For millions of people living in poverty around the world, hospitals can be difficult to access and doctors in short supply. A midwife is a vital source of strength for mums and families in need. Meet some of the birthing heroes in these communities.
20 Mar, 2019
Every minute of every day, 250 babies are born. Despite improved healthcare and education to help mothers deliver their babies safely, thousands of pregnant women fall through the cracks each year.
In many cases, they have no choice but to give birth alone in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. The consequences are tragic. More than 800 women die every day from pregnancy or birth-related complications. Devastatingly, more than four million babies die within their first year of life.
But thanks to the incredible work of birthing attendants, the story of thousands of mums and babies now has a different ending.
With thousands of healthy deliveries to her name, including 32 in two years at her local Compassion Mums and Babies survival project, Tahmina is a much-respected midwife in her community in southern Bangladesh.
Known affectionately as 'Bor Di' (elder sister) by grateful mums and her fellow midwives, she is everyone’s favourite. When the pressure is on, her calm presence and wealth of experience is vital.
For 27 years she has educated and inspired women and their families about healthy pregnancy and delivery practices, often challenging cultural taboos and breaking down stigma in the process.
“I’ve experienced delivery dramas, arguments with in-laws, and obstacles in trying to educate families on healthy deliveries in our village,” she says.
“If there is anything that I could change in my community about childbirth, then I would make sure that all caregivers receive sufficient health checkups when they learn that they are pregnant. Then, we can begin nurturing the child before she is born.”
In the tea estates of northern Bangladesh, good healthcare can be hard to find. That’s why Devi is dedicated to bringing excellent pre-natal and birthing care to the women of the most remote regions.
With malnutrition common and hospitals in short supply, Devi knows that access is everything when it comes to delivering healthy babies. She stays on call to ensure anxious or inexperienced mums know they can reach her whenever they need her. She’s encouraged by Compassion’s survival projects that cater specifically to mums in the tea estates, who might otherwise be marginalised and overlooked.
“My service to the people in the estate at times felt lonely as not many people reached out to such remote areas, where hospitals with proper facilities are located too far away, making it difficult during emergencies.”
A nurse by training and Compassion Project Director by occupation, Ekkachai was thrust into the role of village midwife by the demands of geography: in his home town, the nearest hospital is 50 km away. Now he says he’s lost count of the number of babies he’s helped to deliver.
“I have a passion for children’s lives. They are supposed to live. I believe God created all life. I always pray for children in the project. I pray before I go to do the work and meet people,” says Ekkachai.
Over the years, one delivery stands out in his mind—his own daughter’s.
“I was so excited and overwhelmed to deliver my wife’s baby, our first child ... I was so nervous because she’s my wife. She might kick me!”
Described as “the centre of information” by the grateful mums in her community, Revika Pengemanan works hard in North Minahasa, Indonesia to challenge unhelpful and even dangerous thinking about pregnancy and childbirth.
Revika, 26, was reluctant to teach expecting mums older than herself. But with so many confused by poor information, local superstitions and their own past experiences, she knew she had something valuable to offer.
The list of superstitions is long, she says: Don’t sit in doorways, don’t wrap towels around your neck, keep lemons and mirrors to ward off evil attackers. But she’s encouraged by the progress she sees around her.
“I believe that day by day people in my community will have a new mindset. My goal is that the mothers and babies are healthy … and that they will leave old myths behind.”
CHARLENE AND JOY, PHILIPPINES
In the Cabacungan clinic, Charlene and Joy are suiting up for the thing they do best: delivering a baby. According to the clinic’s records, the pair have delivered more than 1000 babies since 1997.
Their presence makes a huge difference for local families, many of whom are scraping together a living and can’t afford the three-hour trip into Bacolod City, not to mention the hospital fees.
“For breech birth, Caesarean cases, and any other uncommon circumstances, we tell the mothers to go to the doctor in the city,” says Joy. “We can only handle regular births.”
“We are ready and willing to help,” says Charlene. “In this line of work that we’ve chosen, there are no holidays, no official working hours. We get up and suit up whenever someone needs our help, even in the middle of the night.”
For young families living in poverty, the first year of a child’s life is the most critical for survival. You can support vulnerable mothers and their babies during the prenatal months and first year of life.
Words by Vera Aurima, Piyamary Shinoda, Edwin Estioko, J. Sangma and Richard Miller
Photos by Ella Dickinson, Vera Aurima, Piyamary Shinoda