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)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:
"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)
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.