Today I watched my friend give birth to her first baby, a beautiful brown-eyed boy. It was an experience that was met with so many mixed feelings.
Having worked for maternal and child health project for over 8 months now, and working side-by-side with a midwife, I have come to lean a lot about pregnancy and giving birth. I have even seen a lot of videos lately of women giving birth (both in Timor and in the western world), but today was the first time I saw it in real life.
My god, it looks like hard work!
Seeing her bond with her new baby, though, was just magic. This new life that has just entered the world, has already been totally immersed in what he will come know as his culture, and just watching him take in his world for the first time. I got to hold him and watch his little eyes look over the room, and feel the dents in his head where the sutures are still separated so his head can squeeze out during birth.
The way I saw the midwives act towards this young girl having her first baby, however, was deeply upsetting.
It is typical practice in the hospital for them to get a woman to lie flat on her back while giving birth. Now, first of all anyone with a basic understanding of gravity will realise that this, in fact, only makes things more difficult for the woman as the baby isn’t able to come down as easily. Additionally, being in a more up right position means as the babies head comes down, her membranes slowly stretch enough so the babies head can get out (sorry guys, this post might get a little graphic). I found out not long ago that the midwives make them lie on their backs like this because they are scared that an upright position would make the woman bleed more, which is of course completely wrong.
Annie and I did our best to get the midwives to raise the bed, so that my poor friend would find it easier to push her baby out, but they just wouldn’t listen. Every time Annie tried to get in there to help or suggest a different way of doing things, they just shooed her to the side. It got to the point where we were close to arguing with them over top of my friend who was struggling away, until Annie decided the tension it was causing wasn’t worth it. Then they took out the scissors, and cut her open without any proper anaesthetic because they didn’t want to wait any longer. They said ‘the baby was too big’, but Annie said in all her years of home birth she has not had to cut a woman once, not ever. But it just seems like common practice here.
After the baby was finally delivered and taken to go meet his new Daddy, I then sat with my friend while the midwife sutured a massive cut that had been made, in our eyes, needlessly. A cut that will affect how she feels as a woman. And I sat there stroking her hair while she cried out in pain. Rather than giving her an effective dose of anaesthetic, the midwife told her it wasn’t working as well because she must have drank before she was pregnant, although such an excuse only works for chronic alcoholics. So she lied there, desperately trying to convince the midwife she hadn’t while she cried in pain and felt guilty for something that isn’t even relevant.
What I saw today reinforced my opinion that it is the attitude of the Timorese people that is holding them back the most. These midwives treat their patients without any real care or concern for their well-being, without giving patients any choice about how they want to have their baby, and have completely shut down to any new ideas or anything that doesn’t follow a ‘textbook case’. They are so against anything that remotely resembles traditional practices (especially upright positions) in order to maintain some sort of ‘medical credibility” that it is ultimately going against the most modern birthing practices and making women scared to go to the hospital at all. And to be honest, I don’t blame them.