Over the weekend, I attended a Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) training taught by Karen Strange. My mind is still trying to process all of the information we were given in those ten hours together. So much to think about and practice! One of my main reasons for taking the class was that I wanted to be prepared to assist pregnant mothers and newborns in a potential disaster situation. I wanted to know how to help women on the side of the road, in an elevator, in a disaster relief camp, etc. Karen Strange’s NRP class focuses on neonatal resuscitation in an out of hospital setting, so I knew it was going to be the best choice for my purposes. I’m so grateful for the tools we were given to not only help new babies come into life but also to keep ourselves calm and grounded as we encounter those sometimes intense situations.
Rubbing shoulders with all those lovely midwives, doulas, and mommas was wonderful, of course. And it had me asking myself, once again, am I heading toward midwifery? Then, last night, midwife Robin Lim was selected as CNN’s 2011 Hero of the Year. I am so inspired by Robin and midwives like her who offer their love and skills in behalf of those who are desperate for true caregiving. As I pondered my weekend and Robin Lim, I kept thinking of this post I wrote on my old blog in April of 2010. I do think I will end up catching babies. And this is why…
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.
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, 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.
I’ve been studying childbirth for the past nine 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 American peers, 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.