Every morning, I go to the birth centre to see how the night before went, if there are any mamas in labour, or any new babes to takes pictures of. I haven’t been at Shanti when a mom has been in labour yet but Thursday morning I got to teach two mamas baby massage on their one-day-old little girls. I had never worked on a fresh new baby like that before so when Ssanyu, the head midwife, asked me to teach them that morning I was pretty nervous. I was planning a baby massage continuing education workshop for the midwives next week and did not expect to do baby massage before that. We didn’t have massage oil because it was a spur of the moment thing so I went to the garden to cut off a chunk of aloe vera leaf and used the gel to massage the babes.  

I want to teach the mamas and midwives baby massage techniques for a few reasons:

  • Relieve baby’s tummy issues / pain and move things along from stuck gas / indigestion / bloating / upset tummy
  • Help baby sleep well
  • Grow a stronger bond between mom and baby from certain hormones being released during massage
  • Boost baby’s immune system so baby is stronger, healthier, and happier
  • Boost mama’s confidence so she can care and give love to her baby

   When I started massaging the first baby girl it was really exciting and a bit nerve-racking to have such a fresh, new human in between my hands, as well to have Ssanyu and Rachel, Shanti midwives, both watching me. I am not yet a pro when massaging babies but it didn’t take long before I felt like I had been doing it for years. A brand new baby’s body is not like working with adults at all. It is a totally different kind of touch, and takes such care and intention. It was an amazing experience to feel the baby’s body melt into my hands. Both baby girls were not really into the tummy massage, which didn’t surprise me, as I had to work around their umbilical cords, but as soon as I started to work on the spines of both girls, they instantly quieted down, melted into my touch, and were so alert. The midwives even commented at how quickly the babies shifted during the spine work—it was incredible. You could tell from looking at them and from feeling them that they loved it and were paying attention. It was my best day at Shanti. I am beyond lucky to have experienced this and it’s such a gift to be able to practice my passion for bodywork here.

   In the afternoon, I went back to the Kasana hospital to help out. Right when I arrived, two girls were in the labour suite, each lying on a bed, waiting for the midwife to come examine them. The first girl to be examined was a first-time mom. She arrived the night before and at 1:00 p.m. today she was eight centimetres dilated. The midwife told her to walk more because she had time before baby came, and I told her I would come support her after the second girl in the room was examined. The second girl had just arrived at the hospital and was in pre-labour but her vaginal exam (VE) really stood out to me. She was in so much pain just from the VE and she wasn’t even dilated yet. It made me wonder why she was in so much pain.  

   After I helped the second girl to her bed, I went outside and found the young, first-time mama. She was kneeling in the grass behind the hospital with her mother. I went and did some bodywork on her in the grass for about an hour and a half, then we went back inside because she was in a ton of pain. It seemed to me like she was hitting a wall and she wanted a VE again. After about two hours, baby’s head had descended a little but she was still at eight centimetres. She was ready to climb the walls. I had her lay down on the delivery bed and rubbed her back until she fell asleep. She woke up for every contraction and then fell asleep again for a good two hours. During her contractions she was coming out of her skin so it was a good thing they were spaced quite far apart. She was making a bit of noise during her contractions, nothing crazy in my mind, but her mom and auntie kept giving her shit and telling to toughen up and be quiet. Ugandan culture does not encourage making noise or moving to your natural rhythm during labour.   

   She was my first, first-time mom, so this harshness during a birth was new to me. The mom, auntie, and midwife kept scolding her for wanting to move or make noise. They were shaking their fingers at her and raising their voices. You could tell she was going out of her mind from the pain. At one point, they all left the room and I stayed with her. We held hands and she said to me, “You are my friend, my friend.” I was so happy I was there to be with her.  

   After five hours of a slow progression from eight centimetres dilated, it was time to push. I am amazed that she powered through it. At the start of having to push, she tried to get up into a squat position but her mom and auntie pinned her back down on the table. She had to hold onto her own legs and I held her head up while she pushed. After three pushes the midwife gave her an episiotomy, remember she is completely unmedicated, then two pushes later her baby boy was born. It was quite a stressful and overwhelming birth. At one point, I had to hold back my tears. I could not imagine going through labour and being treated like that. I totally get that it’s their culture but that doesn’t make it nice or right in my mind. But once baby boy was there, the mom and auntie were overjoyed and shaking my hand saying, “Thank you, thank you,” and mama just held my hand. I am so impressed and proud of this girl. It took an immense amount of strength and courage to get through that birth, and she took the stitches like a champ.   

She is my fifth birth now and one that I will remember forever, for sure. I will be back to the hospital in the morning to check on her and baby boy.