25 Nov 2019

NZ midwife helps woman give birth in remote area of Amazon Jungle

From First Up, 5:43 am on 25 November 2019

A New Zealand midwife has spent the last few weeks in Peru where she travelled to help a first-time mum give birth in a hut in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

It isn't the first time Sharon Robinson has flown halfway across the world answering calls from strangers asking for midwife assistance in remote areas.

Lena Schulte near her home in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, just weeks before giving birth.

Lena Schulte near her home in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, just weeks before giving birth. Photo: supplied

It all started a year ago, when German woman Lena Schulte moved to a remote area of the Amazon jungle to join her Hungarian Partner Dene Hagy, who had been living there for the past six years.

When she became pregnant not long after, she put out a call online asking if any midwives would be interested in helping her give birth in their remote location. 

"I wanted to give birth in the jungle and the jungle is my home and I spent most of my time of the pregnancy there," said Lena.

"I know when I'm in Europe I don't have the opportunity to be that connected to nature. And I trust my body a lot and I trust nature a lot. So for me it was the best place to do it."
Ms Schulte said at first the response she received from midwives all around the world was overwhelming, but once people learned exactly how remote her location was, the interest quickly dropped.

But that didn't deter New Zealand midwife Sharon Robinson, who grew up in Tonga and the US before moving to New Zealand two decades ago.

Ms Robinson has assisted in many home births around the world including in Asia, Africa, the Pacific and New Zealand.

Lene Schulte travelling to Iquitos by boat with baby Amaya

Lene Schulte travelling to Iquitos by boat with baby Amaya Photo: supplied

She described to First Up the journey to Lena's home from the township of Iquitos.

"You come to Iquitos and then you go by boat and then change to a smaller boat and depending on how much rain there's been you might have to walk an hour and a half or go by another boat and do about half an hour to 45 minutes of walking depending on the mud," Ms Robinson said.

"So it's quite a way into the jungle to get to where she and her partner are living."

Just weeks after baby Amaya was born, Ms Robinson and Ms Schulte arrived in Iquitos and shared their experience with First Up.

While holding baby Amaya, Ms Robinson explained that the nearest hospital to where Ms Schulte lived in the jungle was several hours away and not a trip for the faint-hearted.

"The back up plan was that we would try and get to a hospital but the reality of getting there was not going to be easy. There would have been walking, there would have been boat trips. It would have been very difficult," Ms Robinson said.

"There are insects so if you're scared of spiders and scorpions you might not want to come and they didn't have showers at the time. They have [now] put up a rainwater shower. But yeah, I ended up saying I would do it."

It wasn't a paid trip, but Ms Robinson and her husband Dave had already planned a round the world trip holiday and agreed to make the detour to help with the birth.

They arrived two weeks before Ms Schulte gave birth.

Baby Amaya was born right into her father's hands at 7:40am on the 8 October after her mother laboured through the night.

Dene Hagy with baby Amaya

Dene Hagy with baby Amaya Photo: supplied

"She was in her own sleeping hut with her partner and I was with her so it was pretty exciting adding baby sounds to the frogs and birds and everything of the early morning and the rooster crowing,"Ms Robinson said.

"Their sleeping huts are screened so hers is a thatched roof, screen-sided. There's a wooden floor, it's up on stilts so you take steps up into it. They have a wooden slatted bed with a sort of vinyl covered foam thin mattress that they sleep on and they've got a sheet kind of thing and a thin blanket so it's quite open really to the environment, it doesn't have regular walls. There's no toilet facility attached. 

"They do have a compost toilet that you walk a short distance to. But Lena had a lot of boiled rain water that was in a big pot to use for washing the baby and herself or whatever she might need for the first few days after the birth."

Ms Schulte said she had no doubts or fears about giving birth in the jungle and she was delighted to have Ms Robinson's support.

"With her together and with my boyfriend we spend this eight hours in labour, it was really beautiful - how I remember it. For sure there was pain but for me it was just so beautiful."

Lena Schulte and partner Dene Hagy with baby Amaya after birth

Lena Schulte and partner Dene Hagy with baby Amaya after birth Photo: supplied

Having travelled all around the world to help women give birth, Ms Robinson said the circumstances were not unusual for her and she wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
"I have birthed at a rural hospital in Tonga while I was there on holiday. I've been to Benin, West Africa to help a woman with a home birth there. I've worked in Cambodia and facilities were very basic there. Like, the midwife I worked with used a toaster oven to sterilise her birthing instruments and just had a squat toilet sort of underneath her house where women would come to birth babies.

"So I'm not a stranger to birthing. It's not something real foreign to me."

Sharon Robinson midwife and baby Amaya

Sharon Robinson midwife and baby Amaya Photo: supplied