after her water bursts
contractions through the night, then
a big baby boy
Went to bed at 9:20, fell asleep and an hour later Robin wakes me up to go to a birth with Ketut Tarini in Mas, another woodcaver's village. I am more than half asleep when her brother-in-law picks us up. Robin delivered Ketut's first baby, a girl now 4 or 5, with scars on both legs from hot cooking oil. The family is gathered around Ketut, who is sitting on the edge of the family bale. Her water has just burst. Robin tells me that the amniotic fluid is called Yeh Nyom, the first of the child's guardian angels that accompany the baby when the door between worlds opens. Four guardian angels, Kanda Empat, are conceived with the baby and their physical bodies die when the baby is born: the amniotic fluid, the blood, the vernix caseosa and the placenta. They remain in spirit with the person throughout life and accompany the individual to heaven to give a report on the person's life.
I am conducted to the ceremonial bale, where the TV has been turned off. I sit on a synthetic mat, joined by the brother-in-law, who speaks English quite well. He spends three months a year in Denmark, carving animals, receiving travel expenses and about $4,000, really good money in Bali. He says he's concerned about a "dry birth." I tell him it's normal for the water to break first and the delivery usually happens soon after. When I report this to Robin later, she says that the hospital staff scare people about the dangers of a dry birth. While we're sitting on the bale, a small black and white cat comes up and my host starts petting it. I am surprised because the Mangkus treat their cats like wild animals, not pets. The cat comes over to me so I start petting it. I ask if it's a kitten because it looks to be a few months old. He says it's full-grown and remarks that all the cats in Bali are very small because people don't have the money to take them to the veterinarian, which means they probably suffer from worms.
Ketut's contractions are 10 minutes apart (stage 1), so Robin and I go to sleep in the bedroom attached to the first building. The bed is very hard and we're sleeping under Pokemon quilts. Robin keeps jumping up to check Ketut, muttering that mosquitoes are biting her eyelids. When Robin calls me to come, it's around 1 am. Ketut has been moved to the ceremonial bale because it was cold on the open family bale, quieter here, and they remembered she had given birth there before, so it is good luck.
It's slow going. Ketut is lying on her back, her head and shoulders supported on her mother's lap, their arms entwined, heads together. Her legs are bent and spread, a cloth covering just her pubic hair. Robin has them remove her tight, nylon, padded underwire bra, and then she massage's Ketut's dark brown nipples to get the oxytocin flowing to help the contractions. Finally, she has her lie on her side. I have been charting the progress: time, fetal heart rate (counted with the use of a sonic stethoscope), which is now around 120-150 beats per minute, and comments such as the number of contractions, how far apart, length, pushing, water discharge. Now I write Robin's comment, "Rx: no pushing."
Robin brings her blanket to the bale and I go back to the bed. At 3 am she calls me again. Ketut has been moved inside, on a mat in a corner. Robin does a vaginal exam to determine dilation, which has gone from 6 to 9 cm. She's at stage 2, contractions 3-5 minutes apart, resting between. The mother-in-law and mother take turns holding her. As it gets more intense, Robin has her squat. She is passing blood, which Robin says is called Rah, the second of the guardian angels, which pushes from the sides to help the baby emerge.
The husband comes in for awhile. At 10 cm dilation she goes into stage 3, moaning, leaving her body. She mutters something which makes Robin laugh. "She says she's decided not to have the baby." With each contraction her belly stands up and her vulva bulges. Robin begins seeing black hair. At 4:17 am, the head crowns and the entire head is out a minute later, very conical. Robin says it got hung up in the birth canal for awhile. The shoulder takes more effort. At first Robin says liang, liang (again, again), then lansam (slow). The full body emerges at 4:19 am, covered in the white vernic caseosa. This is Lamas, the third guardian angel, which lubricates the passage through the birth canal. It's a boy and everyone is excited. With one daughter and only two children allowed, it's very important to have a son.
The baby is a bit blue and has some wetness in its lungs, so it takes a bit of rubbing and patting to get him crying. Robin lays him on his mother's belly while she waits for the contractions to push the placenta out. The cord is very white and the placenta comes out in a white bag. He's a big baby, 14 kilos and 22" long. Ketut and the baby are moved to the floor by the bed while the women quickly mop up blood and the baby begins nursing. A young woman is holding her toddler, who is nursing almost constantly as she carries the baby around the whole night. Robin asks me to take some photos and the women start jabbering, so she translates. "Oh, we should have taken pictures while she was having pains." But Robin told me definitely to wait.
The father keeps coming in, wanting to cut the cord so they can bury the placenta. The placenta is the last of the guardian angels, so Ari-Ari is the little brother or sister. Robin tries to hold him off because she believes it's better for the baby to stay attached as long as possible, actually until the cord falls off. But in less than an hour he cuts the cord.
Outside, the men conduct a funeral for the Ari-Ari. The placenta is washed in yellow turmeric water, wrapped it in a new white cloth and placed it in a coconut shell. The father places flowers and rice inside and the grandfather lays a paint brush, ball point pen and carving tool on top, so the boy will be an artist. The lid is put on the coconut and it is wrapped in black sago palm fiber. They chant some prayers and then bury the placenta in a hole to the left of the steps, covered with a stone. Other male family placentas are also buried here, on the right side of the compound, while the female placentas are buried on the left side. A thorn bush will be planted nearby to keep animals away and a lamp placed above it. The baby's bath water will be poured on the burial site for 105 days and three times a day the father will bring an offering of food on a banana leaf decorated with a flower to feed the guardian angel. This is done until the baby joins the human race in a special ceremony. After that, offerings are made to the placenta on full moon, new moon and special days of cleansing. Robin tells me that Balinese children say goodnight to their Ari-Ari and thank the angel in the morning for protecting them in the dark.
The women bathe the baby in a plastic tub with turmeric, a practice introduced by the Dutch. They give us some sweets and ginger tea with honey around 6 am. A priestess comes and performs a ceremony for the mother, the baby, Robin and me, tying a white thread around our thumb, because we are "responsible" for blood in the compound. I wonder why she doesn't include the mother and the mother-in-law, who took turns supporting Ketut, but now is not the time to ask. Robin checks Ketut to make sure she is not bleeding too much. Ketut didn't even tear because Robin held her together. Everyone thanks us, shaking hands, the women hugging and kissing on both cheeks and giving us bags of fruit. As we drive home, the sister-in-law tells people on the street as we pass, spreading the word. Robin is nodding off, drooling on herself. I crash for a few hours, but Robin takes a shower and starts meeting pregnant women on our porch at 7 am.