“Midwives of today need to take more care and precaution and listen to their patients; listen to your patients and do what you are trained to do, and do right by your patients.”
By Sharmain Grainger
A woman, said to be well along with her pregnancy, is rushed out from the Berbice River to the New Amsterdam Hospital. She is bleeding and requires a transfusion. She remains admitted at the hospital, but a few days later goes into labour. She is taken to the delivery room to give birth. But a baby never comes. Instead, a sack of flesh-like white balls the size of grapes is pushed from the woman’s birth canal rather than a foetus. The midwife and other nurses on duty are near horrified, but do not show it.
It’s astonishing because the woman had a normal pregnancy complete with a regular heartbeat. But back in the day there were no ultrasound machines to see how the baby was growing and if there was any deformity. The woman was discharged, but her delivered sack became a classroom study. It was deduced that the entire pregnancy was a medical anomaly.
Yet another medical anomaly at the New Amsterdam Hospital back in the day was the birth of a baby with an exposed heart. The tiny baby simply didn’t have a chance at survival and only lived a short while after.
These are but a few of the strange but captivating delivery stories shared by Ms. Ann Pamella Mentore, who was the midwife catering to the foregoing cases.
In fact, she has been a midwife for more than 30 years, rendering her skills in both the public and private sectors. Over the years of her career, she has helped to deliver hundreds of babies, and although some of the cases were troubling medical anomalies, she was never fazed by the noble profession.
She claims she was naturally drawn to the profession and couldn’t have imagined enduring another for so many years.
Although she was born in Rose Hall, East Canje, Berbice, on December 9, 1948 to parents Abraham Henry and Princess Cort, it was Mentore’s grandparents [Katherine Dotson and William Cort] who raised her.
Mentore remembers growing up with her only sibling [a brother] amidst stringent farming activities, as this was her grandparents’ main source of income. Although she was allowed to indulge in a bit of farming herself, education was a priority. She attended Betsy Ground Lutheran School, a primary level school. There she was able to participate in the College of Preceptors examination and secured five subjects.
The next phase of Mentore’s life should have seen her attending a secondary school on the Corentyne, but because of limited finances at the family’s disposal, this did not materialise. Instead, she was required to find a job so that she too could contribute to the family’s income. She was barely able to secure a few domestic jobs, but knew to herself this couldn’t have been her destiny.
She eventually was able to supplement her income by starting a nursery school of her own, but prayed fervently to the Creator to help her find her intended calling. At the time she was just about 16 years old. “I prayed to God; I said I would like to have a good profession that is always in demand,” recalled Mentore.
As fate would have it, she was tasked with doing some domestic chores at a Medex’s home, and it was there that she was informed about a vacancy for a Nurse Aid at the Guyana Sugar Corporation [GuySuCo]. She rushed to fill the vacancy and commenced work in this regard in 1969 and continued until 1974. She however left, vowing to return to GuySuCo as a more qualified health worker.
It was at this juncture of her life that she decided to embark on the midwifery programme. She commenced training at the New Amsterdam School of Nursing in a batch of about 20 individuals in 1974 and by December of 1976, she was writing her final exams.
January of the following year she was inducted into the public health system and was well on her way to becoming a full-fledged midwife at the age of 29.
She was almost immediately thrust into the delivery arena and, according to her, “I wasn’t intimidated at all.”
“I don’t know, maybe it was because those were normal deliveries [I had to face] but when I started, I was prepared for everything that I had to deal with as a young midwife,” Mentore reflected. She however noted that the support of the senior nurses was very instrumental in helping her to fully embrace and appreciate the profession.
“Becoming a midwife was so satisfactory to me, and I was so pleased about this profession; a profession that allowed me to not only help to bring forth generation after generation into the world, but also in caring the mother during the antenatal period to go through normal delivery. If there was a complication you were in a position to notice it early sometimes and refer them to get the necessary help; this really helped to save lives,” Mentore related.
“Right now I am seeing grands from the deliveries that I did,” said Mentore, as she recalled that over the course of her career in the health sector she not only worked in New Amsterdam, but Saint Lust on the Berbice River, Port Mourant, Georgetown, Long Creek and the Canje District. At one point she was tasked with giving her service by doing community visits.
It was while practicing her profession that she would find her true love. Mentore recalled that as a midwife working out of areas in Berbice, there were occasions that she was required to travel to Georgetown for continuous training. It was during one of these trips that a family friend decided to introduce her to a police officer by the name of Rodwell Mentore, who she immediately took a liking to. The feelings were mutual. However, she insists that it was an accidental encounter that turned out to be well suited for her life.
The two tied the ‘blissful knot’ in 1982, a union that produced one daughter, Vanetta.
Having her daughter at the age of 35 is among the intriguing stories of Mentore’s life. It might have been a bit late in her life to give birth to her first child, and she would have heard all sorts of disparaging tales, but, according to Mentore, hers was perhaps among the easiest she’d ever seen.
“My pregnancy was normal. I remember delivering a patient two days before I delivered, and one patient was telling me I mustn’t ‘sorry’ for mothers in labour or my delivery would be hard…I didn’t believe in things like that,” Mentore asserted. She remembers going to work peacefully one morning and going into labour soon after and three hours later her newborn was in her arms.
Mentore and her family initially resided at Mocha, East Bank Demerara, and later moved to Parfait Harmonie on the West Bank of Demerara.
She eventually decided to fulfil a promise which saw her leaving the public health sector in 1990 and returning to where her health career started – GuySuCo. This time, because of her location, she was stationed at the Wales Estate, and added even more deliveries to her name, up until her retirement in 2009.
Even as she sought to make a comparison between the period when she was an active midwife and what obtains today, Mentore said that she has observed some tremendous changes. She noted that while technology has allowed for many things to improve so that patients can now be easily monitored, too many persons seem to be a lax in the care department.
“We had many serious cases back in the day with patients fitting, we called them the eclamptic patients, but even though we had to deal with that, we never had a maternal death…I always question why all the maternal deaths now, because we had many similar cases and we saw our patients through,” Mentore stated.
She shared her observation that some midwives of today embrace the idea that they could discern when a patient is or isn’t in labour simply by glancing at them.
“We simply couldn’t do that back in my day. We had a very strict Sister [nurse in charge] and once a patient says she is in labour, we had to take that patient into the labour room and examine her,” related Mentore, as she added “observation was always very important to us, but today some nurses just don’t pay attention at all.” This, she believes, might have been the root cause for the loss of several patients over the years, although there are some situations that are simply unavoidable.
According to Mentore, “I think the system now has some personality issues. Yes, we had some wayward patients, but we had to talk to them, we had to give them advice…respectfully, and they eventually heeded to you”.
Respect, Mentore noted, was also forthcoming to the doctors whom she had to work with. “Our ward was always in order when the doctor came. We had proper history of the patients and that is important if a patient is to be cared for properly,” Mentore stressed.
She said that patients were treated with dignity, regardless of where they came from, and even if they walked in from the streets for delivery with merely the clothes on their backs.
“We had to deliver them and take care of them. We always had to be proactive,” Mentore underscored. She is convinced that “Midwives of today need to take more care and precaution and listen to their patients; listen to your patients and do what you are trained to do, and do right by your patients”.
And so it is for her years of devotion to a noble profession that we commend Mrs. Mentore by bestowing her with the title of our ‘Special Person’ on a day dedicated to mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers!
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