One of the tasks assigned to me during my time in Ethiopia is to look at various health centers and explore which ones are best suited for the expansion of SCOPE’s Soul Fathers as Health Educators project. I have visited all five sites being considered and found the task not nearly as straightforward as expected. Each location has its own set of strengths and challenges and it is hard to separate myself from what I imagine could be and sit with what is.
Last week we had dinner with a lovely Swiss midwifery student, Laura who is here for a five-week clinical rotation. When asked what impressed her the most about her experience she replied, “the strength of the women.” She spoke of how brave they are during the birthing process. She then shared one tragic story, which had also left an impression on her. A mother had tried to deliver at home but the presenting part was the baby’s arm rather than the head, which stalls the passage of the baby through the birth canal. In the U.S. this represents an emergency and the mother likely would have been rushed to the operating room for a cesarean delivery. The woman in Laura’s story lived over four hours from the hospital and by the time she arrived, the baby’s life had been lost. Laura described the wailing and sobbing of this poor mother as the baby was literally torn from her. She labored the baby out after the baby’s arm had been removed. I cannot begin to imagine the trauma of this experience for that mother. As a hopeful mother I mourn along with this woman and all women whose lives are needlessly altered by similar stories and all children whose lives will never be realized as a result. I hope for physical and emotional healing for that mother and father. I hope for meaningful change that will prevent such tragedies.
Laura’s story served to personalize the statistics I have been gathering during my time here. One of the health centers I visited is seeing only about 11% of the pregnant women in their catchment area. The remaining 89% are receiving no care at all. Receiving antenatal care and giving birth with a skilled attendant can be life saving for the mother and the child.
Doubts and questions cloud the hope I hold onto for mothers and children like the ones in Laura’s story. How does change actually happen? Where will it come from? Whose demand for change will be heard? Who will be the hearer of their demands? Change… progress… development. Sometimes the needed change seems so obvious and easy, yet it exists within a complex system of real people with real struggles and the process is anything but simple or straightforward. I’m glad to be here. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to ask these questions and sobering to be reminded that there are no easy answers.