The Adventure Continues

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.

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Exhausted mom and her new baby soon after delivery

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.

Blessings,

Laura

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Not For Here (Continued Philippines Experiences)

It’s been about 10 days in the Philippines now and I can’t believe how much I have learned and experienced so far. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the three British women and the previous intern, Emma, that were here (picture below). They are all wonderful women that were fun to get to know and have the ability to experience the Philippines with. Being the only intern here now has been a change and has left me with more time to myself to think and process, both a good and bad thing at times. I have been able to get to know the midwives better which has been wonderful. They are all incredibly kind, compassionate, welcoming, and knowledgable women. I have enjoyed learning from them and I think they have gotten a good laugh out of me attempting to speak Tagalog at times. One of my favorite quotes from this week was when midwife Ate Emy said, “You are like Goliath and we are like David,” referring to the noticeable height difference as evidenced in the photo below.

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The week started with the opportunity to spend Sunday with Dr. Becky and her family. I had a nice time visiting their church in Manila, a very large church that offers both Tagalog and English services. After church, we stopped for lunch and got burritos (surprisingly) and walked around some shops with their two daughters, Lily (4) and Abby (2), both very amusing and adorable. It’s amazing how busy it seems to be all the time. The mall was crowded as if it were Black Friday even though it was only a regular Sunday afternoon. Traffic is also horrendous. It seems to take forever to get anywhere and it always feels like a gamble with your life with the way people drive here. It feels like a game of chicken with other drivers where you have to assert yourself into ongoing traffic and pray other cars will stop for you. It’s also a lot of bumper-to-bumper driving because any amount of space given is license to allow another driver to cut in. It’s a constant swerve around pedestrians, tricycles, and motorbikes, often dashing into opposing lanes or squeezing 3 cars where barely 2 should fit on a road.

I had my first tricycle experience with Emma going to the market. It’s quite the experience to squeeze into the cramped side cart of a Kowasaki motorbike, ducking down and hunching over as someone taller than the average Filipino. Along the way, it’s not uncommon for two more people to casually hop onto the back of the motorbike behind the driver and 1 to stand on the back of the side car. The whole way you are just praying you don’t get hit because you know you don’t stand a chance in a tricycle. It was quite fun though and a way to experience a typical mode of transportation for Filipinos.

Monday I had the chance to go on outreach to do prenatal checkups in two different areas with Ante Emy, a Shalom midwife. I wasn’t expecting the journey in order to reach the first makeshift clinic in lower, more rural Antipolo. 1.5 hours, 3 tricycle rides and 2 jeepney rides later we arrived to a building that seemed to be in the middle of a rainforest. We walked down a dirt path, casually passing a few goats, some chickens, some women washing clothes in a plastic bucket, and small, dilapidated houses. Women were already lined up outside the door of a small cement building where the clinic is held once a week. Ante Emy led a short devotional and taught about nutrition before we performed prenatal checks on about 15 women. We then commuted to City Gates, a school where the midwives offer another prenatal and well baby clinic once a week.

It was quite the experience to ride the local transportation and go out into the local communities where these women live. It’s hard to describe all of the sites and smells. Walking by side-street vendors of dead fish, hanging chicken and pig parts, and a 2-year old waving a stick with feathers on the end to keep the flies off. I couldn’t get over the constant chaos on the streets of people crowded on the side streets, pedestrians crossing the street in front of oncoming traffic, bumper-t0-bumper jeepneys, trucks, and tricycles all crammed together and weaving into whichever lane in an attempt to get places faster. The air was hot and hard to breathe between the exhaust fumes, stirred up dirt/dust, and the smells of garbage and dead fish. I got back feeling overwhelmed by the number of people and the chaos of it all which surprisingly appeared normal to so many.

 

The experienced chaos continued today as a sick baby born at Shalom was being transferred to the hospital via Shalom’s ambulance per family request. It took over an hour to get to the first public hospital. Upon taking the baby into the emergency room, it was shocking to see how small and ill-equipped it was. I only saw one worker to over 10 patients lying in beds wherever they would fit in close proximity to each other. There were flies buzzing around and the air was hot and stuffy. Outside, there were about 20 people lined up sitting on the curb waiting to be seen. After a few minutes, we were told that the hospital would not accept the baby because they did not feel equipped for her case. We all climbed back into the ambulance for another hour ride to a different hospital. After a very bumpy and whip-lash ride, we arrived to the hospital and brought the baby into another very crowded emergency room. This ER was larger but packed with people lying on cots along the wall, in beds only about 2 feet apart, or sitting in wheelchairs wherever space allowed. It smelled strongly of body odor and urine and I could see uncovered and used syringe needles sitting on a side cart of supplies. It looked like a scene from a mass-casualty disaster, but it was just a normal day. The baby was accepted and admitted, even without a free bed. A girl sitting behind a folding table wearing a t-shirt, plaid mini-skirt and lab coat took the baby’s vitals and then placed baby Princess in the other half of a bed with another sick infant and made to share the space. I couldn’t believe how calm the baby’s mother appeared through all of this. The midwives and I left without any idea of how things would turn out but praying for baby Princess Natalia to somehow heal in this chaotic environment and be able to go home.

I couldn’t imagine being placed in a hospital environment like that where I would feel there would be a higher chance of acquiring a new disease than healing from what you came in with. It made me realize how fortunate I am back home to have access to such nice facilities with private rooms and well-equipped staff. I came back from the hospital feeling shocked and overwhelmed. To think that for so many people, this is what they have for health care. I am just here as a privileged American who can observe it and leave again, as if it were just a bad dream to put behind me. This is thousands of people’s every day realities though, and it isn’t their choice. It brought me to tears as I witnessed this young, new mom and her newborn baby fighting for life and made to go through this. It made me silently question, “Why God? It doesn’t seem fair. This precious baby hasn’t even had a week of life and is already struggling. All of these people are living in such poverty and without quality health care simply because of where they were born. Why does it have to be this way?”

My experience seeing such poverty and struggle lead me to think of the verse below:

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”- 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

It brought me to think, just as Paul knew, that we are simply not meant for here. Our earthly home will leave us groaning, burdened, and longing for our heavenly home. What is mortal becomes swallowed up by this earthly life, but our hope is in heaven and our spirits, rather than our earthly bodies. It’s easy to lose sight of that while in the midst of life on earth. Sometimes it feels like this is all there is and we need to perfect this life. In reality, it’s not possible because there will always be sin, disease, and death which corrupt this life. It leaves me wondering what my place in this life is then? In a world where need is overwhelming, it can leave me wanting to just curl up in bed to try to forget the world’s horrors. It’s comforting to know that we ultimately aren’t in control, and rather than becoming overwhelmed with trying to help everyone, it starts with one person at a time of those placed in our lives.

I know this was a lot of thoughts. If you made it to the end, thank you for listening to my rambling as I process my experiences. I am praying that God continues to work through my time in the Philippines. Thank you for continued support and prayers.

Blessings,

Laura

 

Arrival and 1st Week

I am thankful for my safe arrival to the Philippines early Tuesday morning. After a long journey I found myself in Manila amongst one of the world’s most crowded cities. After about an hour’s drive through the craziness of Philippines traffic, I arrived to Shalom Birthing Clinic where I am staying in the guest house above the clinic. After a few hours of desperately-needed sleep, I stumbled down to the clinic to over a hundred Filipino women sitting in plastic chairs waiting to be called for pre-natal checkups. One by one, each woman was called by number to get vitals checked and then sit and wait for a physical examination.

It has been amazing to see the differences in resources and technology at Shalom. Half sheets of paper act as women’s medical records. 10-bed rooms replace individual exam rooms with a row of chairs lined up with the woman waiting for their turn. If a sheet is laid down for an internal examination it is simply flipped over to be used for the next exam. The labor/recovery room is comprised of about 10 wooden beds with thin mattresses for women in labor or postpartum who stay 24 hours after giving birth. As soon as a woman feels ready to push, she is transferred to the birthing room where there are 3 beds separated by curtains. The laboring mother simply pulls down her pants and the midwife puts a waterproof sheet under her and dons some sterile gloves. With no pain medication, these tough Filipino women silently push. Often it doesn’t take too long before the head emerges and the baby is pulled out by the midwife and placed on the mom’s chest: a beautiful, slimy and crying bundle of joy and life. It’s quite amazing to observe.

In the U.S. pregnancy and birth are made to be a much bigger ordeal than here. Photo shoots, private suites, pain medications, epidurals, 1 in 3 births as c-sections, first little outfits picked out, etc. Here, women act as if being pregnant and giving birth are almost a regular occurrence. It’s very different to observe a birth in Filipino culture versus western culture. There is much less emotion showed it seems. I haven’t really observed tears of joy, squealing family members, “It’s a boy/girl” balloons or tons of photos taken. It rather seems to be a very quiet, low-key event. Within an hour of giving birth, the woman is sent back to the large room of other postpartum women to stay for the next 24 hours and then goes home, typically in a tricycle (motor bike with an attached side car, a typical mode of public transportation here).

I have really enjoyed the week so far though. It’s amazing how much I have learned and done so far. The Filipino midwives are very nice and love to teach and involve me. I was able to observe my first birth here in the middle of my orientation on Tuesday. After observing, the midwife said, “Next time, you catch.” She wasn’t joking! The next birth that came while I was on duty on Friday, the midwife told me to put on gloves. As soon as the head was delivered she instructed me where to put my hands and I was able to pull out the baby and hand her to the mom and cut the cord! It was amazing! I have also been able to help take vitals, do prenatal, postpartum and newborn checkups, give vaccinations, check fetal heart rates and positioning, and more! I am excited for the next few weeks and all that I will continue to learn and do.

It’s humbling to be surrounded by such poverty with many houses consisting of make-shift metal shacks forced to fit 6 or more people in a small space with dirt floors and stray dogs, goats, and roosters running around. There is often garbage lying around in many of the streets and gutters, and the air often smells like trash, gasoline or rotting food. It’s interesting to gain perspective of how so many people live and what is their ‘normal,’ even if it shouldn’t be. It makes me think twice about complaining about anything. It also makes me question a lot of things and why the world has to be the way it is where place of birth can determine the quality of life you live and where working 5x harder in worse conditions can still get you less than someone else working less hard in nicer conditions. It leaves me wishing I could do more to help rather than simply being a passerby observer. It has also been strange to observe such poverty, but then suddenly see a nice shopping mall in the midst of it. There are many stark differences in some areas where a nice, gated housing section may exist along one side of a river and the opposite side is a row of metal scrap houses that look ready to collapse at any second. There’s more I could say, but I’ll leave it at that for now as I continue to reflect and process. I’ll have more to write later!

Thank you for everyone who has prayed and supported me to be here in the Philippines. I’m excited to share more with you!

Blessings,

Laura