International day and year of the midwife celebrated in North Okanagan

Move over COVID-19, 2020 is the international year of the midwife and nurse

The year 2020 is more than just a COVID-19 crisis. Despite the pandemic, this year has been designated the international year of the nurse and midwife. And May 5 is international day of the midwife.

“Unborn babies do not observe the restrictions imposed due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Women all over the world are still getting pregnant,” said Birte Paschen, with the Safe Motherhood Project, and a registered midwife at Vernon’s Mountain Midwifery. “In spite of the pandemic, women still need care during childbirth. So we say, ‘Hip hip hooray,’ to the midwives throughout the world who care for pregnant women.”

In celebration of International Day of the Midwife, the Safe Motherhood Project team would like to offer a ‘shout out’ and ‘thank you’ to all those who assist women to give birth.

The word midwife comes from the old English term meaning, ‘with woman.’

“As long as women have been giving birth, there have been midwives assisting them,” said Paschen. “It is essentially women’s work since women have been birth attendants since time immemorial.”

In the past, the acquired skills and wisdom of midwifery were passed down from woman to woman through the generations. Historically, midwives have been both revered and disparaged, at times, accused of being witches.

“Unfortunately, in some countries, these mixed attitudes towards midwives have continued to this day,” she said. “Thankfully, today, midwifery is slowly but surely attaining its long overdue status as a noble profession.”

The Safe Motherhood Project team consists of an Interior Health family physician, a registered midwife, and a maternity nurse from Canada, and a group of dedicated traditional birth attendants from Guatemala who offer knowledge and skills in emergency obstetrics to indigenous Mayan midwives in the rural highlands of Guatemala. The project began in 2003 and has been operating for 18 years providing a hands on educational experience for indigenous midwives, called Comadronas, who might not otherwise have such a training opportunity.

“We have now taught over 1,200 students over the years on a minimal budget from monies donated annually by individual donors to Rose Charities Canada,” said Paschen.

The Safe Motherhood Project (www.safemotherhoodproject.org) was developed with the approval of a committee of Mayan midwives in 2001, to address the problem of maternal death occurring in rural Guatemala at that time. The primary causes of maternal death in Guatemala are postpartum hemorrhage, eclampsia, and infection. Maternal outcomes have improved globally in the last two decades with United Nations development goals. While Canada is one of the safest countries in the world to give birth, Guatemala has a maternal mortality rate reported to be 10 times higher than the rate in Canada. Fifty percent of the Guatemalan population self-identify as Mayan indigenous. Most Mayans live rurally and are the people most affected by poverty. It is clear that the outcomes for Mayan pregnant women, like in most indigenous communities, are worse than those reported nationally, due to a lack of access to healthcare resources. The majority of women living rurally in Guatemala deliver their babies at home attended by Comadronas.

“Our project’s course offers guidance on hygiene, normal birth practices, and how to manage birthing emergencies,” said Paschen. “The feedback we have received from our students is that our course is unique in the country for how ‘practical’ and useful it is.”

Public health officials working with the Comadronas who have taken our course, report they see an improvement in the care these Comadronas provide to pregnant women.

“We are very proud of the educational model we have developed. What we offer is compatible with the cultural values of Mayan women. We are heartened by how empowered our students feel with their new skills and knowledge. We feel privileged to have participated in such an important endeavor.”

The project counts on the ongoing donations of individuals to continue this work, to support the team visit Rose Charities Canada at www.rosecharities.ca.

– with files from Ruth Brighouse, Annette Borkent and Birte Paschen (registered midwife in Vernon www.mountainmidwiferyvernon.ca).

READ MORE: May the Fourth shines strong in Vernon

READ MORE: Medical team helps Guatemalan mothers, babies


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