Mothers saved

A look at some women who all nearly lost their lives in childbirth or pregnancy.

The ‘Stories of mothers saved’ film is a collection of individual stories of women who did not die needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth and have lived to tell their stories.

Their stories emphasise how families, communities and the government helped to ensure the safety of mothers and babies on all levels by actions such as saving money to secure transportation to the health facility when labour begins, to having access to family planning services, to receiving an emergency caesarean section and to attending a well-equipped and staffed facility because the government prioritised maternal and newborn health.

This film is part of the Stories of Mothers Saved initiative organised by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Click here for more information on the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood

Raisa – Afghanistan

Raisa is a 35-year-old mother with seven children.

When Raisa began labour, she knew from the midwife that the baby was in the breech position, but her mother-in-law forbade her from going to the hospital.

Many Afghan women are kept away from accessing quality healthcare. The mothers-in-law especially believe that the situation should not change for the younger generation. Raisa’s mother-in-law emphasised that since she had delivered all her children at home, there would be no need for hospitalisation.

When Najiba, a midwife, reached her home, she found that Raisa’s water had broke and the baby was in distress.

“In spite of this, neither the patient nor the family was ready to have a hospital delivery. They insisted that whether Raisa dies or survives, the delivery must be done at home. I decided to ignore the protestations of the patient and her family and take her to the clinic,” Najiba remembers.

“Today, the patient, her baby and her family are thankful to me. Raisa tells me that ‘you saved my life and that of my baby. Without you, we would both be dead’.”

Veronika Komba – Tanzania

Veronica Komba is a 20-year-old single mother. She had been abandoned by her mother, who in turn had been abandoned by her father.

She became pregnant at the age of 15 whilst in seventh grade. By this time, she was also a commercial sex worker to pay for food and school costs. Her boyfriend deserted her when she told him of her pregnancy, and Veronica failed to finish school.

As a young girl, Veronica used to sell local brews known as Ulanzi and Myakaya. She decided to join a women entrepreneurs group known as VICOBA for two purposes: to receive emotional support from older women in the aftermath of her mother and boyfriend deserting her, as well as to receive a loan for her small business of selling local brews.

Veronica felt labour pains while working at her brew kiosk. She felt dizzy and collapsed. A customer called for the village midwives, who examined her and found that her blood pressure was very high. Furthermore, her entire body had started swelling. They referred her to the hospital, 60 kilometers away.

Her grandmother called for Mama Hinju, the leader of the women’s group, who withdrew some money from the group’s common fund for health and maternal emergencies and hired a car to take Veronica to hospital.

After arriving at the hospital, Veronica started experiencing convulsions and was diagnosed with eclampsia. The doctors said she would not be able to have a normal delivery because of her physical condition and her young age. Veronica gave birth to her daughter by cesarean section. All her medical bills were also paid by the women’s group.

Manakala Darlami – Nepal

Manakala Darlami lives in a remote village of Nepal. She is 21-years old and has been married since she was sixteen.

After the birth of her first son, she became pregnant again after four months. Her husband could not stay with her and was forced to return to work in India. During this pregnancy, Manakala had no access to healthcare and did not take iron folic acid tablets. There was no one at home when her twins were born, barring her eighteen-month old son.

On the morning of December 15, 2009, Manakala experienced pain, but did not worry about it. Although her pain continued to increase, she did not call any neighbours for help.

At 3pm, she delivered the first of her twin daughters without any assistance. Following this, her sister-in-law came to her house, and five minutes later, she delivered her second daughter.

Unfortunately, Manakala was now bleeding profusely and was feeling faint. Her sister-in-law called their neighbour, Shyamkala Darlami, who was on the village safe motherhood committee.

No vehicles could be found to take her to the hospital. Shyamkala phoned for a vehicle, which took thirty minutes to arrive, to bring Manakala to the United Mission Hospital, three hours away.

Due to her profound blood loss, Manakala was in critical condition, and her chances of survival were slim. Fortunately, two individuals stepped forward to donate blood for her. Manakala regained consciousness after five hours and her health gradually improved.

Hafsatu – Nigeria

Hafsatu’s memory of eclampsia is hazy. She remembers experiencing excruciating abdominal pains and severe headaches.

The pains increased in severity in her stomach and her head, and she recalls with a wince, the horror of becoming completely blind.

Unlike any pain she had ever felt, she recalls her terror, and says she thought she was in the process of dying. Soon after her sight failed, so did her body: her world turned off and she had lost consciousness.

Unbeknownst to Hafsatu, her husband and her close female relatives brought her unconscious body to the hospital, an hour’s journey away from their home some 40 miles south of Kano.

The health professionals said that she was lucky that she was brought directly to the hospital. Despite being unconscious, they were able to treat her with magnesium sulphate early, and she responded well.

When Hafsatu regained consciousness, her baby Hauwa had already arrived.

Elenoa Tabua – Fiji

In the early hours of the morning, Elenoa started experiencing severe bleeding and abdominal pains. She could not contact her husband, as he was away for work. Elenoa was scared, as she was about six to seven months pregnant and totally unaware of what to do.

She had not been to her monthly check-ups, primarily because her village is a two-hour walk through the mountains followed by another two-hour drive on a rocky gravel road to get to the nearest healthcare facility. Moreover, a traditional birth attendant in the village had told Elenoa that her pregnancy would be a safe one.

At around three in the morning, Elenoa’s mother-in-law quickly went to fetch Mere, the traditional birth attendant of the village. Mere examined Elenoa with her bare hands and felt the head of the newborn emerging. Mere quickly delivered Elenoa’s new baby boy, who squealed and cried as she tied the umbilical cord with a piece of sewing thread.

Elenoa was still in a lot of pain, and her stomach seemed hard and big. As Mere examined her for the second time, she felt a second head emerging: Elenoa had been unaware she was pregnant with twins. Soon, Mere placed the second live baby boy with his brother, who was now gasping.

Elenoa began bleeding profusely, and Mere and the other traditional birth attendants were unable to get the placenta out. It was evident that Elenoa and her newborn children were in serious danger, and that they needed to be taken to hospital immediately.

Elenoa was placed on horseback (the only mode of transportation in emergencies), and rushed down the mountain range to the main road. After one-and-a-half hours travelling on mountain roads, they encountered a hospital vehicle at the beginning of the gravel road. By now Elenoa was completely unconscious. Her newborn twins had succumbed to the strenuous conditions and died during their journey down the mountain.

After arriving at Lautoka hospital, Elenoa was taken directly to the operating room for manual removal of the placenta and repair of a cervical tear. She lost approximately 2.5 liters of blood that day and needed a transfusion of three units of blood.

Namita Majhi – India

Namita Majhi lives in Haldimunda village in India’s Orissa state. She was married at the age of 19 and conceived her first child within the first year of marriage. She belongs to the Gond tribe, where family planning is hardly practiced.

Namita was anemic and was given iron and folic acid tablets for this purpose. Tarun Sa, a community organiser found Namita suffering from edema. Her mother-in-law dismissed the call for any medical intervention and said that Namita’s swelling was due to the influence of a Duma (evil spirit).

Tarun realised that Namita would die without medical assistance and proceeded to counsel her husband and mother-in-law. They finally agreed to take her to the hospital in Sinapali – 13km away.

But Sinapali was ill-equipped to handle childbirths. The doctor on call there referred Namita to the upgraded public health center in Khariar, another 40km away. The gynecologist at the health center kept her under observation, but when he found Namita’s blood count to be dangerously low, he referred her to the District Hospital – 70km away. She finally got to the Evangelical Hospital – the nearest private hospital, which agreed to receive a reduced amount as an initial payment.

Namita needed a blood transfusion urgently. As there was no blood bank in the vicinity, one of the employees at the public health center volunteered to donate the blood. Ultimately, she gave birth normally to a healthy daughter.