An Ode to the Midwives in My Life

To the midwife who brought my first baby to the world.
Despite the doctor’s miscommunication,
she guided the lioness in me through nature’s vulnerability
the miracle of life brought to me through her hands.

To the midwife in my family, my mentor, my friend.
In my darkest place, nipples sore and breasts ready to explode,
you support me to be myself, to listen to myself.
“Relax, breathe, it is going to be alright”
you always say the words I need to hear.

To the midwife who showed us our first picture of the baby inside,
her heart beating and legs kicking, reacting to the moves I make.
To the midwife who put her steady hands on my shoulder,
guiding me through inhales and exhales.
To the midwife who reassuringly investigated my scars,
creating the safe space needed to speak.

To the midwives who’ve spent hours listening,
my worries, my joys, my expectations, my fears.
Listening to my story.

To the midwives I’ve listened to,
in maternity wards and through podcasts
invaluable words of wisdom.

To the midwife who brought my second baby to the world,
my little one so content.
She kept the room calm, speaking only when necessary,
supporting me with actions through the unbearable.
My blood, my pain, my screams.
She let me lead, when I felt nothing like a leader.
She calmed the quick storm in me,
and gave us space to welcome new life.

To all of the above who’ve helped me become who I am today.
Thank you for being with me – with women everywhere.

Breaking the Taboo: Sex During Pregnancy

Phew, maybe you’re thinking…this girl gets straight to the point! And it’s true, because in this blog I want to talk about sexuality both during pregnancy and afterwards once the baby arrives. I have noticed that sex is kind of an awkward subject for women to talk about during appointments with their midwife. But why is that?

We all know how people get pregnant, so why can’t we talk about it? After all, research shows us that many women experience problems with sex during and after pregnancy.

At the moment I am a first year midwifery student in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. My first year of study is all about the physiology of pregnancy. I believe my studies and future job as a midwife are privileges, and I think that it’s an honour to be a part of such life changing events for women, and to be able to offer them support.

To continue on the subject of sexuality, maybe you’re thinking to yourself – what kind of problems could there be? The most common problems during pregnancy are generally a belly which is in the way, back pain or other pain in the body, feeling unattractive or feeling scared of hurting the baby. After delivery, women can struggle with the healing after a rupture, vaginal dryness, low sex drive and tiredness – because with a newborn baby you’re awake a lot during the night! And sometimes, with so many changes taking place in their bodies, women can feel unattractive or worry that their partners don’t find them as attractive as they did before.

The main message I have for any women who are worried is that it’s okay to have sex during pregnancy! You can try different positions and find what works and feels best for you at different stages of your pregnancy. There are only some specific circumstances when it’s not smart to have sex or an orgasm, for example, if you’re experiencing blood loss or suffer from severe varicose veins. It’s also not a good idea when your water breaks, as it could threaten premature birth, or when the placenta is located before the exit of the uterus.

Finally! Your little baby is there. What happens now? My advice here would be to take the time your body needs to heal! It has just accomplished an incredible thing, and will need to recover. The first time you have sex after giving birth can be exciting. Start carefully, take your time and consider using lubricant to make things easier.

Of course, if you experience regular or intense pain during sex at any point of pregnancy or after childbirth, make an appointment to talk to your midwife or doctor. They will be able to help you, give you tips and hopefully put your mind at ease. And if that is a too big step for you, try researching using reliable websites online until you feel more ready to talk to someone in person.

Health Heroes on the Front Lines

The ability to see a doctor, nurse, or other trained health provider when we need to is hugely important. We may not think about it much when we are healthy, but sometimes, a visit with a health provider could mean the difference between life or death.

Unfortunately, millions of people in rural areas and low-income communities live far away from their nearest hospital, clinic, or health center, and don’t have adequate transportation or resources to reach them during an emergency. In fact, about half of the world’s population cannot access health care when they need it.

Consider those living in areas affected by natural disasters, emergencies, or armed conflict. Frontline health workers typically live in or near the communities they serve. If a community is affected by drought, the health workers are affected too. If ongoing conflict causes people to flee their homes and communities, doctors and nurses will likely flee with their families as well (if they can). Those left behind may have no one to provide them medical care or to help them stay healthy.

CARE trains, works with and relies on frontline health workers (FHWs) to deliver health services every day in a variety of low-resource settings. These include doctors, nurses and other health workers with varying degrees of formal and informal training. We know that their jobs are difficult, even in the best circumstances. Now imagine what life is like as a FHW in an area affected by crisis or armed conflict.

Let us introduce you to some of the people doing this work:

Mary is a midwife working in the Imvepi refugee settlement in Uganda. She has a three-year-old son.

Photo credit: Jennifer Bose/CARE

Uganda has become one of the largest refugee hosting countries in the world. At the height of the crisis, more than 3,000-7,000 people from South Sudan would arrive every day in the search of refuge. Of the 1.2 million refugees in Uganda, 900,000 are South Sudanese and 86% are women and children in real danger of sexual and physical violence, with many reporting incidents of violence on their journey. Imvepi refugee settlement hosts more than 110,000 refugees.

CARE has established five centers in Imvepi where refugee women and girls can seek assistance and sexual violence survivors can be provided with psychosocial support and health services. Mary works in one of these centers.

She has a busy schedule. At the women’s center, she identifies pregnant refugees who need maternal health services, screens for possible complications, and advises them on antenatal care. She refers any serious medical cases to nearby health clinics and balances a large case load. “Usually in a day I see around 80-100 people, many of them are pregnant mothers,” she explained. “I make sure to highlight the importance of hospital deliveries, as most of them have never seen a doctor before. But it is challenging.”

Because of the scale of Imvepi (about 150 square kilometers), Mary also makes home visits. She provides education on different topics – from family planning to gender-based violence to malnutrition and HIV.

“[Intimate partner violence] is a reoccurring problem in many families. I mostly hear of cases where food shortages lead to physical violence. Many families decide to sell the food rations they receive, ending up with little to no food left for themselves and extreme tensions at home.” Mary said. “I screen such women to see if they are in need of immediate help or referrals.”

Khawla is also a midwife, providing family planning services in Aleppo, Syria. She lives with her husband and children.

Photo Credit: CARE/SRD

Conflict has been ongoing in Syria for over seven years, and civilians are bearing the brunt of the suffering, destruction, and disregard for human life. An estimated 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 4.9 million trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where they are exposed to grave protection threats.

Working through partners, CARE supports 10 primary healthcare centers and 10 mobile clinics in northern Syria to provide vulnerable Syrian households with access to sexual and reproductive health and primary health education and services.

Khawla’s home and the health center often do not have electricity. She spends most of her time talking to women about their reproductive health and contraception. While most of Khawla’s work happens during daylight hours at the health center, sometimes she gets emergency calls from women late at night. “This is what scares me – having to go out during evening or night hours due to the security and conflict conditions in Syria,” Khalwa explains. The nearest hospital is 15 kilometers away.

Mary, Khawla, and other frontline health workers make personal sacrifices every day to deliver life-saving health care and emergency assistance to those in need under difficult circumstances. They experience and witness incredible suffering and choose to run towards the need when many would run away.

At CARE, we want to say thank you to all health heroes, wherever you are. We appreciate you, and your commitment to helping others.

Meet more of CARE’s frontline health heroes in our World Humanitarian Day publication: A Day in the Life of Seven Aid Workers.

Midwives of the World: Part 3

In order to reach a completely equal society, all basic human rights need to be secured. One of these is maternal health. The success of a country can often be traced back to successful maternal health programming. Therefore, my project partner Anna and I decided to create a documentary series about midwives around the world.

This is the final part of the documentary series, which also marks the end of Project Let’s Talk Equality. (You can still catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them!)

To create this documentary and to get a fair picture of the situation for mothers and midwives around the world, we have collaborated with the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA). The WRA is an incredible organization for maternal health, and a network for volunteers from all over the world. We decided to focus on White Ribbon Alliance Indonesia, or Aliansi Pita Putih Indonesia  (APPI), and visited their team in Jakarta earlier this year.

With the three parts of our documentary, we hope to do two things. One is to present a fair picture and comparison of the maternal health situation in Sweden and Indonesia. The other is to inspire people to make a change in their local communities, just like the volunteers of the White Ribbon Alliance do, or like midwives do in their daily work.

It has been an inspiring adventure, and we hope that our documentary series has captured some of the remarkable energy volunteers and midwives from both Indonesia and Sweden put into their work every day to help others. From when we first brainstormed our ideas for the project in September 2016, throughout our site visit half a year later, to completing our documentary series, we have been continuously overwhelmed by the wonderful people we’ve encountered and the great response we’ve received from sponsors, mentors and our audience.

Although the project has come to a close, we hope that it has sparked discussion that will continue for years ahead, and that it will encourage more people to contribute to work for women’s rights in their communities.

Feel free to share, comment and spread the word. Thank you for watching, and remember – let’s get together for moms, and let’s talk equality!

Do you want Girls’ Globe to be able to support young women to create inspiring material like this in the future? We are crowdfunding for 2018!