Thursday, February 10, 2011


Yesterday evening, I found myself attending a lovely labor with no translator. She came in just as the clinic closed for the day. I explained communication would be limited since two health workers (aka:translators) left without warning this week, leaving us stranded on a few shifts. She said she didn’t mind and I was hopeful.

However, she had unique needs this birth; She was fearful. Her first two children both died at one month old. Coming to the clinic was her way of doing everything possible to make sure it didn’t happen again. I felt more like a lucky rabbits foot than a midwife, but I didn’t care. Her health and peace of mind mattered to me.

Nevertheless, superstition ruled the day; She wore bits of wood and a safety pin around her neck to ward off evil spirits. Believing that food and water would slow her contractions to a stop, she refused all nourishment, causing slow progress. At one point, I convinced her to take some water (so long as it was not cold!), but it didn’t have the nourishment she needed. 

Worn out, she refused to push even though she sat at fully for well over 2 hours. I think the fear of losing this child bounced around in her head while she labored. I think she fought help even though she desperately wanted it, because superstition and fear had their grip. 

I could see her struggle but felt powerless to help. How do you comfort such fear with no (understandable) words? Even through a translator, this birth would have been tough. Without one, it was a nightmare.

Against all odds and to the great relief of all those in the room, the baby came out-- a vernix glazed cherub, weighing in at 3.2 kg!

But her mother, vexed at the sight of her, insisted she was dying. “She is too cold! She is too blue! What is this pasty junk all over her face? Why is she crying! Quick, do something! Give her medicine. Now!”

I didn’t have to understand all her words to know what she was saying. She was having an immediate-postpartum-meltdown (or IPM for short). Bawling as loud as the cherub at her breast, she refused everything I gave her. She rejected my cheerful smiles and warm reassurances. She bristled at my soft tones and encouraging sounds. Nothing, I said or did, helped. 


She was miserable, thinking her baby was dying any minute. I was miserable watching her cry. I deeply desired to provide her with a safe, reassuring birth, yet failed. Miserably.

Her birth highlighted an interesting thought for me; Looking back at the hundreds of births I’ve attended so far, I’m startled to think that less then 10 of them where done in English. What does it feel like to have a laboring woman understand your words the moment they are uttered? I don’t remember. How amazing that must be! Sigh.

Lest I discourage any of you, let me say this: Her baby is perfectly healthy. They both recovered quickly and slept well last night. I discharged them this morning. Pray for Arop, the mom. Pray comfort and joy instead of the haunting fear of potential loss. Pray, also, for her little girl. May one day she sing praises to the Maker of heaven and earth! Amen.