It’s one thing to read and write about maternal mortality, but for someone who actually doesn’t work on the ground in the medical field, it’s another thing to see an aspect of it play out in real life.
The organisation that I’m placed at has a milk program for new mothers who can’t breastfeed. It’s not run out of the building that I work at, but occasionally women show up at our location. The previous time this happened, a woman arrived with her triplets- the results of her 8th pregnancy. She carried one of the tiny triples, another woman a second, and a little girl- about seven years old?- the third. I asked a co-worker about how that little girl is not in school, and commented that she probably won’t ever go, right? My co-worker replied, “well no, who would look after her siblings?” Of course, I knew the answer before asking it, but it was more like an observation on my behalf than a question, but curious about the answer I would get. And so the cycle continues. But I digress.
The more recent visit, was quite different. Two women arrived with a tiny, day old, premature baby girl. I haven’t been around a lot of day old babies – okay, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a day old baby- but I am pretty confident they should be a lot bigger (her head was about the size of a tennis ball?). Even my Nigerien coworker lamented how small she was, and I suspect people here are around a fair number of underweight babies. The woman holding the baby was the mother’s sister, because the mother had died the day before in childbirth. I can only presume that the family could not pay for further hospital care, because the hospital had removed the baby from it’s incubator for premmies, and given her to the family to take home. They had no access to another breastfeeding woman, so here they were, looking for milk. Unfortunately, even from my basic knowledge of maternal health issues in Africa (and I mean very basic), as I looked at this baby I knew her future was bleak. Not only was she premature, but a baby born to a mother who dies while the baby is young, is far more likely to die herself. This, if I understand correctly, is not only due to the lack of immunity that would be gained by breastfeeding, but just as in this case, the baby is often handed over to a family member, but tends to be assigned a lower status than the other children in the family thus putting it at risk for a whole lot of factors. This sister who had just inherited the baby, couldn’t even afford to buy some milk, so add in all the aspects related to poverty that kill little children to begin with and that the fact that this baby is a girl… like I said, her future is bleak. I guess I haven’t been able to forget about that little baby, what she stands for in my mind and just the injustice of how who you are born to and where decides so much about whether you or your children live or die.
I guess there will be some things I won’t miss when I leave next week, things are just so much easier when you’re ignorant.