Born in the USA

By Sara Veltkamp, Minerva Strategies –

This past Sunday I had the privilege of supporting good friends of mine through the labor of their second child, a baby girl.  I struggle to find words that describe the experience; it was stressful, intense, exhausting, and without a doubt the most beautiful and inspiring thing that I have ever seen.  If you’ve lived it, you know what I’m talking about – if you have not, I hope you have the opportunity to do so someday.

The family – mother, father, baby girl, and their son – are doing well and couldn’t be more excited about adding to their household.  I couldn’t be more excited to be an honorary aunt.

Prior to this birth, my friend sent around a joke birth plan.  A birth plan is a document that lays out the way the mother would like her birth to go in an ideal situation as well as what steps she would like to follow if complications arise. This document is intended to prevent unwanted or unnecessary medical interventions –pain medications, episiotomy, etc.  One line in this birth plan was, “in the event of a Cesarean, please practice Western medicine” insinuating that while parents want to avoid an overly medical birth, when complications arise, they’re happy these resources are available.

Despite the warranted criticism of Western medicine for its policies during childbirth, I couldn’t help but think about what could have been if we were living somewhere else in the world, or in different circumstances in the U.S.

First, my friend and her husband were able to plan their family’s growth.  They were prepared, emotionally, financially, and physically for the birth of their son as well as their new daughter.  This access to information, empowerment, and birth control methods are not available everywhere.

Organizations around the world and right here in the Pacific Northwest are working to increase this access.  Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s International Program is working in several countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia with the goals of helping people, especially young women, get family planning resources. This global outreach builds on the fantastic work that Planned Parenthood does here in the U.S. to engage, educate, and empower women to determine their own future as parents.

Second, my friend is healthy.  While she has health complications, she manages them diligently with medication that is readily available.  In addition, the abundance of options for care ensures that she not only has a doctor, but she has her choice of doctors and can choose one that she trusts.  Her prenatal care has been consistent and high-quality.

PATH, a global health organization based in Seattle, provides innovative approaches to improve the health and nutrition of children.  In Kenya, their sweet potato project blends prenatal care and agriculture to ensure that mothers get the vitamin A that their baby needs to be healthy.

Third, qualified healthcare workers monitored and supported every aspect of the birth.  Nothing went wrong with baby girl’s birth but I have no doubt that if it had, support would have been instant.  The neonatal intensive care unit was only a few feet from the door to my friend’s birthing suite.

For mothers in rural Ethiopia, this care is not accessible.  According to the World Health Organization, being seen by a midwife is rare in remote areas, and giving birth with a qualified healthcare worker in attendance happens in only eleven percent of births.   In cases of obstructed labor, where, for a variety of reasons, the baby is not able to pass through the birth canal, the mother can labor without giving birth for many days.  This most often results in the death of the baby and incredible internal damage that, if not fatal, is debilitating and changes the woman’s life in tragic ways.

Minerva client Hamlin Fistula USA supports a network of hospitals and regional care centers in Ethiopia that work to repair obstetric fistula, an injury that results from prolonged obstructed labor.  They not only treat these injuries, they work to prevent them.  The Hamlin College of Midwives provides free, four-year education and training for midwives who are then dispatched to work in rural areas, providing life-saving care to pregnant women who otherwise would not have access to these resources.  This work is essential in ending this problem in Ethiopia.

Worldwide, the Campaign to End Fistula, supported by the UNFPA, has many partners, Hamlin Fistula included, working toward this goal with similar priorities – treatment and prevention.

This birth experience reinforced, for me, that pregnant women have the right to quality healthcare.  Women everywhere should be able to create birth plans that include medical interventions in the event of a crisis and ensure their basic health needs will be provided for.

Please take a moment to learn about the programs listed above and if the work resonates with you, consider supporting an organization in the name of a mother you know.