Bekah Dinneen and her team of midwives help deliver a newborn by flashlight during a power outage at Bollobhpur Hospital in Meherpur, Bangladesh. Photo by Chantal Anderson.
On a wooden fishing boat somewhere in the middle of Lake Victoria, Bekah Dinneen and two other volunteer midwives labored with an expectant mother. The mother-to-be was en route to a hospital. After being in labor for 30 hours, the midwives decided it was time to transfer the case to a doctor.
By Chantal Anderson
Midway through the trip the mother showed a new level of intensity in the way she was pushing. One of the midwives checked the mother’s progress, and cried, “Oh there’s a head!” while removing her hands from underneath the woman’s skirt.
“I was the only one with gloves on so I wedged my way in to catch the baby,” says Dinneen. The baby began crowning in the moonlight — and she could see the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around the baby’s head. She worried the baby would lose circulation to the head if she continued the delivery with the cords as is.
The scene was lit with a Nokia 3390 cell phone as Dinneen used a pair of clean scissors to snip the cord twice. The baby slipped out and little Moses was born.
For an international midwife working in developing countries, being without a doctor during childbirth is commonplace. Through a birthing attendant school based in Perth, Australia, Dinneen has dedicated her twenties to helping women give birth in places like Tanzania and Pakistan. She’s now a midwife instructor.
I interviewed her to create this survival guide for what to do if you or someone you know is in labor without a doctor nearby. Here’s what she suggests:Remember, birth is natural. So take a deep breath and realize anyone can catch a baby.
If you see anything that’s not a head (like a butt, or a hand) you’re in the danger zone — you really do need to get to a doctor.
After the birth, don’t forget: “Breast is best — stick the baby to the chest.” The sucking mechanism stimulates the natural release of oxytocin, encouraging the uterus to contract and expel the placenta. The first cuddle is not only important for bonding but also for the warmth of the baby; this practice is known as “kangaroo care.”
Once the baby’s out there’s no rush to cut the cord. Contrary to popular belief, the baby receives extra blood if the cord is still pulsing, which gives you time to figure out what to tie the cord with.
If you don’t have a clamp to cut the umbilical cord, braided thread dipped in antiseptic solution will do the trick, as well as the cuffs of a sterile glove, a shoelace dipped in antiseptic, or an IV line.
After the birth, the woman will continue to have strong contractions (especially if she starts breastfeeding) and she’ll need to deliver the placenta, which can take minutes or hours.
Despite Moses’ turbulent arrival into the world, Dinneen and the team visited the family two weeks later to find a healthy and plump baby boy. She says her experience on Lake Victoria further confirmed that “babies don’t wait for nobody,” and sometimes midwives need to be creative to get the job done.