Having the baby on the living room floor


“I have learnt a lot from the Mother Buddies… It is important that women deliver at the clinic as the clinic has all the necessary instruments to take care of the mother and the baby.”

I read this testimony from a mum in Malawi the other day, and it reminded me of a slightly traumatic event from my past. Four years ago, I babysat my nephew while my pregnant sister and her husband went out for her birthday. When they came back, my sister casually told me that she thought she might be having contractions, but not to worry…

At about 2am, they woke me up to say that yes, it was definitely contractions and they were just leaving for the hospital. This was all very exciting, until at the front door my sister suddenly cried: “Stop! I’m having the baby NOW!!”

She couldn’t get in the car. She really was having the baby now. On the living room floor.
The next ten minutes involved my panicking brother-in-law on the phone to the emergency services, receiving instructions. “You’ll need to get some towels…”

“I’ll get towels!” I cried, happy to have something to do – I ran off around the house opening and closing cupboards like a mad woman.

We were both deadly afraid that the ambulance wasn’t going to reach us in time and we were going to have to deliver a baby...Ourselves.

Now imagine being in that situation without a calm, competent, qualified person on the other end of the phone. That, I now realise, is the normal state of affairs for families who live in remote and rural places like villages in Malawi. Perhaps their neighbours have seen a few births before (unlike me), but they are not medically trained. I imagine that first-time fathers and the rest of the family are just as frightened as me and my brother-in-law when a woman goes into labour right in front of them.

The sad result is that a lot of women and babies there do die during childbirth. Women are 25 times more likely to lose their lives than here in the UK. Complications happen, and family and friends don’t know what to do or don’t have the equipment to be able to help. Those families must feel so helpless.

Where there are no emergency services or ambulances, we can help by arranging transport to get expectant mums to a clinic in time. Often what’s needed is a local Mother Buddy to stay in touch with a woman throughout her pregnancy, explain how important it is to give birth where there is medical help, and then make sure she gets there on the crucial day. We’re seeing deaths during childbirth massively reduced by doing this.

My sister had had a complicated first delivery and did not want to give birth, unprepared, on the living room floor with only hapless relatives to help. I know this because she yelled, “Get me to the hospital!!” Luckily for us, the ambulance got there just in time. They sped off and a paramedic delivered my niece in the back of the ambulance in the hospital car park. Then it was a very short walk to the ward where she and the baby were well looked after, checked over and cared for before they went home.

I would like all women and their new babies to receive that sort of care. And I would like to know that families in Malawi have expert help on hand during labour, like I did. If you’d like to help make that happen, perhaps you could sponsor a Mother Buddy, or twin your pregnancy!

Mel Carlisle, Chasing Zero Writer

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