I am a Midwife and I spent much of my career running a small isolated Midwife- led maternity unit in the UK. It was one of the pioneering natural birthing units, placing emphasis on being ‘with woman’ by championing the value of continuity of care and the special relationship between Mother, baby and Midwife.
This experience stood me in good stead when I began working as a volunteer Midwife in isolated areas in other parts of the world. 10 years ago a colleague and I were asked to go to Mongolia to set up a midwifery educational programme. The success of this project led to us developing a similar programme in Myanmar (Burma), which we have now been running for 4 years.
Working in these developing countries is hard, coping with -40C in Mongolia, long difficult journeys of many hours on rough tracks, sleeping in Ger tents and using open pit toilets. We persevere and see these hardships as part of our journey, the outcome of which is incredibly rewarding.
In Myanmar we teach Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA’s) who learn their birthing skills passed from Grandmother to mother and mother to daughter. These extraordinary, resourceful women work for no money, often travelling to labouring mothers through the jungle at night or on a boat through the darkness. There are few medicines, no doctors, and hospitals can often be 4 days walk or 2 days on a motorbike, up and down mountains. In the Delta area in Myanmar pregnant women have to travel many uncomfortable hours in a boat if there are complications. There are only a few Midwives in these remote areas, so for many women it is the local Traditional Birth Attendant that cares for them during their birth. Sadly many mothers and babies die in these remote areas.
We experience these difficult journeys for ourselves. To get to some of the more remote areas involves several days in a 4x4 followed by 9 to 11 hours on the back of a motorbike, across mountains on narrow, often treacherous paths through the jungle and carrying the bikes across rivers, to get to our destination.
After spending time working and getting to know the TBAs we put together a programme based on specific gaps in their knowledge. They travel to attend our sessions by foot or boat, leaving their families and farm work. They are strong, wonderful women, with huge enthusiasm and commitment to learn more about birth and the safety of mothers and babies.
We live together with the women, sharing the same sleeping areas on wooden platforms, eating together, using the same open pit toilets and washing together. A sisterhood develops that is a very strong bond, built on mutual respect and the shared love of caring for mothers and babies in birth.
We teach the TBA’s simple but incredibly effective tools such as hand washing to prevent infections, safe ways of delivering babies in difficult situations, safe delivery of placentas, how to manage an emergency, how to stop bleeding, and how to assist a baby to breathe if it is struggling.
These women come to us with basic knowledge but little understanding of physiology. Teaching them to understand the process of birth from this perspective profoundly increases the safe delivery of babies. In one area they have been able to close the local orphanage, as there have been no maternal deaths in the last few years. This is the reward for skills the women have gained directly from our programme, which they are now passing on to other Traditional Birth Attendants
Myanmar is a stunning, spiritual place and the people we have come to know through our work, reflect the beauty of their country both inside and out. On one of our visits in 2016 we found we had a rare few spare days to visit the Inle lakes and the wonderful floating villages. Here we witnessed the incredible, painstaking skills of the traditional weavers creating Lotus flower fibres into beautiful scarves. I knew that the Lotus material would intrigue my daughter Katherine, and so I bought a scarf home to show her. It is wonderful to know that she is now also working with the Myanmar people in her way, through supporting their skills and enabling them a safe and stable livelihood.
Thread Tales Co also supports the birthing charities that we work with, helping us to continue our rewarding journey with these incredible people.