Hopefully you’ve read all my previous posts and are up-to-speed with where I am on my Philippines expat journey. If not, I suggest you take a few minutes to discover what the inspiration was for this blog and also why I immigrated to the Philippines in the first place.
[Check out my first post: The Dawn of a New Era]
My posts going forward aren’t going to be in chronological order, but will instead be a mish-mash of my expat adventures here in the Philippines. I’ll publish stuff that I think you’ll enjoy reading, but obviously I can only write about my personal experiences. I’m not going to start making up bullshit, so you can be sure that everything you read on this blog is genuine and experienced by me personally.
Anyway, those of you who have ‘liked’ my Facebook page (thanks, by the way) will know that today’s post isn’t going to be one that will make you smirk, chuckle or laugh out loud – well it might I guess if you’re a rather sick individual, but the majority of you won’t.
That’s because I’m going to tell you about the most difficult situation that I’ve had to deal with since becoming an expat in the Philippines. Actually no, it’s probably the most distressing experience I’ve had in my life to-date and it only happened last year.
Being a Catholic country, the Philippines frowns upon contraception and abortion is abhorred. Therefore, it’s not unusual for families to have lots of children. My wife, for example, is one of eight kids and my step-mother is one of 10.
Amazingly, however, a quick Google search reveals that the population of the Philippines (officially) is only 101 million. I personally don’t think that figure is very accurate because any population censuses that are carried out definitely don’t take into account all the families who live up the mountains or on the most remote islands.
Basically, women get pregnant with alarming regularity, even if their circumstances mean that they probably shouldn’t.
Therefore, it came as no surprise when my wife’s brother’s girlfriend Myra – who was 17 at the time – became pregnant back in 2013. Neither of them had stable jobs, any savings and they certainly weren’t in a position to have a baby. Here, however, that doesn’t seem to faze them.
What you need to realise is that any time you go to a hospital here you have to pay. Whether it’s a small wound that needs dressing or a more serious fracture, like I had, you won’t get treated unless you can settle the bill. The same goes for giving birth.
Myra had a normal pregnancy. The only thing I will say is that her belly was absolutely huge.
I’ll never forget the night she went into labour as long as I live.
At the time, my wife and I were living at her parents’ house as we were in the process of securing our own house. I’d been drinking that afternoon with my father-in-law and fell asleep pretty early – maybe around 10pm. I wasn’t super pissed by any means, but an afternoon of eating and drinking had taken its toll.
I was awoken by my wife just after midnight. I thought I’d been asleep a LOT longer, but apparently I hadn’t. She told me that Myra had been rushed to hospital and they thought the baby was coming. In my groggy state the reality took a while to hit me. After all, a few hours earlier we’d all been enjoying ourselves and I actually had no idea that Myra was that far gone.
The reason they’d woken me is because there was a problem. Something was wrong with Myra or the baby and the hospital wouldn’t lift a finger without seeing some money first. They had enough for the birth, but no extra for the ‘complications’ that had arisen.
My wife asked if I could get some money from my ATM, so they could at least get the hospital to do something about Myra’s situation.
I jumped out of bed, got on my motorbike and rushed to the ATM. The others caught a tricycle (the most common mode of transport here) directly to the hospital.
Now, the problem where we live is that there are only two ATMs and very often they’re ‘offline’, meaning you can’t get any cash from them. Luckily, the first one I went to gave me some cash.
When I arrived at the hospital I was greeted by my wife. The mood was solemn, nobody was talking and I couldn’t get any information from anyone. You see, when confronted with anyone who is deemed to be in a position of authority, like a doctor, lawyer or police officer, Filipinos fear asking for information.
I, on the other hand, hate not knowing what’s going on and I’ll harass anyone just to get a tiny bit of info. Also, those of you who’ve known me for a long time will know that I speak my mind and that’s the case no matter who I’m talking with.
After a short discussion, I was taken to the room where Myra was in labour, but told to wait outside. The door was open and I’ll never forget the screams she was letting out.
Then, after what seemed like just a few minutes, I heard a baby cry. The relief that came over me was immense and the fact that her ordeal was over meant that we’d soon all be going home together. Or so I thought…
A few minutes later a nurse came out of the room and I asked if everything was okay. “The baby’s dead”, she said. But Jaquilene’s mother (my mother-in-law) and I both heard it cry from outside the room. How can it be dead!?
They said it died during birth as it was starved of oxygen, but I immediately started ranting because I’d heard it f*****g cry! “No, there was no crying, sir” she told us.
How can you begin to argue with someone about whether you heard a baby cry when they’re stood in front of you holding said baby, lifeless in their arms!? Plus, words failed me.
At the time I didn’t realise that the rest of the medical team were frantically pumping Myra’s chest as she’d stopped breathing too. Somehow, they managed to revive her.
Then what followed was a situation that I, being a westerner, was simply not prepared for. The nurse asked if we were going to take the baby home then and there (it was now the early morning). I couldn’t comprehend that it was that matter-of-fact.
My mother-in-law took the baby from the nurse and asked me if I’d take them home. Of course I would, but it just seemed far too surreal that I was about to ride my motorbike home with my mother-in-law sat behind me holding a dead newborn baby.
I drove more cautiously than I ever have. Slowing down for every speed bump and taking every corner with careful precision.
When we arrived at the house is when the reality of the entire situation really hit me. Here we were carrying a dead newborn baby. What should have been a joyous occasion was instead the most sombre I’ve ever seen. Everyone was crying and the mourning began immediately.
They laid the baby (John) down on Myra’s bed and placed a candle near his head. As is tradition here, he couldn’t be left alone even for a minute. We took it in turns to wait by his side for the next 36 hours.
As I looked at him lying there, I couldn’t believe how peaceful he looked. It was as if he was just sleeping. What struck me most was how cold he was. Here we were in the Philippines, where I’m usually sweating the whole time, and he was icy to the touch.
The next morning, which was only like five hours away, saw them start making a homemade coffin. Seeing that tiny box being constructed was the thing that upset me the most. I think it’s because while he was lying there my brain had convinced itself that he was just sleeping. The small coffin changed that.
He was buried the following day in a tiny concrete box atop the tomb of their grandmother. Myra returned home when she was well enough and life returned to normal.
The whole ordeal for me was harrowing, but put things into perspective. Often, in the western world, we are shielded from the cruelty that life can bring. It’s not that there are no tragedies, but it’s that situations are ultimately handled very differently.
Sometimes you need to witness harsh situations like that to make you appreciate the good things in life. Furthermore, even though we’d heard the baby cry, there was no recourse we could take. No autopsies, no enquiries, nothing.
Below is a picture of John that I took the morning we came back from the hospital with him. It’s pretty macabre but his peaceful appearance makes the photo definitely viewable.
As always, sharing is caring guys. Social media buttons are below. Seeing that people appreciate my posts keeps me going and a big thanks to all those who have commented in the past.
Stay safe x