A language is not words only,
it is the stories
that are told in it,
the stories that are never told.
–Margaret Atwood from “Beauharnois”
I am a repository of birth stories. When I reveal my vocation, the stories pour out from young mothers and white-haired grannies. I’ve learned that a woman might forget many things but she holds tightly to this powerful event. And she remembers with passion and detail how she was made to feel during her births.
Some stories bring me to tears. This one is such a story. It took place in a developing country in Asia and was told to me by a friend of the mother. We will call this young mother, Sara.
I asked permission to share Sara’s story and she agreed. I share it because she is my sister and her horror is my horror. And yours. I believe we honor her grief and her courage when we hear her story.
Sara and her husband do not have much money. They chose a birthing clinic for her first baby. This decision is a common choice for families without many resources. When her labor began, her midwife did not think she was progressing well but told her not to worry; that she would be with her the whole way even if she had to go to the hospital. At midnight, the midwife decided that Sara needed to go to the hospital but that she would not go with her because she (the midwife) was not feeling well. Sara’s blood pressure went up and anxiety set in. She and her husband would have to find a way to get to the government hospital far away in the middle of the night. Transportation is tricky even during the daytime.
In this country, the patient must show her money before she will be admitted to the hospital. So Sara and her husband had to scrounge for money. When she arrived, she was 4cm. She labored in a room with 30 other women–some two to a bed. Her blood pressure was high. No one monitored her baby’s heartbeat. Sara says she could feel her baby trying to get out. Her water broke and her pain increased. The nurses ignored her and told her to be quiet. The only encouragement she received was from the janitor.
Sara’s husband had to leave to get medicine (the don’t have them at the hospital). While he was gone, someone decides she needs a cesarean and informs the doctors. It took five hours before she was wheeled (by the janitor) into the operating room. When she is given anesthetic, she falls asleep. After laboring for two days, her baby is born alive but in distress; possibly from meconium aspiration. The baby, a little girl, dies.
When Sara wakes, she is alone. Her husband is not at the hospital. He is making funeral arrangements. Sara is in the recovery room where other mothers hold their newborns. Sara sees a tiny, white butterfly land near her and she knows in her heart that she her baby is gone.
The hospital staff tell Sara not to talk or to cry because it would hurt her incision. Her family believes it would be better for Sara not to see or hold her baby. She is not allowed to go to the funeral because her family thinks it would be too hard for her.
Her mother blames Sara for the death of the baby because she missed church a few Sundays. The doctors say the baby died because the baby was too big. They blame Sara, saying she must have had diabetes even though she was tested more than once.
The hospital staff tell her that she should not have sex or get pregnant for 3 years.
I’m not gifted in creating a tidy moral from Sara’s story. I think her story can stand alone without platitudes or homilies.
Remember her, grieve with her, and love her.
*And if you need to take action/learn more/give/get involved, there are many organizations like Bumi Sehat, for example, that will get you started.