Perhaps it can be said that the last birth Glen and I attended in Haiti was the perfect birth. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “perfect.” After all, I know as a midwife and as a woman that has given birth, the word ‘perfect’ in reference to birth is highly subjective…and sensitive. It wasn’t a glorious birth by our standards at home, by any means. If you’ve read even one other blog post regarding maternity care and birth in Haiti, you will understand this. A typical birth back home takes place in a pristine and beautiful birth room that is private, surrounded in candlelight, endless hot water, a walk-in glass shower, a deep soaker tub, clean instruments and supplies, and…just simply…Calm. Birth in Haiti is quite a different experience. When basic care and a trained birth attendant is the exception and not the norm, it puts all of the other “luxuries” into perspective.
There had been four women all nearing delivery. The mom who had induced an abortion had just delivered. I had just held her one pound baby girl in my hands, holding her as she took her first breath and holding her as she took her last breath. My heart was sad as I processed this. I retreated to the back storage room for a clean place to rest, where I sat and thought in the still quietness. Camille was not feeling well and needed to lay down and rest. As she laid the camping mat down on the storage room floor, she questioned the rat situation. I assured her that there were no rats on the inside of the Labor & Delivery unit. I had only ever seen them on the exterior corridor. I told her I would keep an eye out and let her know if I saw any though.
Awhile later, Glen had gone to make rounds on Labor & Delivery and listen to heart tones. After a bit, he hadn’t returned, so I ventured out to see what he was up to. I won’t ever forget what I saw and what he said. With hands on the belly of a laboring mom and a big grin on his face, he exclaimed, “Look Love, I’m a doula!” I think of it now, and I smile. The laboring woman wouldn’t let him leave her. He had tried to walk away, and she had insisted that he stayed.
The needs of humans are actually quite simple, when you take away the materialistic possessions and perhaps more importantly, the ego. This woman simply needed a human presence; the comfort and touch of someone who cared. The fact that he was a male obstetrician, nearly from another world, made no difference. She was in need. She didn’t want to be alone.
I walked over and relieved him of his new-found, slightly awkward doula duties. I placed my hands on her belly, and ever so gently, just touched her. Without hesitance, she grabbed my hands and put them exactly where she needed them to be, getting a reprieve from the pain, with my hands gently rubbing her belly as she had a contraction. As she progressed over the next hour, she would grab my hands and move them to her hips, then the small of her back, telling me with not a single spoken word, that she was having back labor. Occasionally she would look into my eyes and nod her head, as if saying to me, “Yes! That helps so much!” Isn’t it fascinating, certain situations in life where spoken words are irrelevant, when the most insightful, effective form of communication is simply through the eyes and subtle, unintentional body language? Two people, two strangers, connected only by the human experience…one in pain and afraid, the other simply having understanding and compassion, and their connection not extending beyond that simple awareness.
As we pushed with this woman- supporting and encouraging her in birthing her babe, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, running on the floor. “GAAAAHHH!” I nearly jumped 3 feet in the air, hardly an exaggeration. “GLEN! Do you see that?!” I pointed to the mouse that was now contently resting in the center of the L&D floor.
I thought of Camille, sleeping on the floor just a few feet away. “Should we wake Camille and tell her?”
We decided that it was just a mouse, not a rat, and well, I had told Camille that I would wake her if I saw a RAT. All about perspective, right? No need in waking her up unnecessarily. I got a little chuckle at that, but vowed that I would be keeping a good eye on the little guy, to ensure he didn’t make his way to the storage room.
The birth would be what we might call “uneventful”…except for the obvious, of course- a child, as well as a mother, was born. As Camille and Sheily (our translator) rested, Glen and I would attend this birth together. We had a language barrier that made verbal communication nearly impossible between us and our patient (without our translator), but even without a language barrier, Glen and I needed just as few words between us. Perhaps that is a benefit of a husband-midwife team. We are confident in the each other’s ability; we can read each other’s minds simply with subtle looks or gestures.
I don’t remember if the baby was a boy or a girl. I don’t even remember which one of us “caught” the baby. I remember the calm. I remember the Haitian midwives quietly watching, the intact perineum, cleaning her up, placing the makeshift pad of folded cotton fabric between her legs, and helping her to slowly get dressed. There was no bed for her that night. Imagine that: a woman who just gave birth and yet there is no bed in the entire hospital for her to sleep with her new baby. In the wee hours of the morning- some time after midnight but yet still hours before dawn, freshly dressed and brand-new bundled up life in her arms, she shuffled herself to the entrance of the Labor & Delivery unit, laid down a sheet, and spent the first night with her baby on the cool concrete floor.
And yet, she was beaming with happiness and pride.