Sasha is 22-years-old. She was married off when she was just nine and by the time she was 11, she was pregnant with her first child, and unprepared for childbirth.
So when labor came, in the middle of the night – in her geographically isolated village in rural Kenya – she was unaware of the painful fate awaiting her.
During childbirth, the baby’s head was too big to fit through Sasha’s pelvis, causing the baby to get stuck in her birthing canal. Traditional birth attendants tried their best to help Sasha but they were not skilled enough to handle the complications. She needed surgery, and quickly. But because she could not access emergency obstetric services, she spent the next six days trying to push out the baby that was stuck inside of her.
In the end, Sasha delivered a dead, rotten baby in macerated form. She was not only in grief of her lost child, but was also traumatized by her experience which left her with profound injuries and a double obstetric vaginal fistula.
We know that women in low-and-middle income countries are especially prone to maternal mortality. Those of us of who write about maternal health and keep up with worldwide maternal health, mortality, and morbidity statistics understand that in the world’s poorest countries we find the worst outcomes for both mothers and their infants. In recent years, we have also discovered that maternal health rates in the United States are far higher than acceptable. In fact, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate than any other developed country in the world. The countries that have the lowest maternal mortality rates are European. But that can be misleading as well.
Safe Motherhood Week , that is recognized each year between October 2 – 8, is the first coalition of partners of its kind to focus on maternal health in Europe. Some statistics will surprise you. Did you know five European women die every day from maternal health complications and in 2013, 1900 European women died from maternal health complications. Additionally, 1 in 10 women in Europe does not have access to maternal health care in the first few months of their pregnancies.
As a mother of two, I did not have optimal experiences either time I was pregnant. Each of my pregnancies was different, but the feeling I had with both of them was identical. I never felt like my physicians really cared about my pregnancies or deliveries, but that I was just a number to them. I have always chalked it up to being relatively young. I was in my mid-twenties. Even still, I believe to this day that I should have been treated with more dignity and respect. Even in two different states, I was treated the same way – with relative indifference. Even though my oldest daughter is 19, I’m still bitter about it.
About 21 pregnant women die every day in Kenya due to complications from childbirth. That’s equivalent to two 10-seater commuter micro minibuses, known as matatus, crashing every day with the loss of all the passengers on board.
Pregnant women in Kenya die because they either do not receive appropriate care during pregnancy or are unable to deliver with the help of skilled health attendants.
Child pregnancy is a worldwide blight. Seven million girls in developing countries under the age of 18 become pregnant every year meaning that they have to grow up too soon, put an end to their education, look for adequate healthcare that they can afford, earn money somehow, possibly marry a much older suitor, and figure out a life for her and her child. 11 percent of all worldwide births are by girls between the ages of 15 – 19 according to the World Health Organization. These pregnancies cause far too many maternal and newborn deaths across the globe.
To bring awareness to the number of girls who become pregnant each year in lower-and-middle-income countries, Finnish fashion designer Paola Suhonen created a collection of six, brightly-hued maternity dresses with childhood motifs for 12-year-olds. If this sounds a bit sensational, you’re correct. Suhonen’s maternity collection is solely designed to show the world that too many young girls become pregnant each year because they often don’t have other life options but to become pregnant and are often not taught proper sexual and reproductive health education. It’s a sad state of affairs to be sure, but it happens every day. In fact, 5,500 girls under the age of 15 become pregnant daily.
Working in collaboration with Plan Finland as an issue raising endeavor, Suhonen traveled to Zambia with renown photographer Meeri Koutaniemi to recreate what would be a regular fashion shoot, but instead featured an expectant child mother, Fridah, as her primary model.
“I designed a collection that I wish is not needed and that I don’t want to sell,” said Suhonen. ” This campaign brings together two very important issues – children’s and women’s rights. I hope that people will wake up to the circumstances in which millions of girls live in developing countries.”
Plan Finland has created a thorough FAQ page to answer any questions about the ethics of this campaign. You can donate here.
Mother’s milk has an enormous impact on child survival. While in Kenya it has improved over the past decade, the number of children who die before five years remains significant. The rate has decreased from 115 per 1000 live births in 2003 to 52 in 2014.
Neighbors Rwanda (2008), Tanzania (2012) and Uganda (2011) have recorded 50, 66 and 65 deaths per 1,000 live births for children below five years, respectively.
The main causes of childhood deaths are infections, preterm births and lack of sufficient oxygen, or asphyxia.
Breastfeeding infants on breast milk alone until they are six months old has been shown to reduce child mortality. When mothers can’t provide their own milk, the next best alternative is donor milk from other women. Access to “human milk banks” gives vulnerable infants, without access to their mother’s own milk, a healthy start to life.
The milk bank concept was initiated in Vienna in 1909 and was preceded by a century old practice of wet nursing – a mother breastfeeding another mother’s child.
Since then, over 500 human milk banks have been established in more than 37 countries globally in developed and developing countries. The pioneer countries include Brazil, South Africa, India, Canada, Japan and France.