My mum the midwife

Mum [Second from right] with colleagues in JB GH.1950's

WHILE out shopping with mum, I always found it amusing to meet her former patients. They would call her, “Meesee” and introduce their adult sons to her.  The proud mother would tell her son that mum helped bring him into this world and he would blush, knowing that mum first saw him as a bawling baby.

Based in a Pusat Kesihatan Kecil or district health sub-centre, my mum worked as a midwife. She had the overwhelming responsibility of handling two lives in each case.  When you consider the ideal conditions for delivery in a hospital, it was an enormous task to manage the birth of a child in village homes that were far from any modern conveniences. 

Thirty years ago, telephones were scarce and mobile phones were unheard of.  Nobody could predict the time of birth so mum was constantly “on call”.  I remember evenings when our family time would be interrupted by calls for mum to attend to a delivery.  There were countless nights when we were awakened by urgent calls saying, “Meesee! Meesee!” followed by a brief, "Isteri mahu beranaklah!"

Once mum confirmed the patient’s details, she would grab her bag and leave with the caller, usually a man who was the patient’s husband, father or brother.  Most kampung folk didn’t own cars or could not arrange a taxi at that time of night, so mum usually had to ride pillion on a wobbly motorbike into the night with a strange man.  If the home was across a river, mum had to climb rickety jetties and ride in a sampan to reach the patient.

When I was old enough to understand, I would stay awake listening to the receding throb of the motorbike that was taking my mum off to a patient — all the while praying for her safety.  That was a time when people were more trustworthy.  I am just grateful that mum always came home safe. 

Mum (2nd from Left) with colleagues
at Teluk Jawa Balai Raya

In villages where traditions and superstitions were strong, very often the family matriarch and her cronies would be on hand to give moral and spiritual support. 

Sometimes in simple one-room homes, the whole family would assemble around the patient, waiting to watch the birth of the child. When mum arrived, she would clear the room and ensure that the environment was sterile and hygienic.  By the flickering light from an oil lamp, mum would squat next to the patient lying on the floor, to help deliver the baby.

Having a baby should be a natural process but if the patient had obstructed labour, retained placenta or major post-partum haemorrhage, then mum’s responsibility would immediately escalate to medical emergency.  In such situations, mum would get the patient’s husband or a family member to go to the nearest telephone to call an ambulance from the Johor Baru General Hospital.

Mum holding the baby that could not
wait to come into this world!

This was always a challenge because in those days, telephones were only installed in the estate manager’s house, near the post office or in some of the more established shops.  Applying her discretion and experience, mum would make the decision in some emergencies not to wait for an ambulance but to ferry the patient to the hospital without delay.

Mum remembered a retained placenta emergency in a Felda settlement where they borrowed the estate’s Land Rover and placed the patient on a mattress in the rear to rush her to the JB general hospital. This was a case of an obstinate patient who put herself in danger because she refused to deliver in the hospital even though it was her 17th child.

Mum seeing a patient at PKK Masai

Mum would see patients for regular check-ups in the health sub-centre — and 1973 marked a special moment for the clinic.  There was a patient who started having contractions while waiting for her turn. So mum helped to safely deliver the baby who could not wait to come into this world, right there on the clinic’s examination table.

After delivering hundreds of babies in hospital and home deliveries, mum retired in 1987 with a wealth of experience in delivering babies, even twins, often in the most inadequate conditions.  Mum’s dedication and commitment to a very demanding and noble job was exemplary. 

I’m sure there are still remote areas in our country today where midwives like mum continue to manage patients in very poor conditions. To these unsung heroes, I salute you. Syabas. Keep up the good work.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Buzz on 5 November 2008

1 comment:

  1. Peggy, you should get mum to narrate all her experiences, and you could then compile them into a book.