Is Childbirth a Disease?

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By: Yeabsira Mehari, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Yeabsira Mehari, 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.

There was a time when I was really exhausted from having to explain the what, why, where and how of obstetric fistula. You know how you’re taught to write up an elevator pitch for prospective grant interviews or investors? Well, there was no such pitch when it came tothis specific maternal health issue— not until all the bases were covered. Of course, I could simply say that an obstetric fistula is a tear caused during child birth, but it somehow does not give the condition the attention it deserves. I’m still working on a way to sum it all up. Speaking with people who have no interest in public health can at times be draining. I usually end up getting frustrated by their lack of passion & commitment and find myself defending the reasons I want to work towards ending maternal health issues.

I remember a time when I showed The Girl Effect video to an audience in which one audience member responded that it was nothing more than a “ploy from the feminist agenda and DUH women have to put in their half as well. Nothing’s for free, remember?” Yes, I do remember…this sentence word for word that is. It had me fuming!

Then I smile remembering a simple conversation with Seth, a fellow Young Champion, in which the term “cephlopelvic disproportion” was used a few times with neither of us asking what that meant! It was quite nice to speak with someone in the same field. It’s no wonder I’ve enjoyed working for an organization that’s focused on maternal health issues, not to mention being surrounded by a group of Maternal Health Nerds 🙂 It had been sometime since I had a conversation with someone outside of the field on this topic, especially maternal health issues.

So I was rather surprised when I received an email from Abhishek, an IT guy in Bangalore, who read a previous blog of mine and proceeded to write me inquiring if I had any time to discuss maternal health issues to help him with a campaign he was working on. An IT guy working on a maternal health campaign? Interesting, I thought. So I met with him and his wife, Sneha for a cup of coffee. They told me they had recently learned of the maternal mortality rate (1 of 5 women die during child birth) and the condition of maternal health world wide. Shocked by the statistics, they decided they wanted to do something about it. They wanted to get involved and do their part in whatever way they knew how. With Sneha’s versatile calligraphy and Abhi’s media knowledge, they got to working on a campaign ad. We discussed creative ways to use images and words in conjunction to send the message that Moms Matter. I helped them piece bits of information together. Eventually, we went our separate ways and decided that we’d keep working on the Moms Matter campaign. The result—a campaign poster entitled Is Childbirth a Disease? Catchy enough? We thought so.

I have to say how impressed I was (still am) with this lovely couple. Neither of them coming from the health field, they were distraught by the simple fact that moms are dying worldwide, every minute of every day…distraught enough to do something about it. Though they contacted me to help them gather information. It is really them who reminded me that it is vital to continue the conversation with those that are not in the health field. And for those of us working in this field, experts or not, we need to practice patience with those that say things that may seem uninformed (i.e. the ploy comment). It is not just our duty to help solve issues, but equally our duty to spread knowledge and awareness without which the prospect of effective change may seem bleak. Please take a moment and forward the poster to as many people as you can. Take part in spreading awareness by sharing it via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.