Luisa has been a health promoter for 8 years but what really sparks her passion is her work as a midwife. If you had talked to her 5 years ago, she would have said that a woman has to be chosen to be a midwife, a vision comes to her. Luisa’s community suffers from severe health problems, such as hunger, malnutrition, waterborne diseases and respiratory illnesses. Most women have home births, and while stillbirths occur, even more infants die after birth or during the first weeks of life.
As a health promoter, Luisa needed to learn about maternal health, which impressed on her how this care can save lives. “I'm also a mother, of 3. I suffered birth complications with my second child. I would have died had it not been for my knowledge as a health promoter. Then I realized how much women need our help to have healthy pregnancies and babies.”
Luisa began taking midwifery courses wherever she could, and eventually organized a group of young midwives in the region whom she trains. Currently she is participating in the Professional Health Certificate supported by GPA’s Small Grants Program. One training session in particular changed her life. Dr. Scott Cohen, GPA's founder, had visited the clinic to provide training on newborn resuscitation. Despite the fact such training is common in western hospitals and obstetric units, it is a new concept among local midwives and health promoters.
“The training was basic,” says Luisa. “ We learned about birth complications, and how to resuscitate a baby that doesn’t show signs of life. Scott used a doll to demonstrate what to do and how to resuscitate the baby. Then we practiced for hours. I felt I really absorbed what he was telling us and felt confident in what to do in a difficult situation.”
A couple months later a young pregnant women, Ana, asked Luisa to assist her. When Ana was in labor, her husband called Luisa, who quickly grabbed her midwifery kit, a bottle of water, and a jacket – it was probably going to be a long night. Once she got to the small wooden hut, she found Ana in a squatting position, the traditional birth position, surrounded by 10 family members. Ana’s husband stood in the back watching carefully. It was the second time in his life, yet, it was exciting and worrying and the same time. After 24 hours of labor, Luisa was very worried. The baby had a weak pulse and was in the incorrect position.
Luisa urged the family to get the woman to a hospital, but Ana’s parents had already experienced another daughter dying in childbirth at the hospital and were terrified. After 56 hours, the baby was born, but the tiny boy was not breathing, his face and skin were blue, and the cord was wrapped around his neck. Everyone panicked and Luisa momentarily froze. “Suddenly I remembered that little doll we used in GPA’s training. “Warm the water and the towels, ”Luisa screamed to the women.”Fast,” as she unwrapped the cord.
“I started rubbing the baby’s sides with the towels, being conscious of his size, ‘not too hard, not too hard,’ – I was repeating to myself. He is too small, I can break him.” She kept the baby warm, and then opened his mouth, covered his nostrils, and started blowing gently into his mouth. “One two three, chest pressure. Oh! I was so scared I would break his ribs, I was so careful not to do it with a lot of pressure. Suddenly he started crying, and screaming. I couldn't move, I couldn't believe it. The family started cheering and crying from joy and relief. I knew I had to keep the baby warm, check his temperature, pressure, respiration. In a couple of seconds, maybe 1-2 minutes, his color started changing from blue to pink, and his heart was beating, slowly at first then regularly.”
“I was wondering how was it possible that there are so many situations where the baby doesn’t breath, when it doesn’t move and the midwife or health promoter doesn't know what to do because we haven't been taught what to do in that situation.”
“This experience had a huge impact on how I work and the importance of teaching others that we can do a lot for our communities. We need to educate ourselves, we can’t be afraid of the situations where we can act. We need to teach others the tools we learned. This is why I am sharing this knowledge with other health promoters and midwives.”
“Thank you Dr. Cohen, GPA for helping us to save lives.”