Throw Back Thursday – A Birthing Experience Like No Other

In honor of {Throw Back Thursday}, every Thursday I will be posting a post from our blog The Hutcheson Headline that we used while living in Uganda from 2012-2013. The post below was originally published by me on September 6, 2012 . You can view it here if you’d like to see the original version.

Before I begin, I’d like to warn the reader that this post is LONG. Long and detailed. It’s about giving birth in a traditional Ugandan hospital and some details are a little graphic. If you want to take the time to read it you may want to make a cup of tea, grab a snack, and settle in for a long, but amazing read!

At 2:10 a.m. yesterday morning I heard someone softly calling, “Amber.” I realized it was Mary*, trying to wake me up. She brought me into the room where her and Amelia* were sleeping and I see that Amelia’s water has broken. It’s time to have a baby!

Let me back up a little and give you some background to this story. A week and a half ago we heard about a young woman named Amelia who was 8 and some months pregnant and needed a place to stay. Some of you may recognize her story because we just wrote about her in our most recent newsletter three days ago, asking for prayer for her delivery. Just in time! Amelia’s boyfriend had abandoned her and her family had rejected her. We offered our home to her and her best friend Mary. We told her we would take her in until she gave birth and could get on her feet again, find a place to live, and hopefully get a job.

We had a great week with Amelia and Mary. I was able to share with Amelia so much about giving birth. No one had told her anything (which is common in this culture) and she had no idea what to expect. I told her what contractions feel like, that her water may break, and what it would feel like when it was time to push. I was also able to share with her about breastfeeding which she planned to do. She has no access to the internet. Couple that with living in a culture where people do not openly talk about sex, giving birth, and other touchy topics and Amelia really had no idea how to give birth or take care of her baby afterwards. I’m so glad I had the time I did to pour into her.

Alright, back to yesterday morning. Amelia was standing beside her bed gushing fluid. (I’m glad I had warned her about the possibility of her water breaking!). We decided to get our things together and get ready to head to the hospital. Amelia’s contractions started right away and quickly became strong and close together. By the time we left for the hospital an hour later they were only 4 minutes apart. Drew and I took Amelia while Mary stayed home with Isaiah. At 3:30 a.m. the road to the hospital was empty and wide open. What would have taken us 30 minutes in Kampala traffic took less than 10. Praise the Lord!



This is the hospital we went to.

Let me stop here and give you a little background on giving birth in Uganda. There are places where you can give birth similarly to how you would in the U.S. However, we were only able to bring Amelia to a more local (although modern by the standard of many Ugandans) hospital. Also, we couldn’t get her a private room so we had to bring her to the general ward. When you go to give birth at a hospital like this you must bring all your supplies with you. The 6 things you are required to bring are: a basin (to hold all your supplies and wash the baby in), some cotton gauze (to clean up your blood afterwards), a razor blade (to cut baby’s cord with), a plastic tarp called a “cavara” (to lay on the birthing table), gloves (for the nurses on staff), and bleach (to clean up afterwards). Very different from birthing in the U.S.!

When we got to the hospital we found that it was mostly shut down with the exception of a few lights. No one was at the front desk and we couldn’t even find anyone to tell us where to park. Finally Drew found a random patient in the hospital lobby who gave him some information. He dropped Amelia and me off in the lobby while he parked. The place was completely empty except for a homeless man sleeping on the bench behind us. While we waited for Drew we saw a huge rat scurry across the floor (did I mention this is a HOSPITAL?). Only the beginning of what I was about to see! By the time Drew returned, we figured out where the labor and delivery ward was, and we walked up to the sixth floor (yes Amelia had lots of stairs to climb), Amelia was in a lot of pain.

When we finally got to the sixth floor we started seeing people sleeping everywhere on the ground. The hallways were lined with sleeping people- men, women, and children. They were the families of the women giving birth- waiting for the birth to happen so they could see their loved ones again. It was quite the sight to see.

Not the best picture but you can see families waiting on the ground outside the ward. This family was actually awake but most were sleeping.

Once we got to the labor and delivery ward we had to check in. This consisted of Amelia giving her name, town, and tribe to the attendant. We had forgotten to bring the bleach so the lady told us we needed to buy some from her. Ok, for 4,000/= (less than $2) I was willing to do that. But when she went to look for some in the hospital store room she realize they were out. Go figure! We decided that Drew would run back to the house later and get some.

After checking Amelia in, they informed me that no one would be allowed to go into the delivery room with her. Only she was allowed. After a rather long and heated argument with the attendant trying to convince her to let me stay with Amelia, I was forced to wait in the waiting room (and by waiting room I mean the hallway where Drew and I had to sit on the cement floor next to the sleeping relatives).

The hallway where we waited.

I could tell Amelia was nervous but she was trying to be so brave. Between strong contractions she told me she would be ok and that I could go out and wait. She had really wanted me to be with her for the birth but it just wasn’t possible. Amelia told me, “these people have no care”. And it was true. The nurses and other workers didn’t have any compassion at all…even to a women in heavy labor! They treated Amelia very poorly and harshly. I felt so bad leaving her by herself with them.

It was now about 5 o’clock a.m. and Drew and I were waiting in the hallway. While waiting we saw many interesting things. We saw a nurse walk by carrying a newborn baby with a lady trailing behind her – dripping blood from her placenta which was hanging out of her. Yep. And no one came to clean up the blood until much much later. We saw a pregnant lady walking around in a soaking wet dress. Her water had broken and she had nothing to change into (no hospital gowns provided here!). We saw many ladies walking out of the ward having only given birth 24 hours or less ago. They were carrying their babies wrapped in huge, thick comforters (Many Ugandans believe that newborns need to be wrapped heavily no matter how hot it is outside. I’ve seen many a newborn sweating bullets in a snowsuit in 80+ degree weather! =). About 5:45 the hospital shut off the power and we all sat in the dark for an hour while we waited for the sun to rise.

It’s hard to see but the lady on the right had just given birth and was dripping blood as she walked out. You can see the blood stain on the back of her yellow skirt.

About six a.m. a nurse came to call me. Amelia was about to give birth and I needed to bring another tarp and some baby clothes to her. I was allowed to bring these things back into the birthing room. What a sight that was! The birthing room was a medium sized room with about 20 beds lined up against the walls. The beds had no sheets on them. Instead, each woman’s tarp was lining her bed. Some sheets were hanging up to separate the beds from the general check-in area. There were more than 20 women back there- some on beds but many laying on their tarps on the floor. Some were naked, others still fully clothed. Many screaming. This is where Amelia was about to give birth.

When I got back to the “waiting room” Drew decided to run back home to get the bleach. Once he came back with that I was able to go back into the birthing room to bring it to her. This time I saw Amelia’s “bed.” Her designated spot was her yellow tarp on the floor. Unfortunately she was not given a bed, although at that time I assumed they would move her to a bed before she gave birth. She didn’t even have a mat. Just the cement floor. My heart broke. I could tell immediately that she was in the transition phase of delivery. The transition phase is the point right before the mother begins pushing. During this stage the mother often becomes restless, irritable, discouraged, and confused. It’s the point at which she feels like completely giving up and needs the most emotional, verbal, and physical support. Amelia told me, “I’m going to die.” I knew her baby would be coming out soon. Thankfully I was able to spend a few minutes with her during this phase to encourage her that she would not die, that she was near the end, that her pain would soon be over, and that she would soon be holding her sweet new baby. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me stay back there with her. How I wished I could have stayed to comfort and encourage her more!

We waited some more until finally a little after 7 a.m. a woman who was visiting her pregnant friend walked by and said, “Yours has delivered.” “Excuse me?” I said. “Your girl. She has delivered.” Oh, I guess Amelia had her baby! I guess that means I can go back there and see her? I had no idea what to do! I was allowed to finally go back into the birthing room and see Amelia. I almost passed out when I did.

Amelia was on a bed (although she told me she had delivered the baby on the ground and then they had transferred her to a bed) and a nurse was sewing her up. The nurse was incredibly rude. Amelia was wincing in pain, convulsing a little, and involuntarily closing her legs. The nurse slapped her legs back open and said, “You keep quite. You stop crying. You hold still.” She was awful to her. What she was using to sew Amelia up looked like a small hook off of Captain Hook and it didn’t look sterile at all. I doubt whether Amelia had had any anesthetic either. The nurse was sewing relentlessly, roughly rubbing cotton to remove her blood from down there, and even stuffing things back inside her. I seriously almost lost my breakfast. I felt awful for Amelia but there was nothing I could do. Instead I stared down at the end of the bed and suddenly realized there was a baby there- wrapped up and completely covered in blankets. I took a peak and it was a BEAUTIFUL baby boy!! Light brown skin and a head FULL of soft, loose dark curls. Absolutely gorgeous!! I cried. He was perfect.

I quickly scooped him up and held him while Amelia finished being stitched up. As soon as she was done they made her get off the bed (someone else was in line to use it), and walk over to another room where she could rest for a while. This room was filled with bare mattresses laying on the floor and was crowded with many women with new babies. Amelia had to make her own bed (with sheets she had brought from home) and then was finally able to lay down, rest for a while, and nurse her sweet baby boy. Right before I left them to take a nap I saw a cockroach run along the edge of the bed.

Amelia’s boyfriend’s mother, grandmother, and surprisingly the boyfriend himself all showed up to see her and the new baby. We were so glad they all showed such support. Amelia gave birth at around 7 a.m. to a baby boy weighing 3.4 kilograms. By 7:45 she had been forced to walk to a different room. By 3 she was released to go home. I am amazed at how well she has done. She has sure been a trooper!

Now Amelia is safe and sound at our house. She’s had a clean shower, the baby finally got some clothes and a diaper on, and they are both sleeping soundly. What an adventure yesterday was! Amelia told me today that the lady giving birth next to her lost her baby. Three minutes after the little baby girl was born she passed away. Amelia told me the nurses said the baby was “too tired from birth” and so died. Also, a mother giving birth to twins lost both of her babies in the room where Amelia delivered. This is not at all uncommon to see in a hospital like the one she was in. We are praising the Lord that both Amelia and her baby are safe and healthy.

Such a cutie!

We’ve had some encouraging news that the boyfriend may be willing to take care of Amelia as soon as she’s recovered enough to travel to his place. But, as of now, Amelia wants nothing to do with him and says she’ll never go back to him.

Please keep Amelia and her new baby in your prayers as they have an uncertain and bumpy road ahead of them. Amelia told me today “God is good.” Yes, yes he certainly is.

He is going to make such a great big brother when our newest addition finally arrives!
Isaiah and the new baby.

2015 Update: Amelia and her little boy are doing well. We keep in contact still and Drew and I look forward to seeing them when we visit Uganda again in the future! Amelia currently has a job and though her son lives with other family members, she sees him regularly. At 2 1/2 years old he’s still the cutest little thing! 

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