Labor pains and flashbacks
It was a hot and humid Wednesday morning when I finally received much sought after permission to document childbirth at the government-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.
I suited up with excitement. I put on a hospital gown together with a mask and cap that I bought inside the hospital. I entered a two-door room filled with doctors and nurses. I walked around and found the labor room on the left side. It had six beds but all were occupied. There was a patient on the first bed who was uneasy, fear flashed in her eyes. Medical staff stood next to the bed to counsel her. Next to her was a doctor conducting an internal exam on a mother, I could see her pain while waiting to be fully dilated. In no time they transferred her into the delivery room.
I couldn’t help but notice the pain in every contraction as the mothers lay in bed. They were dressed in white dusters and their body shifted from one side to another. As moans echoed from every corner, a familiar feeling flashed back; my first birthing experience two years ago. I could somehow feel again what they were going through, the only difference was I was able to watch and capture the pain this time with my cameras.
Women on stretchers were being wheeled in and out. As the clock ticked, the numbers went up at the country’s busiest maternal hospital which sees an average of sixty births a day. But that is small compared to over a hundred daily deliveries during peak season in this hospital alone.
The door opened again and another woman arrived in a wheelchair. Since there were no beds available she ended up sharing with another and so did the woman who came after her. In the midst of a seemingly uncontrollable scenario where patients continued to pack the room and medical staff attended to every patient, I found peace in the soft cry of a baby after he was pulled out of the womb.
I kept on shooting. The doctor cut the umbilical cord of a baby boy, as another mother gave birth as swiftly as she arrived on a stretcher. The medical staff didn’t even have time to transfer her onto the bed. My attention switched to a woman doing controlled breathing. Doctors were giving her words of encouragement. Three more sets of pushing yet the baby didn’t come out. I was told it would take an hour or longer.
As much as I salute how the staff managed the sixty births a day, I empathized with the patient’s condition as I went to the ward. A mother cooled her baby with a paper fan as she put him to sleep. The room accommodated nearly a hundred beds where two to three mothers shared a single mattress. They lined up to use two shared bathrooms.
The conditions were totally different from what I experienced when I gave birth to my son, Jacob. But being a mother, my heart goes out seeing newborns in this situation. I can still picture in my mind the vivid expression of either a premature baby crying at the top of his lungs as he reached out his hands or a two week old baby dressed with only booties and mittens while lying on an infant scale weighing below the normal average weight.
They say pregnancy and childbirth is a special time in a woman’s life. Probably true in any situation because despite the long lines in pre-natal check-up, the labor pains and the crowded wards at the hospital, the majority of women in Manila endure it. And no matter how poor the conditions may be, the richness dwells in the joy of sharing your love with a newborn baby.