A Doula's Reflection on a Refugee Birth
The first time that I met Irene (her American nickname), it was at a Bible Study in a small apartment, which she faithfully attended. When I walked in, the study had already begun, but having seen her picture prior and knowing that I was going to be serving as her doula, I had the pleasure of observing her from afar. I took in her swollen belly and wondered what this pregnancy had been like for her. Did she have everything she needed? Was she able to get to her pre-natal appointments? Did she understand what her care providers were saying?
As I watched her, she reminded me of an old friend. She was calm with deep laugh lines around her eyes. But I was truly impressed by her sincere desire to know the Lord. You could sense it in her attentiveness, questions, and satisfaction when she learned something from his Word. She worshiped with the most heartfelt expression, prayed earnestly, and quickly flipped the pages of her bible--eager to learn.
When given the opportunity to reflect on the passage that was being discussed that night (Luke 8), Irene spoke up with her personal testimony. She shared that the previous month, despite her husband working very hard, they were $400 short on their monthly expenses and it was a very worrisome time for them. In response, she had fallen to her knees and asked the Lord for help, and he responded.
The following month, her husband had raised more than enough funds for their own family, so they were able to share with their friends in a similar predicament. It was such a touching testimony to witness. I felt humbled by the privilege to provide her with education and doula support in her approaching labor.
The testimony that she shared, about the power of being on your knees before the Lord, is the image I will always carry with me of Irene, even after her labor. In my maternal health class this past semester, I learned an impactful quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes that says, “the woman about to become a mother or with a newborn infant upon her bosom should be the object of trembling care and sympathy wherever she bears her tender burden or stretches her aching limbs… God forbid that any member of the profession to which she trusts her life, doubly precious at that eventful period, should hazard it negligently, unadvisedly, or selfishly.” On the day that I supported Irene in birth, this quote replayed over and over in my mind. Why? Because unfortunately, as a refugee from Burma, most would (even unconsciously) consider this mother as undeserving of such trembling care and sympathy. I am glad to have played a part in extending her the sympathy she deserved in her fragile hour.
You see, there were a lot of negative things that happened during Irene's labor. I could focus on them, but I think that to do so would overshadow the good, incredible, and miraculous things that happened that day. Do I think that anyone intentionally reserved adequate treatment from her that day? No. But I did observe that she spent entirely too long in the triage room awaiting to be admitted, even while in the throes of labor. I observed, after hours of questions and multiple phone translators--how difficult the admission process is for someone who does not speak English. They say that in labor, women are meant to turn off the neo-cortex stem of their brains in favor of the primal part. This was nearly impossible for Irene (and so many others in her situation), as the constant barrage of communication was anything but helpful in a time I'm supposed to be helping women to relax. Unfortunately, I observed varying degrees of negligence, a lack of advice, and a presence of selfishness in the members of the profession to whom Irene entrusted her life that day. However, I believe that to focus on those aspects of such a special day would be to take away from the good and miraculous things that I had the great fortune of witnessing.
Much like the time I first observed her worshipping the Lord and testifying to his goodness at that initial Bible study, Irene knelt in the corner of her hospital room and labored her baby into the world. I had the honor of kneeling beside her, supporting her, and as a unit, I knew that God’s Spirit covered us. Despite so many things wrong with the situation, we were free. Her husband, the other doula present, her two-year-old daughter, and I did our best to offer her the trembling care and sympathy that she deserved. In Irene's most vulnerable moment of working so hard to usher new life into the world, she entrusted her life to the Lord and was free!
On her knees, Irene gave birth to her son. She was not afraid. She was faith-filled. She was exhausted, and yet so at peace. The laughter that escaped her mouth was a song of elation – and I felt my soul being rewarded through it.
It is a truly a privilege to be a friend to someone in need, especially in birth. It was a gift to serve as Irene's doula. When I remember her in labor, I hear 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Despite all of the trials that Irene and her family might face in an ironically hostile environment such as the American medical system, she was free on that day that I watched her give birth to her son. God made her free.
Written by Leah Sherrod