In the agony of childbirth, a homeless woman finds help
We can agree that a sidewalk in San Diego is no place to give birth. Yet amid the city’s lost tribe of homeless people, a woman’s body had other plans.
“I hear a woman screaming in a tent, and it sounds like something awful,” said Phillip Denton, who was working as a security guard for downtown’s Clean and Safe, a quasi-government agency that scrubs pavement and patrols the neighborhood.
Denton was making his usual rounds on the afternoon of Sept. 10, a Saturday, when a dispatcher directed him to check on the welfare of a homeless woman camped in the East Village, near the corner of 14th and G streets.
Clean and Safe rules prohibit its “ambassadors” from delivering first aid or even touching the homeless. So Denton and his supervisor gently persuaded the soon-to-be mother to submit to a rudimentary exam, conducted by a homeless woman who lived nearby.
“The tent was dirty; blankets, roaches and probably mice,” Denton said.
The prognosis was obvious: Ready or not, a baby was coming soon.
This reality changed the mind that mattered most. Within minutes, the woman consented to be scooped up by paramedics and transported to Scripps Mercy Hospital.
Here the story trails off. Citing privacy regulations, no hospital, fire department or nonprofit official will disclose what happened next. On the bright side, county records show no deceased homeless infants that day.
I picked up clues that a mother and newborn baby survived, and landed a day or two later in a shelter for homeless women and their children. Here again, strict privacy rules prevent me from confirmation. And I’m not naming the shelter, which also hides victims from violent domestic abusers.
But that was more than two months ago. At least once a week I’ve walked a grid in the East Village area where the security guard may have saved a life, or two. Nobody claims to know the pregnant woman, street name “Lady,” who went into labor on the sidewalk.
Are they OK or back on the street? Getting decent food and clothing? What about checkups for that baby?
Forget about answers for a second. Even such questions can bring me to tears.
We can suppose that this mother was disabled by mental illness, at least temporarily. After all, experts estimate such illness afflicts 80 percent of the chronically homeless people living outdoors.
Yet we don’t need experts for this one. Rational people don’t refuse medical attention while enduring the agony of childbirth inside a filthy tent.
Perhaps her moment of clarity will persist. Studies suggest that about four-fifths of homeless people are unhoused only temporarily, and soon muster the resources to return to traditional society. About 10 percent skip off the bottom, while the remaining 10 percent never recover.
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