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Baby born steps from palace

Newborn Mok Sovann Sreyleap rests next to her mother at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital
Newborn Mok Sovann Sreyleap rests next to her mother at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital yesterday after she was delivered on the side of a road near the Royal Palace. Eli Meixler

Baby born steps from palace

Chan Sreypao, 35, remembers the births of all of her children, but the arrival of her fifth this weekend is already a matter of lore among local vendors who assisted in a last-minute, roadside delivery.

A combination of a lack of money and a lack of time resulted in Sreypao, a lotus flower seller, delivering her baby outside her stall near the Royal Palace on Sunday, just a few days shy of her due date.

“I had no labour pains; I felt I had to urinate. But when I tried to urinate, I saw her head coming out,” Sreypao said.

As the baby emerged, a crowd quickly gathered around the mother. Other vendors rushed in with clothes, jackets and a Cambodian flag to scoop up the newborn before she touched the ground.

“We didn’t call an ambulance right away, because we were afraid the driver would demand money from whoever had called,” said one of the vendors who witnessed the sidewalk birth.

The whole impromptu delivery took only half an hour, according to Koe Sopheap, 52, another vendor who said she acted as a midwife.

“It was a Sunday, so there were many people, boys, girls, tourists all standing around. We did our best to cover her,” Sopheap said. “I did not want to cut the umbilical cord, so the security guards eventually called an ambulance.”

Yesterday at Calmette Hospital, Sreypao said she was embarrassed by the ordeal, but relieved her baby daughter, named Mok Sovann Sreyleap, was healthy.

Earning an average of 10,000 riel ($2.50) per day, Sreypao said she struggled to pay the $100 to $200 fee to give birth to her other four children at hospitals in the capital, but the city is picking up the tab for her brief stay at the maternity ward this week.

Due in large part to poverty and an inability to access health facilities, only 54 per cent of Cambodian women give birth in a recognised health care centre or hospital, according to UNICEF. The country also has the region’s highest maternal mortality rate.

In July, a woman in Stung Meanchey gave birth at a dumpsite because she could not afford ambulance or hospital fees.

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