Motherbaby Placenta: State of Emergency
by Robin Lim

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article which appears in Midwifery Today, Issue 109, Spring 2014. View other great articles and columns in the table of contents. To read the rest of this article, order your copy of Midwifery Today, Issue 109.]

It is the season in which we celebrate birth, yet I cannot sing one Christmas carol. If I try, I risk that the dam I have built to hold back the tears unshed will break, and I will cry a deluge.

“So why, Ibu Robin (grandma, lola, midwife, alleged ‘hero’), don’t you have the courage to cry?”

To be honest, I am afraid that if I let slip one tear, I will drown. You see, I have been in and out and into the Philippine disaster zones. I have seen the bodies, of those who still had decades of beauty left to live, lying by the roadside due to the biggest storm ever in our human history to make landfall. Typhoon Haiyan, known to Filipinos as Yolanda, was the grimmest of reapers. In the aftermath she has left 14.9 million people affected; 4.1 million people displaced; 5632 confirmed dead; 1759 reported missing; 26,000 reported injured and uncounted millions homeless. Those “counted” dead must have registered death certificates. Every pregnant woman I meet whose husband and children were killed has not registered them. The grandparents who lost their six grandchildren and daughter buried them in a small space they cleared by their devastated home because they did not wish to place their loved ones in a mass grave. Only four of the seven lost are accounted for, but the grandparents will not report their dead for fear of being punished for burying them on sacred family ground.

As I am told these and many stories, my eyes remain dry as stone. I am afraid that if I begin to cry, my team will fall apart. I fear that Teresa, Lucibelle, Tina, Jun, Riko and I will no longer be able to find the pregnant and lactating mothers, their children and the remains of their families’ food. How, if we break down, will we buy a thousand tarps to provide a little shelter from the rain? When a young homeless father is asked, “What do you need?” He says, “Only a bolo knife. I have the rubbish of my house and with that one tool I can make something from this corrugated tin scrap and broken bamboo to shelter my children. Their mother has died; they need to stay dry.” We can deliver the long bolo knives, the buckets to catch rain, the hygiene kits and some food, but we must not begin to cry. And the songs sing, “Soon it will be Christmas day.”

Robin Lim was born in 1956 when a Filipino-Chinese woman married a German-Irish-Native American man. They built a bridge of love across cultures at a time when the world was not nearly ready to accept the changes that love would bring. Robin now lives in Indonesia where she is called “Ibu Robin” (Mother Robin). Lim is a certified professional midwife with the North American Registry of Midwives and Ikatan Bidan Indonesia. She devotes her life to Yayasan Bumi Sehat, a not-for-profit organization with clinics in Bali and Aceh. In 2006 Ibu Robin received the Alexander Langer Peace Award in Italy. In 2011 Lim was named CNN Hero of the Year for her work in maternal and child health in Indonesia and disaster zones. Currently Lim and the Bumi/Wadah Foundation have adopted full responsibility for the Medical Relief and Childbirth Camp in Dulag, the heart of the Philippine Disaster zone, where an average of 40 to 60 patients are seen per day and two to seven babies are born in the tent each night.

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