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A Story A Day – The Women of the Night's Watch

"MAT!" - The pharmacist on shift is calling us into the maternity ward around 10.00pm, roughly half an hour after my fellow volunteer Cindi and I have started a game of UNO in the vaccination room.

I can't believe we are finally going to observe a delivery. After working at St Anthony Health Centre for a month, I have almost given up on getting to see a baby being born. During my last week, Cindi and I inquire about deliveries as they never happen during the day while we are on shift. We are told to stay overnight as most deliveries occur at night (more mothers choose St Anthony to deliver if they are in labour at night and cannot make it to a larger hospital further away). For some reason I expected the only doctor at the facility to be present during the deliveries. Considering that he works six days a week, I don't know where that expectation came from. Possibly because I expected that a doctor's assistance was needed to deliver a baby.

Arriving at the clinic around 9pm (taking a tuk tuk after dawn as our hostmother insists it is not safe to walk to the hospital at night), I find a pharmacist and one nurse along with the watchman. I then realize that babies are delivered by the nurse with assistance from whoever else is on shift, in this case the pharmacist. Researching this topic later along with the fact that men are traditionally not supposed to be present in the room when a baby is born (thus excluding the possibility of the doctor's presence in the maternity ward at night), I learn and realize that my assumption of needing a male doctor is fairly ill-educated. Traditionally, midwifes and nurses in Kenya are well-trained on how to deliver a baby.

Excited and unsure of what to expect, Cindi and I rush into the maternity ward. The young mother is about 23 years old, we learn that she has not been to any medical check-ups. The delivery takes a long time, we discover the umbilical chord around the newborn's neck, depriving her of oxygen.

1.2 kg, baby girl.

An estimated 2 months premature.

Due to the complications, the pharmacist and nurse have to attend the mother, leaving Cindi and me with the baby. We are instructed to test her reflexes and make her cry by snapping against her tiny feet.

She makes it through the night without an incubator and only a light bulb to warm her.

I do not know whether she actually survived after the mother left for another hospital in the morning.

After this first delivery, I end up assisting several deliveries when I return to Kenya from Uganda. During Christmas holidays the public government hospital staff goes on strike, causing our small private health centre to receive an overflow of patients. At one point we have seven mothers in labour at the same time – there are two delivery beds.

I was lucky to assist and learn from the women of the night's (and day's) watch at St Anthony Health Centre, thanks to whom every baby was delivered safely during my time there.

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