Tales From the Field #8
Her piercing cries are deafening. The midwives shake their heads in warning as I head towards the woman in the corner of the room.
Her back is to me. She is on her knees in an awkward split, one knee hanging off the side of the delivery bed. Her hands hold tightly to the top of the bed. She is naked, her filthy clothes scattered on the floor around her.
I gently take her arm and try and help her.
“Ki juya?” Can you turn around?
She doesn’t, but clings more tightly to the bed. Her body tenses, a labyrinth of muscle and bone.
“Watch out, sister Betsy, she’ll kill you.” No sooner are the words out of Nusurat’s mouth then the girl releases her hold and grabs me around the neck. She screeches in my ear.
Her grip is strong and her nails dig into my arms. I can feel the tautness of her belly during the contraction. For a moment I panic. I disentangle myself from her deathly embrace and take a step back, heart racing.
“See? Leave her be.” The local midwives laugh.
In a flash, the girl is off the bed and on the floor, crawling around on all fours. With the next contraction she seizes my leg, wailing.
I look down at her, as though seeing her for the first time. She is young and small. Her hair is an unruly mass. The whites of her eyes are in stark contrast to her black skin. There is a giant gap between her front teeth.
The contraction ends and her hold loosens.
She looks 14 or 15, likely married off the year before. Nine months ago she was forced to lose her virginity to a man twice her age. Now she is giving birth, terrified again.
The local midwives have no tolerance for her antics. They’ve seen it too many times. They tell her to get back on the bed, but she continues crawling and screaming.
Inevitably the grunting begins and I know the baby will soon come.
I try and at least get her off the dirty floor. I coax her using the few Hausa words I know. The cleaners smile at my attempts and they are the ones who help me convince her. She is miraculously back on two feet and walks bowlegged to the delivery table. She climbs back on.
She resumes her split position and I end up doing the delivery with her rear in my face. The baby appears slowly. First I see his emerging squinty eyes, then his cheeks. She is howling and climbing further up the bed. I fight to bring her back down but she keeps moving out of reach. Her legs suddenly clamp down on the baby’s head. I try and pry them open.
I am pleading with her to cooperate. “I’m trying to help you!!”
Finally it is the baby who ends our wrestling match. He arrives screaming sounding as upset as we are. I try and place the baby on her but she recoils, refusing him. I cut the cord and carry him to the warmer, taking a moment to catch my breath.
“Give me the baby,” Sara says kindly, seeing the exhaustion on my face.
I return to the girl and complete her delivery. She continues to fight me every step of the way even as I remove the placenta and clean her. Finally it’s over. I cover her with a wrapper and walk away. Unlike her I can.
Not everyone chooses to be a mother.
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