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Amen

August 23, 2017

A girl at her first birth. Her body tells me before words. The story emerges afterward piece by piece like a placenta that does not emerge whole from the womb. High blood pressure at one exam, normal at the next, signaling above all else a terrible anxiety. Yonas says, "There's much pressure down there, her pelvis is narrow". Several hours later I examine it. Her pelvis is wide, these bones can deliver even a giant baby. But the soft tissue, the muscles, the ligaments and fascia constrict around my finger. The legs close, the pupils roll, the body retreats, she becomes dissociated.

Girls, one limping with a stick, another blind, and nuns, worried, come and go. They explain to me that she is from here, from the nearby orphanage. Both her parents died of AIDS when she was two months old. Her medical record notes that she is HIV positive.

I am texting with Rachel, the founder of the birth center who is at the moment in the USA, taking part in demonstrations against the neo-Nazis who have invaded the city where she lives with a black partner and a girl, half Jewish, half black. I say I suspect there is rape behind this, and that it is a girl from the nearby orphanage. "Oh, Masi?" – Rachel is sorry to confirm that I am right. Tells me how she tried to conceal the pregnancy from the nuns. She tried to conceal the contractions as well.

The birth is not actually progressing. When her friends come I ask them to play some music, and ask Masi to sit on the birthing ball and shake her pelvis. It is great to see her laughing for a moment. My pleading that she take deep breaths is of no avail until I suggest a contest: Who can exhale longest? But the smile quickly vanishes                    .

At noon of the second day I invite Masi to join me for a walk. During the contractions she leans on me and in between tells me about herself, about life in the orphanage. About the rape. The director of the orphanage and all those surrounding her say she cannot give birth.

I consult by WhatsApp with Rachel and Christine. If we transfer her to the government hospital she will be given Pitocin. For better or worse, most women in developing countries have no access to an epidural. We decide to administer a little Pitocin at the birth center. The pain takes control of Masi. She does not want this pain and does not want this child. Abortion is illegal in Uganda. I learn that when she came here for her first prenatal exam she begged us to help her abort. According to Trump's promise regarding Roe V Wade, abortion might revert to being illegal in the USA as well.

I recall how when I was here seven years ago a pregnant girl turned up, and the midwife sat and frightened her: how dangerous it is to abort illegally. In order to convince her she told of a girl she once took care of, whose womb emerged using sticks, piece by piece. The girl from the story died of infection, and of being in the hospital for a week with fever and they did not know what she had, they did not even know it was a gynecological issue. The midwife then provided the girl with advice – how to conceal the pregnancy. Not to reveal that she has nausea, to eat everything as usual. To wear wide clothes. So that she be permitted to sit for her exams and not be thrown out of school. 

Masi is crying. Screaming and crying. I try touching, try reaching out to her so she might clutch my hand. Try to singing to her try crying along with her. Nothing, Masi is sunk within a chamber of torture with no skylight. Evening comes. It is the new moon of Elul yet the gates of prayer and of mercy are sealed. Nothing can get through to her.

A teacher from the orphanage tells me she once had a cesarean section. "It's better for Masi to have that pain now rather than suffer three months of it. And besides, after the operation she will need lots of support and I am afraid that in her case she won't have too much help".

Christine is on the phone with the director of the orphanage. She then reports that there is no support and no faith. Masi is surrounded on all sides by despair. We agree that she will not be able to give birth this way and decide to transfer her to the hospital, along with another birthing woman.

 

One of the nuns comes along with us and explains to me that Masi will not be able to remain at the orphanage after the birth. "It would set a bad example for the other girls if one who became pregnant were allowed to remain". For Masi, giving birth means losing her home. No wonder she remained trapped in the pain of contractions for three days without giving birth. The nun says she has a grandmother, but the grandmother crawls very low down, she has no arms or legs. She has an older married sister. I ask if the sister might take in Masi, or perhaps the baby, but she says the husband will not consent.

In the hospital on the floor the corridors are crammed with pregnant women and birthing women and women with babies all the way to the horizon. I recall stories I have heard about mortality due to negligence within the hospital and ask the two women to go back inside the ambulance for a moment. I want to verify that the fetal pulse and all other measures are all right and that it is OK for them to await their turn. All hearts are beating in a life-heralding rhythm.

In the ambulance on our way back I know that we cannot stop at establishing one land of women's healing, in Israel. After all, Masi represents the majority of the world's women, who to some degree lack sovereignty over their own body. Even in Israel one location will not suffice. I find myself thinking an insane thought: that the Ohela NPO shall establish one land of healing, and then another, and another. I must truly be insane. But the women's holocaust is even more insane. The fact that such a place does not yet exist, that such places do not exist, is more insane. So we shall establish them in Israel and in Africa and… It is now the new moon of Elul, and at the new moon of Shevat, just five months from now, the part of this journey will begin when every day there will be a fundraising event in a different location. At 2 AM Masi is taken into the operating room. The reason: 'Lack of co-operation".

We travel back in the direction of the Sudan border, crossed every day by thousands of refugees. My eyes are glued to the dark window and I imagine myself composing a poem to helplessness. In praise of helplessness. In praise of the understanding that Masi is not the last girl I will not be able to reach. In praise of the guilt for the privilege I had of undergoing rape in a developed country. In praise of the understanding that continually there are women whose rape does not stop until the day they die. Because they were taken captive and there was no one to redeem them. Or because they took their own lives in the midst of nightmares. In praise of the understanding that that I am nothing, a mere speck inside the inferno, that even when we have a land of women's healing there will be someone without a support framework and with no one to have faith in her and we will have no one with whom to work and we shall need to transfer them to the hospital, with full knowledge that care there will involve violence and that sometimes violence prevails. Sometimes there will be women who will go back to work in prostitution and to an abusing husband, and there will be those who die needlessly from an overdose because in one particular conversation we will fail to say the correct redemptive words. And those who will take their own lives and will not know how to consent that we lend them a hand.

A poem of praise and tribute to the helplessness from which I arise kicking and enraged and prepared to storm ahead against the self-doubt, the shyness, the laziness – how will I raise millions? And I do not feel like exposing myself, and it is discomfiting to make a short clip, and I do not want to be interviewed. In praise of the helplessness from which I arise prepared to storm ahead toward the very very little that is within my power, within our power, to achieve. The barest minimum: AMEN.

 

 

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