Blood On My Hands

This is a spoken word piece I wrote after my work in Guatemala, which you can read about here.

five hours ago

a 15-year-old

came to the clinic

ready to deliver.

but it’s saturday night in this little village

and our only nurse has gone home to the city.

there’s no doctor, no staff– just my 5 volunteers

and the closest hospital is a four-hour drive from here.

not that it matters, because she wouldn’t go;

as a mayan descendant, her tribal tendencies will get her no

fair treatment, respect– she’ll be abused and neglected.

and she doesn’t want to go through that fear

she’d rather risk trying to do it here.


here, in a wooden room with towels and a rope,

six kids and a doctor on the phone

trying to talk us through it,

saying “you can do it– it’s a simple procedure,

just tell her to push and support when she needs you.”

we were ready to go.

but what we didn’t know

was that this was a breeched birth

he’s coming out feet first

his cord prolapsed

the worst that can happen

impossible to do in that little room.


we knew the cord was getting crushed,

keeping oxygen from the baby’s lungs.

forty minutes was the maximum time

to deliver the baby, or risk both of them dying.

but that western medical sensibility

just wasn’t really registering.

and i must have said five times

for her to lay on her side– “don’t push yet!”

but her comadrona is telling her different.

“this is dangerous for the infant–

we need to call an ambulance.”

but english mixed with chu’j and spanish…

it got lost in translation.


so i pulled my team away and we prayed and we waited.

another hour went by til her husband came crying,

“everything but the head is out, come help us out!”

so we rushed to the door

but in the back of my mind all i saw was that cord.

we got to the room. mama’s pushing and heaving

his head finally slips out, but he isn’t breathing

no crying, no movement

his fingers are blue but

i got the bulb and started suctioning fluid

from his nose and mouth trying to clear it all out

while K cut the cord and Jess got a towel.


the child is in my hands and they’re looking at me

with eyes pleading me to make him breathe.

I kept pushing his chest, hoping he would cry.

i was doing my best and GODDAMN we tried

but the baby just wasn’t alive.

and i gave up after a while,

blood on my hands.


for another hour we left them alone

they stood near the fire and tried on their own

to resuscitate the baby

but it was too late.


the next morning’s events were surreal, to say the least.

like waking up inside of a dream.

another woman had come, ready to give birth

but she was different, calmer than the first.

she’s in one room preparing for delivery

while I’m in another, talking to the family and LITERALLY

over the sounds of them hammering a coffin shut

i explained to the father how lucky he was

that he still had his wife– that they both didn’t die.

and it’s hard to describe how i felt

to look in his eyes and tell him

after i had tried– and failed–

to save his child.

he was angry. and sad.

and i still had

blood on my hands.


the hammering continued and i shut the door,

went into the other room and got on the floor

helped ease out a healthy, happy baby girl.

the cycle of life in this hard, precious world.

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