Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stillbirth, Alimata thinks I speak Moore

March 20th
*Warning – this entry talks about witnessing a stillbirth. I initially didn't think it was a good idea to post about it but, this blog being a chance to egotistically chronicle my life here, it was a very moving morning and very much a part of my reality here that I never could have imagined before I came. Feel free to pick back up after the ***, or skip it and go onto the next one.

Woke up to my alarm at 6:30, and it was too hot to go back to sleep, so I went to the CSPS to help after a leisurely breakfast outside. Belem was doing a birth, and from the look of the woman's stomach the baby was still in there. But then I noticed how quiet everyone was. We greeted each other, and after Major left she said something that sounded like “morning.” I asked her to repeat it because she usually smiles when she practices her English on me, and then I caught it when she pointed to a bundle of cloth on the other table and said “les jeumaux” (twins). Not “morning”, “mort-ne” - stillborn. The woman was giving birth to twins, and the one who had been born was dead. The next hour was very subdued.

The two babies were as large as most singleton births, a boy and a girl, both clearly dead before delivery. The word they use for that is “macere”, which always kind of makes me shudder because it sounds like “masticated,” as though the children were so chewed up and degraded before birth that it clearly wasn't worth trying to resuscitate them. For some reason I thought they would smell more, or look more clearly decomposed. But they didn't. I didn't get very close, to be honest. From across the room they looked white and shiny, like most babies, but gray and pale underneath, as if they were anemic, their mouths slightly open, their bodies without muscle tone, evident only because they didn't hold themselves curled up like most newborns. I found myself feeling grateful that their eyes were closed, and everyone was conscientious about keeping them covered.

When they went to weigh the second baby, her foot was uncovered and set itself down on the scale, as though to let us measure it's length as well. I don't know why that image was so poignant, but I feel it like a mental photograph – that's what I will remember, a pale foot set down on a scale, a mouth silently open with blessedly closed eyes. I've seen a birth that needed resuscitation - it was a very stressful and hopeful and dread-filled experience as Sali worked on the baby for a minute until it finally took a breath and let out a gargling cry. But this was the first time I'd seen a dead baby, and even for the midwives who see this every so often it was a quiet and sad morning, silently mourning this loss of life in our own ways.


After a sad and subdued morning at the maternity, Burkina did a typical roller-coaster emotional flip flop. We left work and I ate lunch before reluctantly made my way to the marche. I wanted to do a grab and dash because of the wind and the dust, but instead I sat with Alimata for over 30 minutes just talking, and it must have been my lucky day because she stuck to words I could understand, asking about work and my friends, and I must have impressed her with my responses, since she told me that now I speak lots of Moore, that now I'm a Mossi! It made me ridiculously happy, and I even said, in French, that I clearly needed to leave before she found out how much I don't understand. Thankfully she didn't understand that. After that I did my marche tour and headed home to read. This afternoon I went back to the CSPS to talk to Major, but he was back in Seguenega. So I came home, did some yoga, and here we are.

In village news, the first Polio campaign of the year starts on Friday. I'm excited to show the ASCs that I'm willing to give up my time to help them like they are for me. Kimdaogo has been so eager to get started again that I'm considering asking him if he just wants to go on all of the sensibilizations? He's so sweet and enthusiastic, even when he asks me to marry him it's clearly intended and received as playful joking, which is a nice change.

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