WHEN first met at her home in Pujut, former Mirian midwife Goh King Lui had difficulty speaking or moving about.
Neither was she able to recognise anyone other than her own family members or relatives. Her condition was the result of a stroke that she had about 12 years ago. Even so, as I was trying to strike up a conversation with her, asking about her former career as midwife, the nonagenarian uttered: “I was proud to be a midwife.”
Laying in a chair, accompanied by her daughter Rev Lenita Tiong who is a pastor at Grace Methodist Church Miri, Goh – with her eyes sparkling – seemed to be trying to piece together the old memories in her mind.
“When babies delivered, I ‘pukul burit’ (spank the buttocks) to make sure they (babies) cry. If no cry, no good,” Goh said (translated by her daughter).
With the bits of information that Goh was able to recall, Tiong helped by showing the old documents that her mother had kept for many decades. These included old letters issued by the Medical Department and photos with Mandarin words scribbled at the back.
“When we were young, my mother didn’t share much story about her work. I remember she was a loving mother who had always been there for school runs and she showered us, seven siblings, with lots of love. Although (we’re) not well off, we had a happy and loving childhood. And despite her current condition, Mum is still a loving, passionate person,” Tiong said.
She added that when her mother got the news the Sarawak government was going to honour the first group of midwives and her name was on the list, she was overjoyed.
Among the old documents was a certificate that showed Goh having trained and graduated as a pupil midwife after passing the midwifery examination in 1955.
Upon her return to Sungai Merah in Sibu from Kuching, her first posting was with the Maternity and Child Welfare Clinic.
An old letter, dated 1962, recorded that Goh had applied for transfer there and the areas under her included Engkalat, Takalong and Sungei Aup within Sibu District.
Part of Goh’s responsibility as midwife was checking on pregnant mothers and to be constantly ready. Whenever there was a call for her service, she would cycle to houses to help full-term mothers deliver their babies.
The call of duty also saw Goh travelling to the rural areas to help pregnant mothers at the longhouses give birth.
Based on an old memo or circular, the midwives were also responsible for reporting all births in the area under their jurisdiction and register the births – or deaths – of babies.
It is understood that Goh received $10 per baby that she delivered, on top of the $35 she received as monthly allowance. Goh said the pay could sometimes be more than that.
“Probably due to her background as a ‘Hing Hwa’ person or because of her family, it could possibly have made it easier for her to be a midwife in Sungai Merah. My mother told me that she was the first Hing Hwa midwife in the area,” Tiong said.
“Other than that, my mother seldom shared any story of her job with us when we were younger.
“She did tell us a light-hearted story though about an ‘ang moh’ (Westerner) doctor who tried to help her at a dance party but she turned him away. That happened during her student days. We often ended up laughing after hearing the story.”
An old friend in Sibu, Lau Hong Eng – whom The Borneo Post contacted through Tiong – also shared a bit of the story relating to Goh’s younger days.
“I was neighbour of ‘Ah Lui’ (Goh’s nickname) since we were young in Sungei Merah. Her family was quite well off as her father owned a business along with several properties.
“I didn’t quite understand why she decided to become a midwife, but I know that she is the kindest and most passionate person I know. No matter what favour people asked of her, she would try to help. This was probably one of the reasons why she was well-known among the locals,” Lau said.
She added that Goh brought pride not only to her family but also to the whole village when she graduated as a qualified midwife.
“The profession suited Goh’s personality. When she wasn’t helping to deliver babies, she was often at the clinic and around town helping adults and children to get vaccination.”
A former supervisor of Goh, Ngieng Suk Ding – now in her 80s – who was a trained nurse and midwife, recalled that back in the old days, delivering babies was not as common as now because the number of babies was smaller back then.
“But whenever a midwife was needed, Goh would travel to the longhouses to help mothers deliver safely,” Ngieng reminisced.
Goh left Sibu for Miri with her young family by end of the 1970s. This was recorded in a letter dated April 26, 1979.
“I guess my mother left thecareer that she loved to take care of the seven of us and she did a wonderful job raising us. Despite struggling to put food on the table and taking care of a big family, she often sent money to other relatives in need. Her generosity is what I admire most,” Tiong said.
Goh was among the first group of midwives trained by the Medical Department in Sarawak. She was named as a ‘Special Recognition’ recipient by Sarawak government in conjunction with Women’s Day celebration today (Nov 3).