memories: catching babies in the dark.
Below is an excerpt from my old journal written in India.
Years ago, I was with a team of fabulous women (one of them blogs here) from across the globe, working in India for 6 months on a labour and delivery ward, catching babies, speaking life, living off rice and daal.
The whole 11 month experience shaped me as a woman, changed me from the inside out. It remains a part of me (baby girl’s nursery is Indian themed–I mean, I had to do something with all the collected trinkets!) and when I need some comforting, I turn to these stories, music that left an impression, Indian food, pictures, old friendships.
We were trained as birth attendants, we were trained to catch babies. The unexpected always happened, so in a way, we were trained for that as well. I remember the first time I came home, and saw a normal, uncomplicated birth in Canada as a doula. Worlds. Apart. That’s why I’m so passionate about childbirth, about helping women find their inner strength, about educating on natural childbirth rather than scaring mamas. When you know the statistics in Canada, you know natural, healthy, uncomplicated childbirth is the most common. But it’s often the scary stories of complications that get passed around. Those stories need to be shared, but they are not the norm. We were meant to birth.
India, 2007: Birthing room with the lights out, first time mother.
I’m alone in a room, shoved into the corner of the labour ward, full of five labouring women. It’s hot and dark and sticky. The lights are out, there is no power in this room. My nerves are a little on edge as each woman lets out her own musical groan one after the other. There’s no one in here to look after these women. One of the labour wards is being painted, so all the women have been shifted into here. And no one seems to care. I wander back and forth between each one, offering water and checking fetal heart tones. Suddenly the one in the farthest corner yelps. It’s a sound I know well and it never fails to send me running with gloves and a birth kit. The lights are very dim as the power has been out for the past hour and the generator is running low on fuel. It’s a little too dark for my comfort. I can’t quite see what’s going on down there. I mean I could figure out what that is…and maybe—that. My gloved hands flutter along her skin, finding the shape of her, feeling for familiar territory.
She motions to me frantically and tells me she has to go to the toilet. I smile sheepishly and tell her it’s okay. She can go ahead…on the metal table. She does and as she goes the baby’s head appears. I snap the birth kit from the table and inch my way closer into the little space near her bed. She’s crammed against the wall, sweaty hands pushing against the blue chipped concrete. I’m starting to feel trickles of sweat run down my back. It’s so dark. She motions for me to turn the fan on. I shake my head and tell her there’s no power. She gags. I want to gag too but I have no excuse. She wants to vomit. I give her more water. Then she stares into my eyes and I know; it’s time. My hands move towards her and suddenly I’m telling her to push in her native tongue. The room is quiet. No one is around. No one is groaning. It’s just me and my patient, dressed in her saffron coloured sari top, with eyes the colour of milky coffee. Me and her.
Normally we have one staff member with us. Normally. And there are always doctors and nurses running about. Not this time.
I take the opportunity to start praying. The head comes out. Ok, breathe, you’re doing it, she’s doing it, it’s alright. I relax my raised shoulders, show her how to breathe gently so the baby doesn’t come shooting out. I place my hands gently around the neck and watch the head rotate. Beautiful, just as planned. I start to pull the anterior shoulder down but the baby doesn’t budge. Or move an inch. The mother starts to yell.
I want to walk away. I want this to be over. But instinct kicks in, and I know i can do this. I know she can do this. My hands are apart of this; there’s no turning back now.
Lord Jesus, come.
I support her and pray some more. Suddenly a hand pops out and flails around. That’s why it stalled. My hands tell me what to do; they work naturally, trained to do this. I support with all my might so the elbow doesn’t leave a mark on her. After what seems like hours, but is really only a few moments, the whole baby comes out gracefully and in one swoop I have her on her mum’s tummy. She grasps my fingers with her strong, tiny fingers and struggles to breathe. I scale the suction bulb across her cheek, looking for the hole of her nostril, and suction. I rub her back and precious, warm air floods into her lungs. She howls. I hold her there, the mothers hands shaking, unsure of what to do with the warm body on her stomach. I take her hands and place them on her baby.
Finally a doctor comes running and clamps the cord for me. I cut the cord and breathe a sigh of relief. I did it. Mama, you did it! In the dark! Little do I know, these experiences are teaching me life skills, engraving their lessons on my heart, preparing me to manage the storms. I learned to trust myself on that birthing ward. I learned the palatable sensation that fills the room when life hangs in the balance. I learned to walk through it, ready to fight for life.