Irma Lopez was in labor and turned away from a health center in Oaxaca, Mexico, because a nurse believed she was " still not ready" to deliver at only eight months pregnant. Already a mom of two, Irma knew that after walking over an hour to the clinic from their one-bedroom hut in the mountains of northern Oaxaca they wouldn't have time to walk to the highway and wait to catch a ride to the hospital. The health clinic, she felt, would be the second best option for the soon-to-be mom-of-three. The heartbreaking details of just how wrong Irma was are almost nauseating.
After turning her away from a hospital bed, the nurse told Irma to go outside and walk, adding that a doctor could check on her in the morning. What the nurse didn't know, however, was that just thirty minutes later, Irma's water would break — and she would need to deliver.
While her husband took off to try and persuade a nurse to help, Irma squatted down on the lawn outside the medical clinic and gave birth to a baby boy. She held on to the wall of a house next to the clinic as she gave birth to her third child — and baby was still attached to his mom by the umbilical cord. A witness to Irma's lawn-side birth snapped a photograph of the unbelievable image and passed it along to a news reporter. When the photo appeared in print, it held the country — and the world — at a complete standstill. Irma later told the Associated Press, "I didn't want to deliver like this. It was so ugly and with so much pain."
The image shows baby laying on the ground and Irma bending over him, the umbilical cord connecting the two. Mayra Morales, Oaxaca's representative for the national Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, spoke to the AP and said, "The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care. They are not being offered quality health services, not even a humane treatment."
Immediately after the image landed on newspapers and garnered fresh media attention all over the world, government officials in Oaxaca announced that they had suspended the Rural Heath Center of the village of San Filipe Jalapa de Diaz's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, so that officials could conduct a state and federal investigation into exactly what went wrong. The National Human Rights Commission is also running an investigation.
Irma was luckily taken in by the clinic after giving birth and was discharged later that same day. She was given a prescription for $30. Health officials told the AP that both Irma and baby were in good health following the ordeal.
A 2011 Mayo Health Clinic census showed that in Oaxaca, nearly one-in-five women give birth outside of a hospital or clinic. The mortality rate for babies in Mexico stands at about 50 deaths for every 100,000 births. Indigenous women, like Irma, have the highest rates of maternal death and most Oaxacan mothers die of hemorrhaging or preeclampsia postbirth.
Despite the shock that her birth place caused for so many women and mothers reading her story, Irma said that poverty-stricken villagers like herself are used to be forgotten by the healthcare system; they're used to fending for themselves.
Irma, however, gave her lawn-birthed baby boy a name that transcends the terror of the whole process and celebrates just how miraculous his arrival was. "I am naming him Salvador ," she told the Associated Press. The name means "savior" in English.
Are you surprised that a hospital turned a mom-to-be in labor away?