Three women from three vastly different countries have one thing in common: they’re pregnant. From Togo to the United States and then to our neighbouring New Zealand, these three women share their hopes and fears of motherhood and the astounding impact of the Child Survival Program.

Meet the women

Katy Causey from the USA

It’s 3:00am. I might as well get up to go to the bathroom and grab a snack as I’m restless anyway. My back aches as I hoist myself out of bed, awakened by my bladder and a nagging fear in the back of mind, whispering in the dark: “Are you sure you’re ready to a be a mom?”

Everyone tells me as soon as the baby comes, everything changes. Yet from the moment I found out I was pregnant, everything began to change already. My thoughts so often turn to this baby boy. Even though he’s still safely tucked away in my womb, I already have a deep desire to protect and nurture this little gift from God.

-The US is ranked 150th out of 199 countries for its under-five child mortality rate - Women in the US have a one in 1,800 risk of maternal death in their lifetime

Rita from Togo

The dusty radio sits in the corner of our hut and brings bad news—the radio announcer telling us that another woman from my village has died while giving birth. I touch my expanding belly, trying to reassure myself that both the growing baby and I are healthy and there is no reason to be afraid. The midwives told me that those who pass away are often those who never come to the medical centre for appointments. I can face my delivery with assurance as I’ve gone to every appointment.

Yet after the delivery, there is much to fear about parenthood. I don’t know what the future will hold for me and my children. Togo is a poor country and I face poverty each day. I used to fear the future because some days, we could not find food to eat. That was before Compassion. I may not know if I’m having a boy or girl, but I know the baby in my womb will not have the same life as me—he will face the future with more hope.

This is my fourth child, but my first time being enrolled in the Child Survival Program. It’s amazing the difference the Mums and Babies survival project has made for me in this pregnancy. The project has not only opened my eyes to a different type of health during pregnancy, they’ve introduced me to Jesus. In the past, when I had pain in my pregnancies, I went to a traditional village healer and mostly, my pain would increase.

Today, I pray and have faith in Jesus, He is always there for me.

Togo is ranked 24th out of 199 countries for its under-five child mortality rate, amongst the highest in the world. Women in Togo have a one in 46 risk of maternal death in their lifetime

Helen Manson from New Zealand

When I first found out I was pregnant, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that God in His infinite kindness would gift us a child. I cried and gave thanks to God! Yet I was also scared that I might lose this baby as one in four Kiwi women have miscarriages. I remember my heart pounding in my chest as we went for a six week scan to check for a heartbeat. Then it was counting down the days to 12 weeks when the risk of miscarriage isn’t as great, and then counting down the days to 26 weeks where the baby is now ‘viable’ for life and could survive if born prematurely.

I know the responsibility and opportunities to trust God become even greater when the baby arrives. I fear the sleepless nights and the helplessness I know can come with the feeling that as a parent, you can never know, do or be enough.

New Zealand is ranked 155th out of 199 countries for its under-five child mortality rate. Women in New Zealand have a one in 10,700 risk of maternal death in their lifetime

Thoughts on Health and Nutrition

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Rita, Togo: "I came down with a bad case of malaria"

Pregnant women should not forget to eat whenever they feel hungry. The Mums and Babies survival project staff taught me some of the best things to eat are fruits like mango, oranges, pineapples and watermelon. I cannot spend a day without eating cassava. Before pregnancy, I didn’t care much for it but now I crave it and find it more delicious than any other food!

I’m grateful for the nutritional advice the project has offered, as it helps me ward off sickness. The project also offers relief against sicknesses outside of my control. In the first trimester of my pregnancy, I came down with a bad case of malaria. The staff helped me get to the health centre where I received medication that helped me feel better and was safe for the baby. Since then, I’ve felt much better.

Katy, the USA: "I know a pregnant woman doesn't consistently feel great every day"

Pregnant women should not forget to eat whenever they feel hungry. And I’ve felt hungry—a lot! Before pregnancy, I ate red meat about once a month. During pregnancy, I’ve craved red meat at least once a week, often more. A hamburger and ice cream has become my favourite pregnancy meal, yet I still try to eat vegetables and fruits as recommended by my doctor.

Proper nutrition and daily exercise has kept me healthy during my pregnancy. During the first trimester, I fought nausea and vomiting on a daily basis. After the end of the first trimester, the nausea passed and I’ve felt much better. I still struggle with exhaustion and backaches, but I know a pregnant woman doesn’t consistently feel great every day.

Helen, New Zealand: "I chose a balanced approach"

Pregnant women should not forget to eat whenever they feel hungry. When I first became pregnant all I craved was cold water—very cold. Today I crave the foods I’m not supposed to have, like sushi and raw cream. There is such a long list of what I am and am not supposed to eat. Everything from cheeses to seafood to cold meats! The spectrum of where each pregnant mother abides to this list varies in New Zealand, but I chose what I believe is a balanced approach that is not too extremely cautious but neither cavalier.

Proper nutrition and chasing my older daughter around the house has kept me healthy during pregnancy. I felt fortunate to have had very little morning sickness during my first trimester. I did experience nausea, extreme tiredness and a yucky taste in my mouth from weeks five through to 13 but feel that it was nothing in comparison to what many women have to go through.

On bonding with my unborn child

Rita, Togo: "I now know he can hear me"

Before joining the Mums and Babies survival project, I didn’t realise I could begin relating to my baby even while he is in the womb! With my older children, I never spoke to the baby because I thought they couldn’t hear me. Yet with this child, the Mums and Babies survival project staff have encouraged me to speak to the baby as I now know that he can hear me. I tell him stories and pray over him. When I’m speaking to him, sometimes he even reacts and begins to move! I do not always enjoy feeling the baby kick, as he can kick so hard it’s painful. Yet the pain reminds me that my child is alive and healthy.

Katy, the USA: "He kicks when he hears his daddy's voice"

Feeling the baby kick is both the most beautiful and strangest thing about pregnancy. How is it that someone is alive in me and reminding me of his presence so often? When I place my hand over my belly as he kicks, he does not shy away. He begins to kick when he hears his daddy’s voice too. Our little family bonds even though we have yet to meet him.

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Helen, New Zealand: "I love watching my tummy move around"

Feeling the baby kick is strange and sweet at the same time. My eldest daughter is adopted, so this is my first experience with pregnancy kicks. I first felt the baby kick at about 16 weeks. It gave me a fright and I felt slightly violated that something I couldn’t see was living, moving and kicking inside me! Since then I’ve grown to appreciate those little ‘reminder’ kicks.

I love watching my tummy move as the baby moves around.

Making appointments and planning the delivery

Rita, Togo: "We only have nurses and midwives"

In my village, we only have nurses and midwives; medical doctors are in towns. I walk 10 minutes from my hut to the health centre for my prenatal appointments. The midwife checks my blood pressure, temperature, heartbeat and weight and I even get to hear the baby’s heartbeat.

When it’s my time to deliver, I will walk to the health centre. I will take with me a basket, sponge, perfume, antibacterial soap, clothes and a diaper for the baby. In the health centre, you are not allowed to have someone with you—it’s just you and the midwives.

Here, husbands do not join their wives during labour. In official hospitals, it is not possible because many women give birth at the same time. Medical staff don’t allow men to be in the labour room as there are many women delivering at the same moment. The Child Survival Program specialist joked with me that it’s also because men aren’t courageous enough to see their wives labouring! I do wish my husband could join me, but if he can at least get me some nice flowers, I would love that.

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Katy, the USA: "There is no shortage of options for pregnancy care"

In the USA, there is no shortage of options for pregnancy care and delivery. Most women chose to have the baby in a hospital, but others choose birthing centres or home births with midwives. We will give birth in a hospital with a doctor. Throughout the pregnancy, my husband and I drive 10 minutes to the doctor’s office, where the doctor checks my blood pressure, temperature, heartbeat and weight and we even get to hear the baby’s heartbeat.

Thankfully, my husband will be by my side every step of the labour. He has a calming voice and reassuring presence, and I know he will help remind me of God’s promises of peace and the end goal of labour—meeting our son!

Helen, New Zealand: "Here, there are many options for where you can give birth"

When it’s my time to deliver, my husband will drive me to the public hospital, which is about 25 minutes away. I plan on having my husband in the room. While I will lean on the expertise of my midwife, I will also talk to my friends beforehand about their experiences so I have some idea of what to expect. Here in New Zealand, there are many options for where you can give birth ranging from your home, to a public hospital, or even a birthing water pool! The midwife will be present and if there are any problems a doctor will come and help.

Coming home with baby

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Rita, Togo: “Family and friends will come to the naming ceremony”

When the baby and I get home, my sister will come to my house to assist me. Nappies will be the most important item to have, but I will also need some baby clothes and shoes. I wish we could afford a cot, but we can’t at this time. My family members and close friends will come to the baby’s naming ceremony eight days after the birth and may bring clothes and gifts for the child, perhaps even some money to support our family.

Katy, the USA: “My mother will join us within the week”

After a day or two in the hospital, we will bring home our baby boy. My mother will join us within the week to help with the new challenge of taking care of a newborn. Friends will also bring meals to alleviate the need to cook in those early, tiring days with our son.

I’m overwhelmed at all the recommended baby items the ‘experts’ say we need. We are trying to keep the baby’s room and life as simple as possible. Yet we are so grateful for friends and family who’ve showered us with their prayers and gifts.

Helen, New Zealand: “I will lean on friends and family to help”

When the baby and I get home, we will begin to adjust to life as a family of four instead of three! I will lean on friends and family to help; I already treasure the gifts they gave us at our baby shower. Even before the baby is born, we’ve received warm clothes, nappies, toys and other necessary baby items like a bassinet, pram and car seat.

Hopes and dreams for my child

Rita, Togo: “Now I have dreams for each of them”

In the past, I never had dreams and hopes for my children. I just wanted them to survive and grow up to be responsible. I still wish for that, yet now I have dreams for each of them. For instance, I would love for this child in my womb to become a lawyer when he grows up!

Katy, the USA: “This son of ours was created for such a time as this”

The world seems to be getting crazier every day. I sometimes wonder why I would want to bring a child into all of this madness. And yet the Holy Spirit reminds me that this son of ours was created for such a time as this, for this season. My hope and dream for his future is that he will be grow up to know the love of God and be a part of God’s redeeming love for a world gone mad.

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Helen, New Zealand: “She has a crucial part to play in the world”

I pray the same thing for my eldest daughter that I do for this new baby girl: to raise a daughter that serves her God-given purpose in her generation. I want my daughter to know she is part of a much bigger story than just herself and that she has a crucial role to play in the world. I want her to grow up knowing how the rest of the world lives and go on many adventures with us as a family as we seek God’s will for our lives.

Words by Katy Causey, Helen Manson, Bernard Gbagba and Monique Wallace

Photos by Ryan Johnson, Danelle Bohane and Bernard Gbagba

SOURCE: UNICEF State of the World’s Children