Witnessing Life

I have had a life changing experience this week. Not that this whole trip hasn’t been life changing, but I haven’t stopped thinking about this event since it happened and I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Part of the reason I chose to come to Santiago specifically was because Puget Sound has an affiliation with an exchange program here that has a program focused on health. My program—IES—offers a Spanish class for health practitioners, teaching us the vocabulary we would need to know for a hospital setting, and also a class with observations in local hospitals. About half way through the semester, we started the observations, going to various locations and departments to get a feel of how the health system works here in Chile. Already I have had some amazing experiences with this observation, seeing a gastric bypass surgery and a removal of a gallbladder, learning about the challenges that clinics in poorer areas in Santiago must face, and many more. This week was my last observation and while I was very sad to see it end, I was extremely excited for the observation that I had—labor and delivery.
The observation was in a public hospital, which is very distinct from the private system where I had done most of my observations beforehand. While the private hospitals pretty much resemble the health care we have in the States, the public system feels like it is from a totally different country. With little resources, medical professionals, and money to improve the facilities, the wait times for these hospitals are extremely long, the number of beds limited, and the overall healthcare poorer in general. Although I couldn’t wait to see a life birth and get to know the labor and delivery unit, I was more excited to see the differences between the public and private system.
As soon as we got there, the head midwife walked us around the unit, showing us where the patients check in, the beds for the women in labor, the delivery room, recovery room, and the room for the newborn babies. Although I loved seeing the stark differences between this facility and the facilities I had seen in the private healthcare system (the thing I had been most excited for), I felt an interest spark in the birthing process. It really hit me when we walked into the newborn room, seeing the babies sleeping peacefully, bundled in colorful blankets in beds that looked like they were designed for a little girl’s doll. I could stay there all day, watching their little chests move up and down, their mouths open wide for a yawn, and their little fingers coddling the edges of the blanket. The newness of their life striked me. Only a few hours old, they represented something new, exciting, and fresh; a change in the lives around them. I was beginning to fall in love.
In the morning we watched the consultorios where the doctors see patients from the emergency room. With cases from infections to problems with the pregnancy to appendicitis, there was a wide variety to see and learn. Some med students took us under their wings, telling us about the medicine behind each case after the patient left. I was learning a lot about the different cases that this hospital saw and the many types of things that can happen when a women becomes pregnant. It was a very interesting morning, but I couldn’t help but want to see a birth. I asked the med students what we needed to do in order to ensure we witnessed a delivery. They took us over to the labor area and we asked the midwives to tell us when a birth was happening.
After lunch, the midwives told us to hang out in the labor room, saying that a few women were close to giving birth. Within our first 10 minutes of being in the room, a woman shouted that she needed to push and they quickly rushed her to the delivery room. As we shuffled down the hall, I was filled with excitement. I was going to witness a real, LIVE, birth! How many people get to do that in their lives?
Once the patient was on the table and the midwife was ready in her gown with gloves and mask on, the midwife instructed the mother-to-be to push. In just a few seconds I could see the head of the baby between the mother’s legs and with each push it came closer and closer. I became completely overwhelmed at what I was witnessing. I was seeing life—LIFE—come into the world. The mother continued to push and as the head emerged I felt like I could almost cry. The midwife pulled the baby out as soon as the head fully emerged, holding the child in her arms until it cried. With one look at her baby, the mother starting crying too. She turned to the father, kissed him, and then took the baby from the midwife’s hands. I felt so overly happy. This couple’s life had just completely changed. They now had a new child, a tiny beautiful baby that they had created. A baby that they waited 9 months for and now was sitting and breathing in their caring arms.
This whole experience, as I’m describing it probably sounds cheesy and cliché, but I simply have no words to describe what I saw. While the actual process itself was much more grotesque than I first thought, the experience of watching a birth and feeling the emotions run through me, was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced or witnessed in my entire life. My whole world seemed to turn upside down in the most refreshing way possible. It was as if the world had split in two and I was now seeing the inner core and with simply one glance, could understand everything. Witnessing a child come into the world, seemed to put everything in perspective.
Over the course of the afternoon I watched two more births, each one making me more excited and curious than the last. Although I had never thought about going into this type of medicine before, with each birth I began to fall more and more in love. While most people think of doctors as people who save lives, midwives and the doctors who deliver babies give a totally different meaning to the word—people who give life. I began to think how amazing it would be every day to witness life coming into the world, one of the most joyous occasions in a mother’s life. It seemed unreal that someone could get paid to not only witness but to help this process that I had found so profoundly beautiful.
The days that followed the observation I continued to think on the births that I had witnessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about them, acutally. With every blank space, I thought of those tiny bodies, emerging from the women. The images ran through my head at all hours of the day and every bone in my fiber told me that I needed to go back to witness some more. I had fallen in love.
The few short hours I had been in labor and delivery seem to define my experience here. I went to a place that was totally foreign to me, hoping to learn something new. The things I saw changed my entire life, putting everything into perspective and making me realize a passion that I never knew I had. After this observation, I’ve decided that while I still want to keep an open mind of what I will do in medicine, I definitely want to explore this beautiful process of birth and how it is performed and perceived in different countries. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to take at least a year off between college and med school and while I’ve explored a few options I don’t have anything set in stone. After this observation though, I’ve decided that I want to look for an opportunity where I can go and learn about the delivery process in different countries, and possibly even work in a clinic or hospital with pregnant women. This experience has completely altered my world and I wish I could explain it in more elegant and precise words but the excitement that overtakes me when I think about what I saw, hinders me from explaining it at all. I’ve attempted to explain it here, but the true reality only lives in my heart. A passion has been born.

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