We had an inspiring conversation with a midwife from South Africa and a midwife from Peru today. Both are finding ways to treat their mothers showing respect for their traditional practices while steering them away from dangerous behaviors.
In South Africa, many mothers are worried that they will get the evil eye and have a bad delivery. To prevent it, when they are close to giving birth, they drink a “tea” of either boiled mosquitoes or boiled ostrich eggshells. Unfortunately, this tea causes grave complications, such as infections, heavy bleeding and even death. Forbidding this traditional practice outright in many cases might not be successful, so this midwife had found a creative solution: she asks her mothers to use the tea in the bath water instead.
The Peruvian midwife, Illary (which means Dawn), tends to mothers in rural communities around Cuzco, sometimes traveling two days by horse and on foot to reach them. Indigenous mothers typically have six to seven babies, and the infant mortality rate is very high. They are reluctant to go to hospitals where their birth traditions are not respected. Illary participates in a program called “the vertical birth” that has been running for five years with wonderful results. It funds “waiting homes”, which reproduce exactly the typical environment in a rural indigenous home, down to the type of blankets, and the absence of beds. Pregnant mothers live there two weeks before the birth, with their husbands, other children and all their animals.
During the birth itself, the midwife doesn’t participate until the mother asks her to, which is at the moment of pushing. The mother gives birth with her clothes on (very heavy and multi-layered polleras, that is, long skirts). She will squat, while her husband holds her from behind while pushing the baby down with belly massages. The midwife catches the baby. Typically, these indigenous mothers don’t bathe for a month, and one of the midwives’ priorities is convincing them that water won’t hurt them. The husband is present in all the visits and typically becomes an advocate for the midwife. Mother, baby and the rest of the family stay in the waiting home for two weeks, being cared for by the midwife.
We are in awe of the passion, commitment and love that these midwives have for their work and their mothers. The French word for midwives, “sages femmes”, represents exactly what they are: wise women.
Balancing traditions and evidence-based medicine is an integral part of what we do at BabyCenter en Espanol, for instance in our article about caring for newborns.
We’re feeling so inspired and humbled by the magnificent midwives we’re meeting from all over the world. And also a bit guilty about the level of healthcare provided to those of us who live in the developed world (and, in the case of the US, have insurance).
Did you know that 1 in 3 women in the developing world goes through her entire pregnancy without seeing a healthcare provider? As a result, a woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds. In the US, the average pregnant woman with insurance has 18 visits during pregnancy. I wish I could have donated a few of mine. So much disparity in the world.
One of the key messages we’re hearing from midwives around the world is the need to get women to their clinics early in pregnancy. A visit to a midwife in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy can dramatically reduce complications. Viva midwives!
We heard so many extraordinary stories today. There were the humbling stories of women in labour travelling by bicycle to reach clinics many miles away from their homes in the hinterland of Ghana. There were heartbreaking stories of women reluctant to attend antenatal care because a positive result from the inevitable HIV test would mean that their husband would certainly leave them. And there were the uplifting stories of midwives from Sierra Leone and their “twins” from The Netherlands who were sharing their knowledge and experiences but who also found time to sing their way around the exhibition hall of the ICM Congress in Durban.
All the BabyCenter team at the ICM were awed by the experience of working as a midwife, and of mothers giving birth, in a low-resource setting. But it was almost as surprising to hear a story of something being just the same. A young South African midwife working in the postnatal ward of a hospital just outside Durban, told us about the many women she cares for who struggle to get breastfeeding established.
“It’s the latch,” she explained. “The baby doesn’t latch on properly and sucks only the nipple. It makes the mother very sore.”
We asked what advice she gives these mothers. “I help them with the latch and I suggest cold cabbage leaves for the sore nipples.” Though there’s little evidence for it, this remedy is often suggested in the UK and also in many countries around the world. It’s extraordinary to think of this one piece of advice passing between midwives and mothers, in countless languages and cultures, to make its way around the globe.
We met so many amazing women today, our heads are spinning! A few memorable encounters….
Sharing a good chuckle with the midwife who left a message for mothers on our message wall. “Use birth control to plan your family,” she wrote. “Your partner doesn’t have to know.”
“Really?” we asked, not quite sure how to react to this little deception.
“Yes, of course!” she replied. “I tell my mothers: ‘You are the one going through this pregnancy all the time. You are the one having the pains. Your partner, he doesn’t know.’”
This message underlines the huge gap between the have’s and have-not’s when it comes healthcare for mothers.
We also had a great conversation with a Hong Kong midwife about caring for women who come from mainland China to give birth in Hong Kong. Some women do this to circumvent the one-child policy in China, others to find better care, and some just so their baby can have a Hong Kong birth certificate.
And a midwife from Jawa – Mei Leng never thought she’d be speaking Bahasa to another woman in South Africa. What a long way to come for a little piece of home.
As the world’s leading resource for new parents and parents-to-be, we work closely with midwives around the world. So we’re really looking forward to meeting as many of you as we can at the International Confederation of Midwives Congress in South Africa. Come along and say hello to us on Stand 46.
You can follow our experiences and learnings at the ICM Congress on this blog. On our blog you can also:
* Find out more about BabyCenter
* Learn about the MAMA project
* Get involved by helping us craft essential messages to send to mothers on their mobiles
Linda J Murray, Senior Vice President, Global Editor in Chief BabyCenter
Linda J. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Editorial and Global Editor in Chief of BabyCenter, the Web’s #1 global interactive parenting network, reaching 25 million moms each month. Linda and her editorial teams around the world provide the modern mom with a personalized, stage-based, rich blend of expert advice and mom-to-mom wisdom they can’t get anywhere else on the Web.
Daphne Metland, Editorial Director, International
I am looking forward to meeting midwives from all over the world. There is nothing quite as inspiring as spending time with women who have chosen to spend their lives supporting women and helping them deliver their babies. I have visited hospitals and homes in over 20 countries; everywhere there were midwives, I felt welcome.
Anna McGrail, Director, Special Projects
I am also looking forward to meeting midwives from all over the world. I have seen the support they offer to women in so many different countries and environments; they are there for the moments that matter. It will be a privilege to find out more about their challenges, and how BabyCenter can help.
Isidra Mencos, Editorial Director, Americas & Spain BabyCenter
I’m looking forward to attending some of the panels and learning from midwives from around the world. They help moms-to-be everyday and it will be wonderful to be exposed to their wisdom and hands-on experience. I’m also looking forward to working face-to-face with my colleagues from BabyCenter who live far away. And it’s wonderful to get to do both things in South Africa!
Sasha Miller, Managing Editor, International
I am looking forward to understanding more about the challenges midwives are facing around the world and what they are doing to meet them. I am looking forward to hearing about the many ways midwives around the world are supporting women on their journey to motherhood. I am looking forward to talking to midwives about the ways BabyCenter could be a valuable resource in the work that they do. But most of all I am looking forward to spending time among those extraordinary women whose knowledge, experience and sheer energy make such a difference to the lives of so many.
Mei Leng, Regional Editor, South East Asia
I’m looking forward to ICM because I’ve heard so much about it. I have this idea that it is going to be so interesting and empowering, I feel privileged that I will be able to experience it for myself.