health

It’s amazing the lives that can be saved with a piece of string.

There’s a sense of solidarity amongst women who swap labour stories…

Childbirth is universal, a common road to motherhood that spans class, culture, religion and age. It can be quite cathartic to share your story with other women who nod in wonder or sympathy and share that knowing smile.

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I certainly enjoyed talking about the birth of my two kids with other new mums and felt it was part of the recovery process. Both my kids took their time, especially the first who chose the posterior position but eventually arrived naturally with the help of a little gas and pethidine. The maternal and health nurse in my area also knew the importance of this and had all of us first time mums share our birth stories to the group.

Photo credit: Suzy Sainovski, World Vision.

We had a similar bonding session this week at a baby shower organised by four expectant mothers at our workplace. However instead of sipping cups of tea and unwrapping baby presents, we were chatting while we packed 600 birthing kits that will be sent to women in Tanzania so that they too may get the opportunity to share their birth experience.

You see 1 in 38 women in Tanzania don’t survive the labour or die shortly after from complications. In Australia the number is 1 in 8,100. These are disturbing numbers that deserve time to let sink in.

A clean birth environment that a birthing kit provides is a vital activity that can be introduced to reduce infection and save the lives of mothers and babies.

These birthing kits are a wonder to behold. They are a marvel in their absolute simplicity and effectiveness. One piece of soap and one pair of gloves for clean hands, one piece of plastic to lay on, three pieces of string and one sterile blade to tie and cut the umbilical cord and five small pieces of gauze to wipe baby’s eyes and the woman’s perineum. That’s it. The kit weighs less than 100 grams and is the size of most women’s purses.

The specially developed birthing kits. Photo credit: Suzy Sainovski, World Vision.

The kit is developed by the Birthing Kit Foundation of Australia and distributed by aid agencies. It is cost effective to produce, just $3 each, and is lightweight to distribute. It’s mostly intuitive for people to understand how to use it with basic training and it’s unappealing for thieves to bother stealing it.

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The expectant mums at my workplace are all strong, inspiring women who have travelled to developing countries through their work at World Vision Australia – to places like Uganda, Tanzania, Peru, Cambodia and Mongolia and they have sat down with these women to hear their birth stories.

They listened to stories of women giving birth at home, without skilled birth attendants, without pain relief, without sterile instruments to cut the umbilical cord, without the most basic health care to monitor the babies’ heart rate or suture perineal tearing.

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Now it’s their turn to experience motherhood and birth for the first time and they are blessed with a deep sense of gratitude that has been hard won through their work. This has been compounded since three of the four mums have experienced some complications with their pregnancies and are thankful they’re being cared for by our world class healthcare system.

Each have said they are so well supported by friends and family members that they feel excited to be able to forgo gifts from co-workers to purchase birthing kits that have the potential to improve or even save the lives of 1,200 mothers and babies.

I hope my comments don’t make Australian women feel guilty. That is certainly not my intention. This is about pausing to give thanks to our wonderful healthcare professionals, the obstetricians, midwives and support staff who make us feel safe and confident that everything possible is being done to arrive at the best outcome for mother and child. It’s about paying that gratitude forward so that we might influence the same joyous outcome for many more equally deserving mothers. It’s about working towards a shared goal globally where swapping birthing stories is not only about sharing a universal conversation but sharing a universal outcome.

Tamara Blackmore, World Vision Australia

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