better birth stories

There were two things I came across Monday morning – a photo and an article. The picture sent to me showed a beaming Burundian mother holding her newborn son. The article came via The Guardian’s reporting on a break through in maternal health in Burundi. Both pushed me toward the vision of Isaiah.

The Batwa tribe exists on the margins of society in Burundi, often invisible and so without rights, access or dignity. Our community development efforts have, in essence, married us to these dear friends. After three years in the community of Matara in this rural and green region of the country, these families write new stories. Their lives manifest fresh hope.

See, for instance, the picture of Beatrice and the son bundled in her arms. She walked to a nearby clinic when labor began. The nurses quickly discovered she needed a doctor for her delivery. She took a taxi to the nearest town with a hospital. She checked in, showing her documents then letting the doctor examine her. A C-section was performed, resulting in a healthy mother and beautiful baby boy. She immediately named him Yehovanis.

This seems a typical delivery story, but I assure you that where she comes from this is an extraordinary birth story. Beatrice had a healthy pregnancy since she could eat good food grown in her garden, drink clean water and even fresh milk from the cows in the community. When the nurses told her she needed a doctor, Beatrice had money for the taxi due to her husband’s small enterprise. She could waddle into the hospital because she had the documents proving her citizenship, which allowed her access. She also had more money and knew she could pay the doctor, too. The doctor delivered the baby – and both mother and baby survived a birth that otherwise would have jeopardized one or both of them. She could name him with confidence because she knew he would live.

Three plus years of advocacy, hard work, not to mention faith, hope and love, went into this birth story. Most women in Burundi don’t fare so well. According to the United Nations, this little African country suffers one of the worst maternal mortality rates anywhere in the world. They lack basic nutrition, access to healthcare, funds to cover transit and medical fees and often there just aren’t midwives and obstetric doctors available. Birth is precarious for most Burundian women and babies.

And when I read the article posted in The Guardian that same day – detailing the dire situation but hinting at hope and encouraging more action – I thought of sweet, strong Beatrice holding Yehovanis. Just like the article said, more obstetric practitioners and training makes all the difference. So does all the support around the woman – a viable community where life can both gestate and grow to the point of delivery (and there after). Beatrice’s birth story could be the new normal…

I thought of the sister community in Bubanza. There are over 660 families living on arid land, drinking feted water and living on less than $0.35 a day – so teetering on the extremity of poverty. Funerals with too-small wooden caskets happen so often it is familiar, even expected. And this breaks my heart every time I think of these women, these lost children, these bereft families. So as we work alongside this community – I am praying hard and digging up hope from the deep. I want a corps of midwives trained and deployed on the dusty hillside of Bubanza, women equipped to deliver babies instead of men accustomed to burying them.

So then this picture of Beatrice and article lead me to the pages of Isaiah. Generations ago the prophet had a vision of the New City, a society where you built a home and lived in it, grew food in your garden and made salads for your own family, and when you went into labor you could expect to deliver a healthy child. Isaiah 65:23 speaks of childbirth separated from calamity, children born as blessed offspring with anticipated descendants. If you listen close, you can hear echoes of Genesis, that we are to be fruitful and multiply because children are a blessing from God. And as we dream of a New City, we need to dream of new birth stories for the women of the world.

So I hope from the depths of my soul… for the women and children of the New City. May we write new birth stories and fill photo albums with great pictures of beaming mothers cradling healthy babies!

5 thoughts on “better birth stories

  1. This is such a beautiful picture … YES. I am dreaming of that too. Birthing healthy babies and making salads and a New City. A vision of Heaven on our new Earth.

    PS: This is such a beautiful marriage in words of your work and your heart.

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