Column: An elderly Bayt Lahm midwife's memories of care and consequence
I I was at home on-call when the inn keeper's little daughter put her head round our kitchen door and said 'Mum says you've got to come'.
So I picked up my bag and went.
To my surprise she did not go into the inn but took me round the back to the stable.
There I saw a young woman clearly too far on in labour to be moved.
The atmosphere was calm and focused. She stood, leaning on a donkey who was just the right height and seemed very co-operative, while her husband rubbed her back.
The stable was warm and clean and smelt of fresh hay. (This inn won the hygienic inn of the year award last year. Best establishment south of Jerusalem) The place was a bit crowded, what with the animals and her husband, who was glad to see me and seemed older and wiser than his teenage wife.
Then there were her sisters; you could tell they were sisters and lots of them.
They were very quiet and calm, they helped her whenever she moved and seemed to give off a gentle light, which I was very glad of, though it was a strange light because I could have sworn they each had wings.
Things were moving fast. She laboured beautifully, as youngsters often do.
No time for form-filling. I washed my hands in a bowl held by one of the sisters and laid out my birth things on a bale of new, clean straw from this harvest.
At least one of the sisters must be an apprentice midwife because she handed me everything just as I needed it and others supported the mother as she pushed and held her and wiped her face between pushes.
It was a beautiful, gentle birth. I wish my apprentice could have seen it.
I let them see what sex the baby was, but it seemed as if they already knew.
The placenta soon came and, when I had checked it, one of the sisters took it away with great reverence. The mother hardly bled.
The sisters quietly bathed and swaddled the baby and helped me clear up. She breastfed beautifully, that baby certainly knew what he was doing. I wrote up my notes.
I was worried about them being in the stable and took the husband on one side and offered him my spare room.
I live just outside town and have lots of space now my children have grown.
He thanked me kindly but shook his head. “It is written” he said and went back to his wife and son. Maybe they had written invitations, because as I left, lots of visitors came and some none too clean in their work clothes.
I felt she should rest but one of the sisters reassured me and I knew they would look after her. More of her sisters seemed to be bringing the visitors.
She did have a lot of visitors, indeed on one of my postnatal visits there seemed to be royalty, foreign royalty.
I walked home and the special light from the sisters in the stable still seemed to be there outside, then I saw the new star in the sky. On the hillside there were other sisters bringing more visitors. “One of those big families from the northern tribes”, I thought. I felt sorry for the mother, so many girls and not a son in sight, but now she had a grandson and that must bring her joy. She deserved it, she had trained those girls well.
I got home and sat down with a well-earned cup of tea.
Then it started – message from the supervisor. I had to go in to the office straight away. So I went.
She threw the book at me: failure to transfer an unbooked, high-risk woman to hospital, delivery in unsanitary conditions, no vaginal examination to confirm second stage, insufficient observations in second stage, inadequate record-keeping and failure to return the placenta for incineration.
I was devastated.
Strangely, she didn’t suspend me from duty because we were so busy with masses of people in town for the tax collecting.
I did the postnatal care, all except the discharge visit. They had upped and gone. Someone said they went to Egypt.
I was worried about the discharge notes but when I looked at them later, they were completed in the most beautiful handwriting.
My friend said they must have been written by an angel. The supervisor said they were too neat to have been contemporaneous notes and added that to the charge of inadequate record keeping.
The thing that got me most was the charge of failure to contact social services. I’ve never seen a woman so well cared for by her own family.
They never put that baby down for a moment, though later some man added to the charges against me that they “laid him in a manger”. But I know he was always in the arms of his mum or his aunties. Then they said I had acted unprofessionally in offering my spare room. You can’t win.
The case against me dragged on, even when there were soldiers in the streets killing babies, they kept on with it. In the end I was struck off. I’d lost the will to fight long before then. I miss the work but I tend my garden now. I often think of that birth. ‘God bless that boy and his family, wherever they are’.
All offences listed, except for “they laid him in a manger” are ones midwives have been disciplined for in recent years.
n Editor’s note: We are reproducing this article with apologies for editing in last week’s edition which lost some of the meaning.