Sunday, April 03, 2016

Compassion in Maternal Health

The three Heartline Midwives went to Tanzania for two weeks in February.  Once we were there and in the thick of the messy work of it, we looked at each other and said, "Who goes on vacation to do what they do every day in real life? What is wrong with us?"  Then we tried to determine which one of us was to blame for our decision to fly to the other hemisphere to do midwifery.

Maternal Health in Tanzania - HEAVY.

I wrote something about the time there - and threw it away. It was not something that I wanted to publish, it was negative and raw. It reviewed the babies that died unnecessarily and the Moms that were mistreated and it is probably wise for me to keep those details off the Internet. Even though much of what we saw was totally devastating and we were in situations that made us feel entirely uncomfortable, I am glad I went to Tanzania.

I now know that the model of care Heartline Maternity Center is offering is a beautiful, life-giving, respectful, and dignified model of caring for pregnant women. That is a gift. A gift to me. A gift to pregnant women.  Our work here in Haiti is small and it will never be huge when it comes to volume of women delivered, but it is sustainable because love lives at the Heartline Maternity Center.  

If the choice is to provide care for 500 women at a time and not know a single one of them but simply try to get them through their delivery alive - OR - to provide high quality care for 50 to 60 at a time and know their face, name, story, as well as their fears, hopes, and history, I will always choose the latter. 

 I knew that before   .... But I** KNOW **it now.

We learned that in Tanzania there are not enough midwives or skilled birth attendants, much the same as Haiti. We witnessed that critical supplies are lacking, much the same as Haiti.  BUT - Here is the big secret in my opinion:  Compassion is every bit as important in quality maternal health care as the supplies and tools and a "skilled attendant".  You can have all the drugs, fancy equipment, and sterile gloves in the universe and if you don't have a staff that lives to bring compassion to women that are laboring and afraid, you may just as well skip it.  

Trust matters and relationships matter and compassion is more valuable than IV fluid made of liquid gold.

When observing the care in hospital settings in the developing world, one can tend toward despair.  (One, being me. I tend toward despair.) Several of the hospitals in the city I live, as well as the hospital we visited in Tanzania and countless other hospitals and clinics working with the materially poor are lacking the most valuable resource.  

That resource is compassion. 

A midwife friend with 40 years of experience in both low and high-resource settings said this: "Nothing happens that is sustainable and life-affirming without warm, loving relationships among people at work. Although we don't often talk about 'love' in our professional work, it has been my career-long experience that only love (compassion)  changes critical situations. 

Perhaps all of us have areas of huge frustration and despair in our lives, things we really don't feel we have any power to change as we look around at the brokenness of our neighborhoods or our professions or our policies. 

I've decided that the only weapon I have is my individual ability to choose love and compassion even and especially when others around me do not. 

For the Maternal Health crisis world wide, we pray for abundant compassion to reign in the hearts of the men and women that are being drawn to the profession. We pray for excellence and integrity and kindness and love. We pray for women to be treated with dignity and respect and to feel loved and cared for in their most vulnerable moments.