I entered the wall-less, thatch-roofed waiting area of the clinic with my right hand in a ball of bandages, taped to my chest. The airy space was almost empty, without nurses or even a receptionist. The only other person in the little space, sitting very elegantly on one of the narrow wooden benches, was a woman in traditional West African dress who was quite pregnant.
I was there hoping to get the stitches removed from the ends of the fingers I'd cut while harvesting bamboo a couple of weeks earlier. I decided to sit next to the regal woman to try out my few words of the local language, Twi.
“Wo huntesey, Madamfo?”
She answered in Twi, told me her name was Ghani, and then said, “I know you. We call you Wheat-head at the library,” and she put her fingers in my shaggy, blond hair and smiled.
I tried a couple more phrases in Twi, Ghani patiently helping me with the awkward words, until suddenly she grabbed my arm in a viselike grip, gave a little nod, looked down into her lap and then up into my face with a timid smile, and said, “The picken is coming.” She gently nudged me away from her to clear some space, then turned to face me, swinging her left leg over the narrow wooden bench. She lay down on her back, unwrapping the colorful cloth of her skirt. “You must help now.”
I looked wildly around the area and out the back of our shack toward the clinic buildings for someone to help. When I started to get up to go find a nurse, she jerked me back down onto the bench between her legs. As I struggled to pull another bench over so she could have more room to lie down, I was in a complete panic. What the hell was I going to do?
Then I remembered a movie of the birth of triplets that the school nurse had shown us in high school in Denver. The nurse had described the movie first, warning that it was graphic. During the movie, the only people who fainted were three of the boys. I had paid close attention, and now I began to recall the incredible process.
I tore off the tape holding my right hand to my chest and used the balled hand to position her legs on each of the two benches. The head was crowning as I set to work helping her deliver. “You can do this,” she said quietly. I wasn't so sure, and I was panicking and concentrating so hard I couldn't speak.
Ghani was doing all the work, but then the baby's head stopped moving toward me and I knew that I had to do something else. From the movie I'd been shown in high school, I remembered that it was sometimes necessary to turn the shoulders to ease the baby out. I tore off my shirt to have something with which to catch the baby and, with one hand, I went behind the head and turned the shoulders slightly. The slippery baby boy slid out into my hands.
I was breathing as if I'd just run five miles, and I just sat there stunned. Ghani was still talking to me in soothing tones as if we were just having tea in her living room.
Then I remembered that there was something else that had to happen. What was it? Oh, yeah, something at the end of the umbilical cord that led back inside her. With a few more pushes the placenta dropped into my shirt. I wrapped the baby up in my shirt and sat up.
Ghani lay on the bench for about five minutes and then sat up. She wrapped herself up in her skirt and stood up, holding out her hand. “Come, we go to find the doctors and nurses.”
I couldn't move. My legs were like rubber. I wasn't going anywhere for a while. That didn't stop Ghani. She firmly took my arm and stood me up and we started down the slope to where the medical staff must be. Ghani leaned down to whisper in my ear, “We will call him Kofi Baladan. Kofi Wheat-head.”