On Motherhood and Sharing Personal Experiences

Seven months ago I had my first child. After many hormone injections (including many hormonal roller coasters) and two painful egg retrievals, I was finally pregnant!

I had an uncomplicated pregnancy, a quick and rather easy childbirth, and a good postpartum period. I have been able to breastfeed my child from the beginning and fortunately she has not yet had any complications in her life. She’s a very content and happy baby who sleeps well, eats well, and even pees and poops on the toilet.

Of course, there are days when she cannot be pleased whatever my husband or I do, and nights when she screams and keeps us awake for hours. However, this is certainly an anomaly, and I’ve realized that I’m a very fortunate mommy.

But I cannot fully settle with that. Based upon my experiences with my daughter, I’ve come to realize that it should not be a privilege to have a safe childbirth, to get adequate information regarding everything from pregnancy to the postnatal time and everything there is to it (and it’s a lot), or to have knowledgeable, caring people around who help and support whenever it’s needed.

While I was pregnant, I often thought about how I – as a public health student, a friend, a sister and a mother-to-be – could affect and make a change, because I am fully aware of the many women and children around the globe who are not as fortunate as I am.

So, I decided that I would be completely open and candid to my environment. That had to be the least I could do, right?

I could often feel the curiosity around me while the bump on my belly was growing bigger and bigger. I practically encouraged my friends to ask me questions, I told them: “Don’t be shy – I’m an open book!” And boy, did I get questions – from my fellow public health students from around the world, from friends and family, and even from strangers. Everything from: “Are you allowed to walk stairs?” to “Is it possible for you to have sex without hurting the baby?”

After the delivery, the questions kept coming. And I continued to answer as thoroughly as I possibly could, and told my anecdotes over and over again. I did (and still do) it with pleasure every time, whether if it’s regarding the peeing-and-pooping-on-the-toilet-thing or the feeling of surrendering myself into my baby girl’s eyes for the first time.

Being open has given me so much. It feels like the women in my surroundings dare to confide in me – pregnant or not, mother or not – no matter their struggles, they know I won’t judge them. We all have our battles, little or big ones, with ourselves or with others. I wish that battles regarding pregnancy and having children wouldn’t be something we harbor within ourselves, but something that we speak freely about.

My interest in maternal and infant health has amplified since becoming a mother and I want to continue on this route – to share my experience and knowledge, and hopefully what will also become my professional expertise. And then, I hope that I will be able to be part of a bigger change towards a more just and gender equal society, where every woman has access to health care and accurate information. For now, in the position I currently find myself in, I can only continue doing what I do – love, share and care, and encourage others to do the same.

Cover photo credit: Mia Ydholm (pictured with her 3 week old baby). 

#11 – Maternal Health in Tanzania: Inside Maternity Africa

Welcome back to The Mom Pod! After a brief summer break, we are excited to continue with our podcast series and continue to bring you interesting, sincere and thought provoking podcasts on all things related to pregnancy, motherhood, parenthood and babies around the world!

Starting from today, our new episodes will now air every other week on Mondays – to mark the important #MaternalMonday advocacy campaign by the Wellbeing Foundation Africa. The #MaternalMonday social media campaign brings awareness to the importance of ensuring a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery for mothers and babies everywhere in the world. To participate, head over to Twitter, follow @Maternal_Monday and join the conversation with the hashtag #MaternalMonday, or visit their website to learn more.

In this episode of The Mom Pod, we take a closer look at the state of maternal health and midwifery in one particular African country: Tanzania. I had the pleasure to visit a great organization, Maternity Africa, based in the Selian hospital in Arusha, Tanzania, where I interviewed a few of their midwives and nurses about maternal and newborn health and their experiences as midwives. Katie, Sarah and Neema told me about the many challenges they face in their day to day work, ranging from lack of basic supplies like medicine and oxygen to challenging attitudes in the medical profession – but these challenges pale in comparison to the unimaginable difficulties pregnant women face just to obtain the very basic and minimum level of care during their pregnancy and in labor, such as having to walk tens of miles to the nearest clinic if they wish to give birth with a trained birth attendant in a medical facility. I’ve given birth – and while in labor, I could barely walk from the bed to the bathroom. Imagine walking miles and miles and miles, under the sun and the heat, often on very bad roads – while in labor. Would you go and look for medical care – or would you take your chances birthing at home without any trained assistance?

Many women continue to die during pregnancy or childbirth needlessly in Tanzania, often because they lack access to proper prenatal and postnatal care – but midwives like Katie, Sarah and Neema are working tirelessly day in and day out to ensure that the women in their care come out of pregnancy and birth alive and well, with a healthy baby to take home. This isn’t always the case – but at least the women who come to Selian hospital and to Maternity Africa are getting treatment from trained, skilled health personnel who treat them with respect and dignity. Something every single mother, everywhere around the world, should have access to. Midwives all around the world are doing their very best to keep mothers safe and well during pregnancy and birth, and ensure babies stay healthy in the womb and outside of it – and some really amazing work is happening right here, in Selian hospital, in Arusha, Tanzania.

Maternity Africa’s work is divided into two main areas – fistula prevention, which includes the maternal health work that Katie and her fellow midwives do – and fistula repair, which you will learn more about in another episode airing in October. If you are interested to learn more about Maternity Africa, visit their website and Facebook page – and if you are a midwife or nurse, perhaps look into lending your skills to very good use and volunteer with them or with another similar organization. I can’t imagine a more impactful way to make a difference in this world. After all, mothers and babies deserve the very best. If we are failing them, we’re failing at the most important task imaginable.


Cover image: UNFPA Flickr / Abbie Trayler-Smith

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. 






#10 – Saving the Lives of Mothers & Babies: Conversations from Women Deliver 2016

In this episode, Julia speaks with leaders that are working to save the lives of mothers and babies at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen. Women Deliver 2016 was the largest gathering of the decade focusing on women’s rights, health and well-being.

Julia has an intimate conversation with Denise Dunning, Founder and Executive Director of Rise Up. Denise shares the story of the birth of her third child – an experience that didn’t go as planned – and the experiences of women she knows around the world, who haven’t been as lucky as her. Denise talks about the importance of raising the voices of women and girls, and what Rise Up does to strengthen the rights and health of women and girls worldwide.

“I think that sharing stories and sharing my own story can be a source of power. I’ve seen that in the girls and women that we work with. Enabling them to amplify their voices and to share their stories helps people to understand that despite the incredible challenges and obstacles they face, they are not victims. These girls and women have incredible power and the ability to create change.”

Denise Dunning, Rise Up

One critical component to saving the lives of mothers and babies is ensuring that innovations and proven methods of success can be scaled to reach more communities around the world. Julia spoke to panelists from “Scaling Innovations to Save the Lives of Mothers and Babies” – an event at Women Deliver 2016 by Every Woman Every Child, Concern Worldwide, Maternity Foundation, MSD for Mothers, Philips, Grand Challenges Canada and PATH. The one-hour event was a fast-paced discussion with innovators, investors and corporate and government leaders on what’s needed to move innovations from the pipeline to the frontlines to save more women and babies.

“My goal is to create a world where no woman dies giving life.”

Priya Agrawal, Executive Director, MSD for Mothers

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

Learn more about The Mom Pod here

Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula

Post Written By: Abbey Kocan, Executive Director 

The first time I met a woman who was recovering from obstetric fistula surgery, I was faced with a reality I had been sheltered from for far too long. Four years later, while the level of awareness around this condition in the developed world has grown, there is still a lot of work to be done before this critical global health challenge is given a permanent place in the spotlight.

Imagine if, while giving birth, you or your partner faced a complication requiring emergency medical care. Imagine if that care was unavailable, and you lost your baby. You grieve for the loss of the child who was so close to living. You, or your partner, suffer silently, trying to find a way to cope with the physical trauma that leaves you incontinent, unable to work and further devastated by judgment and abuse at the hands of your friends and family.

Photo 2-Kupona
Artwork by: Jac Saorsa

Kupona Foundation’s fistula program has treated patients as young as 12, and as old as 82. Imagine living like this for decades, certain that your pain will continue for the rest of your life. Imagine if this happened to your teenage daughter.

A Silent Tragedy

At Kupona Foundation we often refer to obstetric fistula as a silent tragedy, affecting members of our global community who struggle to make their voices heard even before they are faced with unimaginable trauma. It is made even more difficult to endure by the myths and misconceptions that are held up as fact in their communities. The women living with this condition are hidden from view. As a result, those with the power to change things are oblivious to their struggle.

The site of the last fistula hospital in the United States is now the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. In the early 20th century, the need for fistula treatment in the U.S. dwindled as the quality of our healthcare services improved. Demand dropped to the point where the hospital could be converted into a luxury hotel. This is the dream of all fistula care providers across the world. That, eventually, they too will become obsolete.

Today, on the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, Kupona Foundation, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, UNFPA’s Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula, Fistula Foundation, New York University’s Kimmel Center for University Life and the College of Global Public Health, launch the Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula exhibition at the NYU Kimmel Center in New York City. The collection of work by artist Jac Saorsa is designed to shine a light on the experiences of women living with and recovering from obstetric fistula, to raise awareness about the condition, and to mobilize support for the programs and partnerships that work to restore women’s dignity. The women featured all received treatment from CCBRT, Kupona Foundation’s sister organization, at its Disability Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Photo 3-Kupona
Art work by: Jac Saorsa

Since 2009, Kupona Foundation supporters have contributed over $1.3 million to the treatment and prevention of fistula. Together, we have rebuilt the lives of 3,987 women, and with our support CCBRT has grown to become one of the largest providers of comprehensive fistula treatment in the world. Our hope is that these drawings will open your eyes not only to the reality facing the women living with obstetric fistula, but also to the opportunity facing every one of us to change the status quo.

We imagine a world free from fistula, can you?

The Waldorf Astoria hotel is an iconic reminder that fistula can be treated, prevented and ultimately eradicated. All it takes is a community of like-minded, motivated individuals and institutions coming together and taking action. By attending this exhibition you will become a vital part of this community. Thank you in advance for your support.

Photo 4-KuponaThe Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula exhibition is free to the public from May 23rd-July 4th, Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sunday 1pm-8pm (closed Saturday) at the NYU Kimmel Center, Washington Square S, New York, NY. All visitors must present photo ID at reception.

Learn more about the exhibition: www.resilience.gallery

Learn more about Kupona Foundation: kuponafoundation.org

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.