Sisterhood Unfulfilled: A Story of Unspeakable Loss

This blog post is the first of a three part series written by: Abby Tseggai

Almost everyone knows a woman who has brought a baby into the world- and how expecting families share a similar joy, full of optimism and big dreams as they anxiously wait to hold their little baby. It is easy to forget in all the excitement that the possibility of an unfathomable reality—the death of a child—can actually occur.

I want to share with you a very personal story of girl named Fana, from Eritrea. At the tender age of seven years old, she and her family experienced a tragedy that was only the beginning of decades of havoc to follow. Fana’s little sister, died unexpectedly at just five years old from an illness unknown. The emotional trauma Fana experienced stemmed in part from losing her baby sister – but mostly, it came from having to witness her mother grieve for most of her life.

Her mother’s pain and depression was so severe that she struggled to be mentally and emotionally present for her surviving children. She couldn’t move past the loss – her mind simply could not release the intense grief. She fought her hardest to manage it daily for Fana and her older brother who was 2 years older than her. Sometimes, Fana’s mom neglected their needs, falling short on being the stable adult every child needs. What Fana did not know at the time was that this was her mom’s second such loss; a year-old son who died from an unknown illness, before Fana was even born. She knew Fana was too young to understand the magnitude of having to bury her sister too, so she sheltered Fana from that tragedy, hoping to preserve her daughter’s innocence.

As the years began to pass, Fana’s sweet memories of her litter sister were becoming more and more faint. Fana would desperately pray every night to have a little sister again. It was not until 6 years later that she was able to see her mother smile genuinely, when she told Fana she was pregnant and they were expecting a baby.  Fana was now 13 years old and able to remember every detail of hopefulness and fear she felt waiting to hold the new baby. She just knew in her heart it would be a baby girl and not a boy.

The day had finally come; Fana was waiting outside a hut made of clay. She could hear her mother screaming during labor. This was the first time she heard anything like it but luckily her mother prepared her for what to expect. After 4 hours of waiting patiently trying to ignore what sounded like a nightmare, the screams turned into desperate prayers and now included more than three people screaming and crying. Her father rushed out of the hut, picked her up and ran fast while screaming “No…No…NO!”  She begged for him to tell her what was going on because she was so confused. It was indeed a little girl her mother brought to term, however she was not breathing. No one could believe it – the baby was a stillborn. Fana’s family would now be grieving the loss of another child.

Fana’s family experienced the deaths of three children- one stillbirth and two from unknown causes. Although the stillborn mortality rate has gotten better over the decades, women and communities still suffer from the psychological, social and economic impacts of stillbirth. Africa still accounts for 2.7 million stillbirths a year. And 5.9 million don’t live to meet their fifth birthday, due to diseases that are mostly preventable. The lack of qualified midwives and health workers and the shortage of hospitals throughout the continent are still heartbreaking. Many of the deaths occurring are unnecessary. All lives deserve the same chance!

Read more about stillbirths in The Lancet Series: Ending Preventable Stillbirths.

Cover Photo Credit: United Nations, Flickr Creative Commons

Note: Cover photo is not connected to the above story. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation About Mom’s Superpowers with Mariam Claeson, Gates Foundation

In this Mother’s Day Special, The Mom Pod co-host Julia Wiklander asks some very important questions to an expert in the field of maternal, newborn and child health, Mariam Claeson, Director, Maternal Newborn and Child Health at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The focus of this conversation is all mother’s superpowers and the simple, cost effective interventions that save lives and ensure that mothers and babies survive and thrive.

“The interesting thing about maternal and newborn survival is that we actually have high impact interventions that are relatively low cost and could easily be made available for all mothers and newborns.”
Mariam Claeson

Mariam speaks about the evidence that scientists and clinicians have known for a long time and the need for that evidence to be communicated and disseminated to health professionals, mothers, families and communities around the world. She talks about these simple solutions that all mothers can do and the role that we all have to play to create an enabling environment where mothers can thrive and ensure that their superpowers come to life.

Our hope is that The Mom Pod is one such solution to share information and empower mothers everywhere to release their superpowers!

“We can present the data and show research findings, but what happens when a mother shares her own experience I think is very powerful.”
Mariam Claeson

Listen to the full episode below, or on Soundcloud and iTunes.

 

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we are working with illustrator Elina Tuomi, who has made some beautiful illustrations of mothers, babies and caregivers for The Mom Pod. Donate and claim one of the Mother’s Day Edition perks today and help us to continue these valuable and inspiring conversations that can save lives, strengthen the rights of women and children and make a lasting difference in somebody’s life. You can find our crowdfunding campaign at: https://igg.me/at/FundTheMomPod

Thank you so much for your support.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers out there – you all hold superpowers that can change the world.

#5 – Promoting, Protecting & Supporting Breastfeeding in the UK and Globally

Breastfeeding is a complex issue. It is something that women are expected to do, yet at the same time, women often lack support and information, and may also face harassment for breastfeeding in public. In this episode of The Mom Pod, we start digging into the subject of breastfeeding, investigating the latest global trends and the state of breastfeeding in the UK.

In January this year, The Lancet published a series about breastfeeding – an overarching global study of the benefits, barriers, and global trends of breastfeeding. Evidence shows that if breastfeeding was the “norm” 823,000 deaths of children under five and 22,000 deaths from breast cancer could be prevented every year! Breastmilk is a personalized medicine with benefits for both mother and child regardless of economic status. There is growing evidence that breastfeeding decreases the prevalence of obesity and diabetes later in life. It also benefits mothers’ health, decreasing the risk of breast cancer by 6% for each year of breastfeeding and also reducing the risk of ovarian cancer. These health improvements given by universal breastfeeding would translate to substantially reducing healthcare costs.

“Women need to learn to trust their bodies ability to nourish their babies,” says Alison Spiro.

Alison Spiro is a Specialist Health Visitor in the UK, who has led the way to change communities and hospitals to become baby friendly and succeed with breastfeeding. She informs about the challenges in British society, and shares stories of change and success. Alison also speaks about why she has become an advocate for breastfeeding and gives an introduction to the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative.

Amal Omer-Salim, Co-Executive Director of World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action speaks about what is needed to ensure that women and children have their right to breastfeed protected. She gives an overview of the state of breastfeeding globally and speaks about why there is a need for a global movement to promote breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding is not soley a woman’s issue. It involves all segments of the society.”
Amal Omer-Salim

Listen to the latest episode on iTunes or Soundcloud

Get Involved

Cover photo credit: Aurimas Mikalauskas 

The Trauma of Stillbirths: A Midwife’s Story

By Kasule Ahmed, White Ribbon Alliance Uganda

“A stillbirth always traumatizes all of us: the midwife who wants to help the mother to successfully give birth to her child, and the mother who carries the pregnancy for a long time only to hear that her child is dead. As midwife and a mother, it makes me feel very bad.”

These are the words of Najjuma Kalule, a midwife in the Mityana District of Uganda. In Mityana Hospital where she works, 600 babies are born every month and of that number, between 10 and 20 are stillborn, with never a chance to take even a single breath.

“All midwives hate dealing with stillbirths,” says Kalule, “because of the deep feeling of discouragement it gives us. Some midwives – especially the junior ones – tend to refer such cases to their seniors, since the process recommended for handling a stillbirth case is quite long and needs extra supervision of a mother, including choosing the right words to comfort the mother.”

Najjuma Kalule 1

Kalule says that once it’s clear that the baby has not survived the pregnancy, a period of one and a half weeks is given before specific drugs are administered to induce labour. She adds that pushing a dead baby out is the most difficult time, because the midwife entirely depends on the strength of the woman who is already feeling devastated. “Some women are too distressed to push the baby out,” she says, “and end up having a C Section.”

Kalule sees malaria as the main cause of stillbirths in Mityana; other common causes include syphilis, poor nutrition and violence against women, together with accidents, diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV/AIDS.

Kalule adds that in order to avoid stillbirths, women should start attending Antenatal Clinics (ANC) from the moment they learn that they are pregnant and should attend all the four appointments: “It’s through ANC that these causes of stillbirths can be detected and treated, and also women can be given advice on what to do when a stillbirth is detected during pregnancy.”

Kalule believes that a midwife needs to be especially sensitive from the moment of breaking the terrible news of the death of the baby. “As midwifes handling stillbirths, we do our best to calm the woman by carefully supporting and counseling her.”

 


 

  • A global ranking published by this week by The Lancet, shows that the estimated stillbirth rate in Uganda is 21 per 1000 total births, with Uganda the 39th highest for stillbirths out of 186 countries. Iceland has the lowest stillbirth rates at 1.3 and Pakistan with the highest at 43.1, all per 1000 total births.
  • According to new research published in The Lancet on January 19th 2016, there has been little change in the number of stillbirths (in the third trimester of pregnancy) even though the majority are preventable. The Ending Preventable Stillbirth research series states the annual rate of reduction for stillbirths is 2.0%, much slower than progress made for maternal (3.0%) and child deaths (4.5%). It also reveals the hidden consequences of stillbirth, with more than 4.2 million women living with symptoms of depression, often for years, in addition to economic loss for families and nations.
  • The Ending Preventable Stillbirth Series includes a global analysis of risk factors associated with stillbirth, underlining that many deaths can be prevented by, among other interventions; treating infections during pregnancy – 8.0% of all stillbirths are attributable to malaria, increasing to 20.0% in sub-Saharan Africa, and 7.7% of all stillbirths are associated with syphilis, increasing to 11.2% in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Give Mothers and Babies Life

Newborn and maternal mortality in Nigeria
A mother holds her premature daughter at Turay Yaradua Maternal and Children’s Hospital in Nigeria.
Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

Imagine this. You are almost nine months pregnant somewhere in rural Nigeria. It is 20 kilometers to the nearest clinic and you have no way to get there without walking. None of your friends or family can afford to help you nor are they able to take the time to care for you. This is something you’ll have to manage yourself.

If you have any complication, there are no resources in the clinic for emergency obstetric care, and you have no way to get to a hospital that can help you.

Or imagine that you live in Somalia, where the risk is high that you lose your baby during childbirth when there is no one else than an untrained traditional birth attendant who destroys the possibilities of life.

Or you’re pregnant in Afghanistan, Niger, or Chad. Some of the most dangerous places on earth to become pregnant and deliver a baby. What would you do when there is nothing else to choose?

It is estimated that 200,000 women and girls die due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications every year. That’s 800 girls and women every single day.

Pregnancy and childbirth is the most common cause of death for teenage girls between 15 and 19 years. For every girl or woman who dies, several more suffer complications that changes their lives forever. When a mother dies, the risk for her child to die before the age of five drastically increases.

When women die children die, leading to families and entire communities torn to pieces!

A sister holds her baby brother in Uttar Pradesh, India.  Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr
A sister holds her baby brother in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

But pregnancy does not have to be a lottery of life and death depending on where you live! 80% of all maternal deaths can be avoided with access to emergency obstetric care and skilled health workers, such as trained midwives.

When girls and women have access to contraception, prenatal care and emergency obstetric care, we create a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society. We reduce the risk of unsafe or illegal abortions. We increase opportunities for girls to get an education and empower women to decide over their future. We contribute to a development, which goes so much further than to the women and girls themselves.

When we invest in women we invest in society as a whole.

And, there is good news. In almost 20 years, we have almost halved the maternal mortality rate in the world. And it is proved that we can drastically change the status of girls and women today. Around the world, we are creating a revolution. Now we need to mobilize into action!

We need resources, political will and a change in social norms at the grassroots level. We need to increase knowledge, enhance girls’ and women’s rights and hold our leaders accountable.

We all have a role in contributing to change. Every single person has the possibility to influence change. Thanks to several different initiatives we are creating new opportunities for girls around the world. When we learn more, we can do more and inspire others to action!

We can save lives.

Here is a short list of things you can do to take part in saving mothers’ and babies’ lives:

No woman or girl should have to die when giving life. Maternal health is a human right, and girls’ rights are human rights. Together we can ensure that all women and girls survive their pregnancy.

Infographic below by USAID.

savingatbirth-1000Living Proof - Birth in NepalFeatured image credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr.

Mothers on Breastfeeding

For World Breastfeeding Week, we have asked mothers to submit photos of themselves breastfeeding and to share their reason for breastfeeding. We want to raise the voices of these mothers and share their pictures to reduce the stigma around breastfeeding in public spaces. We at Girls’ Globe believe that all mothers deserve the professional care and assistance they need to support their children in the best possible way, no matter where in the world these mothers are, or how they choose to feed their babies. While World Breastfeeding Week brings attention to the benefits and importance of nursing, the priority must be on support and acceptance – and giving mothers, and their babies, the services and the help they need and deserve.

We want to promote respect and support for all mothers.

These pictures speak louder than words.

Sleep Feeding

I couldn’t possibly think of a better investment in my child’s well-being than breast milk.

There’s no shame in giving your baby a snack.

Snacktime

Breast milk, I never travel without it.

IMG_3953

Breastfeeding after lunch time in the medieval town of Porvoo, Finland.

Breastfeeding in Finland

Are you a mother, how do you choose to feed your baby and why? Share your story in the comments below.