I reported to the Labour and Delivery unit for my first twelve hour shift of my Transitions clinical at Tawam Hospital in the UAE, and found that not only had they already assigned a locker to me, they had decorated it with my name and a cartoon version of me based on my Hopkins ID. I shouldn’t have worried. No unit that decorates a locker for you in advance is anything less than welcoming. I dove right into the “United Nations” of the Tawam midwives.
Many aspects of the unit are the same as what I’ve seen of L&D in the States. The rooms have the much of the same equipment, and they basically look just like what I’m used to—with the addition of stickers on the walls that indicate which direction to pray. The babies are delivered with largely the same protocols. One big difference, of course, is that the unit is midwife-run, which I love. The way it works here, the same woman who has been with you throughout your labor is the person who catches your baby–something that I haven’t really seen in my experiences in the U.S.
Then there are the cultural barriers. Most of the women are covered from the bridge of their noses to their ankles; some wear beaked gold faceplates that make me think of exotic bird costumes, and I still have a hard time talking to someone whose face veil is totally opaque. It’s so striking to see a woman anxiously keeping her headscarf tucked over her ears and hair while you have a speculum in her and are visualizing her cervix. Even weirder/more unexpected to me was the woman who finally just took her abeya off altogether, revealing, of all things, a pink Sponge Bob Square Pants T-shirt.
Once in labor, though, all women seem to experience something universal. While I’ve have never had a baby, I’ve witnessed the experience enough that it’s very familiar to me. I may not yet have a great idea of how to comfort an Emirati woman in labor in a culturally specific way, but I feel like I see and understand what’s going on for women in childbirth, and that recognition and understanding helps me connect. And I know that every woman has a different labor and reacts to it differently; remembering that reminds me to stop my brain from trying to figure out “what (all) Emirati women are like.”
After what turned into fourteen hours of work on my first day, I walked home to the women’s compound utterly exhausted, but totally thrilled. It’s unbelievable how much much I can learn here.
Here’s a quote from the bulletin board in the tea-room:
“You are a midwife. You are helping at someone else’s birth. Do good without show or fuss. Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening. If you must lead, lead so the woman is helped, yet still free and in charge. When the baby is born, the women will rightly say, ‘we did it ourselves.'” –from The Tao Te Ching
[cross-posted with megbeingthere.wordpress.com]