The birth of a child is a major life event in the life of a woman. In many cultures, it is a rite of passage that can change her role, social status, and responsibilities forever. The female body prepares for motherhood during nine months of pregnancy, but preparation of the mind through education is rarely available to women in Uganda. Traditionally, education concerning childbirth is passed down from the stories and advice of female family members and friends—often these same family members attend to the woman in birth. Today, however, many women go to hospitals and clinics to birth alone, attended by overworked staff who are too few for the number of women in their care. The kind assurance that a woman needs in labor is missing, and she often doesn’t know what is going on inside her body. Women in Uganda are often uninformed about the way a normal birth progresses, much less what would happen were it to become complicated. Birthing women here are vulnerable. They are often not given adequate information that would help them to make an informed decision about themselves or their baby.
In Uganda, childbirth education is virtually unheard of, a luxury even to those who could afford it. Despite this, I find happy and expectant mothers who are excited to give birth. As a childbirth educator and labor doula, a professional trained in labor support who has compassion for those whom I work with, my work is preparing expectant couples for birth through education and compassionate support, informing them of their options in the birth process, as well as educating them on how to facilitate a safe and normal birth.
During my time in Uganda, I have the great joy and privilege of facilitating a childbirth education course for women in Bwaise, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, heavily populated with women and children. As I began my first course with new friends Sumaiya and Josephine, I quickly realized that their positive anticipation of giving birth was not a product of their preparedness. They were eager to learn about the birth process and how to properly care for their newborns. After only two classes, it has been rewarding to see them excited to continue learning.
Though midwives in Uganda want to initiate more education-based programs, they feel limited by a lack of resources. Because of this, many women approach the birth process lacking basic knowledge to the birth process.
In an effort to equip independent midwives to better educate mothers, I have been creating educational models from simple, available, inexpensive materials. An avocado, for example, is a great model of the uterus, and can be used to demonstrate a baby’s head as it descends through the pelvis. Working with a local craftsman who makes shoes out of used tires, I now have a tire pelvis model. And with the help of a local tailor, I now have a baby, placenta, and breast model made from minimal fabric pieces. These resources are easily available and assist greatly in communicating otherwise complicated physiology (especially among a population that isn’t all literate).
In a society where women’s education is put on the back burner from childhood, I’m dreaming of a day where women have opportunity to receive education that empowers them to be informed and confident as they approach motherhood, as this role influences so much of each family, and thus society’s, health and well being. Childbirth education should not be a luxury, and even in a country of limited resources, the sharing of knowledge about childbirth should be a basic right.
Written by Megan Fleeman