I was in the Dominican Republic, on a volunteer trip. The hospital was poor- no running water, ants everywhere and spotty electricity. She lay on a cot, with a sheet soaked in amniotic fluid, laboring with her ninth baby. The young doctors had told her to push, even though she didn’t feel ready. I stood beside her, ready to watch her baby slide easily into this world. The baby was not coming. I checked her cervix and my hands could tell she was not ready- only seven centimeters. My gentle massage of her cervix made her near fully dilated. She pushed and we could see the baby’s head. As the baby crowned, the lights went off. The doctor delivered her baby in pitch blackness. Only her hands were needed to guide that baby into the world.
My hands are my lifeline, my career. They can tell me if a cervix is six centimeters dilated. They hold speculums and swabs to diagnose cancer and disease. They deduce where the baby’s head, back and feet lie. They differentiate breast masses from normal tissue. They are the first hands to welcome a baby into this world.
I don’t know what to do with my hands.
They should be holding a baby, changing diapers and pumping breastmilk. They should be checking cervixes, measuring fundal heights and doing breast exams. Now they are empty, useless. There is no baby to fill those hands and my hands are not ready to return to a world of caring for pregnant women. I’m in place, darkened by despair, unable to see a way out. How do I teach my hands, so full of sorrow and heartache, to catch babies again? To bring other women such joy when they know only grief?