Wednesday 30 March 2011

A different story...

A few days ago I received an email about Mother’s Day that took me back twelve years to when James was born.

Like many first-time eager-beaver parents-to-be, Adrian and I went to NCT classes. We did quizzes about pain relief, stifled giggles as we watched breasts being constructed out of bits of ribbon and beading and practiced panting. We discussed water births, pondered the perfect aromatherapy oils with which to welcome our baby into the world and drew up birth plans with stern invectives against nasty drugs and rotten old doctors intervening. And I’m sure that, for many people, that works just fine and dandy. Not for us.

It went pear-shaped. Pear is probably the wrong word as I simply don’t have child-bearing hips and James, it transpired, was one gargantuan baby (12lbs 8oz). It was an equation which, frankly, was never going to balance. To cut a 14-hour story short, he got wedged, we both got into difficulties and I ended up being hurtled into surgery. I remember clearly being annoyed that the surgeons wouldn’t let me watch my own C-section. Adrian, meanwhile, turned several shades of green. I had transfusions; James had a ridge round his head but, by heck, we were alive and, really, that was all that mattered.

But I do wonder. What if? We lived in a very remote place back then. If I hadn’t been in hospital? Would the air ambulance have got to me in time? Would we be alive today?

And then, this email. From AMREF, the African Medical and Research Foundation, asking if I could help raise awareness of the 280,000 mothers who die each year in pregnancy and childbirth in Africa because they lack basic medical care. What does that mean? We’re not even talking about mothers like me, who needed rapid surgical intervention, but hale healthy normal women who died from lack of basic midwifery and hygiene. I ponder charity requests very carefully but this one chimed and friends in Africa said that, yes, AMREF do great work. So I asked them to tell me more – and they sent me a matchbox. Yup, a matchbox. In it were the items needed to deliver a baby safely. 
• A piece of plastic sheeting to lay on the floor.

• A sliver of soap and cotton wool for hygiene.

• A piece of string to tie the umbilical cord.

• A razor blade to cut the cord.

• Matches to sterilise the blade.

That’s it. That and a trained birth attendant.  The keys to saving a mother’s life and that of her child. All it might take to turn a potential tragedy into a happy ending.

I’m not going to pontificate. If you are interested, check out their website 
It's not just about seeking donations.  It's about spreading awareness and they’re running a campaign at the moment called Status of Africa - linking in with Facebook and other social media. You choose a mother or midwife with whom to share your Facebook status for five days – twice a day the app will update your status to show theirs. By lending your status, you can let your followers know what it’s like to be a mother in Africa.

So, this Mother’s Day, I’m going to be grateful for being a mother. I'm going to be grateful for being alive and for my strapping very much alive twelve-year old. I’m going to be grateful to the midwives and nurses and doctors and surgeons who helped me and my baby. And I’m going to be finding out what it’s like to be a mother in Africa.  What it's like giving birth without all those people on hand...but hopefully with trained midwives and a matchbox of hope.


Anonymous said...

That's a great charity to support.
It really puts things in this country into perspective.
By the way, a baby that big, you don't need childbearing hips for that: you need rhino bearing hips!!

Milla said...

there's a local charity here in Cheltenham, Kambia ( for Sierra Leone where, I think, the mortality rates for women are something like 1/7. They have bats in the eaves and 4 boxes by the back door - a stone is placed in the relevant one to show live birth, live mother, dead birth, dead mother.
I was placenta praevia with my first son. It was picked up relatively late (34 weeks) when the baby didn't turn. I was given an elective caesarian because of this, a vile experience where an artery was cut and I lost over 4 pints of blood (prior to it all, and, yes, imbued with the silliness, frankly, of the NCT, I had grandly refused a transfusion, never thinking I'd be in a position to need one). But we're both happily here as is son number 2 (surprisingly normal birth). There are many stages along the way of bringing my first son into the world where either or both of us would have died did we not live in this country with, yes, the great NHS.
Word verif is "extra" - and this is what I feel, extra lucky when blogs like this remind me how the happenstance of my birth (hole in the heart and various stresses for my mother, notwithstanding) enabled me in turn to give birth safely.

Expat mum said...

Blimey - I think that's the heaviest baby I've ever "known". What a great cause Jane. It's ridiculous how many women die like this. There's another great charity that helps repair the injuries many of them sustain through bungled deliveries. They may not die, but they end up with no bowel and bladder control and are therefore shunned by society. I think it's called

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

What a great blog jane. That something so simple could make so much difference just makes my throat thicken. Thanks for this.

Eliza said...

Great post, It must be very scary to work in such isolated conditions. I'm glad I work in the hospital with backup around.

Alison Cross said...

Oh well said - it sure puts things into perspective. I had my son via caesarian and I often wonder...what if I couldn't have that op...what would have happened to us.


Ali xxxx

Lou Archer said...

Gosh, on so many levels.

Bluestocking Mum said...

Lordy woman - what an earth had you mated with to have a baby with that big!

Lovely blog. And super charity.

You're a lovely mum.


angelica said...

great post. glad to feel more secure about my decision to blog about this campaign