was the only girl.
Our next door neighbors, Rosemary and Harry King, holding Lisa at a staff gathering. Harry took the black and white photos you see in this and other of these African Journey posts.

The Kings were from Virginia. Millie and Dave Dyck, our neighbors on the other side – and the parents of Michael, born 2 weeks after Lisa and pictured above and below, were from Canada. He went on to become the head of the Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church in that country.
Michael must have been teasing Lisa to make her pout like that. 
Mom and babe on Easter Sunday, 1968. Is she not the cutest thing ever?? 
(Until her sister and brother were born, of course. To say nothing of all the grandkids…)
We did take a trip on the way home.
But by the time we actually left in June, that trip
had been shortened considerably.
We spent one week in Kenya, visiting some friends who were teaching there, then about 10 days in Switzerland (pictured above) and Germany, visiting my cousin and some friends from UCLA.
We were so smitten with our girl that we wanted to get her back to the arms of our loving families just as quickly as we could. And she was a great traveler, too . . . until our very last flight. From Copenhagen to Seattle, she cried almost the entire way, then settled down as we made the last leg into LAX. 
That little one was just plain done with airplanes.

We were greeted at the airport by grandparents, a great grandmother and a small horde of aunts, uncles and a smattering of cousins. 
It was a deliriously happy time and
I think we brought home the very best souvenir imaginable, don’t you? 

 Becoming a mother changed me in ways that are profound, 
in ways that I cannot articulate.
Carrying, birthing, nursing and tending three small persons is soul work, 
down deep living-life work, sometimes terrifying, always gratifying heart-work.
Meeting Lisa was my introduction to that work
and that meeting took place a long way 
from the only home I had known to that point.
There is a very real sense, however, that birthing her in that wonderful place cemented in my spirit, 
my heart, 
even in my body, 
this truth:
home is not a geographical place 
so much as it is an emotional space,
a spiritual point of connection and commitment.
All of her life, Lisa has been able to say,
“I was born in Africa.”
And we have been able to say,
“Africa was our home.”
And those two things go together.

I will happily join this long story with Jennifer and Duane:
And one week later, this will be my first entry in the Parent’Hood synchro blog, joining through Joy Bennett’s blog:

Get a personal letter from Diana twice a month

Sign up for *More Wondering. . . * a monthly personal letter from Diana to you, available only to email subscribers. As thanks, receive a copy of Diana's new ebook,30 Ways of Aging Gracefully.

powered by TinyLetter

To receive blog posts in your inbox, sign up below.


  1. I was transfixed by this story – wow! Giving birth so far from “home,” but then coming to realize that “home is an emotional space.” I love that. Your pictures are treasures – so glad I stopped by and got to read this this morning.

  2. Sigh. So much loveliness here. I especially loved the refrain about how little you knew, how little prepared you were. What in blazes did any of us know what we were getting ourselves into? Deep soul work, indeed.

    And ironing? Hmmm….sounds vaguely familiar…

  3. Thanks so much for coming by, Courtney. So glad you did.

  4. I was astoundingly clueless. I watched my own kids prepare themselves so much more thoroughly. Part of that was because we were so far away from home, I guess. But part of it was just plain dumbness on my part. It just never occurred to me that I might become a parent. Duh. But you know – and I KNOW you know this! – we always keep learning about our kids and how to interact, help without interfering, etc., etc. Nobody is an expert. Nobody.

  5. Again I am struck by the courage you’ve shown in your life. As I think through the women I’ve known, I don’t know many (any?) that would have faced the experience of giving birth to their first child…in 1961…in a bush hospital in Zambia…with the same grace and matter-of-fact acceptance that you showed.

    I love your realization that home is an emotional space rather than a location!

    As for ironing, I knew I had officially reached “big girl” status when I was finally allowed to use the iron (only on pillowcases and handkerchiefs to start out…, did we really iron pillowcases and carry neatly pressed handkerchiefs everywhere??)

  6. Thank you, Chrystal. I’m not sure it’s courage – maybe naivete, bullheadedness, we were there, she was coming, what were we to do? And it was 1968, not 61. Still in high school in that year. :>)

  7. 🙂 Made an edit to correct the year.

  8. I love every word and picture Diana. It is so beautiful – so full of your heart. I kept thinking as I read what a wonderful gift these posts will be to your family.

  9. Oh, thank you, Linda. I hope they will view these stories as gifts – they are for me.

  10. My birthday is January 29!

    In spite of your ignorance and in spite of the difficulties, you were spared the insane mommy competition of the USA. I have several friends who have been missionaries, and coming back here–whether for good or just for furlough–is jarring.

  11. I actually think I would have missed a lot of that anyhow. It didn’t hit big until about 10 years after my kids were born and it’s a truly ugly, sad thing. The harder part for me when I got home was the intense pressure at that time for women with college degrees to work. There was very little respect for educated women who chose to stay at home, so I felt torn and beleaguered more than I wish I had.

  12. Diana – loved, loved this. Though I had my babies in the 60’s in the States, I was just as blessedly naive and in love with my babies. Brought back so many memories – but your Lisa was a beauty!

  13. Maybe we were all naive back then – there surely were no “Your Pregnancy Guidebooks” available, even here in the 60’s! If we were blessed to have easy pregnancies and deliveries, falling in love with those babies was a cinch. So we grew up together – we and the babes. And yes, she was (and is) a beauty. I stand in awe of these gifts of grace in my life.

  14. Joanne Norton says

    What a blessing! Even though I wasn’t in a “baby” range when living in Uganda, I sure saw others doing exactly what you described. AND the one time I needed a cyst removed from my head, the “bed” was just as you described: HARD!!!

    Love your photos. Could understand it so much, even though we were there some years later. What a blessing!

  15. You know I had a badly bruised tailbone for about four months after Lisa was born – all from that exceptionally hard table! She was SO worth it, but man, it hurt. Thanks for coming by again. I think you’ve been on this entire journey with me!

  16. Work of family AND work *and* family! What a story–I’m so glad you didn’t have problems, other than being naive!

  17. Oh, and the pictures! Someone knew that you would need these later–they are fabulous, Diana.

  18. Thanks, Ann, for both comments! We took slides in those days (most of them were slides) and we kept them in a metal box that we hadn’t opened in about 20 years. Then I asked for and got a scanner for Christmas/birthday/Easter and my grandsons are earning a little extra $$ by scanning our old pix. We have had so much fun looking through them all and remembering. Then about two weeks ago, we discovered a file folder in a cabinet in our storage shed with a treasure trove of 66 letters I had sent home while we lived there. Amazing. And we are really grateful for it all – the experience itself, the pictures and the letters.

  19. I have slides in metal boxes from my childhood days, and an ironing board and iron in the broom closet, and so many things here sound familiar apart from the fact that I have never been out of the country. Fascinating story that you’ve shared.

  20. Thank you for reading it, Susan. It is fascinating to think of all the now-antiquated things in our possession that were once ordinary, everyday pieces of our lives. The times, they are a-changin’ . . . always and forever, amen.

  21. Ah. . . Babies have been very much on my mind these last days. Along with first-born daughters. Thanks for a serving of both!

  22. Indeed – I’m sure both topics are very near and dear at present! And you’re welcome. :>)

  23. Diana, you were beautiful! And I love that you were a baby wearer way back then… I only discovered the wonders of frontpacks/slings etc with my 3rd baby, who had reflux. Until then I was a Babywise mama who did everything by the clock. Oh well, I chilled out eventually, through necessity!

  24. She looks just perfect. I’ve so enjoyed looking through these pictures (have a silly grin on my face) and hearing this story. What an amazing experience, Diana. Just amazing.

  25. Hey Donna – you’ve been busy this morning, stopping in and commenting. Thank you. I have no memory of using this carrier after we got home, which is just sad to me, because it was a huge help when she was little. This little girl was so active that she didn’t like being confined very much, so I know I used it traveling home but I don’t remember using it after we got here. And I don’t think I used it with the other two, either. More’s the pity.

  26. She was perfect. I don’t quite know what I was expecting – a boy, for one thing, because I had brothers only. But she was quite definitely a girl. And I loved raising both of my girls and fully expected a 3rd one and was then flabbergasted to have a boy. Each of them is so totally their own self – from the first fluttering movement right on up to being 40+ year old persons. And they are all good friends now, which I am so grateful for! Thanks for coming by, friend. This series has been very good for me to write and for me and my husband to read and remember. It’s a lovely bonus that others enjoy it, too.

  27. My goodness, this is lovely. Thank you for sharing your story.

  28. You are welcome, friend. I left you a longer comment on the other post…

  29. AllisonO of O My Family says

    What a wonderful story! I can tell you took a lot of time to beautifully lay this all out. Thank you so much for sharing it on The Parent ‘Hood!

  30. You’re welcome, Allison. Thanks for stopping by to read it.