“Having the baby now…No time to get to the hospital…At the tea shop,” hollered the “Grandma” as she ran up the stairs past Iven to retrieve something from her room, looking understandably extremely anxious. We don’t know these neighbors well but have been trying to connect more, especially with the three younger children in their family of five – quickly becoming six – living in the tiny apartment that shares a wall with ours. The oldest of the kids who lives at home was nine months pregnant with her second baby and we had been greeting them with “Has the baby come yet?” for weeks already. I took our own little baby Elian across the street to the sidewalk tea shop where the girl was laboring, in a lawn chair, just behind the tea cart. Her mom was hurriedly pacing back and forth on the street and people were yelling to get the girl in a taxi, while others hollered back, “there’s no time!” I joined the small crowd of women gathered around her, trying not to be in the way, quietly praying and wondering if there was something I could do to help. One of my neighbors and I joked together about how little Elian had come to help encourage the baby that was getting ready to greet the world.
After just a few minutes a motorcycle pulled up with two men on it. Their police radios and first aid bag told me that they were some sort of official “first responders”. We had read a newspaper article recently (actually, on Elian’s due date) about how in Bangkok there is a special division of policemen on motorcycles that are trained and dispatched to deliver babies for women stuck in traffic. The guy they highlighted had just delivered his 42nd baby stuck in traffic. My neighbor, however, didn’t even have time to start fighting the traffic to the hospital – less than a minute after the official looking guys arrived the girl started shrieking in a manner which told all of us that have given birth before that the baby was coming NOW. Most people started shrieking back and the men I had expected to come take control of the situation passed out two pairs of rubber gloves, said repeatedly, “better for the women to do it” and turned to walk the other way. The woman who runs the tea cart looked at me and asked in Thai, “Tam Pben Mai? (Can you do it/Do you know how?)” I totally thought she was joking so I half laughed and responded with, “I don’t know how, but I can pray!!” She and one other girl I don’t know put on the gloves and several of us helped pull off the shorts and underwear of the laboring women, from beneath a sarong that was draped over her lap. The girl’s shrieking made it clear that the baby’s arrival was quite eminent, and though I am sure everyone else there also recognized that nobody did anything. Finally the younger girl with gloves picked up the sarong and sure enough revealed the head of a baby that had already emerged between his mother’s legs. She timidly put her gloved hand under the baby’s head and looked at me with terror, clearly totally overwhelmed. I thought, “this is ridiculous…someone needs to step in.” I turned to a neighbor and asked her to hold Elian, reached my hand out to motion for the tea shop lady’s gloves (who gleefully pulled them off and worked to get them onto my hands instead) and reached down to help guide the baby all the way out of his mama, and into this world. Yes, I was totally overwhelmed myself. Yes, it was very surreal, and yes I was shaking pretty badly. Not to mention my usually pretty OK Thai abilities were completely gone and I couldn’t say ANYTHING. As I held this brand new baby in my hands and wondered what would happen next I suddenly woke up and realized how completely unresponsive he was. Unlike Elian, who came out with a healthy holler just six weeks earlier, this baby boy was blue and limp and unresponsive. So, I started praying, “Jesus, help this baby live. Help this baby breathe. Come on, baby.” Within 30 seconds an ambulance arrived with real EMTs. They gathered around and brought sterile cloths, a suction bulb and equipment to cut the umbilical cord. Less than a minute after the birth, while still praying, I finally began to feel a raspy breath and a heartbeat from the little guy and tried to tell his mama not to be afraid, that I could feel the heart beat and he was breathing. I kept praying and kept my hand on his chest while the EMT people did the medical stuff. His blue skin started turning pink and soon he let out a quiet little squeaky cry – which brought a very audible group exhalation from the 40 or so people who had gathered around us by then. After the cord was cut, I helped move the baby to a table prepared for him and then the coffee shop lady broke through my “crisis haze” and asked, “Where is your baby?” “Huh…my baby…I have a baby…where is my baby?” I thought and started scanning the crowd. I knew I handed him to someone I know but couldn’t for the life of me remember who. It was that moment that Iven called and asked what was happening, “Everything is OK – I caught the baby, I lost ours, but don’t worry, I’ll find him.” “Huh?! You caught the baby? What?” I found Elian across the street, peacefully sleeping in a neighbor’s arms, encircled by a small group of women who were quick to tell me, “You were brave. None of us were brave.” My landlord told me a few days later how surprised she was to hear the news on the street that Izayla’s mom delivered a baby at the tea shop and that people have been stopping by to ask her if the foreigner that lives in her building is a nurse (I’m not!). I debriefed the experience with her and she explained that for the most part Thais are more afraid of doing something wrong than of not doing something – everyone was scared they would harm more than help so nobody was really willing to do anything that might be helpful. It makes for quite a story, and it seems we are now intimately involved in the lives of this family whether they like it or not. We hope for good things to come of it, and I do feel so honored to have been part of this birth on our street. We talk a lot about how life happens “on the street” in our city and neighborhood, but this experience takes it to a whole new level!