It hasn’t been that long since I was in Honduras volunteering as a Doula with the Dar a Luz project, the work of my dear friend Silvia’s heart, at the city hospital in La Cieba and then to the hospital on the island of Roatan ~ not even a year. How life can move at such an accelerated pace sometimes, and at others, slow, so slow… drip……drip……drip. So much has been happening and evolving. Which is why I never finished writing about my experiences in Honduras. By the time I got home, I was so relieved, tired, full, and overwhelmed that I almost needed to forget about it for a minute, or a month, or 8 months, just to process and assimilate what I had experienced and learned. Not just about birth, and birth in a third world country, but also a culture. In a country where there are so many problems, so much corruption and poverty, I learned of things that go on that I could hardly bear to hear. The exploitation of poverty and youth is beyond words, but there are also incredibly bold, courageous and huge hearted people there doing their best, working with the communities to support, encourage and educate those in need, and bring about change. For instance, in Roatan (having the 2nd highest HIV rate in the western hemisphere next to Haiti) the HIV transmission rate from mothers to babies was approximately (I’m trying to remember now, and I know my numbers are way off, but you’ll get the idea) 60%. The main reason being the extreme poverty that keeps families from being able to buy formula. So the options are, baby starves or drinks contaminated breast milk. If you have a hungry crying baby and a full breast, and nothing else…..what would you do? The wonderful midwife (social worker/activist) I stayed with on Roatan has a fundraiser every, EVERY Sunday to raise money for formula, and the rates of transmission has dropped to the single digits in 3 years. Wow! People make a difference in big and small ways everyday. Which is why we must all do our part. This world, with all it’s people is a whole functioning organism breathing its collective breath. We are not just cogs in a mindless wheel, turning and turning ~ we, through intention and action can create change. This is why I never give up. Because I know that by living truthfully, in a good way, with good action towards myself and my community I can be a positive piece to the puzzle of life. One tree in a forest, in one season can give off enough oxygen for 10 people to breathe for a year. That’s pretty awesome. We support each other.
After being at El Hospital Atlantida for two weeks in La Cieba, I was transferred to the island of Roatan (I always am more comfortable on islands!) to deliver a birth ball (think large excersize/yoga ball) to the clinic and demonstrate/teach with the nurses how to use it and other comfort measures to help the women in their labors ~ and also to attend births for the week I would be there. There were only a small handful or births during my stay, two of them being very intense, powerful experiences in very different ways. One was a thirteen year old girl, tiny, skinny, barely any pubic hair, scared, and in a lot of pain. She was very difficult to reach because of the state she was in physically and emotionally, and the language barrier. I think she also had no patience for my troubled Spanish. Part of me wanted to walk out and leave, she was hysterically wailing and screaming but I couldn’t help. I felt helpless, useless, and in the way. As I had to do everyday, I had to sweep my ego aside, stop looking for validation and remember that this little girl is terrified, and probably has no idea what is really going on. As I’ve written before, it is sometimes during their births that a lot of these women first learn about anatomy and the hows and whys. In some moments with this young mother, I was able to get her to focus into my eyes and breathe. I could feel her become grounded, and anchored, her breath becoming deeper and stronger. I would think, Okay, good, she’s here, she can do this. As quick as the moment of strength and peace would come, it would be gone and she was lost, her legs squeezed tightly back together. The nurses were saying to, me….’She will not deliver. She cannot open. It will be a cesarean. You can go.” “I’ll just stay a little longer, I think she can do it.” I kept saying. Eventually, I took their advice and left. I was confused and sad and tired. I felt like I had failed this child. When I came home and told my host about the experience of the day, she started grilling me with questions….”What did you do? Why did you leave?” I felt like I was being judged, I felt terrible and in over my head, and said as much ~ which opened up a dialog for a great conversation where I learned, yet again to stare that ego in the face, be humble, listen and learn.
The next day, I arrived to the hospital where I learned our young mama delivered naturally, a healthy baby within two hours of my leaving. I was so relieved, though I wished I had stayed. This day was to be my last in the hospital, and my last as a volunteer in Honduras. I would next be going to the island of Utila to relax and get my SCUBA certification. My confidence level was down a bit and I kind of didn’t want to be there. There was a young mama, age 17, laboring alone behind the curtains. The nurses were trying to give her oxytocin through her IV but she wanted no part of it (pretty much all labors are ‘enhanced’ with oxytocin, one of those things that is just done, routinely, without thought). They would come in, turn up the knob on her IV, she would jump up out of bed and turn it off. I liked her spunk. He labor wasn’t progressing, and her sister came in to give her a pep talk, which was more like “you’re so stupid, why won’t you take the medicine, stupid!’ and then turning up the knob. There was a little battle of turning it up and down. I said to the sister, ‘I think you can go now”. I won’t use this mama’s real name, which was lovely, so I will call her Mani. Mani sat on the side of the bed weeping, one of the nurses gave me a crazy-eyed look like, “Go to her, dummy! Isn’t that what you’re here for!?” I snapped out if it and sat with Mani. She had a bit of an attitude and was like, “I don’t wanna do it! (she spoke some english, which was wonderful) I’m not gonna do it! Gimme a cesarean!!” Here comes that, The Only Way Out is Through speech! I explained that a cesarean might feel like a good idea now, but after it’s over you will have more pain, a lot more pain and for longer, and while trying to take care of the new baby. I explained that “the cervix is like a flower that needs to open, and that the pain of the contractions is what is making that flower open. It is purposeful pain, but you need to go into it and allow it to happen. If you fight the opening, the pain will be worse. I will stay here with you and help you get through it. And probably by the end of the day, you will have your baby and your pain will be gone. You will feel like you made a big accomplishment” She looked at me and I could see her processing that information, taking it into her body, seeing it making sense, and after a few minutes she looked at me, straight in the eyes, and said, “Okay, let’s do this.” She suddenly turned into this force of strength. She listened to and tried suggestions, she didn’t do what she didn’t want to do. Eventually, she started telling Me what to do, which was awesome. I was like, Okay girl! You tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Labor got intense, she was up out of the bed, pacing back and forth, squatting, having me lift her belly during contractions, doing the ‘doula hula’ which is kind of a swaying dance where the birth partner supports the weight of the mama. She was like, “Do this!! Do that! it was great. I could feel her energy, it was so powerful, she was so strong and focused. Finally, I think she was fully dilated and was needing a rest so she got back in the bed, I sat on the bed behind her and she laid back into my chest. She said she felt so much better, and thanked me for being there, and could we stay like this for a while. We rested until she felt the urge to push. She began pushing and was like, “I can’t push on this bed! It’s not right! I can’t lay down! Bring me to the delivery room!” Again, I was impressed with her clarity of mind and desire. She asked me what time it was. I said noon. She said, “I will have this baby by 1”. Everything she said, she would say directly into my eyeballs, as if to anchor it there. We moved to the “expulsivo’ room where she gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy, ‘her king’ she said. She was happy and comfortable and her family was there so it was time for me to go. She asked for my email address so I gave it to her, wished her well and left the hospital for the last time. A few days later I got this message from her. It was so awesome.
“Hi melinda how or u doing u hope ur doing verry well you remember me ——– the girl that u was with in the hospital the monday wen I was given born to my baby boy I thank u for everything u did for me that day u make me feel good that day wen u was with me I was verry happy to have u on my side thank thank thank u u u u very very very much”
I am forever grateful that I was able to end my volunteer time on a positive note. I will never forget her, or the other mamas I had the opportunity to work with. Now that I’ve started writing again, it’s hard to stop, but I will leave it here today.
This is me with little Julian, beautiful son of Silvia, who made this all possible.
http://www.islandmassagetherapy.co ~ This is my local Holistic Bodywork and Doula practice.