I was on day shift last week when a heavily pregnant woman walked into the birth room. This is an everyday occurrence at the clinic, of course, but I was particularly interested in this mother because her brightly colored clothing identified her as a Badjao and I had yet to care for any patients from among the “Sea Gypsies.” As I stood up and spoke a welcome the older woman who was with her grasped my hand and shook it vehemently, a huge smile on her face.
The Badjao tribal people are poor, uneducated, outcasts in Philippine society. Their ancestors were nomadic seafarers whose religion was a combination of animism and Islam. Many are now settled in the slums in Davao city and some have become Christians. The clinic where I am volunteering sends a team of midwives twice a month to do “outreach” prenatal care in Isla Verde, an area where many Badjao live. The young pregnant woman and her mother-in-law were from a different community and so she had not had any prenatal care yet. She was not in labor but knew she was near the end of her pregnancy, and she wanted to give birth at Mercy.
The young woman spoke only her tribal language, but her mother-in-law had some fluency in Bisaya. Neither could read and neither spoke any English. With some translation help (my Bisaya is still far from adequate) I took what health history I could and did a prenatal check up. She did not know her birthdate, but her mother-in-law said she was twenty years old. She had given birth to three children, all born at home with only family members present. She did not know the birth dates of any of her children. They had not come sooner for prenatal care (and would not come for another prenatal) because of the cost of transportation to the clinic – 15 pesos (less than $.40.)
After I finished the prenatal check-up, I offered to pray for her and her baby. As I began to pray in English the mother-in-law immediately and without hesitation began to pray with me. Neither of us knew the other’s language but that was no barrier to joining together in prayer for the mother and baby! Such a beautiful “this is why I’m here” moment.
A week later, I arrived for day shift just before 6 am. The Badjao woman I had met the previous week had come in two hours before and quickly pushed out her healthy baby boy! I had time to do little more than greet the family with a smile of recognition before another Badjao patient arrived in labor. She walked in at 6:15 am and pushed out her baby boy at 6:20. While the birth went quickly and smoothly this mother experienced an immediate postpartum hemorrhage. In the two minutes after the birth that it took for us to administer medications, deliver the placenta, and get her bleeding under control she had already lost a significant amount of blood, enough to cause her blood pressure to drop drastically and her pulse to race. The immediate care she received may well have been lifesaving.
Communication was definitely a challenge as I cared for this family after the birth. Like the other young Badjao mother, this one spoke almost no Bisaya and no English. Her “auntie” who was with her spoke Bisaya fairly fluently and a word or two of English, so between my faltering Bisaya and a little translation help from a Filipina staff midwife we managed. When it came time to fill out birth certificate paperwork and choose a name for the baby, the “auntie” asked me what my husband’s name was, and my sons. They apparently didn’t like the foreign-sounding names I offered, however, and settled on naming the baby “Janimal.”
This morning little Janimal and his mother returned to the clinic for a postpartum checkup and BCG vaccination (tuberculosis vaccine for babies which we offer every two weeks.) I was headed out for the first time with the team going on outreach to Isla Verde. We were able to give them a ride home since we were headed their way!
The Isla Verde outreach takes place every two weeks at a free clinic run by an amazing Filipina woman. Not all of the families in the neighboring area are Badjao, but there is a large Badjao community nearby. Most of the Badjao patients and many Muslim patients who come to the birth center in labor are from the Isla Verde outreach.
There were six or eight pregnant patients waiting in the makeshift clinic when we arrived but more trickled in, so that in the end we did prenatal checkups for about 15 including four who were being seen for the first time. Many did not know when they were due or their own birthdate, most could not read. I did a prenatal checkup on a sweet young mom, pregnant with her second. Her highest education completed (per her history form) is second grade, and she now makes her living selling sunglasses on a street corner. She is the same age as my oldest daughter.
Please continue to pray for our work here in Davao.