Monday, October 24, 2011

An African Birth

I have struggled and prayed often over the past several weeks about this post:
How should I frame my experience?
How much should I go into detail?
How much did I want to relive those moments?
Would people even want to read about it?
What is the significance of my experience?

Suffice it to say that I don't know all the answers to those questions, but know that what I saw did cause me to pause and reflect on what it is that Jeneson and I are doing in going to Sierra Leone. What is our purpose and how will God use us there.

It started out as a typical evening after dinner relaxing on the porch talking when we were summoned by a nervous father wanting us to go with him to his daughter who was in labor with her first child. After some miscommunication we realized that, as previously requested, one of the traditional birth attendants in Mokanji was letting us observe a birth.

We entered the dark stick and mud, thatched roof hut as dusk was falling over Mokanji and met the mother-to-be who was uncomfortable and in labor. As we comforted her and tried as best we could to demonstrate how to effectively push there were a number of things that were unsettling.

You could see the scar from the female genital mutilation (i.e. female circumcision).
You could sense her hesitation to push because of the pain.
The traditional birth attendant was encouraging other women to assist in the birth by pushing on the pregnant belly and pinching her belly and inside of her thighs (they thought this pinching would stimulate contractions!).
I saw her puffy feet and asked about her blood pressure (she did not have a blood pressure cuff to take one with).

This was not the supportive, empowering experience I had with all three of my children!

Then the worst happened. After about an hour and a half of pushing, the mother's body suddenly shook with a seizure. She was eclamptic!! This is not a good situation to be in here in the US and certainly not out in the middle of Sierra Leone!

After about 2 minutes the shaking stopped and pushing resumed on her abdomen in attempts to get the baby out. Fifteen minutes later the mother again regained consciousness and after another 15 minutes the beautiful baby boy was born. But things were not good. The cord was wrapped around his neck and when he emerged you could see meconium (the baby had pooped while still in the uterus, a sign of distress and not a good situation for the baby). He was limp and lifeless......

I have never felt so utterly helpless or prayed so much in all my years.

After rubbing his back, slapping the bottom of his feet and trying to wipe out his mouth with gauze, attention turned back to the mom to deliver the placenta. The cord was tied off with string and cut with a razor blade. There was no bulb suction to even try to clear the baby's nose and mouth (probably would not have helped in this case though).

He was gently wrapped up and put off to the side while they they continued to attend to the mother.

She continued to deteriorate during the night and have seizures (she needed medication to get her blood pressure down and medication to stop her seizures, none of which are available right now in Mokanji) until the next morning when we drove her, the birth attendant, and the woman's sister in the back of a pick up truck to the nearest hospital 2 hours away.

I did hear that she seemed to recover physically with no long-term problems.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world.

More on my thought from this experience tomorrow.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

wow, Sandy, i admire you just for your strength alone. how horrible that must've been. i've read about female mutilation taught by Islam. is that why they do it in Mokanji? it's insane what they do to women.