It was 5.40am when the gentle vibration of my phone on the bedside table alerted me to the fact that someone had messaged me. Ordinarily I would have pulled the covers up over my head, and wondered what kind of thoughtless person sends messages at such an ungodly hour, but my sleepy brain switched into gear reminding me that my friend had gone into labour the night before.
Bolting upright I reached across for my phone, the blue screen lighting up the dark bedroom.
I read the words eagerly, as an involuntarily smile spread across my face. My friend had given birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl via c-section, and both were doing fine…exhausted, but fine.
The next morning, clutching a neatly wrapped parcel containing a cute outfit to welcome the baby into the world, and a bottle of perfume to congratulate the new mum, I got out of my car at the hospital. As I walked down the clean corridors towards the maternity ward, a new mother passed me proudly carrying her new, snuggly swaddled baby, and I admit, despite having finished my own family, I thought I felt my ovaries do a back flip. As I approached the reception desk to find out which room I would find my friend and her new bundle of joy in, I stopped for a moment to take in my surroundings. Midwives buzzed around the busy maternity ward, and far down a corridor I heard the deep guttural sounds of a woman moaning through her contraction and my mind darted back to an article I had read online only days before.
For the majority of us, choosing to have a child, is approached with celebration and excitement. We eagerly read books about the changes occurring in our body, sign up for weekly email updates on how our child is developing in our womb, and we attend regular antenatal appointments, so that health care professionals can monitor both our health and that of our unborn child. We book ourselves ultrasounds so we can ensure our child is growing well, and maybe even find out the sex so we can be prepared. We don’t think ourselves lucky for having these services, it’s only what we deserve, right?
Sadly, this is not the case for women the world over. According to the World Health Organisation, every day 800 women do not survive pregnancy and childbirth, and approximately 8,000 newborns die of preventable causes. The maternal and child health care received by women in developing countries comes in stark contrast to our own, when you consider that 99% of maternal and newborn mortality occurs in the developing world, and 50% of women there still deliver without the assistance of a skilled health personnel. (The very thought of it sends shivers down my spine). The fact that women are dying from preventable causes, such as haemorrhage, infection, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and complications of unsafe abortions seems unthinkable to those of us in the West, who scoot down to our local GP at the first sign of feeling unwell.
One of the statistics that floored me was that which compared the health risks of women in Niger and Australia. A women in Niger has a 1 in 17 chance of dying from complications during pregnancy or delivery, compared to an Australian woman’s 1 in 7,400. It is a statistic so at odds that it is almost incomprehensible.
As I held my friend’s newborn baby, swaddled in her pink blanket, her tiny features flushed with colour and health, I thought about my own birth experiences, and an involuntary tear, born from a mixture of deep sadness and enormous gratitude snaked down my cheek and landed in the folds of this precious child’s blanket.
You can read more about maternal and child health at Unicef.