'In those days we had no choice and these women still don't have one today.'

This post is sponsored by Marie Stopes International Australia


My elderly aunt and I talked on the phone last week.

We had both watched the same documentary about midwives and the conversation turned to pregnancy and childbirth.

“You know, we didn’t know how to not have babies when we were young, your Nan and I”, she said.

“In the city [Melbourne], we just didn’t know how to stop it.” [I made some non-committal noises, hoping Aunty wasn’t going to talk at length again about how Nan’s prolapsed bladder used to fall out and she had to poke it back in again. I had only just eaten dinner.]

“In the country, in Bendigo, they knew how to stop getting pregnant.” [“Really?” I said, starting to check my emails.]

“In the country, they knew that you should soak a sponge in vinegar and put it up in there, and you wouldn’t get pregnant”. [Splutter. “What? Why? With what? In there? Oh, god, that’s horrible!”].

“Well, we had no other choice.”

And that, my friends, was the first time that I wished that my aunt had actually talked about Nan’s prolapsed bladder.

The idea that Australian women in the 1950s had to resort to putting salad dressing in their Lady Garden to manage their own fertility is pretty grim: women had so little choice and felt so very trapped.

But in some parts of the world, in our region in fact, this is still a reality for many women. There are women in the world today who are still not informed about contraception and other family planning options – and that lack of knowledge is often fatal.

In Timor-Leste, just a short one-hour flight from Darwin, one in four women do not have access to information about any form of family planning. This lack of understanding about contraception has contributed to Timorese women averaging about six births in their lifetime, which is the highest birth rate in Asia.1

Given this high birth rate, nearly 70 per cent of married women in Timor-Leste would like to use contraception or family planning options, either to limit the number of children that they have or to space their children. However, only 22 per cent of women actually use a modern form of contraception.2

In Timor-Leste, many factors contribute to low contraception use, but central to this is the lack of knowledge.

Take the story of Imelda: Imelda was 19 and deeply in love with her husband. Feeling weak and out of sorts, she went to the doctor who told her that she had a dangerous health condition. The doctor told Imelda that she should not fall pregnant as it would put too much strain on her heart. But the doctor did not tell her about any family planning options, nor did he check to see whether she was pregnant. Five months later, Imelda returned to the doctor in labour. As anticipated by her doctor, Imelda died giving birth to her daughter.3

Imelda’s death was avoidable. Imelda is one of many women who die because they do not know about family planning – the most important intervention to maternal death in pregnancy and childbirth.


Many other women die because their location in rural areas means they can’t access medical care in time. In fact, many women who live in areas so isolated mean they are unaware that family planning and contraception even exist.

Some Australian non-government organisations, like Marie Stopes International, provide motorbikes and outreach services so midwives and medical care can reach isolated women with information, medical supplies and health care services. However, many women still need to walk for hours or even travel for days to attend clinic outreach centres.

Other women are prevented from using contraception because of opposition from their partners and society, or due to stigmas surrounding sexual activity.4  Some husbands are simply unaware of their family’s options. Over 30% of men have never heard of any form of contraception, or are unwilling to use them and less than 10% of men in Timor-Leste have reported ever using a condom.5

This lack of knowledge will continue to end the lives of many like Imelda unless action is taken to improve women’s access to contraceptives and family planning options in countries like Timor-Leste and around the world.

So this Mother’s Day, I’ll be thanking my mother for making sure that I got advice about contraception options, so I never need to feel trapped or uninformed about my body. And I’ll be thanking organisations who make it possible for mothers around the world to have children safely and allow them to take time between pregnancies to give their bodies a break.

I’ll also be thanking my aunt for reminding me how lucky I am to live in a country where I don’t have to even think about accessing reproductive health care – let alone walk for days.

Oh, and for reminding me to not lift heavy boxes just in case my bladder falls out.

Marie Stopes International Australia has developed “Thank You Mum” – an initiative for Mother’s Day 2013. It aims to raise awareness of maternal and reproductive health as key development issues for some of the world’s most vulnerable women. For millions of women in the Asia Pacific region, pregnancy and childbirth are often life threatening events. We ask the Australian public to thank their mums for their own courage and bravery as mothers, by making a personalised eCard for Mother’s Day.

Please visit their website to thank your mum and show your support for mothers everywhere.

This post is sponsored by Marie Stopes International Australia. Comments on this post are just for this post. If you want to talk about the IDEA of sponsored posts or the choice of advertisers please click here. We will be reading all those comments too for feedback.

article sources:

1 State of the World Population Report 2012 “Children by choice, not chance” UNFPA
2 Timor-Leste Demographic and Health Survey 2009-10
3 Suzanne Belton, Andrea Whittaker and Lesley Barclay. Maternal Mortality, Unplanned Pregnancy and Unsafe Abortion in Timor-Leste. A Situational Analysis. 2009 UNFPA
4 Susheela Singh and Jacqueline E. Darroch “Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services Estimates for 2012” June 2012. Guttmacher Institute & UNFPA.
5 Timor-Leste Demographic and Helath Survey 2009-2010. National Statistics Directorate, Ministry of Finance. Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Dili, Timor Leste.

What will you be thanking your mother for this Mother’s Day?