“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 imminent, and though I am sure everyone else there also recognized this, 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.