The story of a refugee mother giving birth in Kilkis
By Nerea Pla Domench, volunteer midwife. May 2016
The screams of a newly born baby shake the walls of this old and neglected hospital. The little girl puts her hands in her mouth, kicking out in the coldness of the incubator. Meanwhile, in the room next door, the young mother is recovering from the operation she has just had: a cesarean.
Around 11am, M calls me, his wife has broken waters. The contractions are more painful now and she has just gone to the medical post to be taken to hospital. It´s her first baby, she´s frightened and he´s nervous.
I go into the room, the mother to be and I breathe through each contraction. Applying pressure on her sacrum, which we have practised before, seems to ease the pain.
She goes off in the ambulance, along with her husband. We follow in the car.
We´re not welcome at the hospital. We wait with M in the corridor whilst staff come and go.
I ask if I can go in with her ( at M´s request ) and they reply that first the doctors have to see her. Everybody seems really angry here.
After a long while, a woman, supposedly a midwife, asks me about the waters breaking and when the contractions started. Shortly after that they tell me she has a closed cervix and they´re going to do a cesarean!
I suggest walking up and down for a while. The nurse or midwife, I´m not sure what she is, tells me that they don´t do that there. The doctor adds that it´s dangerous because if she gets up and starts walking around, having broken waters, she could have a prolapsed cord, ( with a closed cervix !!) ( how would the cord get through ??).
Apart from knowing that what they´re saying is not true, it seems absurd but I smile, and say” ok, ok, can I go in?” Finally, “Yes!”, They let me go in and hold B´s hand. She´s lying on a stretcher, looking terrified. I look into her eyes, we breathe through the contractions together and she calms down.
Five minutes later they throw me out of the room, saying “Spanish midwife, go out!”.They´re going to examine her again. After this and contrary to what they explain later, they don´t let me.go back in again at all.
When B goes to the toilet, M, my colleague and I make the most of the chance to be with her.
The four of us stand at the toilet door, almost stealthily, he looks at her with tenderness and she looks scared and in pain.
At that moment a picture of a prison scene comes into my mind; it´s like planning an unauthorised vis á vis .
She goes back into the room and we give her words of comfort, in a language she doesn´t understand, (she speaks Arabic and we don´t). She is alone. They tell me once again that I can´t go in yet. We´re sent to the main door area which serves as a waiting room and where there are three chairs.
I´m frightened that they´ll take B away without letting us know so we watch carefully from our position. The staff avoid catching our eye, we wait nervously as you can imagine.
After a while we see a stretcher being brought, “Watch out!”, I´m expecting the worst. They bring B out on the stretcher and, without saying anything to us, they take her away.
M and I start running to catch up with them since nobody answers our question of where they´re taking her.
I´m running as though it´s not real and I imagine that for M it´s even worse.
When we manage to get close to the stretcher, I ask the person pushing it whether they are going to do a cesarean. He says yes. He tells us where to wait and that it will take two hours.
We go off to have something to eat. I take a sandwich to M, who is waiting nervously where we were told to stay. He doesn´t want to move away from the spot in case he misses seeing his wife and daughter when they come out.
At 15:30 she comes out on the stretcher, half asleep. He is feeling very emotional. He asks about the baby. She doesn´t know and the person in charge of the stretcher is not very clear.
We follow the stretcher to what will be B´s room. She´s going to be in the third bed. There isn´t a curtain or any other means of having some privacy for the three new mothers who sleep at hardly a metre´s distance from each other.
“What about the baby?”. Nobody answers. We look in the next door room where there are two incubators. There´s a baby in one. M looks lovingly at the baby, although he doesn´t know if the child is his. I go and ask if the baby is B´s daughter. Nobody answers. It seems surreal and cruel to me. There are no words to describe my feelings at that moment. I can´t imagine what the father is feeling, after a war, months in a refugee camp, the uncertainty. He´s denied the joy of seeing his daughter, the awful uncertainty of it all.
I can´t think what it must be like for the mother, after all they´ve gone through. And those final hours of fear, pain and the frustration of not being able to follow the natural process of giving birth……and then not being able to see her daughter and have her at her side.
After several attempts we finally get an answer, “yes, she is B´s daughter”.
Thank goodness! What a relief! We look at the baby and wish her all the best whilst the father smiles at last. In spite of the situation, it´s a beautiful moment. At last they know where their daughter is.
They take more than an hour to decide to take the baby out of the incubator. A nurse, with a stern look on her face, takes the baby into the room.
In a strict voice she tells the father to do the same (she´s putting the baby in the cot). Then she puts the cot next to B´s bed so that she can see her but not touch her. As soon as the nurse goes, the father puts the baby with the mother. The baby soon starts sucking at the breast. However there is a large tin of dry milk on the table next to the bed.
I ask them if it´s ok to take a photo of the new family. I hope this scene is repeated hundreds of times, day after day, although I doubt it in this hospital in Kilkis. We know from experience that dry milk is automatically provided to all new mothers.
A little later we leave them. The baby is back in the cot, B is resting and M is looking on with tender, loving care.
Puedes leer la historia en castellano aquí