Serving Women in Childbirth: 10 Years In

 

A Look Back

In 2005, Celesta Bargatze, Heather Munoz and I began compiling research on women’s health for a summer trip to East Africa. Though I'd just become a mother myself, I felt an overwhelming burden from the LORD to help women experience a healthy transition into motherhood. With a growing understanding of God’s Word in combination with firsthand exposure to the abundant need for this type of help, we knew God was calling us to do something about the current condition of maternal health. Before I describe what God has done in the ten years since that time, let me first share an excerpt from a Global Voice Newsletter Article I wrote in 2005:

Tara Garner embraces an elderly woman from Uganda, after teaching women's health seminars (2005).

Heather Munoz (left) and Celesta Bargatze (right) teach a room full of Kenyan women about the importance of nutrition, and what preventative measures they can take to protect their households from diseases like malaria (2005). 

“Celesta, Heather and I have been meeting twice a week for the last couple of months to prepare ourselves to teach our East African sisters about nutrition, primary health care, HIV and AIDS, female genital mutilation, pregnancy and childbirth. It has been a continually humbling process. It seems that each time we come together to discuss the research we've done, the more we realize the need for God to intervene--and the more helpless we feel in our attempts to help.  Then, we realize that God will intervene this summer--through us. It’s one thing when you read the statistics, but when you’ve gone and seen the faces, and held their calloused, hard-working hands, and prayed for their ill bodies, and been embraced by their tearful welcome--you know that behind every number is a face--a face just like yours and mine. Let’s no longer keep ourselves from feeling their burdens, for if we--the body of Christ--don’t suffer with the poor and underprivileged, then who will?  No one. Here we are Lord, send us…three young women ready to give it all so that your African daughters will know You, in their bodies and in their hearts.     

Tara Garner supported Heather Munoz during the delivery of her firstborn. This was the first birth that Tara attended.

One time of prayer in particular stands out as a day that God seared into our hearts the suffering and plight that women and mothers in the developing world are forced to endure. Our time of prayer started out quite 'civilized' and normal, with a group of about 12 of us gathered around a large table. Then, as we shared about the horrific realities some women face in the world, our bodies started physically responding, moving lower and lower to the ground.  It was as if the weighty burden of injustice was in the room with us, pressing us onto our faces before the LORD. Or, it was God’s presence among us responding to the cries of those women by moving us into action. I believe it was both. We wept, and wept. We laid prostrate on the floor, crying loud cries to the LORD on their behalf.  The groans we cried were those too deep for words, just as Romans 8:26 speaks of: 'The Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.' It was a time too powerful for words to sufficiently describe. With all of our souls, we wanted the LORD to hear us and know we were serious about wanting to help Him help them.  We didn’t know what that needed to look like, or how much it was going to cost us. None of that mattered. All that mattered was the preservation, quality and dignity of life for our suffering sisters. We knew that we had to respond to the call of a living God, who suffers when His children suffer. He gave us but a glimpse of His heart for them that day, and it was a glimpse that changed us forever."  [Read the whole article here.]

Fast forward. A decade later, over 20 childbirth educators, doulas and midwives from our own organization have been making a dent in the maternal and infant health issue that plagues our world, starting with our own nation. We are compelled to help change the devastating condition of maternal health. We began serving one mother at a time, and in the process allowed God to develop our capacity to offer the best care, every time. We serve through three specific roles: midwives, doulas, and childbirth educators.  Let me now share with you how we have been faithful to respond to God’s call to us, and are still serving, 10 years later. See what he has done through us in the last decade. Then, celebrate with us as we enter into 2015, even more committed now that we know what it takes


MIDWIFERY

This line-up is quite impressive, from left to right: Kathryn Montgomery (apprenticing midwife), Celesta Bargatze (Certified Professional Midwife), Kathy Williams (CPM, secondary care midwife at this birth), Tara Garner (doula, Director of the Childbirth Education program at the Institute for G.O.D. Int'l, Director of NOVA Birth Services), and Meg Mathews (new mother, and apprenticing midwife). 

Celesta Bargatze is an incredible midwife, whose intelligence and gentle nature puts mothers at ease. Here she holds Elsie Jacqueline. "Jacqueline" is named after a young girl from the Philippines, who has successfully exited the sex slave industry to become a midwife, after being inspired by Meg Mathews (the baby's mother). 

The WHO states that midwives are the biggest shortage of health workers in the developing world, above nurses, doctors and dentists. In the fall of 2014, Celesta Bargatze passed her NARM Exam to become a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). In her first few months of being certified, Celesta served as primary midwife to seven families and has ten more she is providing care for in 2015! Heather Munoz is also an accomplished CPM, and has had a very successful year with her Gentle Hands Midwifery practice, serving as the Primary Midwife for 18 families! In addition, we have four more women (Meg Mathews, Elise Buckner, Kat Montgomery and Megan Fleeman) in the process of becoming Certified Professional Midwives. 

Birth is the moment when the hope of ultimate beauty and the potential for ultimate devastation walk side by side. In ideal settings, where a mother is healthy, nourished, and mentally and emotionally prepared, birth is often far less complicated than what Hollywood would lead us to believe. At the same time, when a mother lacks education, nutrition, self-care, skilled care or a safe environment to birth her baby into, complications are far more common. A midwife must be prepared for either scenario as she is ultimately responsible for the safe passage of the child from womb to world. To possess the skill and faith to enter into life’s most fragile moment, equipped with the knowledge and ability to protect the life of both mother and baby is no small thing. We are incredibly proud of Heather and Celesta, along with the apprentices training for this important work. 


CHILDBIRTH EDUCATION

Left: Megan Fleeman, doula/childbirth educator/apprenticing midwife, teaches families about techniques that will help the birthing mother navigate the physical intensity of labor. Right: Elise Buckner, doula/childbirth educator/apprenticing midwife is a favorite amongst parents preparing for birth. 

The Childbirth Education class of 2011 with their teachers, from left to right: Tara Garner (teacher), Kristina Davis (teacher), Elise Buckner, Tori Roufs, Meg Mathews, Megan Fleeman, Deb Nava, Jodi Thress, and Celesta Bargatze (teacher). (Not pictured: Kathryn Montgomery and Michelle Madron). 

A midwife, accompanied by educators, doulas, and a well-prepared support network, increases the odds for a safe outcome, to which our own community can testify. Educating families as they approach the birth process is an essential key in readying them for parenthood. In 2014 alone, through the local business venue of NOVA Birth Services, we were able to provide 245 families childbirth education! There were 245 sets of parents educated, equipped and prepared with what to expect in pregnancy, labor, birth, and the beginning moments of parenthood, just in the Nashville area! 

The CBE graduating class of 2014 with teachers, from left: Heather Munoz (teacher), Sarah (Mascaro) Corniea, Kendice Hartnell, Chelsea Carver, Julie Carpenter, Cannon Cameron, Tara Garner (teacher), second row: Jennifer Sherrod and Kristin Bennecker. 

In addition to educating parents, we also trained new educators. After two years of intensive study, seven students completed the NOVA Childbirth Education (CBE) Certification at the Institute for G.O.D. Int’l. Cannon Cameron, Kristin Bennecker, Julie Carpenter, Kendice Hartnell, Jenny Sherrod, Sarah Corniea and Chelsea Carver are now NOVA Certified Childbirth Educators. Their final class project was to compile, translate and prepare curriculums of culturally specific childbirth education for the regions of El Salvador, Philippines, Uganda and India (the four international regions where G.O.D. Int’l works). This will allow our development workers in all regions to be equipped to help women understand the birth process in their local language and with culturally relevant and appropriate images and teaching tools! 

The class also compiled and published a book of our community mothers' birth stories: “A Mother is Born: Every Birth Tells a Story.”  An inspiring and beautiful read, this book is a compilation of birth stories gathered from our community mothers.Publications like this have the potential to change the way women approach the birth process--from something she needs to fear, to something she knows God will help her through, as demonstrated in an entire book of examples.  

Students in this program not only learn material in the classroom, but are expected to provide a large amount of hands-on care in order to gain the experience necessary to become competent birth workers. The 2014 graduating class served as labor doulas for over 20 families, culminating in over 300 hours of service. In addition, they provided nearly 175 hours of childbirth education, a third of which was to immigrant or refugee families. 


DOULA SUPPORT (LABOR AND POSTPARTUM)

Heather Munoz, CPM, also serves as a monitrice (someone trained in clinical skills related to childbirth as a registered nurse, that can be an advisor for the expectant parents, helping them through the birth process). Here she supports Rylan and Grace Aaseby as they deliver their fourth child.   

Heather Munoz, CPM, also serves as a monitrice (someone trained in clinical skills related to childbirth as a registered nurse, that can be an advisor for the expectant parents, helping them through the birth process). Here she supports Rylan and Grace Aaseby as they deliver their fourth child. 

 

Tara Garner serves consistently as a labor doula and birth photographer. She has attended over 80 births, nearly all of which she has captured in photography. 

As a whole in 2014, the birth workers of G.O.D. Int’l served over 100 families as birth and postpartum doulas. Doulas extend specialized care to the mother throughout her labor. While a midwife is responsible to monitor the physical progress of a laboring mother, a doula ensures that the mother feels safe, secure, and supported. Doulas offer the laboring woman a cold drink to keep her hydrated, they safeguard her privacy, they protect the safety of her environment, the music, the lighting, the comfort measures she needs. They are the ones saying prayers, guarding the mother’s mind, keeping it in a healthy place, or speaking words of faith to the mother when she is at a loss. In the hospital setting, a doula will help a mother navigate the hospital system by reminding the parents of their rights, as well as the benefits or detriments of certain 'medical' interventions.

For immigrants and refugees, the vulnerable process of giving birth can be an incredibly difficult experience to endure away from home. Foreign-born mothers often lack knowledge of the dominant language (or, even if they have an understanding, it's usually not enough to decipher the terminology of medical staff). In addition, they are sometimes far away from loved ones--parents, family and friends--at one of the most important moments of their lives. Sadly, many immigrants and refugees are frightened by threats of deportation received at hospitals during birth. For these women, doulas are the ones insisting that birth must remain a humanizing experience. Doulas give more than relaxation techniques and reminders of education received, they give themselves as advocates for women caught in a system that does not always have their best interests in mind. They are the hands to hold when their husband or mother is thousands of miles away. They are the ones singing because music, and sometimes only that, can transcend the thick language barrier that exists. [Read more in this reflection.] For our birth workers, 1 in every 6 birth attended was for an immigrant or refugee family. It was also free of charge. [Read more on this topic.]

Postpartum doula services allow the parents the time they deserve to bond with their newborn. Lyssa and Adam Loeffler loved having a postpartum doula with their newest addition, Lily Grace. 

In 2014, we also tripled the number of women trained to serve as postpartum doulas. These woman-servants help families in the vulnerable transition from birth to parenthood. A postpartum doula is trained to assess and meet various physical and emotional needs of the mother and care for the family as a whole while the mother is recovering from giving birth.  She assists the mother with breastfeeding issues that may arise and even arranges for meals to be cooked and delivered to the family so that the family can spend their energies more focused on their baby and bonding.  She serves as an extra set of hands offering help with laundry, cooking, cleaning, or child care for the other siblings. It is more common than ever for women to be geographically distanced from their own mothers (who would typically help them immediately after birth), so a postpartum doula is an invaluable gift to those families who don't have the support. 


WELCOMING MORE HEALTHY, HAPPY FAMILIES

This was yet another special birth! Heather Munoz, CPM (center), was surrounded by best friends and birth workers as she gave birth to her fifth child.  From left to right: Celesta Bargatze, CPM, Tara Garner (doula, birth photographer), Elise Buckner (apprenticing midwife), and Mary Anne Richardson, CPM. All of the midwives in this photograph have been trained by Mary Anne Richardson. Thanks to her, we have been able to gain the necessary skills to attend women in birth. 

In a world of devastating realities facing mothers and their babies, we are doing our best to make a difference. This begins in the U.S., which recently plummeted from 50th to 60th place among the developed world for maternal mortality. It begins by believing that black lives matter, that hispanic lives matter, that asian lives matter, and that white lives matter--all the same--and providing education, care and support without discrimination for laboring mothers in our own city. It grows to encompass the international regions where we work. The same midwives, doulas and educators listed above utilize their expertise in cross-cultural service around the world. 

We cannot change every birth outcome for every mom. But we can change the way mothers are prioritized and treated in pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.  Our own community can stand as an example of what is possible with the cooperation of midwives, doulas and educators who are not competing with one another, but serving side-by-side striving for the dignity and quality of life, precious, new life. Thank you LORD!