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!

Midwives of the World: Part 2

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.

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.

In this second episode you get to follow our very first days in Indonesia, featuring visits to health centers, a women’s empowerment group, and a class for pregnant and elderly. If you feel inspired- leave a comment and share, so that we can help make a change for mothers all around the globe!

If you missed our first episode, make sure to catch up here

Who Says I’m a Bad Mother?

Women may often be described as goddess-like, but perfect we are not. When my daughters were born I was ill-prepared and scared, and I momentarily felt like I lost a sense of myself.

Don’t get me wrong – my little miracles were precious to me from the first hint that I was pregnant, but it was a major life change. Sharing these mixed emotions seemed to perplex people, as though I should have been ever-joyous, selfless and nurturing, even despite sleep deprivation and my body being transformed beyond recognition.

I was a working mother who also attended school but I wanted to ensure the girls were my first priority. I made sure I was home most days after they were dismissed from school. We spent our afternoons doing homework, laughing and talking as they eagerly told stories of their day. Each night, I was thankful that I was able to read to them, pray with them and tuck them in. And as soon as they dozed off, I cracked my schoolbooks open.

Everyone familiar with my dreadful schedule would wonder, “You’re so hard working and brave. How do you do it?” I didn’t think I was either of those things. I just knew I wanted to show my children what determination looked like and how love felt.

The girls quickly moved into their teenage years, which brought on some unexpected challenges. I suppose that’s the art of being a teenager, doing the unexpected. And this is when everything shifted. I was no longer seen as hard working or brave.

Instead, people began to insinuate that maybe I had done something wrong. No one seemed to consider the neurological and hormonal changes all teenagers go through. No one seemed to remember how hard it was to navigate friendships and relationships in high school.

Well, maybe if I were around more, they’d hint, maybe if I didn’t go to school. Maybe I should have been a stay-at-home mother. Maybe I should have been more attentive, they’d imply, maybe more emotional. Some wondered whether I should have allowed the girls to have more freedom, while others said maybe I shouldn’t have allowed them to have so much. And slowly over time, I too began to question my abilities as a mother.

I also wondered why people judged me so harshly. Yet, in my heart, I knew the reason why. Society has developed an unattainable definition of the role of mothers: all sacrificial, never tiring, never stopping and relentlessly giving. We are supposed to raise our children perfectly, to get them through their many milestones seamlessly and to maintain composure gracefully, all the while pretending that none of this is detrimental to our own well-being.

There were times I locked myself in my bathroom and wept until my brown face turned a shade of deep red, wondering what I could’ve done to turn things around. I considered quitting school or sleeping less to get more done. Guilt rippled through my body, leaving knots in my stomach and tightly wound blood vessels throbbing in my temples.

Despite all of this, I knew that teenage hormones are powerful, that raising children isn’t linear, and that despite sometimes succumbing to guilt, everything wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault that my children sometimes had a hard time in class or that boys were sometimes crass and girls were sometimes mean. It wasn’t my fault that they sometimes felt depressed, as heartbreaking as it was to witness.

My responsibility was to be there to help them when they fell, and sometimes even to catch them when I knew the fall would be too hard. It was my responsibility to listen, to love and to share my wisdom. And knowing this reassures me that although I’ve made mistakes, every imperfect thing in their lives was not due to my inadequacies, and things happen even despite my attempts to protect them. Being a mother is not about perfection. In fact, it is an imperfect art and a glorious blessing.

#6 – Breastfeeding Mothers Share Experiences

In this episode of The Mom Pod, we meet mothers Kristina and Maria from Sweden, Felogene from Kenya and Julie from the United States. All four of these mothers have chosen to breastfeed, and in different phases of their breastfeeding journey they share their experiences, and talk about the challenges they have faced and the support they have received.

Although these mothers are from different corners of the world, there are several common denominators in the equation of making breastfeeding work for them and their babies. Support from family and health care professionals is essential to make breastfeeding work from the start and to make it possible for mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals.

“At the end of the day, breastfeeding will take a lot of sacrifice and a lot of love. It is really worth it, but you have to be part of the process,” says Felogene.

Maria shares her experience with 6-week old Ella who has colic – and although breastfeeding works well at this point, it is a constant struggle to find a diet that works, since Maria is vegan and committed to breastfeeding Ella.

The mothers also spoke about how breastfeeding is a feminist issue, and how it is important for mothers to breastfeed in public, to overcome sexism and challenge the notion of women’s breasts being sexual objects.

Seeing other mothers confidently breastfeed their babies and hearing about how they overcome their challenges enables women to build their own confidence and to overcome barriers that may arise. Julie explains that her job has led her to many encounters with breastfeeding mothers around the world, which has strengthened and empowered her in her breastfeeding journey with her daughter. Kristina also shares some stories about how she managed to ignore unsupportive comments from midwives and nurses after giving birth, thanks to attending a breastfeeding course during pregnancy.

Learn more about breastfeeding challenges, the cultures and laws in these countries, and foremost these women’s perspectives by listening to the full episode below. You can also listen to The Mom Pod on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Since The Mom Pod launched in January, we have produced 6 episodes, covering global maternal health, the Zika Virus, giving birth in Sweden, the Finnish baby box, and global trends in breastfeeding. We have reached mothers, fathers and other caregivers in over 50 countries, and our episodes have been listened to over 800 times.

We believe that The Mom Pod can…

  • promote understanding and tolerance
  • help us share experiences, information and practices across cultures
  • disseminate interesting and important information to parents and people working with maternal and child health on relevant and timely topics
  • create a judgement-free space to share personal, sensitive and uplifting stories of motherhood.

Now we need your help to continue this important initiative! Next week, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise $35,000 in 6 weeks! The funding will enable us to grow The Mom Pod, produce at least 8 additional episodes and to upgrade our podcasting equipment to improve sound quality and ultimately, the experience for our listeners. Here’s what you can do:

  • Share The Mom Pod with your friends and family
  • Follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook and invite your friends to do so too
  • Donate to our campaign on Indiegogo that is launching next week 
  • Become a part of our crowdfunding team to help us promote our campaign even more, through simple tasks. If you are interested in this, please send me an email to julia@girlsglobe.org.

 

Building Bridges of Knowledge Between Mothers Worldwide

In January this year, Girls’ Globe launched a new initiative, The Mom Pod, a bi-weekly podcast series about all things related to motherhood. We want to pick the minds of the world’s parents, leading experts in maternal health and women’s rights, and build bridges between cultures, countries and continents.

My colleague Emma Saloranta and I became mothers two months apart in 2014 – and throughout pregnancy and in the early months of being mothers we frequently spoke via Skype about challenges and joys. We shared experiences, knowledge and information. We spoke about similarities and differences – being that Emma gave birth in the USA and I gave birth in Sweden. We discussed issues that we encountered and the disappointments that sometimes arose in our experiences during pregnancy or as new mothers.

What startled me were the strong norms in our societies that steer women’s opportunities and choices. Throughout pregnancy and especially as a new mother, there are so many other people who have opinions about your choices – and who express these openly. Yet, at the same time, there are so many tricky conversations that either end up in needless debates or are left unspoken. I felt that becoming a mother was something I had to learn myself, and that there was a lack of information, knowledge-sharing, and support in my community (and online!).

The Mom Pod is something that is so much more than expert interviews on maternal health and parenting advice – we want to create a forum for open and honest conversations on all things related to motherhood, and make space for learning from each other.

“I want to encourage your work of connecting young women globally and sharing different ways of care in the world. I think that if you hear about what is offered in some countries, you might start to think “I want that too” – and this can be extremely powerful.”

Mia Ahlberg, President, The Swedish Association of Midwives

So far we have produced four episodes, covering the global state of maternal health, the Zika virus outbreak, birth practices and experiences in Sweden and the Finnish baby box. You can listen to all of our episodes on iTunes or Soundcloud, also embedded below. We want our episodes to support and help You, so please share your comments and feedback with us and let us know what topics you would like us to cover. If you have a story to tell, or someone you think we should interview, let us know! We’re currently working on multiple episodes ranging from breastfeeding to fistula and cost of labor in the U.S. to maternal health among refugee women.

Our next episode will be out on April 8th – stay tuned!

Cover photo credit: Bridget Coila (Creative Commons)

Chewed Rice, not Exclusive Breastfeeding in Laos

In villages in southern Laos, breastfeeding mothers are as ubiquitous as thatched roofs and playing children. In my time among villagers, I have never seen a breastfeeding mother cover up or go inside to continue feeding. Breastfeeding stigma seems non-existent. On front stoops and in gathering places, babies get their fill, comfortably ensconced in slings or resting on laps.

This freedom to feed however, isn’t reflected in Lao’s exclusive breastfeeding rates: just 39% of babies benefit from early initiation of breastfeeding and only 40% are exclusively breastfed until 6 months.

With child mortality rates in Laos among the highest in the region – nearly 79 deaths per 1,000 children under 5 – the government has taken measures at improving child survival.  One such initiative is a joint Lao government-UNICEF program to promote exclusive breastfeeding.

In a 2012 presentation on the progress of this joint program, Dr.Khamseng Philavong from the Lao Ministry of Health tied breastfeeding to improving child survival:

“Evidence indicates breastfeeding as the most important preventive intervention with potentially the single largest impact on reducing child mortality.”

Given that breastfeeding is common practice and the government is promoting it why isn’t exclusive breastfeeding the norm in Laos?

One reason, according to the nurses we work with, is that there is a long tradition of feeding pre-chewed rice to babies as early as the first week of life.

Breastfeeding Mom, Tahoy District, Salavan, Laos
Breastfeeding Mom, Tahoy District, Salavan, Laos. Photo Credit: CleanBirth

A study by Kaufmann et al found that pre-chewed rice was given to 20-48% of Lao infants in the first week of life.  There is a belief that breast milk is not enough – that supplementation is needed.  While rice has long been the traditional addition to a baby’s diet, the marketing of breast milk substitutes is proving effective in urban areas.

The consequences of supplementation seem to be significant. According to another study, the practice of supplementing rice is tied to Laos’ high rate of stunting (low height for age as a result of chronic malnutrition) which stands at 44 %.  In Salavan Province where I work, stunting affects 54 % of children under 5, one of the highest rates in the country.

So what can be done to promote exclusive breastfeeding?  

My organization, CleanBirth.org which works to promote safe birth, trains Lao government nurses to promote the WHO’s breastfeeding strategy among their families. This includes:

  • Early initiation of breastfeeding within I hour of birth
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for first six months
  • Continued breastfeeding for two years or more
  • Safe, appropriate and adequate complementary foods beginning at six months.

The local nurses understand the efficacy of exclusive breastfeeding. They have told us that they believe that with education, families will eventually move away from supplementation.

This type of education is essential because when parents understand how to properly feed their children, children survive and thrive.

Featured Image: Lao government poster promoting breastfeeding at local clinic. Photo Credit: CleanBirth

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