After the first few days of getting a feel for the hospital operations, I decided to spend most of my time in maternity because of the high number of births that happen every day. One of the nurses estimated that the hospital saw between 3 and 7 births every day–and that, of course, does not count the births that happen at home with Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). With so many pregnant women and new mothers, the maternity ward was overflowing.
My main duties were giving treatment to new moms. They all got antibiotics for seven days after they gave birth and many also needed malaria medication to reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, delivery, and breast feeding. I helped mix the medicine, drew it up into syringes, and administered it through cannula ports that were inserted by the trained nurses. (I am definitely not qualified to put in an IV.) I also helped clean wounds after women had to get C-sections, weigh and clean babies after they were born, and bring the newborns and their mothers back to their beds in the ward. I loved seeing the little newborn babies–they looked like aliens, but really adorable aliens.
Birth in Uganda is very different than birth in the US. There are no epidurals and doctors very rarely, if ever, assist in births. That task is left up to the nurses and nursing students. The mothers have to provide their own waterproof sheet to lay on during the delivery as well as all of the bedding for her hospital bed, all of the towels to clean the baby and all of the blankets to swaddle it. Additionally, mothers have to bring sterile gloves and a sterile razor blade for the nurses to use during the delivery. The nurses use the bottom of the gloves to tie the umbilical cord and then use the razor blade to “cut” the cord (its more of a sawing motion rather than a cutting motion).
The mothers are rarely accompanied by anyone and certainly not a husband. There were never any men (besides the male nurses and doctors) anywhere near the labor suites. The women were mostly quiet, occasionally moaning with the contractions, but there were never any screeches or screams that Americans would usually associate with childbirth. The women in the ward ranged from teenagers having their first child to women in their late thirties or even older having their fifth, sixth, or seventh child. In Uganda, the total fertility rate is 6.7 meaning that, in her lifetime, an average woman will have about seven children.
The women I met in the maternity ward were so hardy and strong and inspiring. They cook all of the food for their family, they fetch the water, they clean the house, and they give birth with little help from friends, family, or modern medicine. Like the rest of the hospital, the maternity ward has not changed since the 60s and could really use a face-lift.
These are the rooms that the women give birth in.