Recently, I traveled to our Compassion Canada office for a week of meetings. But instead of sitting in meetings all day, I found a very tricky way of getting out of them: I came down with appendicitis.
Appendicitis doesn’t sound that scary, but when you’re pregnant — much scarier.
Thankfully, I was blessed to be in a developed country near one of the best ob-gyn facilities in the area. I had a quick operation, and my baby came through like a kicking champ (kicking all my sore spots, that is). I’ve never been so keenly aware that access to reliable, safe medical care is a tremendous blessing.
A week later, I sat in my home and worked on a report from one of our Child Survival Programs in La Paz, Bolivia. As the staff at this program interviewed mothers to be registered, they heard repeatedly how many of the moms had already lost one or two children. One mother, Lucia, has experienced the death of three children.
According to local data, 113 children out of 1,000 die before they are 5 years old. That’s more than 10 percent.
I can’t imagine the pain and devastation of losing one child.
A good friend of mine recently lost her baby, and some days the waves of grief that come over her make the most basic life functions unbearable. Imagine losing three children.
Nancy, the director of this CSP program, knows how hard it is for these mothers.
“One might think that since the moms have so many children, losing one doesn’t affect them, but that’s not the case. The moms feel that loss.”
It can be easy to subtly or even subconsciously assume that mothers in other countries are somehow different from us or that they feel things differently than we do. But that’s a lie.
They face their own unique challenges (that I certainly cannot understand) but they feel the same heartache that any human would feel.
The challenges in this particular community go deeper than just a lack of medical care and the emotional scars it has wrought.
Sometimes we would like to think that implementing a program is like waving a magic wand. A couple of swishes of the wand and “Ta da!” everything is better. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works — as any of our thousands of field workers can tell you.
Many of the mothers who live in this Bolivian community moved here from remote Andean regions. Many are illiterate and have little education. They grew up knowing only home remedies for sickness and don’t trust doctors or health clinics. In this community, the battle isn’t so much providing medical care for babies as it is educating the mothers to accept medical care.
According to Rosa, CSP program coordinator,
“When children get sick, the mothers usually treat them with home remedies because that is what they have learned. They don’t trust doctors. Even though their child might be dying, they take the risk of using only herbs because they aren’t in the habit of taking [children] to the doctor.”
Even among mothers who have the benefit of being in the Child Survival Program, it can be difficult to get them to seek and receive urgent medical care when it’s needed.
When it comes to childbirth, the mothers in our program are accustomed to giving birth alone at home and are resistant to giving birth at a clinic. Unlike home births in much of the developed world, these mothers are often alone — without aid from anyone who knows what to do if the delivery doesn’t go smoothly.
This is one of the factors that has led to such a high infant- and maternal- mortality rate, and why Rosa is worried about the moms. She doesn’t want to see any of them or their children die.
When asked what she would like us to pray for, she asks for prayer for the births:
“Please pray for the pregnant mothers. I worry about them. They don’t know how their childbirth is going to go because they always have their children at home because they don’t trust the health centers at all. So I would ask the supporters to pray for the childbirths.”
Would you join me in praying for all the mothers in the Child Survival Program, that they would give birth to healthy babies and accept the support and help they need?
Would you also pray for Child Survival Program workers such as Rosa and Nancy, that God would give them wisdom and discernment to educate and guide these mothers while being respectful of their background and culture?
And would you give thanks that we in developed nations are so very blessed to give birth where we know we have the medical care we need?