I’ll be totally blunt. Port Elizabeth is not the most thrilling city in the world. This was my last stop before heading back to Cape Town, and due to bus timetables over Christmas, I ended up stuck there a little longer than I wanted to be. The town seems very industrial, made for work rather than play. The beaches are rocky and the small strip of attractions on the beachfront leaves a bit to be desired. Despite all this, my time in Port Elizabeth will be something I never forget.
On a day late last year in Port Elizabeth, the weather was lovely and mild, and rather than spend the afternoon lounging in my hostel or by the beach, I found myself wandering along a footpath between the ocean and a busy main road. I took this walk with the intention of clearing my head, getting some fresh air and maybe burning off a few of the extra calories I had consumed the night before.
After walking for around about forty minutes, I came across a heavily pregnant woman, leaning over the small fence-like structure between the path and the road. She was alone, groaning and obviously in distress. There were many cars slowing down on the road to peek briefly out of their windows, but not one stopped. I approached the woman and attempted to ask her if she was okay and if she needed any help, but she responded in a language I knew nothing of. It didn’t sound at all like Afrikaans, and that is the only non-English language in South Africa that my ears can identify.
For those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know, I am a midwife. Pregnancy and childbirth is my forte, my passion, my ultimate purpose in this life. As a result, I am pretty alright at identifying the stages of labour and birth.
After I asked this woman if she needed help, she spoke a few words to me before her face changed to a face that I know as a “pushy” face. When a woman goes through the second stage of labour – that which the cervix is fully dilated and the urge to push becomes uncontrollable – she will almost always make a “pushy” face. A face that shows the strenuous effort she is putting in to bring new life into the world.
My midwifery has taught me to always be prepared, so it was lucky, but also not surprising that I had a small first aid kit in my purse. It contained very little, just scissors, sterile gauze, bandaids, alcohol swabs and gloves. My first instinct was that the birth of this womans baby would not be far away, and I had pulled the gloves out of my purse without thinking. The woman watched me do this as her contraction ended, and she must have thought I was a nurse, doctor, midwife or some other health professional, because she did not hesitate to pull up her dress.
I could immediately see head.
The baby was not yet quite crowning, the visible area of the head would have only been the size of a fun size Snickers bar and the head receded slightly back as she breathed. During this stage of labour, contractions generally last longer, but also have longer breaks between, which is the way the body copes and recovers from such physical exhaustion.
I bent over as her next contraction began. She squatted slightly and with only one big push, the head was born. She took a moment to breathe in and with another quick push, I caught a big, screaming, thick haired baby boy.
I quickly stood up and put him against his mothers chest to keep warm and as soon as I had done so, a car pulled up, a man hopped out and began quickly ushering this woman – with baby in tow – into his car. He had enough English to say “husband” and “thankyou”. He didn’t need to thank me. This woman had done all the work, I just caught her baby.
The car doors closed and just like that, they were gone. The whole experience would have not lasted more than five minutes! I was left standing on the side of the road, with nothing but bloody gloves and a puddle of blood and amniotic fluid on the ground, wondering if what had just happened was real.
The next day I went back to Cape Town and I never heard anything more about this woman and her baby boy. I searched on the local news websites but found nothing. I hope that wherever they are, they are healthy and thriving, and that when she has her next baby, she has a little bit more privacy.