Everyone, I’d Like You to Meet Mariam

Mariam - the first birth I've ever seen!

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out where to begin. A starting point for sharing my experiences of the week, but I can’t seem to find a good one. So I’ll start here: everyone, I’d like you to meet Mariam. Mariam was born on Tuesday, October 11th and she was the first live birth that I’ve ever seen. The mother, also named Mariam, was more than willing to let me take a picture of her newborn girl, all wrapped up in her colorful kanga beauty.

This week I was observing in the maternity ward, which includes the ward where all antenatal and postnatal patients are, as well as the birthing room, which consists of two rooms, one with two beds where mothers stay until they are ready to push and the other room with three birthing beds, which are often all full at once. I was brought to tears multiple times over the course of the week, sometimes out of the joy of seeing a new life enter into the world and sometimes out of sorrow and frustration, not all deliveries go well in the end.

Hospital Grounds

I never realized how romanticized pregnancy and birthing in the US is. From my cultural expectations, giving birth is suppose to be this painful but magical experience: the woman, with at least one family member by her side, screams and pushes until the baby pops out, then the doctor yells “It’s a boy (or girl)! and whisks it away to do preliminary health checks, and finally everyone is teary and congratulating the mom for all her hard work, etc, etc…..Here it’s a bit different. Sometimes you have one midwife attending three women that are delivering all at the same time and all in the same room. Let’s just say there is no time for individual attention. The women are strong, often silent and doing it all on their own. There is no one holding their hand, and just as the mothers are brave and courageous, these babies also seem to come into the world with that same bravery.

Pemba Scenary

I also learned some very practical skills this week, like how to check someone’s blood pressure and all about the three phases of labor. For being a female myself, I must confess that I was rather ignorant about the whole process before. In general, my work progresses and I plan to be done with my observational phase at the hospital in approximately two weeks…. I can’t believe I’ve been there for almost 2 months now.

It has been raining pretty consistently all week and as a result I’ve been making it to the hospital on foot because my bike without fenders mixed with a wet road leaves me incredibly dirty and wet by the time I arrive at my destination. While hitch hiking is fairly common on the island and I’ve been offered many rides in the past, my “don’t get in a car with strangers” mantra that I’ve repeated since I was small is too strong and I usually decline. This week, however, I must confess I threw that rule out the window.

One day when I was walking home under a heavy rain shower, Eddie, a tour guide for a local resort that I had met in town stopped and offered me a ride. I declined several times, but he insisted saying that my health was at stake, and so I hopped in. The craziest part was that he knew exactly where I lived…I guess that’s what happens when you live on a small island. On another day I manged to catch a ride home with Amur, a friend and neighbor, on his moped. In the nearly 3 years that I lived in Italy, I never managed to realize the dream of riding on the back of a Vespa, but just after two months in Pemba, my dream came true!

This weekend I plan to head back to Kiuyu again with the Millenium Village team as they  are putting on a program for International Hand Washing Day and I promised one of the elders of the village that I would come back to see them. Other than that, no plans for the weekend. I just want to relax, read and enjoy a good rain storm dryly from inside.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Antonio T. Iannarone, Ph.D. on October 14, 2011 at 15:29

    Marissa,
    How beautiful your words, sentiments and Mariam are. Prayers for a lifetime of health for this new member of the ‘human race’. Having been present when both you and your brother joined that group I wonder, is it tradition that no family member, grandmother or father, is present during the birthing process or are there other factors at play?
    Baba

    Reply

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