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Giving Birth in the Developing World

home births One morning three years ago, Gita was shocked by the sudden contractions she was experiencing. She knew it was time for her baby to come, but the 20-year-old had never given birth, had never seen anyone give birth and did not know how to deliver her child.

Gita would have had to walk 30 minutes to reach the hospital. But even if she made it in time, she couldn’t afford the bill. She felt she had no choice but to give birth at home. The only person who could help was her oldest sister, who was visiting her at that time.

Gita’s sister, who had experience in helping people give birth, prepared a razor blade, to cut the umbilical cord, and a bucket of cold water.

As Gita lay on her grass bed, her sister pressed Gita’s belly with both hands while Gita strained to deliver the child. Thankfully, Gita didn’t have to push too much.

After successfully delivering the child, Gita’s sister used the razor blade to cut the umbilical cord. Then she cleaned up Gita’s son by washing the baby with cold water and drying him with a towel. Gita took a bath with cold water to clean herself.

In this way, Gita delivered her first baby, Martin, at home without medical assistance. Her at-home delivery is typical among women in Indonesia’s Papua province.

Most Papuan women still give birth with traditional methods in a honai – a traditional Papuan house made of wood with a grass bed.

Women also prefer to give birth at home because they are afraid of the service from health workers who are not always friendly. Many women believe that it is more efficient to give birth at home alone or with help of someone who lives nearby.

Though these traditional methods of delivery have been going on for years, they are risky. Although some say no children in the area have died after a home birth, 2009 data from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Jayawijaya regency reveals that, since 2004, 167 babies have died after their mothers delivered them without medical assistance.

Numerous factors lead women to deliver their children at home. In Gita’s case, her husband is jobless. The family relies solely on what she earns working at a farm every day. (In Papuan culture, the responsibility of earning money often falls on the women.)

Since enrolling in the Child Survival Program (CSP), Gita now knows that giving birth at home without any medical assistance could put her and her baby’s lives at risk. This woman, who only reached the first year of senior high school, has now learned how to safely deliver her baby. She’s learned that she has to check her pregnancy regularly, to recognize contractions, and the importance of using clean instruments during delivery.

“We taught them to understand the danger of delivering at home and the benefit of giving birth with medical assistance.

“Registered mothers at first didn’t have a good understanding about pregnancy and how they can give birth safely. It was very hard to change their paradigm about how to deliver in an appropriate way.

“They still believe that delivering the baby in the honai will not put their self in risk. They also thought it is more efficient than if they have to see the doctor to help them deliver their baby.

“Pregnant mothers now know that they have to protect their pregnancy in a good way. They learn to show their love by taking care of their pregnancy,” explains Antonetta, the CSP coordinator.

Gita, who is now pregnant with her second child, passes on the blessing of Compassion to other women. She loves to share her pregnancy experience with other mothers who haven’t had the opportunity to join the program. She wants to make a positive impact on mothers so they can they safely deliver their babies.