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A birth story from Budapest

Posted Jan 05 2010 9:52am
A Birth Story from Budapest

This was written by a fellow Frontier Midwifery student, Amanda Perkins. I have cut and pasted it below, because you need to have a subscription to go to the above link.


Rapid breaths whispered through my throat in time with the pulsating screams coming from the labour room. My fingernails dug into my palms. The white plastic doors with the sign reading “acces interzis” literally translated “access forbidden” gave the impression that we were standing before a prison gate and not a labour room. I was caught between the worlds of student midwife and doula, in the country of Romania where I was respected as neither.

I began to watch my friend Georgiana intently. Her belly was full and tight with rushes. As my eyes met with her deep labouring gaze, she looped her arms around my neck. We swayed and rocked to an unsung lullaby. We went deep inside ourselves as we consciously blocked out the screaming, whirring, and fear so palpable around us. Then, as if she was the midwife and I the mother she whispered, “It will be okay” with great calm and awoke us from our trance.

She reached her hand behind her back to hold the sides of her drab linen gown together and trudged forward to meet her doctor in the labour room. Doctors and nurses flitted in and out of the labour room and I strained to see her past the thick plastic doors. Georgiana looked over her shoulder and smiled at me. I gathered my strength and smiled back. In an instant the doors slammed shut and I was alone.

‘Peace-bearer’ the phrase crossed my mind as I tried to block out the wails of women echoing from the tiled labour room. I began to pray and walk back and forth through the hall, cautious not to walk by any open doors where a nurse might find me and remove me from the entire labour and delivery floor. My heart ached as I thought of Georgiana in the large labour room by herself. How could I be a peace-bearer now?

My mind was suddenly transported to nearly nine months before when my midwifery journey had been conceived in Hyden, Kentucky. I remembered sitting in a folding chair, clustered with other eager midwife students, listening to a seasoned midwife tell her stories. Not once did I look at my watch. The tiny woman kept us spellbound with her sweet spirit and unwavering confidence in women and birth. When the question and answer time came this midwife sage surprised us. A question rang out from an inquisitive student midwife in the back of the room.
“Can you tell us about a time when you dealt with a postpartum haemorrhage and how you stopped it?”

The midwife’s eyes lit up. “Ah, yes.” She began. “Red heads, they seem to bleed more than other women. I recall a mother who had delivered in a hospital and haemorrhaged with her first birth. She then asked me to attend her home birth. I agreed but told her this time she couldn’t bleed.”

It seemed that the midwife had finished her story. Another student midwife called out eagerly, “So what happened?”

As if slightly surprised that we had not understood the story’s resolution the midwife said calmly, “Well, she had a beautiful birth of course.”

I remember that I still didn’t understand until this midwife was asked to share her trade secret. “Take up knitting.” She said. We sat in stunned silence. Knitting? This was the ancient midwife’s secret?

“Your peace becomes the mother’s peace. Your calm becomes her calm. She is giving birth, you are attending. Her space is sacred. You will know when you need to act but most of the time you will knit.”

My mind lurched out of the serene memory and into the present as I felt Georgiana’s hand touch my shoulder. “Hey,” she said quietly, “I am back but the doctor said I haven’t progressed very far. So I guess....” Her voice waivered as her shoulders slumped forward.

‘Peace-bearer.’ Again the phrase flashed in my mind. This time imbued with meaning. I was calm now, peaceful. I met Georgiana’s eyes, golden brown like the Romanian fields after harvesting. As our eyes met I heard her sigh and a deep breath was released from her body. I felt the whisper of her breath on my cheek.

I had not brought my knitting with me but as we walked the halls of the Bucharest maternity hospital, I felt safe simply being with Georgiana. I could not change the dank conditions of the hospital nor would I be able to catch her baby, but I could be with her. And with my calm spirit I protected her sacred birthing space.

Nearly 24 hours went by of resting, labouring and hourly doctor checks. Now when we would go to the labour doors I would peacefully accept my role outside the doors. I knew that if I had any chance of being with her during the birth it would mean waiting patiently outside for Georgiana during each monitoring session. As the night became early morning I started to sing softly outside the labour room. I sang songs of thanks and songs of life. I prayed and hummed and waited.

The hospital was full and Georgiana was told she could not labour until a bed ‘cleared out’ in the eight-person labour room. Stifling my laughter at our vain attempts to control women and their bodies I did nothing but look Georgiana in the eyes once again. “You will know.” I said, “You will know when it is time to give birth and there will be a place for you and I will be with you.” I felt myself speaking with the same confidence with which I remembered the wise midwife remarking to the woman who had haemorrhaged with her previous birth, “This time I simply told her she couldn’t bleed.”

The next morning soon faded to afternoon and then early evening when Georgiana told me, “I think I know.” We walked back to the labour room, this time I pushed through the white plastic doors with her. A nurse stopped me, “Who are you?” I showed her my Frontier student midwife badge and smiled, “My name is Amanda. I am a woman who loves to be with other women when they give birth. I am a nurse and in school to become a midwife.” My sincerity seemed to take her aback. “Come on in,” she motioned.

Georgiana laboured for the last two hours in a high bed, nearly four feet from the ground. The seven beds around us were filled with other labouring women, groaning and writhing alone in their pain. ‘I will not forget them.’ I thought to myself. ‘But now I am here for Georgiana, now I am her peace-bearer.’

I sat on the bed next to her, rubbed her back, met her eyes and whispered every few minutes, “Look at me Georgiana, not anyone else. Look at me…” The labour room assembly line eventually led us to one of the two delivery beds set up in the space adjacent to the labour room. I helped Georgiana step up to the table and lay down for her birth.

It was painful and the common practices of technocratic birth were dominant. Her perineum was cut, the staff impatient, and the environment cold. Baby Mathias was born healthy but immediately swooped away by doctors. But I was with her. Georgiana did not give birth alone. And she gave birth with a midwife whispering in her ear, “You are beautiful, you are strong, and I am with you.”

Amanda Perkins | Student Midwife
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