Catching Babies in Africa: Finding Your Place
Before find me a place to the " Kabary clinic (I baptized it that way, that was the name of the street), I tried to find a place for myself in the hospital and in the maternity ward, to observe how they were doing. The key word here is " observer ».
What I got instead was so much richer and more alive as learning, that I think the closed doors of the university here make perfect sense. The 3 refusals that I experienced during the 6 years I tried to become a midwife in Quebec were confronting, frustrating, anxious ... But the 2 months that I spent in Madagascar catching babies were 2 months or I was totally in my place.
In the usual scenario, Edwige (the midwife I was assisting) would call me to tell me to come when the woman was already very advanced in her labor. I would often arrive just before she started pushing or a little after sometimes.
I could tell Edwige to call me earlier because I wanted to helping women during labor and not only when the child arrived, but she didn't change the schedule too much. She said she didn't want to bother me. Yet my life in Madagascar, outside of births, was not exciting. I was sailing in a romantic relationship that was in turmoil and loved the distraction of childbirth.
I remember a birth, probably around the fifteenth for me, where I was already at the clinic for prenatal consultations (as every morning of the week). The woman was very young and all the women in her family were present: her mother, grandmother, sisters and cousins.
In a small room like ours, there wasn't much room to move around, but we would never have dared ask them to leave. It was her first child and her first childbirth. She was expressing pain like the other women in the clinic didn't dare to, which bothered me a lot.
I had the urgent feeling to help him. It must be said that in Madagascar, it is not well seen to complain or show your pain. Women who give birth keep everything inside and are often almost silent. The young woman in front of me clearly did not intend to do like the others and lived the contractions more freely: standing, rocking, moaning and seeking support from others.
The women who accompanied him did not know how to react to this behavior and they laughed together. They made fun of their sister a little and were embarrassed for her. She had no one who offered her what she dared not ask for.
I was completely moved by the little distress in his eyes and his quest for freedom. Quietly, I moved closer to her, a little more with each contraction, until I held out my hand to her. Without hesitation, she took me and hanged herself around my neck.
We swayed for a few seconds and she sat back down between her contractions. When the next wave came, without looking at me, she held out her hand to me. And that's how I supported the first woman in her labor, I was a doula, I was a midwife, I was a woman which ultimately had its place with others.
The rest of the work was hectic, after a fairly efficient work Edwige asked her to sit down for the push, which was very long and complicated. I remember hearing comments from 5-6 women around us who said she didn't know how to push. She wasn't doing that well.
I was not yet fluent in Malagasy but with my little bit that came back to me I repeated a few times, looking the young woman in the eyes: izy mahay, izy mahay… (she knows, she knows…) These were my first words in Malagasy in the clinic and I did not often dare.
What we didn't know was that the child's shoulder was going to get stuck in its mother's pubic symphysis, which is called shoulder dystocia. It can be a bit stressful because the baby has its head out but the rest of its body gets stuck in the mother. Finally, after long minutes and manipulations that still amaze me to this day, the child came out and after Edwige's help, he let out his first cry. He left for the hospital after a few minutes and his mother followed him after 2 hours.
I never saw her again, we never really spoke to each other, but I was there with her. I have not had other similar experiences in my internship, neither obstructed labor, nor personal work support.
I only found this formula when I started as a doula in Quebec, coming back from my trip. There is magic in the accompaniment, minute after minute. A total and vital empathy that rocks us towards the next contraction.
I say thank you to this unnamed woman who offered me her trust. Hope she and her son are doing well.