Ha! You noticed! There aren’t any. Yes, there was not a single baby born during our stay in Uganda. However, I learned so much anyway. It really put the focus on prenatal care, and teaching, which is something I really love, so please believe me when I say that the trip was not in any way disappointing. Good prenatal care is really the foundation of all midwifery work. It is not only about meeting mothers where they are, but really peeling back the layers of who she is as a person, and showing her how she is absolutely the best mother for her baby. It is about showing mothers what they already know, and how they are the experts both on their pregnancy and on their particular baby. And it’s about convincing other people that no matter who this mother is, whether she is a 15 year old singlemama, or a 35 year attorney , they deserve respect and honor. And in this case, it was doing all of this in a language I do not speak.
Many many women come to these rural centers never intending to deliver there; in many cases they live too far from the center to reliably make it in time. In others, the pressure to birth in their village is just too strong. But they come to Shanti anyway, to learn, to share their pregnancy experience, and to be with other women. Remember, these women cannot just look up a symptom on the internet. They do not have electricity or running water. And they may not have their mothers or grandmothers around to ask all those questions that a new mother has. There are 3,000,ooo orphans in Uganda, victims of a brutal civil war in the 80s and 90s, AIDS, or other diseases. These women are having children now, and are starved for information and love.
Shanti also functions of a de facto medical clinic, dispensing malaria treatments, parasite eradication protocols, and other basic supportive health care needs to pregnant women. That’s something I would never see in Seattle, and I’m grateful for the chance to deepen my knowledge. There is also a huge emphasis on post baby family planning. It is vital that Uganda get its over population problem under control, or the many strides it has made will be for naught. Safe, reliable birth control has to have a huge place in Uganda’s future, and I was very pleased to see it taken so seriously at Shanti. The average Ugandan family has 8 children. The death rate, thank goodness, is dropping, but the birth rate remains the same. Clearly this is not sustainable, and is a huge obstacle to the empowerment of Ugandan women. Choosing to have many children, as some of my most delightful clients at home do, is very different from it being forced upon you by circumstance. Again, choice, choice, choice.
Immersing oneself in another culture is always challenging. I am asking a lot of the midwives at Shanti, to reevaluate what they have been taught to do, and what they have been doing effectively in their previous jobs. In turn, I am reevaluating my own methods and work, making sure that they still match up with who I am, and what I believe is my purpose in this world. And really, that is one of the most important things we can do, as midwives, or just as human beings. We keep examining, keep searching for clues as to how to find our true place, and if we are really lucky, we meet others who can help us, like I have both here in Uganda and at home.