Two new beautiful, calm eyes appeared from under the blanket in the nursing ward. Mama held her first born baby boy tight to her chest, glowing with love and a sense of triumph! He was born the night before after hours of walking, drinking, physical support and most of all strength! What made this birth special was that this one baby made his way into the world just as he was meant to. There was no cesarean section, he wasn’t taken out with metal forceps, the mother didn’t wear a sense of defeat after being told that her body was not capable of birthing her own child. Although just one birth, experiences like these confirm how important our work is and how many women and children can benefit from a renewed sense of power.
After hearing the long list of reasons to justify a cesarean birth the day before, I realised that it wouldn’t take much for this birth to be taken from its natural course. There were multiple women in active labour who took turns climbing onto the labour table (complete with garbage bag cover), a line out the door of pregnant women waiting for a check up and one very dedicated head-midwife who was holding the entire process together. At the other end of the courtyard, there were tears, moans and a family in mourning over the loss of their mother – her body was wheeled out on a metal cart. Most of the women in the birth ward held anything they were experiencing so far within that it was often difficult to tell from just walking by who was actually in labour or not! We were able to bring this one woman outside to help her face some of what she was experiencing! We pressed on her hips, got her on her hands and knees, danced at the wall, and spent as much time outside as possible. The midwives even got involved and soon began to use some of the simple suggestions we offered to support the birth process. She birthed her baby boy at 9pm with a deep sense of accomplishment and pride!
The maternal mortality rate in Uganda is horrific. Each year more than half a million women around the world die during pregnancy and birth and reducing child and maternal mortality are now two of the official Millennium Development Goals. This time around we were able to talk to midwives who told us stories of women with complications being transferred from their small community birth centres to the local hospital on a 45min bumpy scooter ride, we learned about traditional herbs and ceremonies performed at a birth such as ‘Etwatwa’ where the baby is bathed in the tea leaves from a beautiful purple flower for wisdom and good luck and we were introduced to harmful misconceptions involving using cow dung on new babies to avoid HIV.
We are honoured to work with the midwives in Luweero! Sister Ernestine runs a very special clinic and has spent her life dedicated to her community and place of service. The head midwife Sister Teddy, is looking forward to our return and was so appreciative to receive the textbooks, pamphlets, baby products and birth education supplies we brought to the clinic this year.
In addition to our existing work with birthing women, midwives and traditional birth attendants in Uganda, we have recently started a new project to bring birth kits to the women birthing in Luweero. The kits cost $15 Canadian and include everything a woman needs for birth including a reusable pad and liner for after she has given birth. They are available for purchase on our website.