The Olmoti landscape was obscured by the opaque black of midnight when Zainabu Elly Mbaga heard a commotion outside--voices and the clatter of a motorcycle engine.
“Nurse, nurse, come quickly,” a woman called out.
Zai rose quickly, pulling on a jacket and warm slacks against the cold of the African night. On opening the door of her room in the Olmoti Clinic staff housing, she found a woman, bent in labor pain, waiting in the dark with her husband and midwife. “You have a woman to deliver!” the midwife announced.
Zai, a staff nurse since Olmoti Clinic opened its doors, did not hesitate. She pulled the door behind her and hustled the woman down the dirt path to the clinic. The woman, 28, had three children at home, each one born in a primitive, mud-sided boma.This would be her first delivered at Olmoti Clinic, and the latest victory in the clinic’s campaign to encourage women to choose this safe and clean option over the dangers of childbirth in the bomas.
Thanks to education efforts by Zai and other clinic staff, along with the region’s respected head midwife, Yaya, the local midwives, who hold considerable influence with the area’s women, were now directing them to the clinic for pre-natal services and childbirth. It had taken time to shift the cultural practices, but the clinic now was delivering between five and 10 babies a week.
Flipping on the solar-powered lights, Zai settled the young woman on an exam bed. She checked her vital signs and dilation as well as the size of the baby. Her blood pressure was normal and the fetal heart rate strong. But there was no time to relax.
“Nurse, I need to push,” the woman insisted within a matter of minutes.
“Pole, pole, just take it slow,” Zai told her. The baby had other designs, however, and within a half an hour a healthy infant girl emerged. Zai placed the newborn on her mother’s stomach, moving them to a recovery bed where they would remain for 24 hours. Zai gave the mother a blanket and T-shirt for the baby and some coffee to take home. She then cleaned up and at 2:30 a.m., confident that mother and baby were stable, she prepared to head home for a little sleep in what was left of the night. That would not be possible.
Another motorcycle roared up to the clinic, ferrying another woman and midwife. This mother-to-be was 16, weak, hungry and in pain. This was her first child. Zai immediately started an IV and spoke with the midwife. The girl had not been eating, apparently under a common belief that eating would produce a large baby that would then create a difficult birth.
Zai insisted that the girl drink some tea with milk. Her strength seemed to revive and she was able to begin pushing. An hour later, a 5.5-pound baby girl was born.
When mother and baby were comfortably resting, the midwife looked at Zai.
“You do well,” the older woman said.
Zai made it home at 6 a.m. but not to sleep. She had just time to do a little housework before returning to the clinic at 7:30 a.m. Patients were already waiting.