In Chichewa, a pregnant woman is described as pakati (between life and death) or matenda (sick). With one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, pregnancy for Malawian women is any extremely risky and stressful time; and, of course, from a gender/power angle, women have very little control over their reproductive lives.
Most maternal deaths happen at home. The baby presents breech or the woman starts bleeding and that’s the end, often for both mother and child.
But because the villages view pregnancy and childbirth as completely the domain of women, some Malawian women have found ways to help each other during pregnancy and childbirth without running afoul of village gender/power lines. And bit by bit, men have joined into the discussion and some have begun actively participating in mother/child health issues: by building bicycle ambulances to transport pregnant women to a health facility, by building a well to ensure clean water when the women have organized and asked for it.
One such woman is Gladees (her christian name). She is a volunteer MaiMwana (mother-child) counselor in the village of Chisamba. Chosen by her village out of respect, she is trained by other women from other villages on facilitation and health risks. She then begins meeting with expectant mothers prior to delivery to discuss how the village will help her get to a health facility, what risks the mother will likely face and to make sure that the woman has already seen a midwife or a nurse at a health facility.
I haven’t shot a single photograph, just too busy with the video cam. Here are some video screen captures of yesterday’s shoot with Gladees and Phonika Bizwick.
Some frame grabs from the video!in one you can see the husband off to the side. This shows both his sense of respect and some sense of discomfort being involved in a discussion about exclusively breastfeeding.