Catching Babies in Africa: My First Wrestling
En janvier 2014, I went to Madagascar, Africa, for 3 months. I caught 35 babies there. I did not deliver 35 babies, their mothers gave birth to them. I caught them.
Initially, I went to Madagascar to be with my time lover, Fred. I met Fred in 2013, in a nautical holiday camp, in the Magdalen Islands. We were working together. During this summer, he accepted a 2 year position in Madagascar, while I signed a lease in Montreal, my new city.
Long story short, after a few months of savings, I gave up my flat job in an alarm system company and I flew to live 3 months in Diego-Suarez, Madagascar.
In Diego-Suarez, the air is heavy, it smells of charcoal bbq and the zebus slowly cross the streets. Our apartment was sparsely and poorly decorated and I was trying to quit smoking. The atmosphere was heavy, not just the air. My relationship with Fred has never been light and fluid. We were constantly at odds, even in our core values.
Why was I there? I asked myself this question every day, until the moment I met Edwige.
I have started the process for become a Quebec midwife in 2012. It is a difficult, long and frustrating path for many women who are trying to enter the 4 and a half year program at the University of Trois-Rivières.
With an average of 20 places available per year, it's competitive. There are many prerequisites required, volunteer hours to be done, and above average college or university grades to have a chance of being called for selection interviews. I was put on the interview waiting list when I first applied in 2012. It was okay, I was motivated, and I was going to be a midwife somehow. .
Arriving at Mada (little nickname for the country), I had no plan. I had nothing to do with all my time. Fred worked full time at the city's cultural center, which offered Malagasy lessons to foreigners who spoke French.
It is possible to speak only French to Mada, and to get by. But what's the point of traveling without learning the local culture and language? So I signed up for Malagasy lessons, twice a week. I met an extraordinary woman there who was a great support and with whom I shared formative experiences of this trip, Christina. She ran one of the orphanages in the city, The House of Arnaud. I will talk more about Christina in another part of my story.
After a few days of integration, I started twiddling my thumbs. I was arguing with Fred and he was shopping for plane tickets for my early return to Canada.
I wanted to find myself a place in this country, I wanted learn and meet local women. I took steps to find myself a training in the maternity ward of the hospital. I had to meet 3-4 people to get an appointment with the woman who ran the hospital, to realize that internships are normally for students. I was not a student, I had not been accepted.
I tried to lie, I thought I would forge documents, fake them. My father would have been proud. Finally, I decided to go to the village maternity. The equivalent of our birth centers. Midwives work there and most of the city's deliveries are there. Basically, it's not really like our birth centers.
The maternity ward gave me the same answer as the hospital. I didn't know what to do, I was going to waste my time in an unknown country, with a stern man.
A Quebecer, Maryse, had lived Diego-Suarez for a few years and she managed a company with her lover. She hired local women to help her with household chores.
When I met Maryse, I had arrived in the country for 2 weeks. I explained to her that I wanted to become a midwife and that after trying to get an observation internship in the hospital and maternity ward, I had no options left to learn the trade here and increase my chances of 'go in the midwifery program to my next application. Because that was also a big reason for my internship search, to gain credibility in the eyes of the Quebec program.
The next day, I was at Maryse's and I spoke with her employee who told me that she had given birth with Edwige, a midwife who accepted all women in need, into her home. When she explained to me where Edwige lived, I did not believe it, it was less than 3 minutes walk from my apartment.
When I arrived at Edwige for the first time, I noticed the fuchsia flowers, which contrasted with the concrete of the steps. It was not his house, it was a building a few yards from his house.
On the porch, there were 2 wooden benches, one opposite the other, under a tin roof. There was no one except me and Maryse's employee, who had shown me the way. A woman arrived after a few minutes and explained to us that Edwige was at mass, that she would be back in about fifteen minutes.
It was Sunday. I learned later that Sunday morning was the only time the "clinic" was closed, so that Edwige could go to mass.
When I arrived, Edwige did not speak to me. She spoke to Rosette, the other midwife who was there to watch over the square during mass. She spoke to the woman who was with me and finally, then, she looked at me.
She was 4ft 10 tall and her braid of black hair touched her buttocks. His features reminded me of the Amerindians of Quebec. I was sitting inside the "clinic", on a wooden bench, next to a table full of messy little compartments, overflowing with gauze, syringes, gloves and cotton balls.
Here is the exchange we had when she came to sit next to me and took my hand:
- Do you want to be a midwife?
- You know, to be a midwife, you have to be strong.
- Yes I know.
- It's difficult sometimes. Women hurt, you know?
- Yes I know.
- You have to be patient, are you patient?
- I think yes.
- Okay, you'll be able to.
She asked me to write my cell phone number in her notebook and told me that she would call me when a woman was ready to give birth. I came home smiling the biggest smile ever seen on Camille.
A week later, I still hadn't had a call. I found the time long and I did not understand the silence. Rosette had explained to us that there were often births, but I had no call. I decided to return to the clinic.
When I arrived, I was surprised to see the difference between the quiet Sunday I had, versus this Friday morning. The two benches outside were occupied by pregnant women or women holding their fresh new babies in their arms. They all wore skirts and colorful sheets reminiscent of the wild vegetation that surrounded them.
Inside, the bench where I had waited for Edwige the first time was occupied by a tired daddy and the 2 beds facing him were occupied by pregnant women. Quickly, the word of my arrival spread, in Malagasy. Edwige's head appeared in the door frame, at the top of the 3 steps which separated the 2 landings from the "clinic".
Once her patient had left, she took me up the stairs and joined her in the office / consultation room / bedroom that was the second and last room of the "clinic".
I had written down my number incorrectly. She tried to reach me several times, she had had a very busy week with several births. Finally, everything was in order. The number was working, I made a commitment to come and help her every morning of the week, with the prenatal consultations. I didn't have to wait long to be called.
The next day, Edwige calls me to tell me that a patient is about to give birth and that I should come. I live 3 minutes from the "clinic", I am in no hurry. I take a shower, have a bite to eat and head over. When I arrived, I heard all the voices and the urgent cries that let me understand that the minutes spent choosing what to put as laundry to observe my first birth, had been too many.
The woman gave birth on the consultation bed in the office due to lack of space in the main room. The baby was on her stomach, still attached to her placenta, which was still in the woman's womb. I arrived 5 minutes too late. I missed my first birth. My first call.
Edwige reassures me and asks me to manage the delivery of the placenta. Having never done that, I ask him to show me. She tells me where to push and where to pull, and I pull out this woman's placenta.
The mother and baby care, which I repeated 35 times later, was pretty generic except when the baby's hair was washed. My favorite moment of this postnatal ceremony.
Once weighed, measured, wrapped, the baby's head was washed with very mild soap. The water was lukewarm and no matter how distressed the baby was after the tests were done, his eyes closed, his forehead relaxed and he let Edwige and me wash his head gently. It has become a symbolic moment for me. Sign of a delivery without major problems and a healthy baby.
Even though I missed my first catch, the experience was remarkable and a burst of passion officially declared itself in me. I was only thinking about that. I lived the most impressive 2 months of my life, alongside a fantastic woman, Edwige. I kept everything in an internship journal. In this blog, I'll tell you about the ups and downs of this journey and my personal life at that time. Sensitive hearts, refrain.