Ljupka Pavlovic will never forget the night of Friday, 12 February. The 32-year-old nurse arrived at work around 10 pm to take over the night shift at a Child Friendly Space (CFS) operated by SOS Children’s Villages near the Serbian-Croatian border. "About an hour later, I heard a commotion, almost panic. I heard the doctor next door yelling: ‘She'll give birth! I need a midwife!’"
Ljupka, a trained and experienced midwife, didn't wait one second. "I rushed in asking the doctor if she'd let me to help because I'm experienced."
The doctor, struggling with a woman in labour who refused to lie down, agreed. "The water had already broken. Clearly, the labour was far advanced. Once we got her on the bed and took off her clothes, I already saw the baby's head. I waited two to three seconds, and when the mother got the next contraction, I gently pressed her stomach. The baby came right out."
Ljupka speaks calmly and with a smile about the evening she helped delivr the baby, whose mother is a refugee from Iraq. "I'm a medical nurse, with additional qualification as a midwife. When I was volunteering for my studies, the midwives allowed me to deliver babies after just a month. Bringing babies into this world is a beautiful and blessed experience."
A mother of two boys herself, Ljupka says the prospect of working with refugees scared her at first. "It’s one thing to be a nurse in normal conditions, in a proper clinic. Here, there are many challenges. On my first day, I was really scared. But, day by day, it became easier."
Ljupka's employment with SOS Children’s Villages is her first fixed nursing job, following work as a volunteer and on service contracts. “I see this job as a double blessing, for my family's livelihood and for the well-being of these people who've suffered so much", she says.
Escaping war and terror does not end the plight of the refugees. The CFS is located at a transit centre in Adasevci, Serbia, serving refugees who are awaiting passage into Croatia and beyond. The transit centre is located at an abandoned, run-down highway motel with no running water.
"Hygiene is a big problem", Ljupka says, "especially for babies and mothers. They have absolutely no place to bathe. There's no hot water. When we need to bathe a baby, we heat water in pots."
She also notes that many children have coughs, colds, or viruses.
The Adasevci centre accommodates around 500 people. The sole medical field clinic is operated by Doctors Without Borders. When needed, an ambulance from the clinic in nearby Sid, Ljupka's hometown, is dispatched.
Baby's cry brings a smile
"That night, the baby girl was faster than the ambulance," Ljupka smiles. The medics took the mother and the baby to the nearest maternity ward. Shortly after, Ljupka got word that the baby and the mother were healthy and doing fine.
"It was most important that the baby started crying. When she cried, I smiled. I kept my calm throughout the birth, but it was when she cried that I knew everything is alright."
The little girl whom Ljupka helped bring into the world is the sixth child for Naima,* from Sinjar, northern Iraq. "If I'm not mistaken, her mom named her Hatija," Ljupka says.
SOS Children’s Villages co-worker Maja Simic with the mother and her children. SOS staff photo
Maja Simic, another co-worker of SOS Children's Villages, delivered clothing, nappies, hygiene goods, and a baby carrier to the hospitalised mother and infant. "Naima managed to contact her husband in Germany to give him the happy news. But she was terrified that her five children, aged one to seven, were temporarily accommodated by a foster family. Uros Kovanic, our Arabic translator, calmed her once he explained this meant they receive care until they could be reunited."
Naima and her new baby re-joined the other children at Adasevci. "It was an emotional encounter," Maja recalled. "Naima said she just wants to continue to Germany. We found one volunteer who travelled with them up to Slovenia."
Praise for the nurse
Ljupka's professionalism and bravery were quickly recognised. The doctor, Ljupka recalls, “said 'I wouldn't have known what to do if you hadn’t show up.' All my colleagues congratulated me, and the birth made local news. My husband and sons were surprised and proud. They know I'm around babies a lot, but they couldn't imagine I'd actually deliver one at the refugee site."
Ljupka continues her regular work caring for children at the Adasevci CFS.
The nurse says the delivery of the girl made her even stronger, but adds that the support of her co-workers means the world to her.
"We help each other”, she explains. “In these circumstances, you learn to depend on your co-workers and be their support. We, the co-workers of SOS Children's Villages, are a tight team and I'm proud to be part of it."
As for that night on 12 February, "For me, the most important thing is that the mother and the baby are OK, that they were able to continue their journey. And, hopefully, the family is already together."
*The name was changed for reasons of privacy.