"I don't understand why women nowadays are so weak. In my day we used to work right up until the day we gave birth and then get right back to work. We didn't need any help. We did it all on our own." I was a little taken aback by the comments of the sweet old lady who was listening in on our health teaching for the pregnant moms in her village that day. I agreed with her that she was very strong and it was amazing that women used to deliver their babies without help from anyone.
I asked her how many children she had. She told me she had delivered 13 babies but in the end was left with only six. She had lost some of them at birth and others when they had been a few weeks or months old. I suggested to her, "Maybe if someone had been there to help you, it would have made a difference. Maybe all of your children would have survived." She thought about that for a moment and then nodded her head. Maybe I had a point.
When my husband Achao Macad, an iKalinga (a native of the Province of Kalinga) and I, began the work of opening a birth centre, I wondered how it would be received. Would the women accept care from midwives? Would they want to leave their homes to deliver at a clinic? It seemed to me that the key would be to make delivering at the birth centre as much like a home-birth as possible. Treating women with dignity and letting them have control over how they gave birth, intervening only if an emergency arose.
With that in mind, in December 2006, we rented a two-story house and began turning it into a birthing home with the clinical area on the bottom floor and the staff living quarters on the top. A local Filipino midwife as well as some student midwives, who we ended up sponsoring through college, joined us. By January of 2007 we had completed all the renovations, paperwork and licensing and we were told by the local Department of Health that we were the first licensed birthing home in the Province of Kalinga.
The first woman to deliver with us was the auntie of our student midwife, Evelyn. We had been doing prenatal care for her in her village and were encouraging her to come and deliver at our clinic. She wasn't sure about it as she had delivered all five of her other babies at home unattended. Then, on the night of February 25, 2007, she texted our clinic phone asking us to pick her up because she was in labour.
We were ecstatic with excitement as we drove our emergency vehicle to pick her up at home -- praying the whole way that she wouldn't deliver before we got there! She didn't, and we brought her back to the clinic where she had a wonderful, uncomplicated delivery. We were on our way! By the end of 2007 we had delivered over 50 babies and were doing regular outreach into five of the tribal villages that surround Tabuk City.
It has been almost 10 years now since we began our non-profit organization Abundant Grace of God Maternity Center. We have maintained our vision to "Share the love of God with the families of Kalinga through competent midwifery care" and to date we have delivered almost 2000 babies. We have also been a part of training dozens of local student midwives and currently have a staff of 18, which includes 15 registered midwives.
In 2011, through the generosity of 'Samaritan's Purse Canada' and German organization 'Geshenke der Hoffnung ev' we were able to build our own clinic and move out of the house we had been renting. Then in 2012 we opened a sister birthing-home in the remote mountains of Tinglayan to serve the Butbut tribe of my husband. (We have had to shut down operations at our sister clinic for 2016 due to staffing difficulties, but plan to reopen in 2017.)
Our own family has expanded as well. Achao and I now have three small boys, two of whom were delivered by the midwives that I trained. I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do in a beautiful country that's full of amazing people. That isn't to say that there aren't difficult times living in a culture so different from my own.
I can get disheartened when people I know and love accept death instead of fighting for life. When they choose traditional healing ceremonies over medical care that could have saved their lives. When pregnant women still decide to risk delivering at home unattended and preventable deaths occur. But the joy I feel when I see women giving birth at our clinic, under the compassionate and competent care of the Filipino midwives that I trained, makes all of it worth it.
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