My experience at FreMo has been as unpredictable as pregnancy itself. I realize that every moment holds infinite possibilities and where I am in that moment is a culmination of every decision, every choice, and every thought of my entire life, and this moment is exactly how it was meant to be. As I'm working with women here, and being a part of their birth story, I almost feel as if I'm creating my own. There's the birth story of the new person I will forever be because of my time here, but there is also the birth story and growth of a world-wide movement bringing care and support to women, their children (our future) and, really, all those who we come in contact with.
It was only on my second day of volunteering that a mother came into the clinic, already in second stage of labor. Abraham, the doctor on duty, was excited to invite me into the birthing room to sit with the mother and offer my services, while he ran around the hospital tending to his other duties. She didn't have anyone with her, as this is sometimes the preferred choice of Kenyan women, so I sat with her, sometimes assisting her to walk through the room during contractions, reminding her of her breath, and ensuring her that I was available for anything she may need. She's my age with a husband and two girls, another child on the way...at any moment. It's a cultural norm for male babies to be preferred among certain tribes in Kenya and she felt she had already disappointed her husband with the two other girls. She was praying for a boy but her contractions became more intense and the sensations of labor pulsed down her thighs. I knew she was in transition. She moved to her hands and knees on the floor where we had a cushioned pad set up for delivery. My left hand firmly gripped hers to ensure her how strong she was and that I was there for her til the end. My other hand stroked her back until the moment that she started pushing. (Oh my god, where is the doctor?!) It was in that instant that every page of every book, every word from my mentors, every lesson I have ever learned in birthing raced through my brain in time for me to help her deliver this baby. How could I be so lucky to be the very first person in the whole world to see and touch this infant?! I called for the doctor as soon as this beautiful baby girl was brought into the world; my body physically trembling in shock of what happened...I'm sure hers too. When Abraham arrived into the room, he laughed and smiled as he assisted me with the next steps. Mom was worried...another girl. She didn't want another girl, and my heart broke. Abraham guided me through clamping and cutting the cord, and how to assist the mother with birthing the placenta, and once he left the room, the mother and I talked. As her baby laid swaddled on the bed, she didn't want to see or hold her baby. She explained how her husband had already found a second wife (another cultural norm among certain tribes) who gave him a son, and she was worried what would happen once he found out that she provided him with another daughter. The other wife abused her, criticizing her for being unable to have a baby boy. I held that baby so snug in my arms, looking at her beautiful eyes, her dark chocolate skin. She was perfect and a blessing in every way and my heart mourned for this mother and her child. I was lost. This was not what I had anticipated for the beiginning of my doula career. That night, I didn't sleep, and when I did I dreamt of that delivery, of that mother, of the cultural differences. The next day, seeing the mother for the first time, she came and squeezed my hand. She may never know the impact she, her baby, and her birth story will have on me, and in that simple squeeze I trusted that she fell in love with her baby girl, no matter what the circumstances may bring to her home.
I've heard other stories, similar to this one, with husbands threatening divorce if their wife doesn't provide a baby boy, husbands who find second or third wives because their other wives are "incapable". As the shock of these stories start to dwindle, my mind races for solutions to provide these mothers with the emotional support they need. This is a problem that FreMo deals with on a regular basis and the staff try their absolute best to offer the love that these women deserve. Beyond this, many of the women that come to this center are poor, physically or emotionally abused, perhaps shamed from the female genital mutation that still (illegally) happens among some tribes. FreMo brings light to those who need it to shine the brightest. Their education in health care, along with their compassionate hearts are providing care, changing their community, and making a positive imprint on the entire world. They, too, struggle, just like the mothers. The hospital is located in the slums of Nairobi with barely enough money to afford the supplies and medicines necessary to run a hospital and too compassionate to turn those away who can't afford their services. Their fees are low, perhaps the lowest in the entire city, yet they still try to offer the highest service to their community.
My time here has been spent learning so much from the staff. However, it has been an honor for them to ask me to teach them what I know. Some mornings I teach the staff yoga for self-care, other mornings I teach them prenatal yoga to share with their patients, and we even cover a little prenatal massage. I've been able to work with the women prenatally as well, offering them massage therapy and creating specific yoga sequences for their prenatal needs. The lead midwife takes me to the homes of the new mothers where we check vitals, talk about their birth story, and make sure mom and baby are healthy and happy.
And as if they don't already do enough, last year FreMo established a school not far from the hospital. Working with the kids at the school is where Hannah really shines. Me - the mama and the babies. Hannah - the youth. I was so proud of my friend as I watched her teach the children anything from reading, to games, to social studies. My niche with the kids involves races on the playground with bald tires, and that's about it! Many of these children come from broken homes, impoverished, domestic violence, hunger, and so forth, but their spirit is so high and they love us mzungus. On the very first day of us meeting them, a little girl grabbed my hand, looked up at me, and said, "I love you so much." My heart melted. Such compassion, such unconditional love that these children share. Sometimes we take them on outings to allow them to learn and grow creatively with hands-on interactions. The first one was to a farm outside of the city. It was an opportunity for these children to interact with some animals and the farmer was so proud to teach them all about bio-fuel and clean energy. By the end of the day, the children were shouting "Clean Energy! Clean Energy!". With so much pollution in this side of the world I was thrilled these children were learning the importance of taking care of our Earth. We finished the day by filling their hands with fresh honey from the five hives the farmer has. The natural sugars got them so wound up and they ran all around the farm while one of the teachers combed my hair, in disbelief that it was real. ha! Our next outing was to the Giraffe center, where we got to feed and interact with giraffes, and learn more about this amazing creature. It's fun getting to be a part of the adventures and to create a relationship with these children.
I know my remaining two weeks in Nairobi are going to be transformative for all of us. The giraffe has the largest heart of any other mammal, so I use this animal as a mantra to guide my decisions through this process. Everything is so unpredictable, maybe overwhelming and challenging at times, but with a big heart guiding the way, anything feels possible.
Please let me know if you are interested in supporting FreMo in any way. Contributions are greatly appreciated. Please stay tuned for Crowd Funding.