Back 21 April 2016

#IDM2016 celebrations: Honouring midwives serving during emergency

Tomoko Ito's story

On March 11th, 2011, Tomoko Ito, a midwife practicing in Sendai City, Miyagi, was having a tea break with her staff members in her parents’ bedroom on the first floor of her Tomoko Maternity Center, when the massive earthquake hit the Eastern Japan.  Her 78-year-old father, who was fighting a serious illness, was lying in a bed by her side.      

Tomoko evacuated an infant she was babysitting and her parents into her car parked outside, and Tomoko and they spent the night there. 

“I saw videos of the tsunami and the disaster broadcasted on my cell phone, and I couldn’t stop worrying about the mothers and the babies (I had helped in the past),” Tomoko recalled.       

The next morning, she saw the shocking aftermath of the earthquake.  The quake broke walls in her 3-story center and scattered everything inside the building.        

It destroyed the majority of her medical equipment in the maternity center on the second floor and the floor was covered with broken glasses and debris.  Although the building was still standing, it was too dangerous to enter the second or third floor. 

Tomoko took in her staff member and her family who lost their homes.  All of them were living in Tomoko’s parents’ bedroom and the building’s entrance area on the first floor, while Tomoko and her staff saw their patients in the same limited space.  

New Life is born

In the midst of the devastation and numerous aftershocks, Tomoko helped a mother deliver a baby on the second day after the earthquake.  They had no electricity or water.  The baby was born during the night under a dim light of a flashlight and lantern at the foot of the bed that Tomoko’s father was laying on. 

 Life amidst  lantern in Miyagi                                                   

The baby in the photo was born during a blackout, Tomoko had to use a lantern

After the earthquake, Tomoko and her staff helped deliver two babies without any essential utilities.  “The mothers were calm and brave.  It was very quiet and it inspired solemnity,” Tomoko said.  “The babies came out smoothly, beautifully and with energy.  They were good healthy babies.”

On the 5th day, the water and electric supplies were restored.  When the phone line was reconnected on the sixth day, they started receiving a flood of calls from pregnant women from afar, who were desperate for help.

They also had many pregnant women walking to the center in the snow to get help.  Because the center was understaffed due to lack of transportation and gasoline shortage, Tomoko decided to focus on helping women who came to the center and transferred phone calls to midwives she knew across the country who volunteered to provide consultations over the phone.  Supplies and support were coming from all over the country.     

Tomoko Ito, Midwife in Sendai City Miyagi  

Tomoko Ito, a midwife in Sendai City, together with other midwives delivered babies using flashlights and lanterns

“It breaks my heart when I think about the people who are still having difficult lives,” Tomoko said.  The disaster took many lives in Japan.  But there was also moments that gave us hope and taught us to appreciate the preciousness of life in the chaos, such as when the baby let out its first cry in the stillness under the dim light of a flashlight.  

This article was written by Tomoko Ito, midwife in Sendai City, Miyagi

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