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!