*pictures at the end, just in case you’re a bit squeamish!*
It started in the early morning, when Rhett started making our morning coffee and heard someone downstairs just knocking on things and coughing and making a ton of “natural” noise. This was barely past sunrise! Way too early for a Kovol doorbell to be ringing! It was super unusual for someone to be coming to us that early though, so Rhett went to check it out. Our friend Kavaluku had come, hoping that we ladies might come and help a woman who had been in labor for three days. Three days! Poor woman! We said of course we would come! Gerdine and I quickly grabbed everything we could think of that we might need, which was quite a bit since we didn’t really know what we were doing. Blood pressure cuff? Check! Medical gloves? Check! Giant gauze the size of an abdomen? Check! After setting up the guys to take over whatever school they could manage with our kids, and begging many prayers, we set off, nervously chatting and praying she would still be alive.
We got to the village she was laboring in (poor woman had to wait for us to hike there! Probably only 45 minutes or so, but it felt so long!), and saw her lying on a dirty leaf mat on the ground outside, surrounded by people. We immediately started in doing what we knew we could do- grab some vitals. We checked what we could, but we had no idea what was normal in this scenario, so it wasn’t actually a lot of help I think, other than perhaps projecting an air of confidence to this woman that we knew what to do. Thankfully she didn’t speak English, so she didn’t know otherwise.
The woman, Kati, was from Madang and had married into our place. Her two previous pregnancies had been delivered in town at the hospital and required assistance, so not only was this labor not going well, but she also had the fear of doing things in the bush for the first time! Perhaps our arrival allayed her fears a bit so she could relax into those contractions.
We gave her some ibuprofen and Tylenol and called our clinic, but there is no doctor to help in country right now, and none of the nurses had delivered a baby before. They told us that we should get in contact with a friend in the next-door people group to us who would hopefully have more advice to offer. While we waited to get in touch, we felt her belly, but had difficulty deciding which bumps were what, and decided to stop trying before we started to annoy her. We wondered whether we should check if she had progressed at all. I remembered one of my nurses back in the day describing what she was doing, and I’d watched a few episodes of “Call the Midwife”, so I volunteered. I asked her if I could check her, and there was a flurry of activity as the men and children all scattered (did I mention that there was a crowd?), and a dirty plastic privacy tarp was draped over us.
It was a moment I had only heard stories about: sitting on the ground, dirt above me and below me, a poor woman lying in front of me needing help that I was so underqualified to give. I begged the Lord for guidance (or perhaps more accurately, continued to pray for supernatural knowledge of child delivery!) and checked her. There was a head! I told her to start pushing, and it just seemed so difficult, the head kept coming and going, like it was afraid to come out. I couldn’t believe that she still had strength to go through this after laboring so long, but she was doing so well! The head suddenly popped out, though barely, and I cleared the baby’s mouth out and tried to wipe his face a little, praying for signs of life and muttering Christian curses on myself for forgetting to bring a suction bulb!
I let her rest just a moment to catch her breath, but I was getting more nervous now that no breaths had been taken. I told her to keep pushing, that she was almost there, and that the hardest part was (hopefully) over. She pushed and pushed, and nothing was happening. Gerdine was looking up labor and delivery in the book “Where there is no Doctor” and trying to google how to deliver a baby that didn’t want to come out (not many resources out there that don’t just tell you to get to a hospital!) I thought that maybe I could grab the baby under his armpits and sort of help him out a bit, but when I tried under the first arm, he didn’t budge. I moved to try for the second arm and felt his shoulder wedged behind Mom’s pubic bone. I popped it around the bone (it was very slippery, so it came around it quite easily, praise the Lord!), and he came out with a whoosh!
For a few everlasting moments I tried to coax a cry from the baby. I had learned infant CPR in my youthful days and seen doctors in the movies holding babies upside down and pounding their back (and 101 Dalmatians where they rub vigorously to get the puppy to breathe- definitely the expert here), so I sort of did this weird combination of the two, holding the baby head down and rubbing/roughly patting his back. I had some tissues in my purse, thankfully, so I was able to swipe his mouth again and heard a few pitiful cries. Nothing like the gusty newborn cries I was used to hearing, but still so sweet to hear! I gave him to the mother and told her she could try nursing him to encourage the afterbirth to deliver, which it did after a bit of belly manhandling by a well-intentioned auntie.
Pretty much everything after that we left up to the ladies who were there. They had seen plenty of childbirth and knew how to cut the cord, clean up the delivery “bed”, and get some food into Mama. It was interesting, once the danger had passed, to see what they do and find out what some of the beliefs are surrounding childbirth. We now know that the placenta is called the older brother, which gets buried after a child is born, and that it causes newborns to cry as the “older brother” is jealous that they got buried while the child got to live. Good to know!
It was such a beautiful thing to watch, and to experience rapid fire answered prayer was almost indescribable. She lived. The baby lived. We made it in time. We were able to do something. My fingers found the baby’s shoulder. He breathed. He nursed (energetically, I might add). His eyes were alert. There were no complications to tend to afterward like stitching or massive blood loss. Just so much to be thankful for. In fact, when we got home and finished sharing our saga with our husbands (we made it home for lunch! Crazy how much happened in such a short morning!), we bought some midwifery books to study up in case anything like this happened again. It turns out that in all our fumbling, we ended up doing pretty much all the right things, and we can only credit the Lord with guiding our thoughts and hands. We are so thankful for the Lord’s guidance, wisdom, and provision for the day to day, but we are extra thankful for Him on days like this!