Why I take action to #ChangeTheBirthStory
When I think about my birth story, I smile as I picture my family and relatives cheering around a table with a glass in their hands to rejoice the good news; I laugh as I remember my mother sharing the story of how the doctor confused me for a boy since complications lead to me entering this world bum first with my little feet sticking between my legs; ultimately, I am grateful for the medical attention my mother and I received to ensure my safe delivery despite the complications.
News of my mother’s pregnancy was a cause for celebration. Although there were some risky complications, including me being human pretzel (I was a yoga lover since birth), I am privileged to be standing here today in Canada, alive and healthy. I am privileged because the birth stories of many others around the world didn’t quite end up like mine. In fact, there are too many birth stories around the world characterized by death – of mom, baby, or both.
Have you ever been to Toronto? Imagine all 2.7 million residents as newborn babies. Imagine the TTC drivers, business people jumping onto the subway, and all the people watching a Toronto Blue Jay’s game as babies. Now, I need you to know that all these babies you imagined filling up Toronto are equivalent to the number of newborn babies that die every year around the globe.
That’s right, approximately 2.7 million newborn babies lose their lives each year. Pregnancy and childbirth are now the second leading cause of death for women and adolescent girls in developing nations.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
Maternal related deaths are largely caused by the barriers women and adolescent girls face when seeking life-saving care and education about maternal, newborn and child health. Simply put, women and girls accessing adequate health facilities and resources are human rights issues rooted in gender inequalities and poverty.
Some of these common barriers women and girls experience when seeking adequate health care services can be explained through three delays.
Delay #1 calls for the need to recognize the complications and capacity women and girls have to seek care. Women and girls often have limited power to make decisions and have restricted agency due to their dependence on men and family members. The decisions made by families are often characterized by inaccurate social constructions that disapprove of medical attention throughout women or girls pregnancy, putting mothers and babies in great danger of complications. If that’s not the barrier, financial struggles are also often a huge concern that prevents families from visiting a health care facility as an option.
Delay #2 recognizes the lack of transportation, funds or the proximity to health care facilities. Health care services are often an extremely far and dangerous travel for those who are living in developing countries. Families may not have access to or funds for transportation, the roads can be dangerous for women and girls to travel on their own, or the distance to the health care facility can result in the inability for the patient to receive care in time.
Delay #3 highlights the shortage of the health staff and supplies of the facilities. Once a patient makes ends meet and overcomes all other barriers to get to a health care facility, they may run into other issues, such as the lack of qualified staff and appropriate medical equipment or drugs. Sometimes, stigma placed on women and single mothers by staff and other patients can prevent them from receiving the attention they need.
While I was volunteering in the Dominican Republic during the past two summers, I had the opportunity to recognize the detrimental reality of these three delays. After hearing the stories of program founders and local women and girls in a hospital and pregnancy crisis centre about the stigmas, lack of education, and inadequate care provided, I decided my support could not end once I returned to Canada.
I have joined Plan International Canada in Changing the Birth Story for 4.7 million people in several partnered countries, including Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, and Senegal. These countries have told Plan International that they would like to end some of the barriers their women and girls face when accessing healthcare facilities and information in some of their communities.
It’s important to remember that the systemic and intersectional issues found on the other side of the globe are also, to a different degree, present in our local communities. In fact, Hamiltonians are combating similar issues of gender inequality. Some solutions can include starting conversations at your school, work, or volunteer circles. Youth centre, Next Generation (NGen) located downtown Hamilton hosts safe-place “Masculinity Talks” to start a discussion about daily toxic forms of masculinity, and what it truly means to be a supporter in various gender movements.
If you are interested in learning more about local issues and solutions alike, “be bold” and attend the Leadership Summit for Women, where lots of local leaders, students, and community will come together to combat gender inequality.
In the meantime, I’m collecting 1,000 signatures to raise awareness about global maternal and newborn health. If you’d like to support #ChangetheBirthStory, simply sign your name HERE.