Today I watched a child kiss her pregnant mother goodbye on the stomach. Children are that important in Peru.
Being a naturalist means doubling as a midwife in the Amazon, as Richard Fowler has found on five occasions. Probing the deepest Amazon he is legend in backwater villages as the Lone Ranger midwife where there is no medical facility.
A few days ago, I met the grinning 6-year old godson whom his mother, Lilla, claims has never had a sick day, compared to the siblings with a gauntlet of gripe, malaria, hepatitis and other ailments as common in Amazonia as chickenpox and measles are to American kids. Her smile was as wide as her child´s as she hugged Richard with great might.
It was 3-degrees south of the equator, 100 km off the tourist grid up the Ampiyacu River where few outsiders venture. Richard was tapped from a deep sleep by scared and panicky villagers of Lilla, a young widow of the chief´s son from Pucarquillo another 100 km downriver. It was a surprise as the baby wasn’t expected for another month.
She was stepping off the platform of the hut when he arrived, and grabbed the edge, assuming a squatting position, as is the natural way for a bush birth. No screams, no grimaces, ´Just inhale and exhale,’ he told her, and put a towel in the drop zone. He instructed the father into a quarterback position who caught the 3kg baby boy named Jason.
Fowler´s first delivery was in Vietnam as he led his 101st Airborne squad in a search and destroy foray into a tiny village where the Viet Cong couldn´t be distinguished from the natives. A stunned lady fell to the ground in labor.
´We´ve done enough bad today, Now let´s do some good,´ The point man boiled rags, the gunner found gloves, and the lady gasped in the first pang of birth. He caught the baby like Yogi Berra, and handed it to the radio man to hold. The woman started to rise, and he pressed her down gently gesturing, ´Wait for the placenta.´ It passed.
He waited for the umbilicus to turn from blue to white, and then sliced it with a one-foot hunting knife that he carries to this day for such occasions. He pressed the baby to its mother´s chest, smiles all around, and wagged his finger at her, ´Don´t name him Charlie.´
Since that first delivery the Amazon midwife has caught four others leaving behind only a white umbilicus.