Wednesday, October 19, 2011

maternal health in the developing world

Can you imagine taking your very pregnant sister, friend, or wife to a hospital only to be turned away, verbally abused, and/or neglected?

Can you imagine being in a hospital room with dozens of other laboring women and only two nurses to work the entire room?

Can you imagine a hospital without consistent electricity, basic supplies or equipment?

Until I was exposed to the harsh reality of what the statistics looked like in the flesh, none of the things I had heard about maternal health moved or affected me. 

I've had a few babies, and while everything did not go great with each delivery, I happened to be in a level one trauma center in the well-developed land called Minnesota. When they called "STAT OB" out over the intercom, everyone came running to save my life - and to save Noah's life.

I couldn't imagine what a placenta abruption or even a much less dramatic problem would look like in rural or Port au Prince, Haiti.  I never played those situations out in my mind.

The fact is, until you see, touch, hear, smell, and fully experience injustice with your own senses; it is very difficult to find yourself deeply concerned.

In a world full of injustice we can't each take on every issue.  We pick and choose, we leave some  things to others, we go where God has called us to go and we act when He has planted a deep passion in us to do so.

We are growing more and more passionate about this issue as we learn about the gravity of the situation. The more I am given opportunities to witness disrespectful and disinterested care of women, the more I am finding myself concerned.

In Haiti and all around the world women are forced to make difficult decisions about their health.  They lack choices and when they do make a choice to try to use a hospital they are often met by overworked, underpaid, uncaring and disrespectful medical staff.   Often times less educated women are discriminated against by doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They are given little to no information about their own health because they are perceived to be too dull to warrant taking the time to explain.

The White Ribbon Alliance put it this way: 

"Interpersonal care before, during, and after birth that is disrespectful and abusive to women is upsetting and appalling. It strikes a deep chord within us as a violation of women's basic human rights. Disrespect and abuse during maternity care is also of great significance because it can deter women from accessing the maternity care system for vital care and treatment.

The contributors to disrespect and abuse are complex and multi-factorial. But no matter what contributes to it, a growing number of maternal health stakeholders agree that disrespect and abuse in facility-based childbirth cause significant numbers of women to suffer ...

This is a problem that is reaching a tipping point of urgency and creating a growing community of concern that spans across the domains of health care research, quality and education; human rights; advocacy and civil society. We need the number of people who know and care about disrespect and abuse during maternity care to keep on growing, until it can no longer be ignored."

Some statistics:
  • Worldwide the leading cause of death among women age 14 to 44 are complications from pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 15% of all pregnancies result in a potentially fatal complication during labor and delivery. Women in the developing world rarely have access to emergency medical care.
  • More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year - that's one death every minute. Of these deaths, 99 per cent are in developing countries. The lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth in Africa is 1 in 22, while it is 1 in 120 in Asia and 1 in 7,300 in developed countries. (Source:UNFPA)

  • Only 28 in 100 women giving birth are attended by trained health personnel in the least developed countries. (Source:ActionAid)

  • Experts estimate that 90% of maternal death is preventable
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Over and over again women come to the Heartline Maternity Center to ask to gain admittance into our program.  Their lives are complex.  It is likely that we won't ever totally understand all that they face.

They all desire to understand more about their own health and they want their babies to live. They want to live.  They want to be healthy. They come with history. They come with a story.

"My sister died when she had her baby."  
"I have lost three children."  
"I don't think I can have a living baby." 
"The doctors didn't tell me why my baby died."
"I don't know why I had a C-section. They didn't tell me."

We rejoice with them as they welcome their new little one to the world.  It is painful and difficult when we have to transport them to a local hospital for a c-section.  We know it is likely they'll be treated poorly.  When they share their stories after delivering at Heartline they talk about how different it was having two and sometimes three people taking care of them. They marvel at what a difference there is in the attitude of their caregivers.  They talk about feeling loved, respected, and truly cared for during the difficult hours of labor and delivery.

The women in our program don't have to fight for follow-up care.  There is no armed security guard waiting at the gate for them to talk into allowing them to enter. They don't have to run their medical needs past any random stranger. They are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. They are greeted by other women that care about them and their story.

We desire to continue to meet these women wherever they are in life ... to walk with them through the pregnancy, to educate them about taking better care of themselves, to educate them about warning signs, to provide them with life-saving, respectful, and consistent prenatal and postnatal care.

We're blessed to be here getting to know their stories, getting to welcome their little ones, getting to be part of a positive birth experience; part of something they didn't know could be good. 

Even more amazing is to sit in the front row and to watch these young women fall in love with their children. With a little support and encouragement, every mother, no matter how poor, can bond deeply to her baby.  Poverty tries to ruin that connection, we believe there are ways to beat the odds. We believe in doing whatever we can to help a mother choose to parent and raise her own child.

God in His love and mercy, paved the way for this program to grow.

He continues to provide the hands and funds required.

We look to Him for the growth and future of our unique and special program in Port au Prince.

Please consider how you can help us empower these ladies...

 Ideas of ways you can join us to bring them love and dignity:

1.  Give a gift in honor of a pregnant woman you love. Let us know in an email and we'll write to the person you're honoring and let them know about your gift.  (

2.  Pray for health, protection, and provision for the women we serve. Prayers are more important than anything. Find names and faces at this post.

3.  Give a one time gift for operating expenses. (Chip in meter below or by contacting Teri White at

4.  Give a recurring gift.  As soon as a woman delivers we take a new women into the open place in the program. We have 30+ pregnant women in our program. When we build the new maternity center the program will more than double.

5.  Spread the word.  We desire to serve more women.  We are at capacity at our current location and are raising funds to build a much larger maternity center on the land that Heartline bought in 2010.

6.  Contact us if you have questions about our program.  We'll email or call or put you in touch with a Heartline Ministries board member in the USA.

7.  You can go to THIS PAGE and click once to vote for us to be in the running to win a grant. The voting ends November 8th, 2011.  If you register with your email address you will be given additional votes.

8. We have a small "gifts in kind" wish list.  If you are coming to Haiti and would like to donate something from a very specific need list please contact me. We are not able to receive or distribute other gifts in kind.

9. Pray for the midwives, nurses, and entire team at Heartline; pray specifically for wisdom in each interaction and decision.

~ Heartline is a registered 501c3 ~

For mail donations: PO Box 898, Sunnyside WA 98944