One Monday morning in July 1947, Aidah Nalule Semukutu walked into a ward, not as a patient but a trainee. She was enrolling for a course in midwifery for two and a half years.
At the time the requirements for the course in nursing or midwifery were not as high as they are today. In fact Semukutu says that she joined training school immediately after finishing her Primary Six (P.6) at Ndejje Primary even though she still qualified three years prior while in Primary Three (P.3).
This was in the colonial era. “All ‘the whites’ cared about was if someone could read and write,” she recollects.
Becoming a midwife was her childhood’s dream. As a little girl she admired one of the midwives at Mengo Health Centre. “I liked the fact that a midwife was always smart in her white uniform with red embroidery. Then as she went to work or was returning home in the evening she had someone help carry her stuff. I wanted to be treated like that someday,” Semukutu, now 80 years old, explains.
Unfortunately, she never got that chance. Semukutu does not remember the name of the lady who inspired her to join midwifery but is so glad she’s still a midwife to date.
In her evening years, Semukutu is convincingly going strong, now a household name and friend in Matugga. I find her with a group of ladies in their 20s who have come for guidance and priceless knowledge from the elder regarding family planning.
“I do that and more. In fact I’m a private midwife and serve under the Uganda Private Midwives Association (UPMW),” grey-haired Semukutu tells before apologising for the slight noise interruptions in our conversation as men renovating her house and clinic go about their work.
Musawo like she is locally known at this township, retired from public service in 1982, almost 30 years ago. “I would have become a nurse but I didn’t like the fact that nurses had to treat people with wounds and that is the reason I resolved to become a midwife,” she says.
While at Mengo, she went on to do the practical learning at Mulago hospital where she remembers Dr Holmes teaching them.
“We were able to learn antenatal care and other details related to carrying out deliveries. I liked the practical lessons better than the theoretical lessons because we were taught what we would be doing as midwives in the hospitals,” she tells as she takes me through some of the old pictures that profile her career at the different hospitals and health centres where she worked.
At her graduation she had just turned 19. But even with good training and passion that drove her to pursue midwifery, she still had fear when she got down to work for the first time at Mulago Hospital.
First experience in labour ward
“I feared the feeling of seeing the child come out as a mother made a delivered and the first time I carried out a delivery, I freaked out and even wanted to run. I was lucky though that my supervisors, Sister Bonde and Sister Nancy Muzito- the only African nurse then- were there to give me a hand and comfort me,” Semukutu shares about her first experience in the ward as a midwife.
Soon results for her final year exams were out. Two days later on December 17, 1950 she was posted to Jinja Hospital. “On arrival, I was checked and found to be pregnant, I took off my maternity leave which was unpaid,” she recalls.
Semukutu adds that this was a rough patch for her because she didn’t have any support from the man who was responsible for the pregnancy. “He ran off fearing the wrath of my parents. I went and lived with my mother because she was the only one I could turn to for help,” Semukutu adds, saying girls nowadays are lucky because there is court redress.
Did she take this as a demotion?
“Not at all. We loved to move and be posted from one place to another and so this came as exciting news. After all at the hospital we were many midwives and health workers but at the health centre we would be a few and this enabled us create personal relationships with the patients,” she said.
But career didn’t stand in the way of her social life. In Namwenda she did not just get a good job; she also found new love in another man. Their relationship soon bore fruits. She got pregnant with her second child. “Just like the first time I had to resign again from the health centre and this time I decided to go to work with Madhvani Hospital where I worked for one year before I decided to return to government service. I asked to be posted to Entebbe but was instead posted to Soroti Hospital,” Semukutu tells me as she takes me around her private clinic which is semi-detached from her house.
Her new posting to Soroti brought with it a new adventure- travelling by train. She later worked at Katakwi Health Centre IV and her subsequent posting was to Kabelamaido.
Between 1955 and 1957 Semukutu took a break in her career. When she decided to go back into government she was reposted to Jinja Hospital and then to Bundibujjo hospital from where she retired in 1982.
After her retirement, she decided to join UPMA, as a private midwife where she is able to run her clinic. The association helps private midwives acquire a licence from government. Semukutu acquired one in 1984.
Twenty nine years later, the elderly Semukutu is full of praises for the association. “UPMA has been helpful, I get refresher courses to keep me up to date,” she explains.
“I don’t know of any those I went to school with but I remember my best friend Miss Kisingiri Omumbejja Mugale. We stayed in the same dormitory in Mengo and we ate together as friends,” she recollects.