"I am carrying our second child... I am so happy and scared at the same time to wait for the delivery... What should I do to stay healthy, and how [do I] make sure my baby in the womb also stays healthy?”
Sri’s words could be those of any expectant mother. Women are often united by the same hopes and fears, dreams and anxieties for their unborn children, regardless of where in the world they live.
But Sri has additional reasons to be concerned about her own health and that of her baby. She lives in the developing world, where the health – and very survival – of mother and child can depend on which country they call home.
For Mother’s Day, World Vision meets two very different women to see why it is so important to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for maternal and child health.
Rural women who live far from a health facility or can’t afford hospital fees often give birth at home with the help of a Traditional Birth Attendant such as 60-year-old Emily Wille. Taught the vocation by her mother, Emily serves hundreds of women in her poor, rural area of Malawi.
“I helped to deliver virtually every boy and girl, and some young parents, in this community,” the 60-year-old says, reflecting on a career spanning more than 30 years.
Emily uses a two-roomed hut, behind her larger hut, as a maternity wing. She runs an antenatal clinic every Tuesday and her experienced eyes have caught persistent or complicated cases of anaemia and malnutrition early, enabling patients to be referred to hospitals promptly.
During her busiest times, Emily treats more than 25 patients a month. She charges K100 (about 91 US cents) per delivery. All the other drugs and services she offers are free of charge.
Emily explains that a lot of her patients are so poor that they cannot afford the token delivery fee. Many mothers promise to pay later, in kind, such as with a chicken or eggs.
But the poorest women cannot keep this promise, and the next time they turn up is when they are expecting another child and need Emily’s help again.
“I make no fuss about the credit,” says the birth attendant, who earns no profit from the work she feels called to do.
“I go ahead to assist as best as I can. We have always shared our own food and other family items with our patients, in the name of better health, even for those that are pathetically poor.”
World Vision supports Emily, and others like her, with training and equipment – including a bicycle ambulance. Before the bicycle was available, pregnant mothers in Emily’s remote community were often taken to their nearest birth attendant by wheelbarrow.
Emily is enthusiastic about the benefits of the ambulance.
“It enables me to respond to emergencies of all sorts, including rushing out to attend to clients who cannot walk to see me, as they are near delivery.
“At times, I have helped with the delivery right in the client’s house.
“But I have, at times, encountered complications and I have saved the lives of both the mother and her child or children, by carrying the expectant mother to Mlambe Hospital [some 20 kilometres away],” she says.
What is Emily’s dream for the future?
“I am hoping and praying to have a modern maternity block, complete with beds. Also, I am praying that God gives me an income-generating activity, like selling fish, to assist my family, especially as I am getting on in years,” she replies.
Emily’s work may not carry on down the family line, as her daughter does not appear interested. But Emily is determined that the mothers in her community will continue to be supported.
“I will make sure that this work does not die; I will [prepare] someone, even a distant relative, with such a passion, to take over from me.”
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