Intense. Sweaty. Blood. Terrifying. Beautiful.
These are just a few words when I unexpectedly ended up in the hospital for my first shift today. Silvia and I entered the laboring area and began attending to a mother who was clearly in a lot of pain. She was gripping the bed rails as tightly as she could as her contractions passed. She writhed around on blood stained sheets. While she didn’t cry out, she made scared, whimpering sounds. As I stroked her hair and tried to calm her down, it occurred to me that she was probably only 16 or 17 years old. Of course she was terrified.
My second mother of the morning was much more vocal. She was 8.5 centimeters when I came in, and was having a really difficult time coping with the pain. She immediately grabbed my hand and began to squeeze. She kept repeating “ya no aguanta” (I can’t anymore). Her pain was so intense, I felt my own nerves flare up. I began my own mantra of sorts, repeating “respire, tranquila, and eso es,” as much to remind myself to breathe and relax as to remind Ana.
While I was attending to Ana, the mother I’d seen earlier had been to the “expulsivo,” which is sort of a primitive looking birthing chair to give birth to her baby boy. By the time I went in with Ana for her time in the expulsivo, the other mother had given birth and was being stitched up. The amount of blood on the floor was jarring, but I kept my focus on Ana. I later learned the reason for that much blood; she had a 4th degree perineal tear. I won’t go into the details of what that means (if you’re truly curious, google it and DO NOT click images), but my heart breaks to think that she’ll have to deal with the aftermath of this injury, likely for the rest of her life, which at 16, is just beginning.
When it was time for Ana to push, admittedly I panicked a bit. Who am I to be sharing this incredible moment with a woman I barely know? Is she tired of me stroking her arm and telling her she is strong? Are my words encouraging her, or is it just another voice to try to focus on while 3 doctors are shouting “puje, puje, puje?” I had very little time to think about this, as I needed to help Ana focus on getting her baby out. I reminded her to grip the side of the table with one hand and hold mine in the other. She pushed, but only in short bursts. We began counting to ten and the baby began crowning. I did my best to ignore the doctor’s use of fundal pressure and encouraged Ana to breathe. Thinking back on it, I don’t even know if she could hear me. My voice was so small; I felt so small in that moment. A few minutes later a head full of black hair appeared, and then with a gush, the rest of the baby came out. I immediately teared up. She had done it; through the fear and sweat and exhaustion, she had brought her baby into the world.
Shortly after Ana gave birth, Silvia and I decided it was time to head home. I went back to Ana to say congrats and goodbye. All my Spanish escaped me in that moment and literally all I could say was “me voy. Felicidades!” She quietly said gracias and as I started to walk away, still at a loss for words, I mumbled felicidades again. This time she grabbed my hand and said gracias señora. The way she looked at me said more than either of us could have verbalized.
I left the labor and delivery area and changed out of my scrubs. I headed out to the parking lot to meet Silvia, and just like that, I had attended my first birth in Honduras. And it was beautiful.