Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Searching for Mama's Eyes

I look down at my infant child.  His pink lips are wrapped around my nipple, sucking. His tiny hands grab at my shirt. He’s all instinct and unformed nervous system.  He’s something precious, but somehow not altogether human yet.  He sleeps mostly and lacks any ability to explore the world that is so new to him.  He’s three weeks old and entirely dependent on us.  He can barely see.
 
But then he opens his eyes.

They transform and illuminate his face and make him more part of this world. And he instantly becomes something different to me.  He’s looking now. He has intention.  He’s searching.  And he finds my eyes.  I feel myself smile and hear myself say, “Hi there baby.  I’m your mama.”  And I wonder if he somehow understands.  A bitter tear escapes my eye.
But the tear is not what you think.  It’s not for a welling up of love for this new being.  It’s for another baby I’ve never met.

A week earlier, I came home to find my husband just getting off the phone.  He had a grave look, a look that made me instantly ask what was wrong. 
“Mary’s sister just died.”

“How?”
“Complications from childbirth. Just three weeks after her baby was born.”

We stood there looking at each silently both thinking the same thing.  Both of us fighting back tears.  For the unfairness of it all, for the father taken from the greatest joy to the greatest sorrow in the blink of an eye, for the relatives who frantically and awkwardly will try and fill the void, for that child who will be searching for a nipple that is no longer there, who will grow up wondering what she was like, what life would have been like were she there.
And it’s damned unfair. 

We are privileged.  All of us reading and writing blogs.  Specifically, I’m thinking of us so called mommy-bloggers.  Of course we know this, but we rarely pause to consider it.  It’s easier that way.  
We live in a world in which we are allowed to have ideological debates and philosophies about the birthing “experience.” A world in which we are permitted righteous indignation at the medical establishment that pushes us into interventions we’d prefer not to have.  A world that allows us to choose to have our babies at home, in bathtubs, or hooked into pain numbing devises.  A world in which we obsess about shaping that moment but never fear that it could kill us.  Or our children.

Mary’s sister is not the first I’ve known to have perished in childbirth here in Kenya.
On my way out of the office last year, I paused to make small talk with one of the young guards of our office who was always playful and warm with my son. 

“Do you have any children?” I asked.
He kept a polite smile on his face as he said the unthinkable, “I had one, but he died in childbirth at the district hospital.”

Later that year, I stopped a neighbor on her way to a funeral.  “Pole (sorry), who died?” 
In a voice we would probably consider too matter of fact, she replied: “Another neighbor.  Both the mom and the baby during childbirth.” 

I can barely fathom the scene at that funeral. 
This is not the 18th century.  This still happens all around the world, and with alarming frequency.

There are statistics.  1,000 women die each day in childbirth.  Of course it’s almost all preventable. It’s a symptom of poverty, of lack of access to quality health care, of women not in control of reproductive decisions.
And I know the statistics.  And I know the issue, the policy points, and the suggested remedies.  But somehow it’s all still an abstraction.  It’s an abstraction until I consider my infant son learning to see and finding my eyes.  And my heart splits apart when I think of another infant opening his eyes, searching for that other pair of eyes that are no longer there, never hearing those words, “Hi there baby, I’m your mama.” 

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I don’t quite know how to end this post. 
I’ve written before about maternal mortality and suggested places to donate if you were moved to do so, so I’ll include those links below again, and please suggest others.



At the very least hug your children, mothers, sisters extra tight and give thanks that they happened to be born into a part of the world where giving birth predictably results in celebration and almost never in mourning.

29 comments:

  1. Wow. This was a beautifully moving post. Unfortunately, we did know someone here who lived through this tragedy too, but the greatest risk is to those in poverty. Thank you for sharing the power of your first hand accounts. There is definitely power in the truth. Nice post, Erin

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    1. Erin, I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. It really is unthinkable in any context. I read some time ago that we still haven't totally licked maternal mortality in the US, but that the biggest risk is to women is 1-3 weeks after discharge from the hospital when they are relatively alone or don't seek help when things go wrong. And even this could be eliminated if we had nurses doing home visits.

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  2. Very powerful post. We definitely take for granted our good health, our privileged decisions, and do not remember that even today thousands of women are dying in childbirth. My friend Joanne, whose blog I think you followed for a while, started an organization that follows these babies and provides formula and support to the families. I will post the link here in case anyone is moved to help. This is a local Malawian organization, the money goes directly to support the families of the moms.

    http://www.africanmothers.org/

    And, for anyone moved to follow a fascinating blog about a midwife in Malawi, check out

    http://babycatching.blogspot.com/ (the best way to read is to start from the earliest post).

    Love you, Kim!

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    1. Thanks for the link to Joanne's organization - I should have included it below! I remember being so moved and inspired by her blog and the work she did over there. She's an angel.
      Love you too Whitney!

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  3. Beautiful piece.

    I don't know where you are on the spiritual (not necessarily religious) plane but the book The Evolution Angel by Dr. Todd Michaels is the first book that really helped to see death especially of young people in a different light.

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    1. Thanks Susie. I think anything that helps to see death of a young person in a new light or provides a new perspective is worth reading for the comfort it can provide. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. thank you for this look into the lives of all our sisters, all of our children. yes. we need to be aware. we need to become informed. we need to care. Thank you, thank you.

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  5. This is just shocking to me - here we are, fighting over whether we can afford to ensure our citizens are insured, and all over the world, poverty kills thousands in the very basic functions of life. Healthcare is a right - and we should use less of our preponderance of riches on killing people, and more on healing them. It sickens me.

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  6. Ugh that's so very very sad. :(

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  7. Thanks for opening our eyes about this - a 747 full of women dying everyday, in childbirth. Unfathomable. All due to poverty.
    And you're right - we mom bloggers are a fortunate lot. Thanks for this post. The fistula org. is a good one.

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    1. It really is unbelievable and an issue that, in my opinion, doesn't get enough attention.

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  8. You raise such an important issue here. Thank you for sharing this. Sad though it may be, we can't just ignore it and pretend like it's not happening.

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  9. Very Powerful writing Kim. I continue to read your blog and enjoy them immensely. As I am hanging out at the house feeling antsy and bummed because I am on "modified bedrest" I have failed to consider just how lucky I am to have been put on bedrest in order for this baby I carry to come into this world healthy and strong. Though I feel educated on the high maternal and fetal mortality internationally I have failed to consider just how lucky I am to be surrounded by a group of Nurse Midwives that will help bring my baby into this world, knowing she will have the best care and outcome possible for her and mama as well. Thanks for your touching blog and making me think!

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    1. I'm so glad this struck a cord with you Danielle. I never really thought about the fact that childbirth is so risky with my first one. I feared the pain and the unknown but never thought I wouldn't make it. It's crushing that so many have to fear this. Just this morning I met a woman who was adopting twins from the DRC. I asked her what she knew about the birth mother and she said she had perished in childbirth from hemorraging. They were 17 km from "anywhere much less a hospital." And that's it. She's gone.
      Good luck with your own birth and I know bedrest is no picnic so I hope you are finding ways to keep yourself busy!

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  10. This is a very powerful post. It's so foreign a concept to me - that this still happens to so many people. So sad. Thank you for sharing this.

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  11. Crying right now. Thank you for being so gracious on my post this week, all the while knowing what you know.

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    1. Aubrey, I agree with everything you said on your post. I think we can be grateful for our access to life saving medical care and still resentful that we are pushed into it when we don't necessariy need it. Thanks for reading!

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  12. That was a heart wrenching post and you are so absolutely right on...about the issue, what we take for granted, how lucky we are. I lived in South America for a summer and witnessed the death of a new born. Since I was the only one in the village with a camera, I was asked to photogragh the baby with the mom. I was 22. I had seen and done more things than most by that age, but this was something different. A static shoved in face, front and center. When I got back to the states I had a hard time fitting in for awhile. But it happened and before long I forgot or moved on or re-adapted. I find it is a challenge to keep my perspective right, that my priveledged life here easily clouds up priorities.
    You are a great writer, please keep helping me stay focused on what is real in life. I have admired you since I read your first post on Yeahwrite.

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    1. THanks so much for your comments! Experiences, like the one you had in South America certainly stay with you the rest of your life, even as you readapt and get preoccupied with your life back home (which is totally NORMAL). But those experiences stay inside you and allow you to feel compassion for far away people whose lives are so different from yours. I'm glad this struck a cord and thanks for sharing your experience!

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  13. lucky, thankful - words that describe how i feel every day. thank you for the beautiful post and for the awareness that we are privileged beyond our wildest dreams.

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  14. My heart aches reading this. You are so right, us mommy bloggers sitting in the comfort of our homes, children playing around as we are plugged in, while not so far away, woman and children die from the same thing we so long for.

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  15. Wow. This is so heartbreakingly eye opening. Thank you for this post.

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  16. How horrific for the mamas and the babies and the families. You're so good to bring awareness by writing about it. I hope you keep doing it and keep helping these women by spreading the word about what happens every single day in the majority of countries around the world.

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  17. That's heartbreaking. I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. And for that baby who will grow up without knowing his Mama.

    We are privileged. We are blessed. And we take it all for granted too easily. Thank you for the poignant reminder.

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  18. thank you for sharing this story. it really is horrific that these things are still happening today and so many of us are oblivious to it... or really can't grasp how truly lucky we are.

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  19. Your story cuts to the quick. Nicholas Kristof does a lot of good writing about women's mortality and health issues, but he's only one person. The more awareness we can bring to the issue, the better--along with the awareness that women's lives matter, that their health matters. To the individuals who lose mothers, sisters, wives, the women are important, but I think globally (in developed and lesser developed countries), women's issues still take a BIG backseat. Thank you for this post.

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  20. Beautiful and important. Summed up perfectly when you say:
    "At the very least hug your children, mothers, sisters extra tight and give thanks that they happened to be born into a part of the world where giving birth predictably results in celebration and almost never in mourning."

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  21. Thank you so much for this. I still get angry about my childbirth "experience" and how things went. It was less than ideal, but I think it's important to remember, as you pointed out, that I have the freedom of all good choices (or choices made for me) when it comes to childbirth. And it extends to most aspects out life - profound and trivial.

    Bloggers are far more privileged than we like to admit - just lone access to computers and reliable internet is something that is a privilege even here, in the NYC area. We take it for granted to be able to spend "free time" writing about things that are usually navel-gazing. There's nothing wrong with that - but I think we ought to remember that it's one of the many privileges we have.

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