Remember how I told you that “my daughters” were married. What I didn’t mention is that the second one, Merry, was only fourteen. No I didn’t approve.
But, even if they call me mom, I could only say so much. Especially, since I found out after the fact.
Anyways, it wasn’t too long before they told me she was pregnant (she was too shy to tell me herself). Fast-forward 6-7ish months, I got woke up from a nap (second time to called during a nap) because “Merry’s belly was hurting.” I know her, she’s not a complainer, so I figured it must be something serious. I was hoping it was just round ligament pain or Braxton Hicks…and I’d tell her to rest…maybe giver her a back rub.
Just a note: the rest of the story is sad AND about birth. Up to you if you want to continue reading.
When I got up to Merry’s grandma’s house, I could see that they’d already prepared the room for birth. Which means arranging something for the birthing mother to lean against (in this case a wooden chest of clothes and several pillows), scrubbed the floor, prepared a clean floor mat, clean sarongs, and nailed a piece of wood at her feet. Merry looked good, if not really pale. She’d been looking severely anemic so I’d commanded her to eat vitamins, bought her some fortified milk, and asked her to overcome her teenage dislike of vegetables. Too little, too late, though.
When I entered the house, they told me that Merry’s water had broke. And she was bleeding a lot. I checked her blood pressure 85/60. Low. I felt the baby, and he felt like a small high little lump. I’m not very experienced at feeling the babies, but to me it felt like a strange position. Then I got out my fetalscope. I couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. I tried and tried and tried. Still no heartbeat. I’m still learning to use the thing, so I was hoping I was wrong. But the more I checked, the surer I got. So, I pulled her mom out of the room and said, “I’m sorry I think the baby is gone, and Merry is bleeding heavily, I want to take her to a hospital.” They didn’t believe me because they could see Merry’s belly jumping. I was hoping they were right, and it wasn’t just her muscles twitching.
They agreed to take her down out of the mountains, to their other house at the village. Not to the hospital like I hoped; the village, though, is a jumping off point for going to the hospital. I went home to get a change of clothes, a sarong, and update Michael. I missed out seeing how they carried her down out of the mountains. It seems like it must be quite a feat.
About an hour later, I got to their village house. Merry’s bleeding wasn’t as heavy. Her blood pressure was 90/65. The midwives had appeared. They were trying to get labor going by having Merry get up and walk around. I have the least experience, so I just sat back and watched and listened. I tried to tell them to just let her rest, and not to try too hard to get labor going because the baby was so early, and I wanted Merry to be taken to a hospital. They nodded, but when I left the room, up she was again, walking. I decided not to make a scene or be a pushy white woman. I have no experience, and her bleeding had slowed down. I went and bought her a few eggs for strength, some sugar, some tea, and biscuits in case she wanted to eat anything. And then I sat, talking, and listening to all of the women sharing their stories. Eventually I realized it was getting late, so I decided to go home and sleep in my own bed. Merry looked good, calm, strong, and not like she was about to go into labor.
The next morning, bright and early, I got ready to go. I packed a little hat that I had crocheted. Even though I was quite sure the baby had already passed away, I wanted something to give to Merry. On my way, I passed a friend’s house, and she told me the news that Merry had given birth. But, that the baby was stillborn.
I felt guilty for having gone home, and not waiting around. I wasn’t needed, but it is important for me to intentionally involve myself in their story, even if it is a really hard story.
When I arrived at their house, it was so calm. A few people were around, fewer then the night before. Merry looked strong, if not exhausted. The men worked on a coffin outside while the women were gathered in the house talking and sharing. It was cathartic. They were able to go over all of the details, their feelings, their thoughts. I learned the story of the birth from them.
Apparently around midnight, the baby’s arm was delivered, and if I understand it right, the placenta was wrapped around his arm. The ladies went and called the most experienced midwife. She came, dislocated the babies’ shoulder, and was able to help Merry deliver the rest of him. He was born, folded, with his head between his legs. That explains why he felt like a small lump when I had felt Merry’s belly up in the garden house. The baby’s umbilical cord wasn’t normal…I’m still trying to figure out the rush of stories in my new language…but from what I can figure, he already had a normal belly button. What does that mean, anyone? He was very small, probably just about right for being 6.5 to 7 months old.
Merry’s mom came in and apologized for not believing me when I said the baby was stillborn; I quickly explained that I too was hoping I was wrong.
The ladies were looking around for clothes to bury the baby in. I was so glad that I had put the hat in my bag.
When all of the preparations were finished, they had the funeral.
Most of the funeral details were similar to what we would recognize in the US. He was buried in the family plot. The local church leader, a family friend, said some words. We sang songs. Kids scattered flower petals over the grave.
There are differences, though. And they all have to do with beliefs about the spirit world. As we plunge into this new area of culture, I see more and more that I didn’t realize there are such rippling currents of difference that are raging under the surface. Sometimes they well up, sometimes they are hidden from view. I’m not ready to explain it all, because I’m just beginning to hear about it, and not anywhere near being able to understand.
Remember us as I help Merry (and her family) as best I can.