The Simplicity of Birth in the Bush of South Sudan

The picture I held, living in South Sudan, as I approached the “delivery room” of a simple Sudanese bush woman, a warrior, a friend; imagine a young, simple woman . . . no modern medicine, equipment, or fancy birthing rooms.   In the stillness and simplicity of the moonlit night was a woman participating in the dance her body was created to do, give birth.  There she was perched against her outdoor bamboo kitchen with her body held strong and dignified, squatting on a cement block as she prepared to give birth in the sand.  A few sisters gathered around and simplicity was our companion and the grace and mercy of God at our right hand.

The day of her delivery, the mother had been to our home (tent).  I had taken her back to her home with a huge load of fire wood.  She left the vehicle at her path and hoisted the heavy load onto her head. Little did she or I know she would deliver that night.  Women in South Sudan have no way of knowing the sex of their baby or when their baby is due.  They often wait for weeks expecting the baby to come any time.  I was surprised to hear she did not have a “plan” for whom she would contact when she went into labor nor anyone to help her.  I exchanged numbers with a pastor neighbor, since the mother has no phone, and went on my way.  I got a call from that neighbor at 11:00 that night telling me to come and bring her husband, who was working and sleeping on the orphan compound where we lived and worked.  We quickly and calmly gathered a few supplies, surgical gloves, sterile scissors, and blankets and loaded into the land cruiser bound for the laboring mother.  I did not know if there would be anyone to help her, but I had a peace that she and the baby would be OK and I would know what to do if and when I needed to do anything. 

I arrived with my headlamp shining, piercing the moonlit night. It seemed to spoil the sacredness of the scene, so I turned it off allowing only the natural light of the moon to illuminate the birth. I was thankful to find 3 other women gathered around.  The scene was calm unlike many other births I have heard of in Sudan.  In my effort to try to “sterilize” the delivery, I gave the birthing companion the sterile gloves.  Surprisingly, with a puzzled look, she took them and struggled to figure out how to put them on.  She managed to get one on when the baby came. 

This bush baby boy emerged into the night and entered the beauty of life and the pain of a land ravaged by war.  The courage and strength of the mother were amazing as she eased her baby from her body.  Her birthing companion sat beneath her with strong and graceful hands ready to cradle the baby as it emerged.

Holding the baby, one of the women took 3 pieces of plastic from a plastic bag and tied the umbilical chord.  I brought out the scissors and motioned for someone to cut the chord.  Well, that someone was me.  The night air was cool so I quickly wrapped blankets around the baby while the mother waited to deliver the placenta.

I sat swaddling the little boy on that still, peaceful night.  The women and I joined in a quiet chuckle in celebration and joy of this new life we beheld.  Father God was smiling as His hand had guided this life out of his mother’s body.
When the mother was ready, she stood gracefully and walked into her tukel (house).  I laid her baby boy beside her in swaddling clothes on the dirt floor.

Sadly, not all births happen this way in the bush of Sudan.  Often there are many, too many, women gathered around shouting, pushing, pulling and causing chaos.  This rumble of activity, in an effort to be the one in charge, causes stress for the mother and causes her body to tense and work counter productively.  Many unnecessary and preventable problems occur during child birth in Sudan and often in our country.  With malnutrition and the lack of medical attention and knowledge, in the event of an emergency, many women and babies die.  I was thankful there were no complications during this birth and no medical intervention was needed.  The simplicity and grace of this birth were a beautiful miracle.