Sleeping with Goats and Other Adventures {Book Club}

I am not exactly qualified to be leading a discussion on birthing stories in West Africa. I have never carried a baby in my womb or labored hard to bring that little one into the world. While I have scratched the surface of women’s health education and find it fascinating, I am not a certified midwife. Yet, Monique and The Mango Rains: Two Years With a Midwife in Mali by Kris Holloway is not just a story for those who have birthed babies themselves or sat with others in that process. This memoir is a beautiful look at what birthing and life is like in another culture, a story full of hope and despair and plenty of crossing-cultures experiences. I think we can each find our place in this book.

Monique and the Mango Rains describes the years that the author Kris Holloway worked with the Peace Corp in Mali in the early 1990s, providing health education and working closely with the local midwife.

The author introduces us to the people who became like family while she lived in the village of Nampossela in southern Mali. It might be easy to get lost in the beauty of these Malian names, so here’s a quick review:

  • Fatumata: the Malian name given to the author Kris upon her arrival in Mali
  • Monique Dembele: 24-year-old midwife and sole health care worker in the village
  • Louis and Blanche Dembele: Monique’s in-laws
  • Elise: Monique’s sister-in-law, who has a young son named Karamogo
  • François or Le Gars (the guy): Monique’s husband
  • Genevieve and Basil: Monique’s 3-year old daughter who lives with her parents in town and her infant son who rides along on her back most days
  • Dùgùtigi: the title for the village chief
  • Korotun: a friend of Monique who often asks Kris for money
  • John: the author’s boyfriend/future husband whose Malian name is Bakary

We meet many others in these first few chapters as the author describes village life. I have lived in both a village setting and a big city and the rhythms can be vastly different, can’t they? In the village where my teammate and I lived for a year, the first sound I heard in the morning was the whisp of stiff broom bristles on the pavement as our neighbors got an early start to their day. Motorcycles lined up near us to take women to the market several miles away, and if we delayed our own market run by a few minutes they were all taken and we were left to walk. We learn about a lot of these daily rituals in this first section as Kris describes the process of nightly tea, meal prep and who eats when. Do you relate to any of these rhythms from your setting? How are they different?

I have so much respect and admiration for Monique. She is calm amid chaos, exuding an inner strength and beauty in the midst of harsh circumstances. She is the perfect culture helper for the author because she is not afraid to point out mistakes and is quick to jump in with an explanation of what is happening. Have you experienced this gift of a cultural helper and friend as you’ve entered a new culture? 

Here’s the plan for the rest of Monique and The Mango Rains!

September 11: Chapters 4-5

September 18: Chapters 6-8

September 25th: Chapters 9-11 and Postscript

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This month we are so excited to tell you about an opportunity to win a book! Abbie Smith has written Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood and it’s a wonderful companion book for this month as we focus on birthing. Abbie is going to be sharing a little bit of her story with us each week as well!

Sarah: Abbie, we are grateful you are partnering with us this month! Could you share a brief summary of your book with our community? 

Abbie: I’d be honored. First though, please let me say how encouraged I’ve been by the Velvet Ashes community! I’ve known Amy for a number of years (at least virtually), and spent bits of time overseas myself. To find this tribe of global, Christ following gals has been such a grace. So thank you for letting me be a part!

As for Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expectingit delves into conversations on infertility and inner-city living, mommy wars and the incarnation, letdowns of marriage and learning to notice God in the mundane. In some ways becoming a wife and mom was as exhilarating as I’d envisioned; in other ways its been stifling and painstakingly ordinary. The book unpacks these polarities. I’d say it’s about finding belonging & meaning, hope & common ground. It’s about learning to walk with Christ in honest friendship on this journey Home.

Find Abbie on Instagram, Facebook or her website!

Here’s how you win: add your comment to this post with your thoughts on Monique and the Mango Rains, a question for Abbie or the community, or your own birth story by Sunday, September 9th. We’ll chose one winner this week to receive either an electronic copy or physical copy of Abbie’s book (your choice)!

*When you purchase Stretchmarks, 50% of proceeds go to “We Welcome Refugees”. 

Photo by Vittore Buzzi on Unsplash

36 Comments

  1. Lisa Anderson September 3, 2018

    I’m a M AND a doula, just a little ‘obsessed’ with birth stories from around the world. 🙂 Currently I’m assisting women in childbirth in central Ohio, but I dream of a day when I can travel and assist women worldwide – both those serving overseas and local women.
    I’m putting both of these books on my wish list. Thanks!

    1. Abbie P Sprunger September 3, 2018

      What a beautiful calling, Lisa! I was able to deliver each of our biological babies at a nearby birthing center and have so much respect and gratitude for midwives and doulas.

    2. Sarah C Hilkemann September 4, 2018

      Lisa, I think you would enjoy these two books! 🙂 Thank you for caring well for women as they give birth.

  2. Michelle Kiprop September 4, 2018

    I’m enjoying diving into this book. As a Nurse Practitioner serving in rural East Africa, it sounded like a book that would be right up my alley. Over my years here I have grown into more and more women’s health and midwifery. My license here in Africa allows me to practice midwifery, but in the USA I’m an FNP. So, so, many birth stories I could share. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Probably the most memorable birth I’ve ever participated in, was also the most horrific event of my medical career to date. It was the young mama’s first pregnancy. Baby boy was breech. It was a long, gruesome, horrific, labor and delivery. We spent an hour working on the baby when we finally got him out. I remember finally making the call that we needed to stop. Placing him in his mama’s arms, and praying over them both as we gave him back to Jesus. And yet God used that horrible day to open some doors for me to further my training. As a direct result of that day, I was admitted to a specialized ultrasound course for American Family Practice physicians doing their residency in the military. I later was able to take another course in emergency childbirth procedures. I’ve seen beauty come from the ashes of that dark day. I now do multiple OB ultrasounds every week. I’ve been able to identify some potential disasters before they had a chance to play out like that breech baby boy’s delivery.

    Monique is a great cultural helper. I often joke about it being a blessing and a curse, being married to a man from my host culture. My first year was INTENSE to say the least. I think I did something culturally wrong or inappropriate every, single, day. And my husband informed me of every, single, mistake. But I also got up to speed pretty quickly thanks to his help. Just a few months ago I was contemplating how more and more often I step into the role of cultural broker as we involve more Westerners in our work. Sometimes it can be beautiful and seamless. Other times I feel like I’m standing on a rock in the middle of a rushing river. I’ve lived on both shores, and thus get what is going on at each. But there are times when I feel like I’m shouting into the wind and I just can’t quite figure out how to stretch myself into a bridge between the two.

    1. Abbie Smith September 4, 2018

      Wow, thank you for sharing these profound glimpses into your story, Michelle. Your analogies of a rock in a rushing river and shouting into the wind are striking, and draw me deeper this morning into polarities of Jesus’ time on earth and ways I imagine he felt both at home here, as well as in a completely foreign land.

    2. Sarah C Hilkemann September 4, 2018

      Michelle, thanks for sharing your stories! I can’t imagine how stressful the birth you described would be (for the mother and baby, and you and the staff)! But it is so neat to see how the Father brought treasure out of the darkness of that experience. You have such an interesting perspective serving as the bridge between cultures as you welcome Westerners to your location. What a wonderful gift but a challenge as well!

  3. Mary Raikes September 4, 2018

    i laughed so hard at Kris’s language faux pas. I still cringe when I remember telling a little old lady that I live with my wife, when I meant a housemate who is a nurse – (nurse and wife are relatively similar sounding in Thai). I’m enjoying learning more about life in Mali.

    1. Abbie Smith September 4, 2018

      Bahaha, too funny, Mary. Thank you for chiming-in. Here’s to the many faux pas we’ll probably all encounter throughout this day as well.

    2. Sarah C Hilkemann September 4, 2018

      Mary, I’m glad you are reading along and enjoying the book! I thought Kris’s language mistake was pretty great as well. 🙂 I’m afraid I have probably made a lot of mistakes that are just as bad, but most of the Khmer people I encounter don’t tell me what I did wrong! Usually when they look startled I realize I must have made a mistake. 🙂

    3. Paulette Leila September 5, 2018

      Thanks for sharing your funny language mistake, Mary! I shared one of mine at the end of a longer comment just now. These “oopses” can sure make us turn red, but we might as well get a good story out of it and as much laughter as we can afterwards, right? Anyone else out there have a funny language or culture mistake story?

  4. Laura September 5, 2018

    I haven’t had a chance to start reading these books, but they are on my list! I’ve been living in West Africa for some time. Like Michelle said previously, being married to a man from my host culture has opened my eyes in vast new ways as I understand things in a new light. I also often end up as the bridge between cultures. This book especially appeals to me as one living in another West African culture and expecting our first baby, while navigating my husband’s idea of what pregnancy and birth look like compared to what my idea is. It’s definitely an adventure!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 7, 2018

      Laura, congrats on the new baby on the way! It’s interesting to hear the cultural differences in what people think of pregnancy and birth in different places. I’m sure you have many more bridge moments and cross-cultural experiences ahead as you continue this birth journey!

  5. Abbie Smith September 5, 2018

    Wow, I look forward to hearing your impressions and perspectives, Laura! I imagine your interactions with pregnancy and raising children has looked vastly different. Was just chatting with a friend from Kansas who’s 11 weeks in with her first child and she couldn’t believe the amount of advice she’d already been given…ugh. Grace upon grace, wherever this hour finds you; pausing to pray for you and that precious child growing in your belly this afternoon.

    1. Laura September 5, 2018

      Interestingly, this country doesn’t talk about pregnancy as they believe “pregnancy announces itself.” Therefore, there is no advice from anywhere! I recently visited my parents in the US and was shocked when complete strangers would walk up to me at the grocery store and start asking me very personal questions about my pregnancy. Two very different worlds indeed.

      1. Abbie Smith September 5, 2018

        Oh wow! Different indeed. I’ve totally been that person who laid my hand on a unknown woman’s belly, in awe of the beauty of pregnancy (but unaware of how bizarre and disturbing that may’ve been for her – insert upside down smiley-face.) Ooops.

  6. Paulette September 5, 2018

    God has blessed me with the priceless gift of several cultural helpers and friends, one of whom has caught the vision for why I am here in an extraordinary way. Xibu (the name by which I refer to her on my blog) wants me to learn her language and culture as quickly as possible so I can translate and teach God’s Word to her and her people. She once stood up during a multi-community gathering and with tears in her eyes, pleaded with everyone to pray for me as I learn and for her as she teaches me. Such an encouragement!

    Xibu coaches me through daily routines, corrects my grammar, patiently explains words and phrases, and helps me see the world through her eyes. She has the greatest laugh ever, which bursts out at the many hilarious language mistakes I make, but in a laughing-with, not laughing-at way, which is the impression I got of the way Monique laughed about Kris’s embarrassing and hilarious “oops!” Other times Xibu laughs with delighted pride when I get things right, knowing that she is part of every success. It has been an amazing journey of almost two years now…becoming part of this indigenous culture, deepening friendships with Xibu and others, and inching ever closer to fluency in their language.

    After reading chapter 1 yesterday afternoon, I went to do other things. The most noteworthy accomplishment of the day was a conversation with amy newly-arrived-on-the-field coworker and the chief of our village. Why did she need the chief’s help? Because she needs to build a house before the rains come! And living in the Amazon rainforest, our dry season is much shorter than Mali’s.

    Can you believe that right after we talked with the chief, I eagerly came back to chapter 2, which included the story of how Kris and the chief “decided together” where she would build her house? How fun to read the way all of this played out in a Minianka village, and crazy that it was the same day we navigated that scenario in this culture!

    Thankfully, things went more smoothly for my coworker, who was granted enthusiastic permission to build in the spot we were hoping and praying for, which had actually been suggested by Xibu and her husband, on the day when I had checked with them to make sure our approach to the situation was culturally appropriate, and that I had the grammar and sentence structure just right for speaking with the chief on my coworker’s behalf. Was anyone else impressed by the quick progress that Kris seems to have made in the Bambara language after only about a month there? I’m really looking forward to reading about the rest of her adventures in Mali, and learning with her more of who Monique is and how the Minianka culture views life and birth.

    And although Portuguese is not the language I’m currently learning, I’ll close with the most memorable language faux pas in my early Brazilian culture immersion, 9 years ago. An overnight guest arrived with her daughter, but there was only one mattress in the room where they would sleep. Wanting to help, I attempted to offer her an extra mattress from my bedroom. What I actually said, oh-so-kindly, was, “I have an extra coffin in my room that your daughter can sleep in.” Well, we almost needed two coffins, one for the girl’s mother, who nearly died laughing and the other for me, who nearly died of embarrassment-and-laughter all mixed up together.

    1. Abbie Smith September 6, 2018

      You’ve got me tearing-up with various emotions, Paulette!. So inspired by your grace and perseverance. And love the coffin story – ha!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann September 7, 2018

      Paulette, I’m absolutely loving these stories and your perspective! Xibu sounds like such an amazing gift, wow! What a perfect language and culture helper.

      Yes, Kris’s language ability is quite amazing! To have French and then be able to pick up Bambara is impressive, especially having a short amount of formal training from what I remember. My language ability is not impressive we’ll just say. 🙂

      Oh, the coffin story. 🙂 Thank you for sharing that with us! We are laughing with you for sure.

  7. Spring September 6, 2018

    I read this book a few years ago. I am a nurse but midwifery is my passion. Honestly it is difficult to read now. I had plans to work in my profession but so far that hasn’t come to fruition.

    I do read the book a second time with a new set of eyes. I think about when she says it’s hot. Really in the US I didn’t experience a constant you can’t get away from it heat. Now it’s my everyday life.

    I found the tea ritual interesting. I guess the caffeine doesn’t affect them or they sleep differently? I love that a village lives it’s lives outside of their homes and as a community. Of course that was before the advent of internet and smart phones, I would be curious to see what her village is like in 2018. I am intrigued by Monique’s unique relationship with her husband. She does have a traditional role yet she doesn’t allow him to “walk all over her”.

    As far as a cultural mentor, I have found these person’s invaluable. Right now it’s the pastor of the Spanish church we attend. It is good to ask questions and receive feedback where you aren’t sure of correct responses.

    1. Amy Young September 7, 2018

      Spring, I am sorry you haven’t been able to work as a midwife. This makes me sad because I can picture you being such a voice of calm and support during labor and delivery. I hope and pray someday you can. xxoo

    2. Sarah Hilkemann September 7, 2018

      Spring, I can imagine seeing your dream buried has to be so painful. Who knows what the Father might do in the future, but not having the answer right now still brings grief. I hope that even if reading this book is painful, somehow the Father can redeem that pain! Joining with Amy in saying we are praying for you.

      I have lived in the tropics of Southeast Asia so definitely get the heat aspect as well! I have so missed the seasons of the Midwest part of the US, knowing that one season doesn’t last forever, as opposed to the never-ending heat of Cambodia. 🙂

    3. Abbie Smith September 7, 2018

      Thankful for your vulnerability here, Spring. And courage to enter into these conversations so personal to you! I will be praying specifically that you find whispers of hope and God’s intentionality toward you in the words and stories and margins.

  8. Phyllis September 7, 2018

    I’m enjoying this book already. It’s all so very foreign to me, though. I’m remembering some of the very first books I really enjoyed as a kid: the Jungle Doctor series. Completely different era and part of Africa, of course, but somehow similar in my mind.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 7, 2018

      Phyllis, I’m so glad you are enjoying the book! I’ve never been to Africa so it’s fascinating to me to read about the differences from the Southeast Asian cultures that are more familiar to me. I’m excited to keep learning more and I love the inside look (from an outsider perspective) that we get from the author.

    2. Abbie Smith September 7, 2018

      Africa seems like its own world in ways, huh! Your willingness to dive into the foreignness is inspiring, Phyllis. So glad to hear you’re enjoying it thus far.

  9. Amy Young September 7, 2018

    Abbie, I”m so so so blessed our paths crossed and God has kept us in each others lives. AND I love, love, love that some of my virtual friends are becoming friends here . . . around books and stories and life. I sense God’s smile and delight in us 🙂

    Sarah, thank you for the name chart :)! So helpful! (and brilliant . . . but that may be the jet lag speaking :))

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 7, 2018

      Amy, you are welcome! 🙂 I’m sure jet lag doesn’t help but there are a lot of people to keep track of and important to the author’s life so I didn’t want to lose them or mix them up.

    2. Abbie Smith September 7, 2018

      Ditto!!!! Welcome back. So so so honored you’re letting me be a part of the brilliant Velvet Ashes canvas this month. xx

  10. Gretal September 8, 2018

    Noah’s Birth Story
    My husband Aaron and I arrived in Ghana when I was 7 mo. pregnant with our first child. A week before the baby was due we traveled to a hospital about 3 hours away, and settled into a little guest house nearby. I had brought my own sheets and pads and everything I could think of that we might need for a Ghanaian hospital birth. I was new to the field, and new to parenthood… there was really no way to prepare myself. I tried to think of worst case scenarios and decided that pushing for 5 hrs would definitely be one of them. Hehe
    We filled the next two weeks with memorizing all the countries of Africa, going on 3 walks a day (we got to know the locals personally!) puzzles, books, naps, you name it. My maternity clothes were getting tight… and I was tired of being pregnant.

    So you can imagine our excitement when I discovered bloody show early Sat morning! We got up and went for a long walk which produced regular but light contractions and we became hopeful. My contractions came and went throughout the day but did not get strong or very painful. Around 7pm I kept getting off the couch when I got a contraction because it was more comfortable to stand then sit. At 8 we started timing them and I realized this was the real thing. Aaron and I realized that our dream of going into labor in the morning and avoiding that extra night of no sleep was not going to be realized. I wanted to stay at our guest house for as long as I could to keep from having to be penned in a small room or be away from my nice warm shower. But at 1:30 Sunday morning hubby said he would feel better If we would just go and figure out our room and get checked awhile before things get more serious. So we did. It was a cool clear night and we kept stopping along the way (½ km to the hospital till my contractions passed. I was relieved to finally get up to the hospital. I went to the maternity ward and found a midwife behind the desk and told her our reason for being there. Since Ghanaian men are not in sight when a baby is born we had asked ahead of time if they could give us a private room to labor and deliver in. I’m all about becoming as Ghanaian as possible but I decided that delivering at a small hospital in Ghana was Ghanaian enough for me. The maternity ward consisted of a large room with approximately 10 beds all in one big room, and a small nurses station in the corner. Once delivery was imminent they would move the patient to a small delivery room that has two delivery tables with a partition in the middle. This hospital delivers 250 – 300 babies a month , so you can imagine, it is a busy place. There are weary looking pregnant women everywhere and some moms in beds with their little ones beside them. They discharge the women within 24 hrs of delivery if there are no complications, so there were usually more pregnant women around than delivered ones. Anyway, they graciously had said we could have one of the theater rooms, so our midwife led us down to a small hot room with cookie sheet of an exam table that was just big enough for me to lie on. She promised to return shortly to check me. And she did. She was a short heavy set lady and I would later notice had short stubby hands. Having worked at a birth center myself , I had seen many vaginal exams done and was used to hearing…”okay, a little pressure here, let me know if it hurts too much”. So you can imagine my alarm when she wiped my perineum roughly and proceeded to check my progress with her entire hand inside of me. She proceeded to “check me” but it felt more like she was trying to screw in a lightbulb down there. “You relax ” She hollered! I had not been vocal with any of my discomforts up until that point. Apparently she got the info she needed and reported that I was dilated 6 cm and that she was going to go get an amnihook and break my water. She left the room and I started to bawl. I told Aaron I can deal with contractions but not this! She returned an hour later and I decided to try and bite the bullet but we asked her to please be more gentle….She smiled pleasantly and said “small small eh?” The treatment was exactly the same only this time she included an amnihook. “You relax!” I was coming off the bed in pain, forget relaxing! She decided to leave me alone and try again after a while. I started praying that my water would break naturally. It was nice and cool outside so we spent the majority of our time walking around the hospital grounds and parked ourselves by a small picnic table right outside the gatekeepers shack where I could rest my head on the table and stay clear of any midwife that might threaten to break my water. At one point we were walking down a hospital corridor, when a big rat came careening around the corner. It came to an abrupt halt at the sight of us and made a hasty retreat down the hall it came from. We rolled our sleepy eyes to the ceiling and laughed cynically. The maternity ward was busy that night and I later learned they had 8 deliveries that night/morning. Finally we convinced ourselves that probably by now if they would break my waters the baby would be born before long. So at 5:30 we let miss chubby come in and have one more go at it. She was obviously trying to be considerate, but this time she decided to be quick in hopes of getting it over with in an efficient manner but she miscalculated her poking and obviously poked something that produced some blood, more agony and no gush of water. She got the “patient look” and said that I was dealing very well with labor but just too uptight when she tried to check me. The doctor we had been in contact with about having our baby at Naleregu had he said he would be willing to deliver it for us if we wanted him to. Normally the midwives do the deliveries unless there are complications. We had decided that we would let the midwives deliver the baby unless there were problems. We contemplated calling him now but, we felt surely it would be very insulting to the midwives and shift change was just around the corner, so we decided to wait and see how our next midwife would be. In she came at 7’Oclock. Slim fingers, I noticed and had a very kind demeanor. She introduced herself as Vivian and I decided to believe the best about her and allowed her to check me which she did ever so gently and reported that I was at 8 cm and she was not anxious about breaking my water. I was advised to go walk or whatever I wanted to do and she would return to check on us before long. Big sigh of relief! It was still cooler outside than in our little room but people were milling around and seeing a pregnant white lady with disheveled hair and squatting every so often in the hallway or on a bench was quite a sight, so we decided to stay in our room. We happened to see our Dr on his rounds and he asked us how things were going and whether we needed anything. He asked us to move to a different theater… as they were going to be in and out of the one we were using. So we did…and much to our relief there was an A/C in there and the table though still flat and narrow was more comfortable. We got all our sheets and pads into position and I was dozing between a contraction when there was a knock on the door saying, “Sorry…the midwives would like you to move closer to the nurse’s station so that they can monitor you better. So once again we got our things and shuffled down the hall between contractions. They were still coming every 2-4 min and were very strong. My mouth was getting dry from all the breathing. Aaron looked exhausted. He was doing so good. I knew seeing me suffer was grueling for him…he is so tenderhearted! We got to our new room which is right across the way from the maternity ward and is considered the VIP room. It had two single beds in it with soft mattresses. Our room kept getting better but I was getting weary of moving. It was 1030am now and I thought surely by now things would be progressed enough that I should be checked again. Ms. Vivian finally appeared and checked me. I was 9cm. Soon another Dr. came to check me. She suggested we break my water but could we please move over to the delivery room onto the delivery table? She did it very gently and I was relieved to feel that long awaited for warm gush of water! Now things could hopefully move along and we could have this baby! Aaron and I both imagined we would be holding our baby by now. We were both so tired! Back I went to our room. They encouraged me to push if I felt the urge. I had never had a baby before but I didn’t think I felt very pushy. I had determined ahead of time not to push until I felt ready. All I wanted now was sleep but instead I paced around the room hanging onto Aaron and squatting with each contraction and pushing with the ones I felt pushy with. We kept this up until the nurses advised us to come back into the delivery room. This time yet another midwife checked me and told us she feels a lip that’s in the way! So it was decided that I should not push for a while to see if it would go away. I was dismayed! Hadn’t I just gotten through pushing for a couple hours? And if there was a lip it would surely be swollen by now? I was having the urge to push now and it had been helping me take my mind off the pain to be able to push…but now all I had was Aaron’s hands. I am still surprised I didn’t sprain his wrists! It was going on 4pm and I wondered how much longer I could go. After not pushing for a while they checked me while I pushed to see if that lip would disappear. It did….Then they checked again no, it didn’t. I got on my hands and knees, I hung onto Aaron, I rocked back and forth, I panted, I blew. They had been periodically checking the baby’s heart rate with a crank Doppler which I had never seen before! The baby seemed to be tolerating the drawn out process quite well. They started an IV of Dextrose for me (to keep up my strength) and I thought “in case of a C-section” I told them that I don’t know how much longer I can go and that I am very open to a C-section if I don’t make some progress very soon. Of course a woman at 9cm and pushing is going to say that! The staff kept assuring me that the baby is coming and I was doing good, but I didn’t feel any different! My other concern was the baby. How long can a fetus sustain this? How long can a mother sustain this?! Hello and goodbye, worst case scenario. We were now at 7+ hrs. of pushing. I was not on continuous monitoring and they were having some trouble with the crank Doppler. They started monitoring the baby more closely and soon noticed that the heart rate was dipping more often and it was decided to do an emergency C-section. The Dr. arrived shortly and checked me. The baby was too high to attempt a vacuum birth…much to my relief, and after pushing a couple more times with no progress he left to round up the surgery team. I signed the consent form gladly and suffered through a 2 min. long contraction without pushing and then got off the delivery table and onto a stretcher. Aaron went to get changed into scrubs and soon they had me on the OR table surrounded by a German nurse, Ghanaian anesthetist, American surgeon, my Ghanaian nurse and one or two other assistants. For a brief moment on the OR table I wondered what would happen if I would bleed profusely for some reason. There was no blood bank. I was already in a vulnerable state at that point, and there was no point in wondering. Mr. Anesthesiologist had me sit up and inserted my spinal block. I am eternally grateful to him. You have no idea how comfortable an OR table can be! After I was good and numb, everyone in the room was ready for surgery. The Dr prayed over us. It was so beautiful! 8 people from very different walks of life all united in the operating room, coming together before our loving Father asking for his presence to fill the room. It surely did. The surgery began and 10 min later Dr. announced, “Wow it’s a big baby, a big baby boy!” What a relief. At 6:55pm it was FINALLY over. Our little Noah Handel had arrived! He started crying heartily and then his mom and dad did too! The nurse showed the baby to me for only a second and then whisked him off to clean him up. Everyone started to guess the weight…in kilos. I was still having trouble converting kilos accurately to lbs and oz so I was little lost. They finally reported that he weighed 9lbs and 4oz. No wonder I was having trouble pushing him out. His head circumference was 14 in. About this time I started shaking. My teeth chattered and my wrists were literally bouncing on the table. The part of my body that I could feel was so tense I couldn’t relax. They quickly recognized my symptoms as a reaction to the spinal block and someone ran and got some Demerol. Seconds after that was in my veins I could relax. And then the tears flowed. I couldn’t stop crying and for the life of me, I didn’t care! I was too emotionally spent and tired to help it. As they were putting the final stitches in, the electricity went off. There is generator backup but sometimes it would take several min. for it to come on. One of the nurses quickly whipped her phone out of her pocket and thus the job was completed. The rest of the evening I was in a happy daze. Our little Noah Handel seemed to us, to be the sweetest baby we’d ever seen!

    The hospital does not provide cribs and I hadn’t thought of bringing one, so we used our little carry on suitcase with a pillow in it! A true TCK

    Aaron and I look back on the whole experience as one of the most traumatic and precious times of our lives.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 8, 2018

      Gretal, oh my goodness what a beautiful and heart-wrenching birth story! I was laughing and crying and cheering for you as I read this. I love the picture with your precious little Noah! You all are such troopers to have walked that journey so new to the field, but what stories your little TCK will have to tell. Thank you so much for sharing!

    2. Paulette Leila September 9, 2018

      Gretal, you are such a courageous woman! I was challenged and encouraged by your faith in God and your determination to “become as Ghanaian as possible,” even in the major life event of having a baby. Loved reading the story about Noah Handel’s birth, and cried at the beautiful moment where the doctor prayed over you there in the operating room. If you don’t mind my curiousity, how old is Noah now? Was he your firstborn, and have you had any other children (in Ghana or elsewhere) since?

    3. Abbie Smith September 10, 2018

      Stunned by your courage and strength, dear sister! I can never get over the miracle of birth stories, including this one of your Noah. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Lisa Anderson September 8, 2018

    Thanks for sharing your story, Gretal! Wow!! It certainly was traumatic and precious.You are so strong and amazing!

  12. Felicity Congdon September 10, 2018

    Hi friends! I’m happy to be reading along with you all. I work in Japan, so the cultural differences are vast. I delivered my 3 babies in America, my first was not a great experience as I was undereducated and didn’t know what to expect. My 2nd was a c-section due to placenta previa (placenta was attached over my cervix), and for my 3rd I was determined to be educated. I prepared to have a natural, unmedicated VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarian), and loved reading birth stories and educating myself on the stages of labor and pain management techniques. I had an amazing doula who really helped, and a very supportive doctor (after switching doctors twice–the last time being at 32 weeks pregnant). I am grateful to have had so many options in America, and I was able to deliver VBAC!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 10, 2018

      Felicity, so glad you are reading along! It sounds like you’ve had some intense birth experiences! I’m really glad you were able to do a VBAC for baby #3 and get good support. Hope you enjoy the birth stories in this book.

    2. Abbie Smith September 10, 2018

      Such an admirable student of births you are, Felicity! I’ve had two biological babies, but will need to look up much of the vocabulary you used here :). My husband was raised as a missionary kid in Japan and my impression is that pregnancy and births there are handled quite differently than in America…what a gift for your loving voice to be present in that culture.

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