I got a text message from my mother at 1am the other day saying she just made it back to the health center after delivering a baby. The patient was giving birth at home so there were no hospital equipment, no doctors and nurses; just a midwife’s kit and probably a horde of curious relatives and neighbors. She had a scheduled immunization later that day and was expecting more than 100 babies to vaccinate plus about 70 pregnant women for prenatal checkup.
My mother has been working as a midwife in Sarangani Province for the past three decades. She currently covers two rural barangays and commutes daily for two hours from our house in Gensan to the health center. Although still tough, her current assignment is actually a big improvement already.
In her previous station which lasted for nearly 20 years, she had to cover three barangays in the bandit-infested, mountainous areas of the province. The health center was so remote you have to literally cross 13 rivers to get there. The area had no electricity until the late ‘90s and still has no running water until now.
For the longest time, the only modes of transportation were horses, which were hard to come by, and cargo trucks fully loaded with sacks of grain. The passengers would have to ride on top and hold onto ropes that keep the sacks in place so as not to get thrown off the truck. The vehicle tends to lurch from side to side as it travels through rough roads and muddy rivers.
Years later, transport development came in the form of the habal-habal or motorcycle. The local government built roads on the mountainside so vehicles would only have to cross one river instead of 13. With the old route, you fall off the truck and go on a wild river ride without a boat. With the new route, you get thrown off the habal-habal and fall to your death 200 meters below.
My mother rode on horses, cargo trucks and motorcycles, and even took four-hour hikes just to get to the health center on rainy days. Roads became impassable to even the toughest of vehicles during heavy rains so the only way to go was on foot. Just enduring this hell of a transportation system for so many years was already heroic enough as it is.
Apart from delivering and vaccinating babies, and checking up on pregnant women, she is also expected to provide a cure to all sorts of diseases, from diarrhea to tuberculosis; convince people about the importance of having proper toilets; and teach couples about contraceptives and family planning. (Yes, anti-RH bill people, my mother has been giving out condoms and pills for decades and she has saved more lives than your hollow “pro-life” rhetoric could ever hope to do. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.)
Her role in the community extends far beyond providing health services. She also serves as godmother to baptisms, principal sponsor a.k.a. ninang to countless weddings, counselor on family problems, mediator during neighborhood quarrels, and judge in local beauty pageants. At some point, people even asked her to run for barangay captain and she would’ve easily won but politics wasn’t her thing.
Like any other rank and file government employee, she receives a measly salary and will only get a modest pension when she retires. She has just formally filed for retirement and is now on her last year of service. While she looks forward to a less strenuous life, her dilemma is “What am I going to do in retirement?”
She has been a midwife for most of her life and while she frequently complains about being tired and stressed out, she also often says that it is a most rewarding profession. The gratitude of the community and knowing that she is truly of service to people make all these efforts worth it. When politicians blabber about serving the people, they sound tacky and disingenuous no matter how sincere they try to sound. But when my mother talks about public service, she’s effortless at making it sound heartfelt and real. In fact, she hardly ever talks about it; she just goes right on doing it.
After her exhausting baby delivery/immunization day, she texted me again to say that she’s finally on her way home and couldn’t wait to get some sleep. She has a door-to-door measles vaccination campaign in a few days and another pregnant mother is about to give birth within the next two weeks.