Birth, life, love and Robin Lim

The Inbox

Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files

BAGUIO CITY—Midwife Robin Lim, 2011 CCN Hero of the Year, once ran into an obstetrician. They compared how many babies they had delivered that day. Both helped birth three each. Lim asked the doctor, "Do you know the mothers' names?"

Taken aback, the doctor couldn't recall his patients' names and admitted to never bothering to know, part of the detachment his practice requires. Lim recited the names of women she had helped deliver their babies.f She had known them well since they went to her for prenatal checkups.

The doctor cried all night. His wife rang Lim, founder of Yayasan Ibu Bumi Sehat (or Healthy Mother Earth Foundation) that encourages natural birth, including those that take place in water in Bali, Indonesia, to ask, "What have you done to him?" That moment with Lim served as the doctor's epiphany when he questioned his profession.

At a time when 918 women die yearly worldwide from childbirth or complications resulting from it, Lim finds the situation scandalous with the US investing heavily on childbirth technology and landing a man on the moon at the cost of billions of dollars.

The CNN honor made hers a popular voice. She said it was a human rights issue that "these women are being struck down at the prime of their lives."

A protocol she wants hospitals to allow is to wait for a few minutes so the infant's umbilical cord and the placenta can fall off naturally. This also keeps the mother from bleeding too much.

She said science has shown that it takes years for a child to reach optimum health if the cord rich in nutrients is cut too soon. A proponent of prolonged breastfeeding of up to four to five years, she said giving mother's milk is "a gift to them that you can never get back."

She cited Albert Einstein, also born at home and still taking a snack at his mother's breast till age 10.

She asked individuals and organizations to "communicate, cooperate to find real solutions that the government can back up so we don't need to lose people needlessly." Her work empowers women to own their bodies so "they can have the lives they were meant to live."

She has met prostituted women who get pregnant and whose "bosses" compel them to give up and sell their babies for. "It's the most tragic thing," this advocate against human trafficking said.

Lim met a poor young girl who became a prostitute to raise money for her mother's cancer treatment. The mother died, but the girl couldn't get out of the cycle of prostitution.

Lim said. "If you know how love can save lives, ask a midwife. I teach midwifes to practice with love, to look into another's eyes to say, 'I love you.'"

She called her sister midwives "the first line of defense like our lolas, a combination of hilot and medical practitioner."  She described herself as being "pro-women, pro-baby, pro-child, pro-family."

In a high-risk situation, she has seen how a newborn given up for dead is resuscitated when the room fills up with midwives and relatives prodding the child with declarations of love.

A mother of eight, she manages to "chase the genie"  (her term) to put words on paper and produce books of poetry, fiction (Butterfly People) and non-fiction. Coming soon is a workbook on natural family planning to promote a lifestyle of non-violence to be published by Anvil.

She said when mothers give birth at her clinic, she sees butterflies flitting in and out. Her grandmother Vicenta Munar Lim taught her that these creatures may be fragile but they can fly. She said since then she has become "jealous of them" and saved their wings when she found dead ones.

They became her personal emblem. She explained that a butterfly begins as a crawling worm that later goes into a coffin, surviving sun and rain. One day it opens and out flies a thing of beauty. She said the human soul is similar.

Her friend writer Edgardo Maranan introduced her to a crowd at Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Casa Vallejo in this city, saying when CNN announced Lim as a hero, many countries rushed to claim her as theirs, including the US and Indonesia, but, he added, "To us she is a Baguio girl."

Lim took nine months of non-stop writing to finish Butterfly People, likening the process to a baby's gestation in a mother's womb. It took nine more years to find a publisher.

Maranan was the first to read the manuscript that covers six generations with action moving in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Hawaii. He recommended this thinly disguised biography of Lim's family in northern Philippines  to Anvil Publishing.

She said her being Filipino by blood makes her a magical realist storyteller, adding, "It's so Pinay to exaggerate."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")