We had just settled down for the night and Tim had already gone to sleep when we became aware of the night guard, Santo, talking to a woman. The neighbours around us are all in bed very early and get up early too, so to have someone out and about at half past ten at night was highly unusual – it was Auxiliadora from opposite, Diederich’s mother, she had gone into labour and needed to get to the hospital.
We both dressed quickly and the three of us piled into the truck and sped our way to the hospital in Diriamba, no more than five miles away. Although she made no fuss it was clear that things were moving along quickly, but little did we know how quickly.
It is now only just after half past twelve, the same night and I am feeling the need to process what we have just been through, sleep feels a long way off.
The hospital was as to be expected, not filthy, but not clean either. No formalities were observed and Auxiliadora was taken away, a very short time later we were told she had had the baby, we were informed that soon I could take the baby’s clothes through to the maternity ward.
While we sat and waited it gave me time to look around. The place was in need of a thoroughly good scrub down and freshening up with paint. Although it was a dismal place to be late at night I’m sure it would be worse during the day when the waiting area would be full of needy people. The benches that lined the stained walls gave evidence of having had hard times taking the strain and little chance of holding up for much longer.
The nurses were all turned out in clean white uniforms and hair neatly scraped back, they were kindly and gave no evidence of being over strained, and yet working under the conditions that were forced upon them must create huge pressures, somehow they didn’t seem to show it.
After about half and hour of waiting I was told to go to the maternity ward – after first getting lost down dingy corridors, I eventually found the ward, a dirty yellow door with a sign saying Maternity told me I had arrived; there was no security procedure or provision for sanitising my hands like I was used to, I apprehensively wandered in – normally this would be out of bounds.
Auxilliadora was still lying down in what appeared to me to be a most uncomfortable position, legs in the air and with blooded rags heaped around. The midwife was very young and had clearly delivered the baby without the help of Doctor or high-tech equipment. They told me to take the clothes through to the baby and dress her – I went through into the next room, and there she lay – a tiny, beautiful, perfectly formed new life, freshly washed and coved with a torn piece of sheeting and lying under a lamp for warmth.
It is hard to describe the disparity I am feeling. Tonight we were part of something very special, a new life safely brought into the world – but what kind of world? The contrast between this baby’s start in life and that of the dozens that would also have been born tonight but under such different circumstances is what I am finding hard to come to terms with. There was no father present to rejoice at the birth of his beautiful daughter or reassuringly hold her mother’s hand. No relatives anxiously waiting in the wings for news – just us, neighbours, friends at best.
She lies now, in her mother’s arms, where I left them, in a tiny disorganised ward with three other beds, all pushed up against grubby walls. No cot to sleep in when she has finished her very first feed, no nice clean bathroom for her mother to have a shower and wash herself after the exertion of the previous hour. I feel sobered and humbled. Once again I have learned a lesson from these amazing people – there was no big fuss and bother, Auxiliadora just got on with the job at hand and that is what she will do when she gets home tomorrow. The washing will still be done, every morning, by hand, rain or shine, only now there will be more and besides that as the baby grows there will be the demands of food, and clothes, but as she has done with Diederich, Auxiliadora will just get on with it, that’s what you do here; they call it the lucha or struggle, but really they just accept it as part of life.
“What will you call her?” I asked, just before I left,
“I don’t know yet,” said Auxiliadora.
I’ll let you know.