I’ve spent some months in the field in Cambodia, working for an NGO as a midwife.
It has been a challenging time: as a woman, as a midwife as a human being.
At the beginning I didn’t know what I was there for. Everything seemed confused; I didn’t know where to start from. It happened that in these cases, when I feel overwhelmed, unbalanced, confused I use to change my path, and not really go into that challenge. This time, I recognised it was time to jump in, and work something out. I needed to do this because people were believing in me, and cheering me up, and because I had to grow up as a woman and as a midwife. These people were asking for help, love and kindness.
This is my story:
At the beginning I started working in RUMPEA health centre, after a little while we moved to PREH KEBAS DISTRICT, where I met lovely people that become my colleagues and my life mates.
They had never met a “baran” (western person) before, I had never met a kehmer before. We took a while to get to know each other, and trust each other.
I worked at the health center with two other volunteers. We did births, prenatal checkup, postnatal home visits, and some education. When we started they seemed to be hearing us, but not listening and understanding what we were doing, and it was quite difficult. Then they started asking questions about what we were doing and everything got better, little by little, whist we learned both to work together and share our passion and respect.
GROWING AS A MIDWIFE
I was trying to encourage women to follow their instinct as women and as mothers, but to do that I needed first to learn how to do that too, and that was also tough.
If you work in a country where hospitals, doctors, medications, medical supplies are right there, you know you can always rely on something or someone else if something goes wrong. You are more likely not to trust your instincts and make decisions just to be safe (fear based practice), and somehow everything will be all right most of the time.
Here it was quite different.
We were in a health center but the environment and the setting was more like being at home; we had birth instruments, a foetal Doppler and oxytocin; that was all. The hospital was 1 hour away, on a very very bumpy road, on a very uncomfortable ambulance.
But there was more: I had my knowledge and my instinct and so I started listening, observing, and feeling, with all my senses to understand what was going on.
And also there was fear.
I couldn’t transfer a woman, as she had to to pay the transport, the hospital, and the birth. I couldn’t just transfer because I wasn’t sure about what was happening and because I had fear. I needed to be sure that that was the right choice FOR THE WOMAN, not for me. Otherwise that would have been a waste of time and money, and here you cannot waste anything. There was no room for my fears.
LEARNING AGAIN TO BE A MIDWIFE
I learnt to not disturb birth process, knowing that the less you do the better. I learnt to observe carefully.
I was kind of struggling because I quite like to take care of women in labor, I like to massage, rub their back, support them. But sometimes they don’t need anything from you, sometimes they just do it great by their self and you just have to be there, holding the space for them, that’s all, and that’s HARD.
You have to understand any signs; seen and unseen those tell you if something is going wrong or if a woman needs you closer or not. Maybe sometimes you have to accept that she’s more interested in a vaginal examination rather than your loving touch. You may spend time encouraging her to change positions in birth and labor and when she chooses to lie down with her legs up. You just feel it’s not right, but you have to be there because it’s what she has chosen.
THEN SOMETHING CHANGED
After a few months women start to trust you, and you start to be comfortable with all this, and suddenly you have birth in a squatting or standing position without having to say anything. You feel really proud and surprised because she has chosen to follow her instinct without any suggestions.
So, at that point you understand that Birth is just about letting go, whether you are a woman, a mother or a midwife. If you, as a birth keeper, you let go gently of your loving ideas of gentle birth, then the woman will be free to express herself in all the possible ways and she will let the baby go in a gentle way and you will have a gentle birth (gentle in their own way).
The really first aim of birth is detachment. Babies decide how to come to this earth, there’s no way you can change the universe’s plans, you have to make sure the woman trusts the universe, and you also have to trust that, and do not act moved by fear. Fear is bad, fear doesn’t allow babies to come out.
If fear is there, would you show up ?
As a midwife you have to do everything to protect a mother from fear, and it’s quite difficult to do that if you have fear too. I believe this is the hardest part.
If you ask a mother to feel the power of the women who gave birth since the beginning of time, remember you as a midwife, you can also feel the support of all the birth keepers in the world, and from the beginning of time: you are never alone.
You get in touch with this magical and so very ancient art, the art of being with a woman, and you can tell is is more a privilege than a job.
BIRTH IS A SACRED SPACE
Birth is ever so sacred: there’s a time, a tiny period of time, which I find weirdly timeless and spaceless, where you are in connection with the birth’s power; you can feel it and feel the women of all time giving birth, you can actually feel the universes explosion of life. The edge between birth and death is thin as a soap bubble.
You are in the past, the present, and the future because the blueprint and the emotional and bodily memories of each human being are passed on for 7 generations.
You have to be the guardian for that woman, like the High Priestess in tarots, who is at the gateway and has the responsibility to sit open arms and open heart at the doorway of life and death. You have to stop fear and negative energies and let the light and unconditional love go in. It can be the easiest or hardest job. It depends on how good you work on yourself in order to be extremely open-hearted, open-minded and let the stories happen to you.
I’m still working on that, I’ll keep doing that each moment of my life, I’m glad and so grateful Cambodian women helped me to start walking on this path of life. I will be thankful forever.
I want to thank with all my heart the people who made this journey possible
Sokna, Danath, Saron, Khmer midwives and all the Health Centre staff
Women’s Health Cambodia staff: Omh Nai, Denise Love, Ramya, Maryla, Botew, Srei, Sim, mr. Set, mr. Tunn, Jim.
And thank you, lovely midwives from all over the world, thanks for your love, support, knowledge, thanks for sharing a little of your life with me.
Syilvie Robert and Trish Long, Jenny Blyth, Mariarita Bruno, Elisa Bravi, Irene Migliorini, Oriana Orlandi, Siobhan O’ Donoghue, Alex Chernow, Sarah Taylor.
Thanks to all my friends, supporters, and my very big family, thanks for cheering me, supporting me, and funding me.
Thanks Mum, Dad, Angela and Anna, you teach me and encourage me to fly high every day, you are my roots, I can feel your love and energy everywhere in the world, even when we are far away.