Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Very Different Birth.

A few months after arriving in South Sudan, a woman came in with antepartum bleeding. Her baby was dead, could I help her?

I hemmed and hawed, but eventually said I would try.

Her birth was the very hardest of my life --shaking me to my core --teaching me things I never wanted to learn.

I can still vividly remember sobbing hot tears into a staff member’s lap as she helplessly tried to understand my grief. She prayed. I thanked her, then walked back into the room where my helper quietly mopped up the pooled blood. 

Elizabeth had delivered. Finally.

But in that time, I somehow morphed into a different midwife --one that pulls babies out by their feet. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to become such a midwife... but there was no going back.

Her birth changed me. 

Something else happened that morning. Something surprising. I came to love Elizabeth and her husband, Michael, with an intensity I find hard to explain. It rolls over me in waves, filling my lungs, making it hard to breathe.

So when I saw Elizabeth back in my prenatal line a few months ago I instantly recognized her. Love does not forget. Then I turned and saw Michael sitting beside her. He stood to shake my hand, bouncing as he proudly announced she was four months pregnant.

Could it be true? Was she really expecting another baby? Whoohooo!


She came faithfully to each prenatal visit with Michael always at her side. To date, he is the only husband who has come to every check-up.

Anyway. Long story short. Her due date drew near.

Then a few weeks back she started having contractions. Even though she was in early labor, I admitted her for observation, and watched her through the night. But her contractions stopped as suddenly as they started, and by morning they were ready to go home.

It was a false alarm. 

However, a week later she was back with more contractions. This time they were dilating her better, but barely. It was slow going.

Fortunately, it was a Sunday morning and the clinic was quiet. Since I was in no hurry, I watched, waited, and prayed; but her labor never progressed.
    --What was the hold up?

Eventually after waiting fourteen hours without any significant progress, it was time to take action. I started her on oxytocin, and she went from 4 cm to fully in about an hour.

As she labored, I listened in with the doppler. Each time the static warble found heart tones, she smiled. The steady toc-toc-toc of her baby’s heart, wrinkled her face in a toothy, contagious grin.

We were making new memories. Memories that didn’t involve silent wombs. Memories that were noisy with life --her baby’s life!

When it came time to push, Michael supported her from behind, and she got on her knees.

The pushing was slow for a G7 (or woman delivering her 7th child). Really slow.
     --Which explains a lot. 

As she grunted, pushed, and sweat, I silently prayed. 
    -- Lord, however you work this birth... please let the baby live.

I confess, the toc-toc-toc reassured me more than I let on.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t shake the echo of that fateful morning from my thoughts. Here I was... in the very spot I pulled her last baby from her body.
    --Would this baby die, too?

Deep breath.

She continued to push, but the head would not descend. Finally, I had had enough of waiting, and I got out the vacuum. It took one tiny tug and another strong push, and she was born!

At the sound of her plaintive gasps, the room filled with laughter, and her parent’s eyes danced with joy.

She was alive!

It was a very different birth --one that ended in tears of joy rather than sorrow. Thank you Jesus! And thank you all for praying for her. He answered our prayers!

Elizabeth, Michael, and baby girl at 3 day check-up.