March 22, 2011

INDIA: 80-year-old village midwife is illiterate, deaf, blind in one eye, but has delivered about 100 babies

TONK, Rajasthan / Al / Birthrights / March 22, 2011

"I have strong intuition,'" declares Saidan

"I'm about 80 years old. I've been a midwife now for about 50 years. I've delivered about 80 children in this village and 20 in the village where I lived before.

Saidan had a heart attack last year and says she does not think she can work much longer.

I was 30 when I delivered the first baby. She was a girl in the family and I had to step in because the attendant wasn't there that day. The baby was coming out the wrong way and I had to use oil on the baby and on the mother to turn it around.

I was offered a nursing job once, but I couldn't take it because my husband wouldn't let me work. I haven't had any training. I'm illiterate. I would have liked training though, even just to learn that babies change position after five months and then again at seven.

If there are ever complications, I refer the mothers to doctors. I don't take risks. I once delivered a baby who was upside down and with an umbilical cord around his neck. The doctor came and declared the baby dead, but I turned it upside down when he'd gone and slapped it a bit on the back, and it started crying and breathing.

If there are acute cases, like when a baby is far bigger than its mother, we do deliver it still, but we remember God before we do.

I go to the mothers' houses with a blade and a thread to cut and sew up the umbilical cords. I take some soap and clean clothes with me too.

Once the baby is born, I normally advise mothers to give proper baths to their baby and to give the baby two tonic waters to help him grow. If the child is unhealthy, I tell the mother to feed the child well and to give him or her dried fruits and nuts like almonds. They should put the almond in water, peel it and give it to the babies.

Pregnant women should eat grapes and apples during pregnancy, and dried fruits and milk afterwards. The best foods for a mother are dried fruit, ghee and the sap from a tree.

Some mothers do now deliver in hospitals because they're given 100 rupees if they do. But everyone just goes there for the money not the facilities. Nowadays, because of this money, I find I am delivering fewer babies. When the doctor's not available I'm sometimes called upon, otherwise not.

I don't know how old the mothers are when they give birth. Age just doesn't matter to us like that. The other day, for example, I took a woman who was 50 to the hospital so she could give birth.

Recently, I sent a mother to hospital telling her she would give birth in an hour. I have a very strong intuition but I don't feel I can work too much any more."

Saidan lives in Tonk, an ancient town in the Indian state of Rajasthan, in north west India, which borders Pakistan and encompasses much of the Thar Desert. A 2001 Indian census recorded its population as 135,663, with 18 per cent under six years of age. According to the census, males outnumber women in Tonk.
Al Jazeera