Thursday, April 1, 2010

For them I could

Sometimes I feel like it's inevitable. I'll probably end up a midwife, in the end. But most of the time I don't really look forward to it. It terrifies me to imagine holding the lives of women and babies in my fallible human hands. I don't really want to be a midwife. But I've been thinking lately of some facts and figures that just might be enough to propel me forward on the path toward midwifery.

First, my cousin-in-law, Liz, wrote a blogpost discussing the book Half the Sky. She shared a couple of excerpts that have been reverberating through my skull ever since:
In much of the world, women die because they aren't thought to matter. There's a strong correlation between countries where women are marginalized and countries with high maternal mortality. Indeed, in the United States, maternal mortality remained very high throughout the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, even as incomes rose and access to doctors increased. During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war.... 'Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.' (p. 115-116)

"More women die in childbirth in a few days than terrorism kills people in a year." (Jane Roberts, letter to San Bernadino Sun, qtd. on p. 146)
Then, last night, my brother-in-law watched a PBS segment on maternity care in rural Peru. He thought I'd be interested, so he passed along the link to me. Last year, CNN reported that Peru's pregnant women were "dying at scandalous rates"(source). Yesterday, PBS shared some of the solutions that are being implemented to reduce the mortality rates in Peru's remote areas. The segment starts with this intro:
High in the Andean Mountains of Peru, far from the modern conveniences of a city, generations of indigenous women have given birth at home, their only help from family or a village midwife.

The longstanding tradition of childbirth at home wasn't a problem for most women. But, in that small percentage of cases where complications developed at the end of a pregnancy, in a remote rural area, you could be days away from the nearest medical facility on foot, even multiple-hours' drive.
(Screenshot from the PBS segment)

I've been studying childbirth for the past seven years, but most of my reading and research has revolved around maternity care in the U.S. Although we still have a long way to go here in the U.S., our risk of dying in childbirth is far lower than the risk most women of the world face. I think I could feel content remaining a doula/birth activist if the rest of the world didn't exist. But it does exist.

The World Health Organization puts things into persective:
Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.(Source)
Far too many women die simply because they lack "skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery," according to WHO.

While I don't feel compelled to become a midwife for my fellow American sisters, I do think I'd be willing to shoulder the risks inherent in midwifery in order to help save the lives of women in places where maternal deaths are excessively common. For them I could do it.

Unfortunately, those who are able to help these women often lack the ability to communicate in indigenous languages. I have a deep love for languages and have always wanted to learn to speak more of them. I've also always wanted to travel to Africa, South America, and other far-off places. I couldn't think of a better reason to fulfill those dreams. Someday down the road... I hope.


kamille said...

what a wonderful life goal. i think you'll do it :)

i speak french - perhaps i could aid the people in some french speaking country? :)

Liz Johnson said...

Oh man, Busca. I could talk about this for HOURS!

But let me just say that, for starters, I have a dream of having my own midwifery practice where I could take a few months off every other year or so and go use my skills in other countries to either practice midwifery or teach it to local midwives. Also, you HAVE to read "Half the Sky." Some of the stories in there are insane. And did you know there's a push in developing countries to teach midwives how to perform simple surgical procedures (like vacuum extraction, fistula repair, and even cesareans)? It's an interesting idea, especially where emergency obstetrical care isn't widely available, and establishing it would be enormously expensive.

Also, have you seen this?

Also, I think the church could probably use midwives on humanitarian missions later in life. :)

missy. said...

When I was in Mozambique, I met some elderly service missionaries who were conducting trainings for traditional birth attendants. So yes, it's something the church is doing. I know service missionaries have also been involved in doing infant resuscitation trainings in less-developed countries.

And Busca, I speak Portuguese! I don't see myself ever becoming a midwife, but this is definitely an area I would like to be involved with in some capacity. So keep in touch with me, and maybe you can use my language ability at some point :)