The following is an article written by Patricia Paddey, Communications Director with Save the Mothers, an organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies in developing countries. I invited Save the Mothers to share with our community because I believe that supporting and investing in women, specifically mothers, is one of the most powerful motivators for social change in the world. When we support mothers they (we) in turn endow their children and their communities with the proceeds- figuratively and literally. Save the Mothers is Moms Uniting Moms in every sense of the words.
I’m one of the fortunate ones. And if you’ve had children in North America, then you are too.
I’ve had four pregnancies; three were relatively uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies, which led to three relatively uncomplicated labours, resulting in the delivery of three wonderful human beings: two girls, one boy. They are the joy of my life.
The fourth pregnancy, which didn’t progress beyond 10 weeks, left me with a sense of loss for the little one I never got to hold. It also reinforced in me—for all time—a deeper appreciation for the miracle my children represent.
But I’ve learned in recent years that even the relatively “minor” complications I did experience—and there were a couple with each baby—were only minor because of where they occurred; that is, they occurred here in Canada, and not for instance, in sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s a reality I know to be true because of my work with Save the Mothers, an international organization on the front lines of the battle to improve maternal health in East Africa.
Were it not for the fact that I had ready access to trained medical experts, and inexpensive but necessary drugs and equipment, those few, minor complications could well have claimed my life or the lives of each one of my three children. It’s a humbling reality, which still has the power to make me pause and give thanks.
Fifteen percent of all pregnancies everywhere result in a life-threatening complication. Here in Canada, approximately 46 women die annually of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. But in Uganda, an African country with a population roughly equivalent to Canada’s own (and where Save the Mothers is based) 6,000 women lose their lives every year in the attempt to birth new life.
Take, for example, a woman I’ll call Grace.
At 26, she was already a mother of five when I saw her in her hospital bed in Uganda’s capital city, during a recent visit with Save the Mothers. She looked terrified. A deer in the headlights. Grace was dying. And her eyes said she knew it.
Obstructed labour trying to give birth to her sixth child had ruptured her uterus, ejecting the baby into her abdominal cavity. After a couple of days in labour, Grace had gone to her local hospital, but they didn’t have the resources to care for her.
Ugandan women typically avoid going to hospital. It costs money. It requires their husband’s permission. And it often necessitates access to transportation that they simply don’t have.
By the time Grace arrived at a hospital that had the resources to help, it was too late. Despite the heroic efforts of the medical team—emergency surgery to remove both the dead baby and her tattered reproductive organs—there was little hope. She’d lost too much blood. Her own blood refused to clot. And even this hospital had no blood to transfuse her.
Grace was just one of 284 patients cared for by the obstetrical team at Mulago Hospital that day, a team composed of senior obstetrician Dr. Eve Nakabembe, three residents, five midwives and six nurses. Twelve hours into her 24-hour shift, Dr. Eve was already weary when I toured her battleground. Small wonder. Grace’s operation was one of 27 emergency surgeries that day. Together, Dr. Eve and her team supported mothers and each other through the deaths of five babies and four mothers on that one shift alone.
“It’s too much,” Dr. Eve said softly, escorting us through long corridors lined with laboring women seated on benches or lying on the floor. “We need help.”
That’s an understatement. Save the Mothers is doing our best to see that help comes. We train professionals from developing countries to improve maternal health. But we can’t do it alone.
Save the Mothers is an international organization that equips professionals (from a wide array of disciplines) in developing countries to improve the health of mothers and babies. Through their specific vocations, graduates of our Master in Public Health Leadership program become influencers for positive societal change, working to overcome preventable maternal death.
Patricia Paddey is a mother of three young adults, and Communications Director with Save the Mothers.
~ Read more posts about birth. ~
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