This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
December, for me, brought unfortunate visa troubles and, rather than dodging Brazilian law and risking imprisonment, I had to flee back to the United States and wrangle with the Consulate here. Luckily by the end of the month I had a new visa in hand and returned to Brazil before the new year. These sorts of bureaucratic hiccups are so commonplace when working abroad, so I tried to take it in stride and be as productive as possible, despite being away from all the wonderful girls at Lua Nova’s recovery center!
One of my main tasks in my 9-month placement in the Young Champions program is to create a host of didactic materials on maternity for the adolescent mothers living at the Lua Nova center during their drug-recovery process. I plunged into that task the last weeks while awaiting the Consulate’s decision to readmit me to Brazil. The process of creating these materials has been exciting and met with so many unique challenges: while in Niger I helped organize some didactic materials for post-operative fistula patients, but those focused almost exclusively on physical maladies and obligations as related to pregnancy, delivery, and the post-partum period.
For the girls of Lua Nova, I am not battling lack of access to hospitals or physical maternal care, but instead facing the emotional challenges of what it is to be a mother, how to gain an attachment to your child, and most simply what on earth to do with a newborn infant, toddler, and older child in terms of nutrition, bathing, medical care, and non-aggressive discipline. To incorporate all of these crucial layers of psychological health of the mother, while still making the materials entertaining and approachable, I decided to write a “comic book” of sorts, detailing the life of a fictional 15-year old girl as she confronts drug addiction and teen pregnancy. Some of the text was taken directly from the words of the girls at Lua Nova as they explained their apprehensions and fears on how to be a mother in our group sessions. The point of the text is for it to be instantly relatable to a wide array of adolescent mothers in Brazil, whether they have had a substance addiction or not. It relies heavily on images, drawn from a talented artist friend of my sister, herself a mother of four who simply wanted to extend a helping hand to these mothers in Brazil. I am entirely indebted to her for her invaluable services and love the global outreach of moms helping moms!
In addition to the book, I’ve written and designed instructional posters on breastfeeding, discipline, post-partum depression and other crucial issues to be hung around Lua Nova’s facilities, and am also in the middle of creating an interactive game that addresses challenges and solutions in motherhood, which I hope educators can use in group or individual settings to help mothers cope with the huge obstacles they face as they raise a child.
Being in the US in December has been challenging as I missed the one-on-one interaction with the girls at Lua Nova. They give such strength to me and I learn constantly from them. I’m happy that I’ve been able to have the time to really sit down and write these materials, but it’s impossible to really finish these educational tools without the direct feedback from their intended audience. It reminds me of how crucial on-the-ground work is in any maternal health endeavor. Nothing can be created in a vacuum, and without the participation of the community we strive to impact, any effort will only be rendered moot. It’s all about local knowledge, local solutions, and local participation. That being said I’m thrilled to get back to Sorocaba and work face-to-face with these girls once more!