We pull into the primary hospital serving Madang, a province of a half million people, and the dirt parking lot is empty. Though the hospital is not short on patients, most visitors travel by foot or bus. My modern assumptions about healthcare are mocked as we begin our walk to the maternity ward - the entire hospital is built around outdoor pathways covered haphazardly in various metals. Along the paths are mismatched bedding and towels, the hospital’s laundry clasped to clothespins hanging out to dry. A man wearing no uniform - only his latex gloves identify him as a hospital worker - carries a large yellow bucket to an open sewer canal that perimeters each ward. He stops and overturns the bucket, vulgar-colored fluids spill into the canal only a couple feet away from the entrance to labor and delivery. We pause momentarily before crossing over the sewage and into see the mommas. The door is left ajar, light and insects enter the room as we do. There are 30 metal beds, stacked two feet apart, each with a thin plastic mattress housing a momma, her newborn, and a watch person. Those admitted to the hospital receive minimal care. The nearby mess hall serves only one thing - rice and tin fish. If a patient is fed beyond that, it is thanks to a watch person, often a family member, who commits to visiting daily. Often that person traveled with the patient and while the patient is treated in the bed, the watch person sleeps on the cement floor directly underneath.
Today the room is full. Mommas are curled up on their sides, baby still latched to nurse, both asleep. Only the babies in neonatal care are given bassinets. Co-sleeping is expected. My heart swells as I consider my co-sleeping years with both my daughters, a practice often shamed in America.
We begin making our rounds. Sharon, my guide, has been given full access to the ward. Several months ago Sharon came to this hospital to visit a national who delivered here. During that visit Sharon was overwhelmed by the need for baby items as the mommas and the hospital have nothing to offer the newborns. Sharon started by teaching herself to crochet a baby hat. She then taught her village momma, and together they made hats. Word spread and Sharon recruited friends from the States to send baby hats, blankets, and money for formula. Since then Sharon has also realized additional needs including underwear and food for the mommas. It was her genuine heart and generosity that prompted the nurses to allow Sharon complete access to the ward.
The native Sharon first visited here has since lost her baby to heart failure. Baby Joni, as she is called, is still very much alive in this place. When Sharon distributes the hats and blankets, she tells the mommas, “Someone in America made this for a Papua New Guinea baby. God loves you.” When she gives the mommas food, she tells them, “Please eat this, it will help you produce milk so you can feed your baby.” Lately she’s been giving each momma a brand new pair of underwear and a bar of soap, a recommendation by the postpartum nurse. “Sharon, what you are doing for the babies is very wonderful. Thank you. But what these mommas need is something to make them feel like a woman.” I’m humbled remembering the weeks before I delivered my first baby. I packed my hospital bag with a brand new nightgown that would allow me to nurse and still feel pretty.
I never met her but I am so grateful to Baby Joni. Her legacy here is tangible. As I walk between the rows of beds, my prayer is that these precious babies and mommas feel the love of God in these small gifts. My prayer continues, that one day these beautiful mommas and their beautiful babies will come to know Jesus as Baby Joni now knows Jesus - as their Papa God for eternity.
Jesus said: "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven." Matthew 18:10
Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19