By Christina Rawdon, National Coordinator WRA Zimbabwe (Retired)
I count myself lucky every day that I experienced a normal childbirth. My sister was not.
Phoebe Mudokwenyu’s final days were consumed by emotional and physical trauma. She endured the heartbreak of a stillbirth followed by an obstructed labor that led to an infection and ultimately shut down her kidneys. She was only 25 years old.
Phoebe inspired me to become a nurse-midwife, and I see her in every woman I help through pregnancy and childbirth, especially the adolescents. Every Mother’s Day I am both grateful for my good fortune while recommitting to my work with WRA Zimbabwe to ensure that every woman has the quality health services she needs to survive childbirth.
In my country of Zimbabwe, more than 20% of adolescent girls have had a baby by the time they are 17 and it is a significant contributor to our high maternal mortality rate. But most of these deaths are preventable, and can be attributed to a lack of information about how and when to seek care and delays in reaching and receiving care. That’s why I am committed to educating women and girls about their health and rights so that they can make the best decisions for their care.
I have been with WRA Zimbabwe for eight years. To be honest, I had no intention of getting involved. As a nurse and a midwife, I’ve always seen myself as a provider. But through my work with WRA Zimbabwe, I have seen the power of citizens coming together to claim their health and rights.
One of the major challenges women face in Zimbabwe is disrespect and abuse at health facilities. This causes many women to give birth at home, putting their health and that of their newborns at risk of complications and even death. As part of our strategy to ensure all women receive quality care, WRA Zimbabwe has trained hundreds of healthcare providers on respectful maternity care (RMC) and has fully integrated RMC into the midwifery curriculum throughout the country.
I have seen the impact of this work in the faces of women who have had healthy pregnancies and births; women who will celebrate the joys of motherhood this and every Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate the love between a mother and child, yet so many women in Zimbabwe and worldwide do not have the opportunity to experience this joy. Too many women do not seek prenatal care, endangering themselves and their newborns, contributing to Zimbabwe’s high maternal mortality rate.
In 2016, WRA introduced a self-care program in the rural district of Kwekwe, revitalizing proven concepts around birth preparedness, complication readiness, health rights and responsibilities. We engaged women, community members, health workers and the government, focusing on the relationships between them and putting women at the center. The results were astounding: women seeking early prenatal care increased by 20% and facility-based deliveries doubled, increasing their chances for healthy pregnancies and births.
Every year Mother’s Day brings up so many emotions for me. Love for my children. Heartbreak for my sister. Pride in my work. Each emotion is a gift. Love for my children keeps me motivated throughout the year. Heartbreak for those who have lost their lives provides me the resolve to continue working, no matter the challenges before me. Pride in my work and those of my colleagues gives me the confidence to push for change, no matter the resistance.
Thank you for listening to my story. I am just one of the many advocates in WRA’s people-led movement whose personal experiences have led us to champion reproductive and maternal health and rights in our communities and countries.