2 Feb 2021
The woman writhed on the delivery room table, surrounded by female family members who fervently discussed among themselves, sometimes gesturing toward her, but not addressing her. She had been referred from the health center for prolonged labor, but this was her first pregnancy. With a little bit of oxytocin in lactated ringers slowly dripping into her IV catheter, and with some coaching on how to push during her contractions, she had started making good progress. Not fast enough, though, according to her family. The serious and earnest discussion continued in a language I couldn't understand. After a contraction ended, I turned to the maternity nurse next to me, "What are they saying?" She laughed and explained, "They're trying to figure out why this is happening, why she is having trouble. They can't think of any problems in her marriage or in her family to explain it." According to their cultural understanding, a difficult labor doesn't just happen. It arrives for a reason. How else could one explain that one person easily delivers a dozen babies at home without a single complication over the years, and another has difficult labor or babies that die at birth in back-to-back pregnancies or babies that come out arm first or umbilical cord first or pregnancies that end with a torn uterus or repeated need for cesarean delivery. Sometimes a woman has multiple deliveries at home without difficulty, then suddenly in the sixth pregnancy has prolonged labor for no apparent reason. In that case, some problem that has arisen in the family since the last delivery must have brought on this difficulty. For our nulliparous patient in the labor and delivery room, the family reasoned that if only they could identify the problem in the family and resolve it, then they could help this woman successfully give birth, or at least prevent the next catastrophe.
Like Job's friends attempting to help him root out the cause of his suffering, human nature and reasoning push us to search for a cause. We often feel compelled to explain away the things that happen to the people around us--cancer diagnoses, natural disasters, accidents, divorce, or the death of a child. If we can pinpoint a reason, then maybe we don't have to think that bad things could happen to us, too. Maybe we can find a way out of this bad thing, and maybe we can find ways to make sure the bad things that happen to someone else can never possibly happen to us.
This person got colon cancer at a young age, so she must have eaten bad things. I won't eat those things, and also I only eat raw, vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade, bío--so I'm safe.
Lung cancer? Had to have come from smoking. I don't smoke, so I'm safe. Even then, if this person just ate this new diet I just started and used this healthy product that I use, then probably they would be cured of their cancer.
Prolonged labor? Have to make sure the marabu removes all the curses before you go into labor, and then there won't be trouble.
Whatever lets us be in control and reassure ourselves that disaster is avoidable.
The patient didn't need her family to find the reason for her difficult labor. She just needed them to hold her hand and witness her suffering and then celebrate with her at the end. To my knowledge, the family never discovered the cause of the prolonged labor, but somehow the new mom managed to push out a live, healthy baby without any further complications.
"His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."