Written by Kristin Bennecker
Last November, I traveled to the Philippines to facilitate seminars on reproductive and maternal health for various demographics—pregnant women, incarcerated women, and college-aged women.
One day, while we were at a local midwifery clinic for a labor and birth seminar, I had the chance to sit down with a midwife who worked there and ask her some questions about her practice. (I should note that here in the states, I work for NOVA Birth Services, a complete care midwifery practice.) I was curious to learn more about their protocols as I spend a lot of time making policies and ensuring our practice has appropriate systems in place to handle a variety of issues. We have quite a few protocols for when a pregnant mother falls into a high-risk category, often necessitating different treatments, and sometimes a change of care plan. I asked the midwife about their approach to care for mothers who are high risk. She looked at me with serious eyes and a half smile, almost amused at my question and said, “here in the Philippines, they are all high risk.”
For me, her answer was sobering, a stark truth that the world she is practicing in is different than mine. Whenever I’m tempted to think otherwise, her words serve as a resonating reminder. They are all high risk.
She went on to tell me the burden she carries in being responsible for the care of pregnant women because of the vastness of issues they face—whether it be iron deficiency from lack of good nutrition, high blood pressure from an imbalanced diet, extreme stress from the challenge of living in a hostile environment, preterm labor from doing manual labor—the list could go on. They are all high risk.
According to UNICEF, for a woman in the Philippines, the lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 140. It is estimated that 11 Filipino mothers die every day, or 4,500 every year, due to severe hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, sepsis and problems related to obstructed labor and abortion. The Philippines is also considered to be among the 68 countries that contribute to 97% of maternal, neonatal and child health deaths worldwide. In addition to that, a staggering 50% of the deaths of Filipino children under age five happen in the first 28 days of life. Part of the reason these numbers are so staggering is because only 60% of births are monitored by a skilled birth attendant.
The Philippines needs birth workers who are trained and have the resources necessary to do their life-saving work. In addition, women need educated so that they have a better knowledge of what is going on with their bodies and how they can help themselves have better, more positive outcomes.
This is why our maternal health team works to provide maternal health education and training for both health care workers and women. We believe this intentional effort will help lower some of the risks they will inevitably face. For example, we teach new mothers what to expect in labor to help them experience less fear surrounding birth. We educate mothers on the best nutrition practices for pregnancy and breastfeeding so they can do their best to ensure their bodies are properly fueled. We work with providers to show them optimal labor positions to help births go smoothly, with less complications. Transitioning to motherhood and caring for a new baby can be a stressful time for a family, especially those living in poverty. To help combat postpartum complications and depression, we consistently visit mothers in their homes to provide practical support and counseling services.
1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.” These mothers need us to take action on their behalf. They need education and a trained care provider. While the statistics facing these mothers are staggering, we are committed to partnering with the LORD in this worthy work of caring for the most vulnerable. We believe the LORD can use us and has called us to this important work of preserving women’s lives and keeping families whole. You can help us by sponsoring an educational seminar for pregnant mothers, by providing birthing kits and educational resources to midwives, or by contributing to a gift package for postpartum mothers and babies. In a region where they are all high risk, we need help making sure both mothers and care providers have the resources and education they need.
Tobin, Vanessa. “Extreme Risk for Pregnant Women and Newborn Babies in Developing Countries.” Unicef.org. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/mediacentre_10139.html