Jeremiah 29:11- “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’ “
How many of us have read those words and immediately associated them with the cliche and/or overused and misinterpreted? And, how many times should we, instead, have let them remind us that there is One who sees us, loves us, and has dreamed beautiful dreams for us if we’ll only take the time to listen, trust, and obey? If ever I needed to be reminded of this truth and that the Lord still means this for us today it was while planning a recent trip to Tanzania and Kenya.
My husband Kyle and I had been planning this trip since we married in May 2012, but our schedules kept working out so that we had to push it back a little later over and over again. At last, however, we were able to set dates for February 2014. We tentatively planned for February 4-18 with two nights in Istanbul afterwards on the way home. Then, more schedule conflicts came up; we changed the dates. Then, even more schedule conflicts; we changed the dates. Then, schedule conflicts again, so we changed the dates a third time. As it turns out, the third time is not the charm, as schedule conflicts arose for a fourth time, making our new and final trip dates January 26- February 9, 2014---over a month earlier than the third set of dates we had been planning. To say that I was a little stressed with the seemingly constant changes in plans would be a gross understatement. We had had so much confirmation that we were supposed to go back to Tanzania and Kenya; what was going on? God (and Kyle) tried to tell me that the Lord was in all of these date-changes, and I think I accepted that but didn’t let it truly sink in until we were on the plane heading home. Now I see that even the date changes were in God’s plan.
Before I continue, here’s a little background: the City of Hope was our stop for the second half of the trip. Kyle spent 13 months there in 2010 and 2011, and I spent 3 months there that overlapped with Kyle’s 13 months. When we were there before, the childrens’ home and primary school were up and running, but the hospital was still under construction. This time the childrens’ home and primary school have grown, and the hospital is operating as a clinic. There is a doctor and three nurses (one of whom was expecting her second child), and they are doing a great job. There is still a long way to go before the hospital will be fully functional as a hospital, but they have come such a long way and are providing great care.
When Kyle and I arrived at the City of Hope last week, one of the first questions we were asked was if we could stay one more day. We didn’t have to think about our answer for very long before agreeing whole-heartedly. This pushed our leaving date from Wednesday to Thursday, and that extra day at the City of Hope is what I want to focus on since I would have missed it all in each of the first 3 sets of tentative dates.
Wednesday morning dawned a little cloudy, and Kyle and I were planning to work on projects during the kids’ school hours and spend every possible moment with them since it was our last day to do so. Therefore, a few minutes before the kids had their morning chai break you would have found Kyle and me sitting in a gazebo where we would be able to see the children as soon as they came out of the school building. But, it ended up being Dr. Ty who found us rather than the children when he came to tell me that Nurse C had gone into labor and to ask me if I’d like to go with his wife Joi to take her to the nearest district hospital. I’m a maternity nurse, so I jumped at the opportunity. Joi and I ran around shoving things like extra gloves and towels and drinking water into our backpacks and then jumped into the truck, picked up C, and off we went.
We arrived at the hospital around 1030; C was having contractions about every 7 minutes, so we went to help her check in. The check-in room was a small room with three beds against the back wall and a large desk against the front wall. Insects buzzed around the room and crawled on the walls and floor. The first bed was occupied by a woman who was pushing; she was by herself, and it was only when she was crowning that a nurse actually went over to her bed. The middle bed had a mom who had just given birth prior to our arrival; she was being cleaned up by a young man, and her baby was wrapped in a khanga on a table in the corner of the room. C was put on the third bed where they checked her, determined that she was not ready to start pushing, and showed her into the room where she would labor.
This labor room was small and had five cots in it. There was one empty one for C but only because a couple of the other beds were being shared. You see, these are the only 5 beds for laboring moms. If you have 7 laboring moms, too bad for them. Two to a bed it is.
Each woman has to buy a basin to put under her bed for when she needs to use the bathroom, vomit, whatever, so the labor room smells like various bodily fluids. While Joi and I talked and massaged and did our best to make the pain of yet another contraction bearable, C’s sister went to buy a basin. And that is how the day passed. C continued to have contractions every 2-11 minutes; Joi and I massaged her lower back, talked to her, walked with her, held her hand, and tried every trick we knew to help her through her labor, but this was one stubborn little baby!
Late in the afternoon, we were able to take turns going two blocks away to the home of a missionary couple (Liz and Eric, you’re awesome!) where we were able to eat, use the bathroom, and rest for a bit. Shortly after Joi returned from her late lunch break, a nurse came to get C to check her again. While we waited for either C or the nurse to come back, Joi and I discussed our game plan. If C hadn’t progressed (she had been at 5cm all day), we would need to head back to the City of Hope no later than 6pm. We had strict instructions to be home by dark.
Neither C nor the nurse returned, so we knocked on the door of the delivery room and asked if we could say goodbye. In the delivery room, I asked the nurse how far C had dilated; she was still only 6 cm. I noticed that C was also being given IV fluids; I asked if there was any pitocin in the fluids; the nurse said no. So, I said my goodbyes to C, who asked if she could have some rice. It was only about 1750 at this point, so I went off in search of rice. After not being able to find any cooked rice for sale, I went back to get Joi so we could go. When I got back to the labor room, Joi came to the door and told me that C was pushing! I was stunned and so excited! At about 1815, Baby Girl was born. A couple of minutes later, she started crying! We were ecstatic. Until we saw the nurse drain C’s bladder and then hook the same catheter up to suction and use it to suction out Baby Girl’s mouth and nose. Gross. Thinking back over the course of the day, I realized that I had seen the nurses reuse equipment on a couple of other patients, as well.
As happy as we were that everything had turned out so beautifully for C and Baby Girl (who was later named Amy-Joi!), I couldn’t help but be bothered by the way the hospital treated the women in labor. It was like they were sub-human. They were put in dirty rooms on filthy beds alone. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not think that a normal, healthy, low-risk birth requires a hospital, an OB, or even very much medical intervention. Support Mom, and keep her in charge. If she wants to kneel, let her kneel. If she wants to be on her hands and knees, let her go for it. Heck, if she decides that she’s most comfortable standing on her head...well, you get the idea. But to see women who should be excited about the arrival of the human that has been growing inside them for the last 9 months being treated like dirty animals broke my heart. And lit a fire somewhere deep in me to do whatever I can to make sure that the maternity ward at Amani Hospital will be different. It will be better. It will be a place that celebrates the beauty of life and empowers mothers (and fathers, too, God willing!).
Please join Kyle and me in prayer as we figure out what our role is supposed to be in Tanzania. We have a lot of conversations and decisions to have and to make, but I do know that God, for whatever reason, wanted me there the day Amy-Joi was born.