I love this time of year. The clocks march forward to open up long, leisurely evenings to the wonder of all. Easter eggs wait wrapped up, shining in foil. Lambs leap and bleat in the fields nearby. Birdsong announces the new day, and tulips uncurl in the warmth of the sun. The turn of the season brings new life. It brings hope.
Many of my friends are beaming at the imminent arrival of babies - soon to be parents and grandparents. William and Kate will also be making choices as anticipant parents now - do they find out if it’s a girl or boy and throw a little gender-reveal party or wait til the baby is born (with all the media waiting outside for the first glimpse!)? Home delivery or hospital? Birthing pool or not? Doctor or midwife present? Epidural or gas and air? Neither? [Ouch!] Should mum come as well as the partner? Choices, choices. Wonderful choices.
For beautiful Naserian, a young Maasai woman I met in Tanzania, home birth is the option. She lies flat on her back with no pain relief. Women from the village pull a cord round her abdomen or sit on her to help her labour. The bleat of the goats at the foot of the cow hide that separates her from the mud floor is a comforting distraction.
Naserian’s Maasai name means ‘peaceful one’. She’s not feeling it now. Her husband left two months ago and he will return in about a year. Childbirth is a woman’s work in Maasai culture. Instead, the many wives learn to live in community and will gather round as soon as the baby arrives.
As Naserian lies there, she thinks of her two teenage friends who were newly married, the second and third wives of their respective husbands. They were so hopeful as their contractions started. Pregnancy shows the favour of her husband, and represents the riches she will bring him as they grow old together. This joy ebbed away quickly as haemorrhage and infection robbed them of their babies, and their lives. They didn’t make it. Just two of the 800 women a day who die in pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world. The causes are preventable if only women knew how.
All they needed was soap and water. If they had seen a qualified midwife like Rebecca or a trained traditional birth attendant, they would have received care from women who would have washed their hands. That’s all it takes to save a life here. It’s so simple.
Fortunately for Naserian, her mother arrived in time to help her. Her mum had heard of Rebecca and her midwifery team although they were in a different village. She phoned and Rebecca sped towards them on her well-equipped motorbike. She arrived, washed her hands in clean water and soap that she had brought with her. She put her hands into ghostly looking gloves. "Oohh", the women gasped. This is science!
Within an hour, the cry they had waited for filled the air. A girl, a beautiful girl. Safe and healthy.
Naserian is thrilled. She had longed for a girl. She will protect her with all her strength from any form of harm, including the tradition of female mutilation which is still prevalent. Never will she allow it. Never! There's new life for now, and hope for a different future for this baby girl. Who knows, she might lead the way for all Maasai women in Tanzania... Wouldn't that be wonderful?