Saturday, May 7, 2011
Tradition. Way of life. Cultural taboos.
Why do we live the way we do? What makes us tick? What do we value most? Each society would answer it differently. ---So. Very. Differently.
Rites of passage. Social mores. Old wives’ tales.
What one person would claim as a foundational way of life, another might call witchcraft. What one person would do without thinking twice, another might run from in fright.
Rituals. Beliefs. Superstition.
When cultures collide and tectonic rifts emerge, how do you bridge the gaps? Personally, I tend to flap and flail like a spastic fish until someone has mercy on me and explains. Today, was one of those days.
Her name is Cinteth and she was pregnant... until a few days ago.
Coming for prenatals, she listened to me teach on the importance of delivering with us, but couldn’t come when her labor started 4 days ago; her husband and his brother forbid it.
Three days of painful contractions brought the baby’s head low, but then he got stuck. The midwife then took some kind of ‘hook’, placed it under her baby’s scalp, and delivered him by force.
He lived just over a day, then succumbed to his injuries.
Lying there wreaking of foul, purulent blood, she explained that something was wrong with her belly. It was so big and painful.
Palpating her abdomen, I could feel a bloating gas festering internally; plus, there was a thin, oozing discharge the seeped out continually. --Infection.
She was in a lot of pain. Did I have any drugs to help her?
My heart sank.
Yes. I had drugs to help her. Yes. I would do everything I could. Yes.
She suffered needlessly and her baby died.... all for what?
Tradition? Superstition? Cultural taboos?
Why are there so many women and babies dying in Sudan?
I can’t give you a bald answer. There are no easy explanations. Trite simplicities don’t live here.
Layers upon layers of social mores and stigma, closely knit together with power plays and ignorance, mesh to make old wives’ tales and curses seem possible. Here, rites of passage and rituals weave a stark fabric for these women to wear. It chafes just looking at it.
If I pull on a thread will it give way to understanding... or just more confusion? If I peel off a layer, will I find hundreds more... or a raw naked truth hiding shamefully?
Why did this child die?
I believe he died because of fear, ignorance, and social power plays.
Let me explain.
The Dinka believe that every young bride has automatically slept with every man in town before getting married. So naturally, the first child is suspect.
Assuming as much, her husband makes her deliver at home with a traditional birth attendant (TBA) who can properly illicit a ‘childbirth’ confession.
It is widely believed that if a woman confesses those she slept with, her birth will be faster and less painful.
This is what Cinteth experienced this week.
When her pain started, she endured-- day after day. When the baby got stuck, he was removed with hooks. (Better the child die than she, right? Plus, who knows if it was his child anyway.)
Later that day, he succumbed to his injuries, and she developed a severe uterine infection.
How much of this could have been avoided if she had only come to us for help?
Is it presumptuous to say.... all of it?
Afterward, my translator Santos (the one whose wife delivered her first with us a few months back. Read their story here.) tried to explain the social ramifications of this situation when he saw me so discouraged.
The problem was... I’d heard it all before.
Afterward, I asked him, “Do you think if I invite all the first time moms to come WITH their husbands AND their mothers-in-laws, so they can illicit a confession during the birth, that they will let them deliver here?”
Pausing to think a bit before speaking, he looked away pensively and nodded. “I think so. If you tell them ALL to come, it might happen.”
This, spoken from a man who broke tradition and made his wife deliver with me, was encouraging. He knows that had his wife delivered at home, his little girl would most likely have died.
That’s one man. Now, how to tell the others?
Please pray for Cinteth quick recovery. Pray for the whole family’s loss and pain. Also, please pray that I’ll somehow find a way to bridge this cultural gap, teach these TBAs, and bring lasting change to this community.
It’s not my goal to transform tradition... but save lives. It’s not my heart to reform ritual but show God’s redeeming love.
Come back Lord Jesus... and bring an end to all this death! Maranatha!