Another 2 weeks have passed in the Philippines and it’s hard to believe my time in this beautiful country is almost over. These past 2 weeks have been full of many amazing births, outreach clinic visits, traveling to a new island for the weekend, a home stay with a midwife, and community visits.
One particular birth that stood out was a woman who was having a longer, more difficult labor. I offered to sit by her as she progressed and she squeezed (more like crushed) my hand through each contraction. She knew a little English so I did my best to comfort and encourage her in phrases she would understand. I rubbed and massaged her back throughout the 3 more hours it took for her labor to progress, sweat dripping down my forehead and dampening my scrubs in the warm, tropical heat. She moaned painfully, “Lord…please help me.” I offered to pray with her and she gratefully accepted. It was unique to have the opportunity to pray and support a patient in prayer in addition to her physical needs.
When the time came to push, the midwives and I helped position her in preparation. It’s amazing to see the strength and determination that shows on these women’s faces as they push, already drained and exhausted from the pain and sometimes long labor leading up to the delivery without any paid medication. 2 hours of strenuous pushing later and the top of the head was finally visible. “Sige pa! Sige pa!” (keep going in Tagalog). 3 midwives and I gathered around to cheer on the discouraged and fatigued mother to not give up. Finally, the head came through, a head full of dark, slimy hair. One of the midwives stepped aside and said, “You catch” as I excitedly placed my gloved hands under the head and gently pulled, freeing the shoulders followed by the rest of the body. I then placed the newly born baby directly onto the mother as the first cries were heard.”Congrats! It’s a boy!” The relieved mother wrapped her arms around her new son and laid back exhausted with content. A healthy baby boy. Later, while resting and recovering, I came to check on the mother and she smiled at me and said, “Thank you for staying and helping me.” Although simple, it meant a lot to know that I had been able to support this mother throughout her difficult labor and delivery process, resulting in a healthy baby and mom.
Throughout the week, I was also able to visit 3 additional clinics in the community run by missionaries. The first outreach clinic was for prenatal checkups and was done in a poor community in a small dilapidated concrete building with only a narrow hallway and 1 tiny room which barely fit the small examination bed. Kids were outside playing on the pot-holed muddy streets amongst the roaming chickens and stray dogs not knowing play life to look any differently. One of the prenatal checkups was a young, teenage girl there with her sister. The missionary advised us that she had been raped by a taxi driver while walking to go buy food and was now pregnant. My heart broke for this young girl who appeared so strong despite her circumstances. I silently prayed for her and struggled to trust that God would somehow redeem this awful situation.
The other 2 clinics were inspiring to see as well and included general medicine. I was left feeling a confusing mix of emotions at the different sights and patient cases I observed. I felt unexpected joy and humility seeing an old woman smile with missing, rotted teeth as the doctor offered her a good report on her blood pressure and diabetes, heartache seeing and reading the report of an 8-yr old boy with cognitive disability whose mother was trying to give up because she couldn’t afford his seizure medication and manage his care along with his 4 other siblings, admiration witnessing the staff serving the patients with love and kindness despite difficult conditions, always offering prayer and a warm smile, and amazement to see how God is working through obedient missionaries willing to serve in adverse circumstances.
The weekend was a stark contrast to the week’s events as I traveled to another island in the Philippines with the clinic director, Pami. I was thankful for the time to process and reflect. I also enjoyed hearing about Pami’s experiences as an American missionary serving in the Philippines, including many unbelievable stories about patient cases, cultural and resource differences, and struggles within overseas missions. The beach we stayed near was beautiful with turquoise-clear water, soft sand, and shady palm trees. It was a wonderful time of rest and the ability to observe a bit of God’s wonderful creation. On Sunday, we hiked to a waterfall, getting slightly lost along the way but eventually finding it. The tropical foliage throughout the hike was beautiful and we even saw a monkey! Staring out at the calendar-like scenery you would never guess all the pain and poverty that coexists within a short distance. It’s tempting to be fooled by paradise and to try to forget reality. It’s a little reminder of what I imagine heaven could be like but with the realization of this imperfect, present world.
This week I also had the opportunity to do a home stay with a midwife. It was an eye-opening experience to see what a local, Filipino lives like. From the clinic, Ate Emy and I took a tricycle to the market to buy food for dinner. The crowded market was overwhelming, packed with people, harsh smells of hanging animal parts, dead fish and overripe produce. I also received many stares as the only tall, white American girl around. We bought some vegetables, tilapia and mangoes from the market before taking another tricycle to Ate Emy’s house. I learned how to make vegetable lumpia (chopped cabbage, carrots, and green beans rolled in a thin wrap and deep fried, similar to an egg roll). Walking into the small kitchen I saw 2 mice scurry across the floor which startled me. “Don’t worry, they’re friendly mice,” Ate Emy told me. I can’t say that eased my nerves very much. To sleep, a thin mattress was pulled out into their main room and covered with a mosquito net to keep from getting eaten alive (my legs were already well-bitten). Ate Emy and I shared the mattress while her husband slept out on the open-air patio and the son in their 1 small bedroom. It was an enriching experience and different to see how many locals live. It’s an adjustment from the often very individualized U.S. society with so much expectation of having so much, including our own space and possessions.
I also had the opportunity to go out into the community with a midwife and 2 women from the local church to visit Shalom patients in their homes and tell women in the area about the church partnership to provide pap smears and family planning. It was humbling to see where some of these patients live. People were very friendly and kids playing in the alleyways loved following us and getting our attention, giggling and waving. These kids seemed to have so much joy despite having very little.
As I finish my last few days in the Philippines, I’m trying to take all the sights and experiences in before heading back to the U.S. I am still processing what God has been showing and teaching me through my time here.
Thank you for the continued prayers and support.