My introduction to obstetrics was quite dramatic. I was doing my ob/gyn roration during my clinical years in medical school. I was training in Mexico, assigned to the Hospital de la Mujer (or Woman’s Hospital) in Mexico City. It was a 5-week rotation. Initially, we spent a week just attending lectures on obstetrics: pregnancy, labor, and delivery. But by the second week, we were allowed to follow a resident as he or she attended to women in labor, and by the third week, we were following women in labor, watching the residents perform deliveries. I was itching to deliver a baby myself. I was convinced that I was ready for it, but the rules said we could only watch.
The Hospital de la Mujer was very poor; supplies were scarce and the nurses were obsessive about not wasting anything. Disposable plastic syringes were recycled, needles were sterilized multiple times. The nurses would even sharpen old needles to make them last. We were allowed one pair of gloves daily; between vaginal exams or helping at deliveries, we would wash them with soap and water and then go on to the next patient. The only time we could get a second pair of gloves was if the first pair tore. A few times, I found myself actually helping deliver babies with my bare hands.
One day, as I was walking into the hospital, a woman was yelling as she walked through the front door: “My baby is coming!” I ran to help her and as I approached she lifted her dress and there it was — the baby’s head was out and the rest was definitely coming. I grabbed the head with my hands, the patient’s husband helped her lie back, and, suddenly, I found myself holding a brand new baby, still attached to his umbilical cord and crying in my arms!
For the first several seconds, I was in shock, but as the hospital staff arrived and wrapped the baby in a blanket, a nurse handed me a pair of forceps and scissors and directed me to cut the cord. Wow! I could not believe I had just delivered my first baby! Nobody could wipe the grin off my face that day.
Later that afternoon, I went to the nursery and I could not take my eyes off that beautiful baby boy. I could not believe I had caught him coming into this world with my bare hands! I was ecstatic; it was a feeling I will never forget. All of the other residents seemed to take childbirth for granted — I didn’t. When I felt that baby take his first breath in my arms, it was magical!
The mother promised me that they would name the baby after me; a week later I was invited to the baptism of Jorge Augusto. It was a scary event, but one of the best experiences of my life.
I absolutely loved my five weeks in obstetrics; by the end of my rotation, I had delivered 15 babies by myself, and enjoyed every single one of them. The anticipation and excitement of a new life coming into the world is something I have loved throughout my career. But that first baby will always have a very special place in my heart. And no, I did not become an obstetrician; I became a neonatologist, practiced for 38 years, and retired. But I still remember the excitement of that first catch!
Dr. Rojas is a retired neonatologist. He attended medical school in Mexico and completed a pediatrics residency at the University of Texas in San Antonio. He studied neonatology at Vanderbilt University and practiced for 38 years before retiring.
Illustration by April Brust