I am finally home! After a long 24 hours of travel, three different airports, and numerous new acquaintances, I landed safely at Flint airport just before midnight on August 29th. My sister and mom were waiting for me with a big welcome home sign and I could not have been more excited to be back. It is so good to be home and to be getting a bit of rest before I head back to school.
That said, I think the adjustment is going to be really tough. On my first drive through Rochester Hills, Michigan, I teared up at how organized traffic was. There was no honking and no swerving between lanes, just two lanes of cars following each other cautiously. I’m not sure that I necessarily miss the crazy overwhelming traffic of India, but being back is just so different.
Looking back, I learned so much in India. I think what I appreciated most about the program was that I was able to somewhat integrate myself into my work environment. I often get frustrated when I feel like an outsider or a tourist while traveling. I want to fully understand the culture and the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabit the country that I am visiting. This fellowship really allowed me to do that. By the end of my time at the birthing center, I knew most of the families that were coming in for appointments and births, and they knew me. My colleagues and boss knew what I was capable of and allowed me to work at my full potential. I am by no means an expert on India or the culture there, but I do feel like I learned a lot and will be able to relate to more people in the future. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to learn!
During the infant massage instructor training that I attended, the trainer began the course by talking about how you meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The other women in the training were incredible and inspiring and I hope that someday our paths will cross again. We all exchanged contact information and promised to let each other know if we ever ended up in each others’ home countries, which ranged from the Czech Republic to United Arab Emirates. I still don’t know if I met them for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, but regardless, I’m thankful that I did.
Over the last week, I have helped in two deliveries and have been thinking about how and why we meet people. Here at the birthing center, helping in a delivery is not a small thing. Natural labor is long and painful and to accompany a family through that journey is a really intimate experience. I spent almost forty hours with one woman and her husband, and about fifteen with another woman, her husband, and her mother. Those hours are some of the most vulnerable of a woman’s, and often her entire support system’s, and you tend to get to know each other pretty quickly. When the baby finally comes, there often aren’t many dry eyes in the room. That said, it is a bit weird saying goodbye to a new family after spending so much time with them, with the knowledge that I will most likely never see them again. From each family that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned so much and grown as a healthcare professional and as a person.
I’ve also been thinking about leaving the birthing center and the entire incredible staff, who has taught me so much. It will be really hard to leave and I am endlessly thankful for all of the time they have poured into me. That said, I definitely feel like I will be back in India someday. I don’t know how or why yet, but I do have a feeling I’ll be back.
“Babies come out the same way no matter where you go,” was a common phrase that people liked to tell me when I told them that I was going to work at a birthing center in India for five weeks. And in many ways, they’re right. No matter where you go in the world, humans are more alike than different. Not only in our basic anatomy, but all of us have the same basic needs as well. Watching new moms interact with their newborns has taught me how similar we all really are. The joy and love and pure happiness that flows easily between a woman and her new baby knows no language or culture or country.
That said, birth is most definitely not the same wherever you go. Culture is so deeply engrained in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, and to provide good care, we need to recognize that. I think that sometimes it is easy to look at women’s anatomy as the same, and think that all births should be conducted the same way. But culture dictates so much about how comfortable a woman is and therefore what she needs during her birth experience, that it needs to be considered.
For example, in India, when a woman is pregnant with her first child, she typically goes to her hometown and lives with her mother for the last couple months and for the first few months after the baby is born. If she hopes to deliver at our center, she must keep in contact via WhatsApp and see a different provider in her hometown for checkups, then travel back to Hyderabad to deliver. Our center has to be willing to accommodate that. This is just one example, but there are so many things that I have learned to keep in mind when supporting a woman through labor here in India.
In the future, I’ll take this back to the States with me. People from all over the world with all different needs and preferences deliver at the hospitals that I work at. I need to remember that no two births are the same, and I’ll do everything I can to better understand women’s needs and the role that their history and culture play in their childbirth experience.
In addition, this has taught me how important it is for providers to be familiar with the demographic of patients they are caring for. One of my goals is to someday help train a new generation of providers in low resource settings, so that people who truly understand a culture are the ones providing care. My time in India has reinforced to me how important that is.
One reason that I enjoy traveling so much is because it reminds me that the way I usually do things is not always the best or the right way to do it. I am constantly reminded of this during my time here in India.
My first day here in India, I went to leave my apartment and found myself unable to lock my door. The key fit the hole, but no amount of turning it to the right would lock it. A friend was waiting to meet me and I became a bit frantic. Finally, I turned it to the left and it immediately locked. My door here locks and unlocks in the opposite direction than it does in the States.
And that is a bit how I have felt here in India. Everything takes me a bit of time to get the hang of, because it is all a little bit different. Crossing the street requires lots of patience. Set meeting times often change or are pushed back a little bit. More than anything, my work is very different than it was in the States, despite working in the same field.
The Birthing Center believes in minimal medical intervention as long as it is safe for mom and baby. This is quite different than how things were when I was working Labor and Delivery at a large hospital in the States. Instead of continuous monitoring, we doppler check baby heartbeats. Moms are not immediately started on fluids and are instead encouraged to eat and drink. Pitocin drips are not nearly as common here at the birthing center. Cesarean sections are a rare occurrence. This has been fascinating for me to learn about and see that there are different ways of doing things. It is so easy to get into habits without questioning how or why we do things and this work is breaking me out of that.
I am finally starting to get in and out of my apartment on my first try, just as I am finally starting to get settled here in Hyderabad. I take a few less pictures of the buffalo in the middle of the road and do not instinctively try to start moms on continuous monitoring. I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to keep learning about different ways to do things.
As the plane circled Hyderabad, I thought to myself, “what have I done?” I had never lived alone and was moving to a city 26 hours of travel away from all that I knew. I was pretty sure I had made a big mistake.
My job in Cleveland earlier this summer put the importance of people in a stark light for me. Every morning, on my way to the Labor and Delivery unit, I would walk past the surgery waiting room. There, I would find patients, family, and friends in various stages of angst. Patients were at their most vulnerable– scared, sick, and overwhelmed, as their family and friends enveloped them in as much support as they could muster. As soon as the patients were taken back to the OR, the friends and family that had seemed so strong minutes ago would collapse into each other and wait. I don’t think there’s a better reminder of our dependence on one another than seeing such display of love, support, and fear play out before my eyes every day. What purpose do we have except to be there for one another?
Given my appreciation for a strong support system, I was a bit nervous to be leaving mine. But during my time in Cleveland, I met a friend who had family in Hyderabad. We got connected via Facebook Messenger the day before my flight took off and they promised to show me around.
Upon arriving in Hyderabad alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed, it was this family who got me water, helped me get a SIM card, took me shopping to buy kurtas, and began to introduce me to the city. I don’t think there’s any greater form of dependence than needing someone else to show you how and where to get water, and this family did that for me.
I helped in my first delivery here in India the other night, and realized the eerie similarities between the newborn baby and me upon my arrival here in India. But the helpless baby was born to incredibly capable, loving, attentive parents that she will depend on for a very long time, and I’m learning to lean on the new support system I have here.