Four healthy mamas. Four healthy babies. And many not so lucky.

Last year three of my friends and I all planned to have our babies naturally with the assistance of a midwife through our local birthing center. All four of us ended up needing to be transferred to the hospital and having medical interventions for four difference sets of reasons.

As difficult as it was in each case, we emerged with four healthy mothers and four healthy babies.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we did not have access to the amazing health care that is available to us in Australia.

What if we had labored—just a two-hour plane trip away—in the neighboring nation of Papua New Guinea?

Would we still have four healthy mamas with us today?

And would those four healthy mamas still have four healthy babies?

Imagine this scenario:

“The floors are crowded with women waiting to have their babies, or cradling the ones they have just delivered, because there are not enough beds. In the delivery room, flimsy curtains afford no privacy or dignity. The toilet is a bucket by the bed. The vinyl mattresses where they labour are worn through, soiled foam bursting through the cracks.” (Source: A mother’s life, by Jo Chandler, The Age, September 7, 2009.)

Mothers in PNG sit on the floor after delivery due to a lack of hospital beds. Photo credit: Jason South

That is only part of the reason why Ryan and I have been volunteering with YWAM for the last 10 years… Because knowing that 1 in 7 women in rural PNG die in childbirth is just not acceptable… Because the resources are out there and just need some redistribution… Because we believe that willing people (both skilled and unskilled) can make a difference—very practically—in other peoples lives.

As we work to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in Papua New Guinea (as a part of the Millennium Development Goals), we reach out into neighboring nations to bring primary health care, dentistry, optometry, and mother and child health care.

Here is a personal story (first published here) from one of our volunteers—RN/Midwife Jenny Sutherland—while on outreach in August:

Yesterday we were halfway through our morning clinic when word came that a woman in a neighbouring village had given birth to one twin, but the second was not coming.  A small team of us arrived there with some difficulty, as we climbed up slippery logs and made our way into an incredibly poverty-stricken shack, where this labouring woman was on a bamboo floor, upon which we had to choose our steps wisely or fall through.

She had not a thing under her and her newborn baby girl was semi-wrapped in a dirty looking cloth nappy. The umbilical cord tied was tied with bamboo, but the baby was looking well. The woman had been pushing since the morning before, with Twin 1 born at 1am. When we arrived the unclamped cord was hanging out.  Due to finding it difficult to find a fetal heartbeat on the unborn twin and given the mother’s deteriorated condition, we decided to transport her to a local clinic, not certain whether either of them would live through this.

We carried the woman on a stretcher through calf-deep mud and onto the Zodiac (which is used to carry patients to and from the YWAM Medical Ship).  The voyage took 4 hours and despite the difficulties, this woman never whimpered once.  Frightened and exhausted, she had seemingly no interest in the baby she had birthed and had not fed her yet.  We encouraged her to feed the baby girl on the journey though, and to our delight she had a great feed and slept the rest of the trip, sheltered by some donated birthing kit bunny rugs, a cloth nappy and the strong arms of one of our manly engineers whose heart was taken for this baby girl!

We arrived at the clinic and were amazed to hear the healthy heart beat of the unborn baby. After bringing on labour again, with one push, out came a healthy baby girl! The labouring mum finally smiled – her life saved and two sweet baby girls safe in her arms.

Thank you, friends and family who support us, for being a part of making a difference in the lives of women, babies, and entire families in the nation of PNG. This is your success story as much as it is ours.

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