By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
A highlight of any trip to the field is the opportunity to cuddle and smile at chubby-cheeked babies. It always renews and refocuses ChildFund staff members from all over the world. There are few things more life-affirming than the innocence and love that spring forth in an infant’s gurgles and giggles.
But the sobering reality in rural Cochabamba, Bolivia, which a ChildFund team recently visited, is that both infant and maternal mortality rates are high. Many mothers never get to hold their babies in their arms, and some even lose their own lives, leaving their other children orphaned.
Yet there are signs of hope in Bolivia. In response to the high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the national government offers mothers small stipends to attend monthly prenatal appointments, screenings and checkups. They also offer incentives for giving birth in government treatment centers with trained health care providers.
ChildFund’s role in this effort is to offer prenatal appointments and tracking through our local partner organizations at zero cost to mothers. But, more than just checking the physical development of the babies and the vital statistics of the mothers, we also support the mother’s attachment to the baby within her — an emotional bond that, the doctor there explained, is as important as physical development.
That’s where a mother’s letter to her unborn child enters the picture, expressing her love, hopes, concerns and excitement in an early-pregnancy activity that ChildFund supports. Later, using life-sized dolls, mothers practice breastfeeding positions, diaper changing and infant massage. Often, they open up about other concerns in their lives.
During our visit, we met two babies born to mothers who had gone through ChildFund’s prenatal program. Nicolas is 4 months old, and Antonio is 18 months. Their mothers shared the letters they had written so many months earlier.
A letter to Nicolas: Dear son, I anxiously await you as my third child, even though I am afraid of the moment when I will give you life. But don’t worry. I will give you everything of me so that everything will be OK, my little love, and I will meet you with all of the same excitement as your older brothers. I only ask the almighty God that you are healthy and strong, because you are the light in our lives and we are all very happy to have you, my baby. Come and fill our home with love. More than anything, your dad will jump for joy when he sees you and has you in his arms.
A letter to Antonio: With much love for the baby that I am anxiously waiting to arrive, so I can know you in person and feel your little body. I hope it will be a great moment when I have you in my arms because I will fill you with kisses.
By Dirce Sarmento
It was her first midwife training session in more than 10 years, but Maria de Fatima Moniz made it clear she was up for the challenge. She seized a valuable opportunity this past June and participated in a two-week midwife training facilitated by ChildFund Timor-Leste and Instituto Nacional de Saude (National Institute of Health) in the Covalima district.
During her first week, Maria, 38, learned the “55 Steps” — guidelines used by midwives to ensure the safe delivery of newborns and appropriate care for pregnant women. The second week of training, based in Dili’s National Hospital, gave the group of 17 midwives the opportunity to use their practical skills while under close supervision.
“During this training, I felt very fortunate to be able to learn new knowledge about the 55 steps and safe deliveries,” Maria says.
With more than 15 years of experience caring for mothers and newborns, Maria will use the information she learned to improve the delivery process she practices in her community. She is the only midwife for five sucos (villages) in Covalima — a community of approximately 7,500 people — and works at the Tilomar clinic. Tilomar has no running water, so she has to ask families to bring their own to use during and after delivery.
“The problem we have now in our community is that we don’t have any materials for delivery, like baby napkins, and no sterile delivery set,” Maria says. Despite these challenges, Maria has successfully delivered countless babies at the clinic. She hopes that conditions will improve.
As a mother of four children, Maria understands how important it is to support pregnant women at each stage of their delivery. “After this training, I hope what I learned will help local women have clean and safe deliveries and that [maternal and infant] mortality in Timor-Leste will be reduced.” Since she began working at the clinic in 2000, she says, eight women have been taken to Suai hospital for caesareans, and two babies have died.
In Maudemo suco, where Tilomar clinic is located, 48.7 percent of births from 2005 to 2010 were assisted by a skilled health provider. Comparing this to Timor-Leste’s countrywide average of 33.5 percent highlights how Maria’s hard work is making a real difference to women and children in her community.
With new skills and support through ChildFund Timor-Leste’s project, Improving Health Outcomes for Children in Covalima District, Maria can improve the level of care for pregnant women and newborns in Tilomar. “I am grateful for ChildFund helping us in Covalima. I hope we can improve the future of this cooperation, because we still confront problems implementing the safe delivery,” says Maria. “I hope next year ChildFund can support us to give us refresher training on safe motherhood and supervision.”