Compassion Beyond Bars

This event took place about 5 years ago now and it is one of my ‘stand out’ memories from my time working as a midwife.

I was working a night shift on delivery suite.  A labouring woman was admitted; handcuffed and flanked on each side by a prison guard.  I was allocated to support her as she had her baby.  She laboured very rapidly and it was not long after she had arrived that she gave birth.  Before I knew it, her baby was swiftly removed from her and taken to the neonatal unit.  In the whirl of events, (I am very sad to say), I was taken up with trying to organise all the documentation and piecing together some of the child protection issues that were involved.  But it was impossible to overlook the pain that this woman was experiencing from having her newborn baby removed from her.  She was angry.  Furious in fact.  She started to bleed soon after the birth, and when  I suggested she tries emptying her bladder to reduce the bleeding, she told me she’d rather die.  Her pain was raw.

Then in stepped her doula.

This woman had a doula who she’d got to know throughout her pregnancy, who had rushed to be with her in the middle of the night but missed the birth.  And what I was about to witness was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

The doula took some lavender oil from her bag and started to massage this lady’s feet, while she screamed and shouted in anger.  The doula barely spoke – she simply listened and massaged… massaged, massaged, massaged her feet in a display of pure love and compassion mixed with dignity and repsect.  Slowly, the tension in the room started to dissolve.  And the anger led to tears.  The doula continued to listen, hug, massage as this lady wept over the ‘loss’ of her child.  Minutes turned to hours and finally the woman, physically and emotionally spent, was ready to sleep.  The doula and I helped the woman lie comfortably on the bed and the doula sat with her, as if the woman were her own daughter, stroking her hair as she slept.

I have never before or since witnessed in person such compassion by any human.  It doesn’t matter whether or not this woman ‘deserved’ to have her baby removed from her.  She’s a human being, (like all of us), and mother (irrespective of whether she ever saw her child again).  What the doula did for this woman was truly remarkable, and I will never forget it.

This is compassion.


Featured image photo credit: Randall Langenhoven, Flickr Creative Commons


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