Last year when I had to prematurely finish my season in DRC due to elections and visas, I was blessed to return to the village clinic in Zambia where I have worked for the last 7 years. Familiar faces, friends, and laughter welcomed me back. It was hot season and I had a few weeks before I was due to head back to the US. After several months of trying to work on my French, jumping back into another language was hard. I kept trying to mix French words in with the Chitonga language. So it was back to my invaluable phrase book to help me communicate better with my Zambian ladies. (Has this ever happened to anyone else in their language learning adventures?!?!)
Prenatal clinic was busy with beautiful women; some full of joy with the expectation of a new addition to their family and others in broken relationships and challenging life circumstances. One mother told us she was very fearful of the upcoming birth because her first baby had died at the hospital during the delivery. She told us it never cried, but she did not know what the problem was. We kept a close eye on her, and everything was looking perfectly normal. Every visit we prayed with her; for the peace of Christ to overwhelm her, for wisdom as we cared for her and praising God for her life and the gift of her baby. We encouraged her trust God and not turn to witchcraft for “protection”.
When she showed up to the clinic for her birth, we prayed together and she labored well. The heat was miserable, everyone was sweating. The grandmother and I took turns fanning her with a small piece of cardboard. Everything was going smoothly, and then she had an impressive shoulder dystocia. Which would have been easier to address, except that she wanted to be on a certain clinic bed. By the time I had been called, she had settled in and decided which bed she wanted to deliver on. You see, I try to let mothers make as many decisions themselves as possible during the labor process and only encourage other ideas when absolutely necessary.
BUT this specific bed is my least favorite piece of furniture in the clinic for several reasons…
1. There is a gap in the middle of the bed, where the plastic covered mattress is divided in half. During births if all the fluids are not perfectly contained on the huge pad we have, things drip on my feet. I am not a fan.
2. The gap in the bed usually lines up with the sacrum which means that there is extra pressure on the area and the pelvic outlet is diminished making it harder to deliver in this specific bed. It is possible and I have helped with many births on this bed. But it is not my favorite.
3. The bed was poorly designed. Normally the legs on a bed are placed at the corners to evenly balance it and distribute the weight. This bed has two legs that are located about 3/4 the length of the bed which means that if someone scoots down too far toward the foot end of the bed, the bed will flip end over end. Not ideal at any time let alone during childbirth.
4. The bed is incredible narrow and high off the ground. We have a stool that most women have to use to get up on said bed. It is nearly impossible for a small person (let alone a normal sized human) to turn over in the bed without carefully maneuvering themselves or they might fall off. A couple years ago the health district manager came to our clinic and advised the staff of the best way to arrange the furniture in our very tiny delivery room. They were told which bed must be used for delivery and the other one was only to be used for postpartum. The delivery bed is now located perpendicular to the wall, which means that there is nothing to prevent one from falling off either side of the bed, and safety side rails do not exist. Our clinic staff are very good at following directions from the manager. And because I need to choose my battles… I don’t often fight with people about this bed. But sometimes I am sneaky and and can convince the mother to deliver on the postpartum bed.
So here we are with a shoulder dystocia. It’s an emergency. And time is of the essence for her to follow my directions. But I forget the words. I completely blank. I can remember my phrases in English, French, and Visayan…. but my Chintonga/ Tokalaya completely fails me. I have a little phrase book… but my hands are not exactly free or clean to go flipping through my book (which happens to be at the bottom of my bag, because up to that moment I was doing a great job of speaking Chitonga). Manon was in the capital city with another patient, and the Zambian nurse who was suppose to be my assistant had stepped out of the clinic for a few minutes to grab something.
Please move to your Hands and Knees! Move your legs like this….
Placez votre corps sur les mains et les genoux!
Mga kamot ug mga tuhod Palihog!
The mother was in her zone and did not respond to my words or me trying to maneuver her, the grandmother speaks no English. I began to pray and yelled for my friend (her sister-in-law) who was waiting outside to come and help me communicate what needed to happen, and be my assistant. It was not the most graceful series of events. And yet the peace of Christ was palpable in the room. I did have to resuscitate the baby as it was not breathing when we finally got it out. But as I declared the power and authority of the name of Jesus over the situation we saw God intervene and the baby pinked up, and after a little bit it was crying (and breathing) spontaneously. Later, we joined the grandmother and mother in praising God for being the name above every name. Above every sickness or problem or fear or even death. I am so thankful that even when my words fail me, and the statistical odds are stacked against us, and the stupid clinic bed threatens to flip, I am still confident that my God is not a God who is far away. He is a God who inclines his ear when I call out to him. He loves to reveal Himself to us, and nothing is impossible for Him!
It was such an honor to be able to visit this new mother in her home during the postpartum checkup just 24 hours later and share with her and her husband the way that God had answered our prayers. In the dim light of their mud hut, under a thatched roof, we all knelt in the dirt. And in that sacred space they gave all glory to God for this new life and dedicated their baby to Lord.