Student remains at hospital to witness Navajo birth

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Joanna Rasband stands next to Navajo artwork in a hospital.

After a long day at the hospital, all of the other nursing students from the Public and Global health group had left, but Joanna Rasband decided to stay and participate in a Navajo woman’s natural birth to a nine-pound baby without an epidural.

Rasband started her day at 7 a.m. at a hospital in Arizona. She immediately got to work helping a pregnant Navajo woman who had come to the hospital about an hour earlier. Rasband had intended to leave with her group at 3 p.m., but decided to stay, believing the baby would soon come.

“I just wanted to see how it concluded,” Rasband said. “It was the first time I had seen a natural birth…If the baby had been any smaller, it would have come around 4 -5 in the afternoon.”

Rasband didn’t leave the hospital until around 9 p.m. She said no one believed how big the baby was because the mother was small. Had they known its size, they would have performed a cesarean section.

Throughout the birth, the young, reserved mother struggled for a long time with pain and exhaustion because she refused any type of drugs. (The Navajo culture doesn’t typically approve of epidurals.) “She was so tired and she was crying,” Rasband said. “It was so sad.” With such a long, tiring day, Rasband ached to sit down and relax her sore feet, but there was more work to be done.

“The mom was kind of giving up and didn’t really want to try anymore, so a new nurse came in and she and the nurse midwife gave her this pep talk,” Rasband said. “They told her that she had to try a little harder, and about a half-hour later the baby was finally born.”

After discovering the baby to be a girl (no one knew its gender beforehand,) everyone cheered and started laughing. “It was so sweet to watch the mom when she got her baby because she was laughing too—even though she was exhausted,” Rasband said. “She just acted like we weren’t there and talked to her baby way more than I had heard her talk the entire time. It was the first time I saw her smile for real.”

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Public and Global Health students learn about Navajo culture. Joanna Rasband pictured at left.

Rasband learned from her experience that she likes the environment of smaller hospitals. She appreciated how the nurses treated the pregnant mother. They focused on giving the new mother the kind of experience she wanted without time constraints. “I can handle stress from a patient,” she said, “but I would rather work in a small hospital because I don’t like working under stress from paperwork and administration.”

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