"You have a heart of gold." She told to me with a huge smile. I knew what she meant by it; it was a complement, a way of saying I was sweet, kind, loving, happy etc... but this was not the first thought to cross my mind, what did enter my mind was an answer. An answer to a question I have long had. Her words held truth, and with them I suddenly understood.
In real life, there is death. I've see a lot of death in my life, I can still remember my Grandpa's funeral from when I was only three, and I have been to countless funerals since then. From my pets drawing their last breath in my arms, to lifeless bodies laying neatly in coffins. Death is a part of life, as much as we all try to avoid it, the fact of the matter is that none of us make it out of this life... well, alive. "Live each day like it's your last!" It has been quoted in a number of ways from hip songs to sweet poems. "As soon as your born, you start to die." That is what I have heard said before, but truly we all know life starts nine months before that... as soon as you're conceived your days are numbered, and they don't always measure up to nine months.
Since being here I have seen so much life, something so beautiful, so precious, and thankfully I can hang on to the memory of each life longer then I get to hold them in my arms. I write about them so that I never forget, I name them and share stories of how their first breaths of air began, I pray for them and share the excitement with their mothers as they set their eye's on their beautiful child they have long waited to see. But what I haven't been writing about, has been just as impossible to forget.
"How are you doing today, Kaitlin?" My leader, Melisa, asked me. "Great, grand and splendid! Excited and ready for another day here in the labor ward!" I said as our group of seven was standing around getting ready and about to pray before the work day began. It wasn't long before we were all out on the work floor checking on all the women, calling for the doctors, searching for the records of the different moms and so on. I had already delivered two beautiful baby's this week and I wasn't sure I was going to have the chance to do another one since we took turns as students, none the less I was enjoying smiling with a mom named Lucy. I was taking her vitals and we were getting close to wrapping up for the day, just then I glanced over to the bad across from Lucy... "Melisa! HEAD!... MELISA!" Melisa came running in through the curtains from the other side of the room where she had just delivered a baby with another student. "Who is going to take this one?" She asked as I was standing with my partner and good friend Tiffany. We had already agreed that I would do the delivery if the chance came up, so by now I already had my gloves on and Tiff was getting the clamps, cotton, and blades all ready to go.
Zainabu was her name. I didn't know much else about her at the time because she had just come in a little bit before and I hadn't reached her yet in the line of women needing to be checked. Now I was standing next to her getting ready to help her little one make it's way out, but with one glance I knew this wasn't good... meconium. The awful color of yellowish brown fluids indicated the baby was in high distress. Tiffany soon had a pinard and was checking for the baby's heart rate, she couldn't find it, but we prayed that it was only because of the baby being so far down.
None the less the baby was nearly out and we were trying to spare the mom any tearing by letting the baby come on it's own, there wasn't anything we could do that would have made it come any faster, well that is, anything that wouldn't cause greater damage. That is when I glanced up to see a nurse I had never met before walking our way, and I didn't like the looks of her. Melisa confirmed my thoughts before the nurse got any closer, "Oh no, not her! What ever you do, do NOT let that nurse touch this mother!" I glanced over at Tiff who was holding the mothers hand and helping her to know when push or rest, and I immediately recognized that look she gets in her eyes, she was in defense mode, her protective instincts were kicked in full gear now, she apparently knew this nurse as well. Anyone trying to harm this mom would have to get past Tiff first... and being a strong, tall, island girl who grew up in Asia knowing how to fight, she is not an easy one to get past.
By the time these thoughts ran through my head the nurse was now right next to me. We just continued our work, but kept a watchful eye on her. Sure enough within thirty seconds of standing there she had decided this mom had been pushing long enough (all few minutes worth) and she was going to help push the baby out for the mom, by ramming her fist over and over onto the mothers uterus she was going to push the baby out by hand, this was like her signature move that she did on all the moms causing them extreme pain and tearing. Thankfully Melisa and Tiffany already knew what was coming, as soon as the nurse raised her hands in a fist to the moms stomach... "HAPANA! HAPANA!" (NO! NO!) all tree of us cried at her, and in one motion Tiffany had already thrown herself over the mom to guard her and the look in her eyes told the nurse everything she needed to know. "No!" we said again to the nurse. (who by the way is quite pregnant herself). "This Mama is okay, we have her taking care of and there is no need to push on her uterus." Melisa explained to the nurse in a claimer but stern tone. The nurse chuckled at us, watched for a little while longer, then walked away.
The baby's head was just coming out now, "Cord around the neck?... Yes, and it's very tight." Melisa immediately grabbed the two clamps Tiffany had already prepared and started clamping the cord, then she cut it as the rest of the little boy made it's way out. He was limp, and covered in meconium. I grabbed a bulb suction and started to clear out his mouth and nose, he grunted a bit. I placed two of my fingers on his chest, a beating heart! "In Jesus name I say you will live!" I cried out. By now I was rubbing his back praying for a cry to come, but he just grunted a little more. I handed his limp body to Tiffany, and Melisa left with her to begin resuscitation.
I cleaned up the mother and checked everything to see that she was okay. No tearing, only 200ml blood loss. Mama was doing fine. I helped her place her fluid covered kongas in a plastic bag and get dressed, then I proceeded to wipe the bed down for the next mother. I checked the moms vitals and made sure her body was in working order. She was okay. She started to talk to me in Swahili, I knew she was asking about her baby, but right now I didn't know what was happening. By now it had been almost ten minuets and I had only been hearing the sound I was dreading... the sound of nothing. I walked through the two sets of curtains to the other side of the ward where the baby beds were held. There he was, little Daniel Obadiah as I had named him, laying lifeless as Tiffany and Melisa were trying to keep him from being lost forever... "one, two, three, one, two, three," Tiffany was pushing her two fingers into his soft chest on every count as Melisa was using a mask and air pump to fill his cheeks and lungs on every third count. I had done infant CPR on so many "dummies" as a lifeguard... but now here Daniel lay, not a dummy this time, but a precious little boy.
His heart never started to beat again. He would never learn to crawl or walk, he would never say his first words or know his family, nor would he ever learn to love, but as least he was loved. Nine months, that is all the time in the world he would receive.
Daniel was only one of many many deaths I have witnessed since being here, and it was by far one of the least gruesome. I have seen vacuum births, breach births, prolapsed cords, placenta previa, and premature births. One mother died of blood loss and another was highly infected after her child was ripped out of her. Mothers are cut open with blades when no pain killer has been given and many mothers have HIV or another sickness. What I didn't add to my last blogs was that across from the first baby I delivered on Thanksgiving, was the mom who was bleeding to death. And across from the mother I delivered on my birthday, was the mother who was having her baby ripped out of her, a large stillborn that the nurse just yanked and pulled in every direction as hard as she could (even if it meant standing over the mother on the bed) until the baby was out, then the mother was not taken care of and she was infected so bad that five days later her uterus was the size of being thirty weeks pregnant, and she still hadn't received any antibiotics.
Still, some how, some way, the only emotion I feel, before going, while there and after leaving, is excitement. What happens, happens. I can only do my part in focusing on one women at a time doing the best I can and I'm excited to be doing that. Yes I would love to change so many things, and as a team we are. We have made sure care has been provided for so many women, we have caught so many sickness the doctors didn't know about, and we protect the ones we are with as in the story above. But so often I wondered... why am I so heartless? So many girls come home and break down from the pain of injustice, they may cry, go off alone, write, watch a movie, listen to music, talk with each other or a number of other things so that they can process the day, but not me. I hate leaving and I just want to go back. I come home with my mind a blank slate wondering what tomorrow will bring. I don't feel pain, I don't get upset, I don't feel hunted by anything I saw. As a matter of fact when students were turning away saying they couldn't stand to watch a difficult birth, I ran and held the mothers hand. I couldn't stop what was happening, but I could make sure the mom wasn't alone, but at the same time I was wondering how on earth? I never could and still can not bring myself to watch not even one scary movie and now I stand here and watch real life horror.... and I don't even flinch. Why can I stand and watch in times when everyone else running away?
I've been wondering about this since I started working, but there was my answer... "You have a heart of gold." She said to me with a huge smile. "I know." I said. "It is impenetrable." I just thought I was heartless all along, but I realized then that God gave me a heart, it was just so strong that I could run in when everyone else is running out.
I initially started this blog while working overseas to keep my supporters updated, then I did it a time as a required assignment during my midwifery school, but now I write but because I want to. So now I share my current journeys, in hopes that others can learn from them, or at the least have a good laugh.