Monday, August 29, 2011

You Are My Friend


Achan arrived shortly after lunch, sweating slightly and very pregnant. Tall with a proud gait, she walked with her shoulders thrown back to compensate for her very large belly.

When I checked her in I was confused as to whether or not she was in labor.
-- “Achan, when did your labor start?” I asked. 
-- “Last night around 7pm.”
-- “Really? But I don’t see any contractions. How many have you had this morning?”
-- “Oh... I’ve had five.”

Thinking to myself she must be joking, I repeated it back to her. But she just repeated herself. Yes, they were definitely contractions (she should know since it was her third pregnancy) but she was having only one an hour.

I hinted that she should go home and labor there since it could be many more hours but she seemed reluctant. Even though her house was near, she assured me that she needed to be close to the clinic.

When a woman says such things I take them seriously. I trust those instincts. Plus, I wanted her to be comfortable. If being at our clinic --chaotic and bustling with circumcisions and tooth extractions-- was what she needed, then being at our clinic was what she’d get.

I checked on her regularly and was happy to see her contractions find a steady groove. She repeatedly murmured that they were painful anytime I came near and I assured her that she was right. 

I think she just needed to say it out loud.

Once her contractions were moderate and about 40 seconds long she called me over asking to push. I told her that from the outside it didn’t look like it was time and asked if she could wait.

She insisted it was time so we quietly set up for the birth.

After pushing once or twice, it didn’t appear anything was happening so I asked if I could do a vaginal check. A quick exam proved my suspicions right. She was only 3-4 cms but stretchy.

I told her it wasn’t time yet and she relaxed visibly, confessing for the first time that she was exhausted. Could she sleep a bit?

Laughing I told her that she could (of course!) and that now was the perfect time to do it. Only then did it occur to me that she was asking my permission to sleep. When I granted it, she seem relieved.

Did she not know that resting in labor was good?

(Mental note: find out if TBAs allow women to sleep in labor.)

I too decided I needed some rest and went to my room to lie down. But about 30 minutes later there was a knock at my door.
-- “She wants to push again,” the health worker/translator said flatly. He didn’t seem convinced.
-- “She’s asking to push?” I asked a bit surprised.
-- “Yes. Please come back.”

Knowing she was only 4 cm 30 minutes ago and that her contractions were then only about 5-7 minutes apart, I didn’t run back to the clinic but walked casually.

But as I approached it I was startled by the noises inside. Grunts and groans and moans and squawks made my heart race. Had she given birth already?

I rushed to her side and was relieved to find she hadn’t delivered without me. Her eyes wild with pain and a shaking that comes just before the storm, she once again sighed in relief at the sight of me.

Grabbing my neck with urgent concentration, she instantly started to push. Every fiber of her body told me that much had changed in those few minutes. It was definitely time!

I comforted her with gentle strokes on her belly, reassuring her with my words.
-- “Achan, don’t worry. You’re baby is doing fine and will be here soon.”
-- “Okay. But...” Her words failed as another contraction rushed over her. “.... help me with the pain,” she finally finished saying.

Looking at me with baleful eyes and an expression that stopped me in my tracks, she spoke in Dinka and the room jittered with laughter.         --What did I miss?

Turning to my translator for an explanation, I had to wait for him to stop laughing so he could translate.

-- “She says that she heard that you can help women with the pain. If you help her... then you will be her friend forever. You and her... you will be friends.”

It wasn’t her words but the seriousness of her expression that made us all laugh. She looked as if she was promising me a life of indentured servitude rather than friendship. 

When she heard the words ‘my friend’ translated in English, she repeated them over and over. They appeared to be the only two English words she knew.         --My friend. My friend.

I laughed too at her words but saw how serious she was and stopped. Her jet black eyes searched my face and I smiled.
-- “Achan, I will help you with your pain. I want to be your friend,” I said. And I meant it too. 

When my words were translated for her, she slumped back on the bed reassured. Okay then. We had a deal. 

A few minutes later her precious girl was born -- 3.3kg of pure loveliness!

Only later did I learn her main motive in delivering at the clinic. Apparently she always has trouble delivering her placentas and this time was no exception.

It took us quite some time and several techniques before we got it out. But once we did, it was smooth sailing. Her family was delighted.

And so was I... for I had made a new friend!