As I walked to the hospital I thought, “How am I going to get the baby out?” I had just hung up the phone with our maternity ward’s midwife. A young woman in labor was referred from a small health center: the arm came first, the rest of the baby was stuck, and there was no heartbeat. Assuming the baby was dead, my concern was that I would be forced to perform a “destructive delivery.” This procedure involves sedating the mother and then removing portions of the dead baby to allow a vaginal delivery. This is only done in places with high C-section complication rates. I said a prayer as I walked, “God help this mother, and help me know what to do.” In the distance I caught a glimpse of the sun setting over the mountains of the Waghi valley and strangely I felt at peace.
The young woman, Christina, was lying in delivery bed 3. Three women hovered over her bed – her aunt, a nurse, and a midwife. I could see the limp, blue arm protruding from Christina’s birth canal and resting on the bed. Christina groaned in pain as her uterus contracted, attempting in vain to deliver the infant. The baby would not budge. The shoulder and head continued jamming further against her pelvic bone.
The women told me the rest of the backstory. While Christina was delivering her second child at home, her aunt, a woman who has only informally assisted in a few births, saw the arm deliver first. Frightened and overwhelmed, the aunt and family carried Christina three hours to a small health center. The health center had a functioning vehicle which carried her two more hours to Kudjip.
I lifted the baby’s arm with my left hand intending to check the birth canal. After lifting the arm, the fingers moved ever so slightly. I stroked the infant’s palm with my index finger and the baby flexed its fingers and grabbed mine. This baby was alive! A quick ultrasound showed the baby’s heart was now pumping – barely. We mobilized quickly. The operating room team was still in the OR after a long day. Our midwives worked quickly and by the time we got to the OR, the team was ready. The OR team gasped as we removed the gown and revealed the arm dangling through the birth canal. Now they realized why I was insistent that they hurry. After a few strokes of a scalpel, I was looking through the lower part of the uterus at the baby’s shoulder. I reached inside the uterus, down through the birth canal and pulled the arm back inside the womb. Then, after turning the baby, I could finally deliver the head through the uterine incision.
It was a baby girl. She was a good size and had a pulse but was not breathing. Our anesthetist resuscitated the baby while the rest of us worked to stitch up the mother. The silence in the room was palpable – one team sewing up the mother, the other resuscitating the baby. Finally, after five minutes, we heard a glorious sound, the strong cry of a newborn baby.
After spending a night in the nursery, our nurses moved the baby girl into the arms of her mother. Christina knew all along that her baby was special, but when I told her the whole story, her eyes lit up with relief and wonder. She knew beyond a doubt that her baby girl was truly miraculous.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 (NIV)