Mahlet is the kind of woman I dreamed of being when I was a little girl. The midwife is a tireless advocate for and educator of the women in her community, and meeting her left a deep impression on me.
Mahlet works in a clinic in rural Ethiopia, where I was visiting to gather stories for Born on Time. The first public-private partnership for the prevention of preterm birth, Born on Time provided training and equipment for the clinic and staff, including Mahlet.
“I didn’t have a lot of training until Born on Time came,” Mahlet tells me. Born on Time helped her gain more knowledge and experience in how to prevent premature birth, including proper nutrition of mothers, and healthy birth-spacing through preventative contraception.
A tiny tool of empowerment
“I tell them the side effects, and show diagrams for those who are illiterate,” she says. She shows me some of the diagrams, and I ask her about a few types of contraception that I’m not familiar with. Silently, I am wishing I could visit Mahlet as a patient myself. Her knowledge and quiet confidence puts me at ease as she tells me matter-of-factly about the types of contraception each age category of patient prefers.
Diagrams like this one help Mahlet teach her patients about healthy pregnancy and birth spacing. Photo: Paul Betings
I get to sit in while the 25 year-old health professional removes a contraceptive device from a patient’s arm. The two small pieces of plastic look like tiny white twigs, but these little twigs pack a powerful punch for women’s health and control over their own bodies. Mahlet tells me that the woman has had this particular one for several years, and is now ready to have another child.
This kind of birth spacing means that women’s bodies have a chance to rest and rebuild themselves, preventing health risks like anemia and high blood pressure. For young adolescents, it can delay pregnancy until their bodies are ready to carry a child. For both women and adolescent girls, contraception can prevent maternal death and premature birth. It also enables women and girls to make important decisions about their own bodies. Contraception can be a powerful tool for their empowerment.
Mahlet recently gave birth to a little girl herself. During the week she brings her first-born baby with her to the clinic, where a caregiver looks after the child as Mahlet works.
Mahlet practices what she preaches: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth is one of the things she teaches women at the clinic. Photo: Paul Bettings
“It’s difficult having a baby and doing this work,” she tells me.
On one occasion, Mahlet was carrying her child on her back as she assisted a woman giving birth. No other midwife was available, so Mahlet was on her own. When the baby was born, he wasn’t breathing, and Mahlet resuscitated him. “The baby started crying, so my baby started crying,” she recounts.
But the experience of having her own child has also given Mahlet a window into her patients’ pain. Before she had her baby, she “only knew the science of it.” Now, she understands the pain. “I’m more empathetic. Now I understand if they want to yell at me, because I know how much pain they’re going through.”
Mahlet fixes an IV for a patient who recently suffered a miscarriage. Photo: Paul Bettings
Over and over again, I observe the care that Mahlet takes with the woman who come to the clinic. One woman is here convalescing after a miscarriage. Her sister-in-law sits on her bed, watching like a hawk, as Mahlet fixes the IV.
“We try to make it warm, clean and safe for our women,” she says, “whether they are here for a checkup, giving birth, or healing.”
A community change-maker
My visit with Mahlet left an impact on me. Seeing first-hand the positive change that community midwives bring to their communities, I have a deep appreciation for the work of Born on Time in bringing valuable training to women like Mahlet.
Mahlet is part of a world-changing movement to bring health and well-being to communities. Globally, preterm birth is still the leading cause of death for children under five. Many of these deaths are preventable through quality care and education. If you believe that every mom and child has the right to quality healthcare, help us by signing our petition to the Government of Canada to continue health-focused funding.
With a focus in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali, Born On Time is the first public-private partnership to prioritize the prevention of preterm birth, now the leading cause of death in children under five globally. This five year initiative brings together expertise and resources from World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children, the Government of Canada and Johnson & Johnson to help ensure every child is born on time.