Tibet has a lunar calendar. The 30th is the New Moon; the 15th is the Full Moon. Yesterday marked the 15th of this, the 1st month of the New Year in the Tibetan calendar. Tenzin Nyima was off to take a hike, a round-about of Lhagang that crossed many miles, visited 2 temples, and climbed many high hilltops. Soko fasted at Gyergo Nunnery. This marks the end of the New Year’s Celebrations.
Earlier this week, Somtso and I went across the river to be hosted by Sola and Pengtso, at their invitation. But when we arrived, Sola was laying in the corner by the fire, “sick.” It took awhile for me to figure out that she did not have a cold; she was having contractions, in labor with her 5th child. The contractions had been going on since the night before, and were not progressing well. She was scared and worried that the baby was foot-first, breech. Sometimes babies are born successfully this way, but the danger is quite high for both mother and child.
So if the baby was breech, it would mean a harrowing several-hour trip over the snow-and-ice covered Zhi-la pass to Kangding or Guza, made worse by the nighttime freeze; and Sola, like many nomad women, suffers from terrible motion sickness. She was just recently required to go to Kangding (for perhaps the second time in her life) to register the birth of her daughter, 3-years old now. This little girl was was born at home and so did not have a birth certificate. After that, Sola was ill for 2 days; this in a person who otherwise I have never once seen sick in the 16 years I have known her. So travel, prudent perhaps for another person in her situation this evening, did not seem wise for her.
There was no cell signal in the valley that day. So I went home and climbed the hill behind the Ecolodge in hopes of connecting to a different tower. Success! I called Stephanie in Kangding and asked if she knew how to check for a breech baby; she said she did and told me how to do it — pressing hard on the belly to find the two ends of the baby; butt and head, and then to wiggle one and then the other, to see which one wiggled independently. That would be the head.
I ran down the hill (snowy and icy), and back across the river to Sola’s, 10-year-old Somtso in tow, feeling grateful that I run enough to make running at high altitude a possibility. When we entered, Sola was no longer at her place by the fire; in fact was nowhere to be seen. “Out milking the yaks,” said her oldest son. So we found her, and called her in, and I attempted to feel the baby in her belly. This was a terrible discomfort to her, both emotionally and physically, as it hurt when I pressed and I felt she was embarrassed. (Nomad women here tend to hide their pregnancies, and be quite shy about their bodies in general.)
I could not find the two ends of the baby; one end had already descended too far into the pelvis, as Stephanie had said might be the case. What I did find seemed to wiggle quite independently, so I feared it was the head, up toward her ribs. She was afraid and I was afraid, but travel did not seem the wiser option. My best thought was to stay home unless her water broke, and then to hurry to find me if that happened, sending her son across the icy river in the middle of the night. She agreed to this quite gratefully, and it seemed to me the right thing in these circumstances, the best I could do. I have found my years of barefoot doctoring here that a decision made and supported is often the best one can do for a person.
I went home, slept well, and in the morning heard that the baby had been born, was not breech, and was a girl. We all heaved a sigh relief. For me, this is the first time anyone has ever called me to tell me a baby had been born; usually I find out only by chance a week or two later!