Written by Felicity Thistlethwaite
Felicity Thistlethwaite is the digital content director at Stylist, a DIY enthusiast and Strong Women newbie. She also hosts the Baby On The Brain podcast (series 2 coming soon!).
WaterAid’s winter appeal aims to bring clean water, decent toilets and hygiene facilities to health centres around the world, making sure the essentials are available to all who need them. Here, six women tell their story of birth, life with a newborn and what they found to be essential in those first days of motherhood.
Content note: this article contains references to child loss that readers may find upsetting.
From the moment you find out you’re pregnant, (often well-meaning) baby advice floods in from all directions. Whether it’s which pushchair to buy, what to pack in your hospital bag or how to get through those first early days with a newborn, everyone seems to have an opinion. Parents everywhere swap tips on the must-haves or must-dos, and it varies enormously around the world.
All new parents can identify with one thing – wanting the very best start for their baby. WaterAid’s winter appeal Water Means Life aims to bring clean water, decent toilets and hygiene facilities to health centres in Mozambique and around the world, making sure the real essentials, the ones we take for granted, are available to all who need them.
Here, six women tell their story of birth, life with a newborn and what they found to be essential in those first days of motherhood.
When 30-year-old Lucia from Malawi gave birth to her daughter Bertha, she ate porridge for breakfast every day for the first week because it’s thought to be a good source of energy and easier to digest than other meals, but it’s also essential and in-keeping with local tradition. Luckily for Lucia her mum, Melise, was on hand to make it: “Every morning that week we followed the routine, preparing the special porridge for Lucia while she showered.”
Meanwhile, in Madagascar, where there are over 18 different ethnic groups, each with its own tribal traditions and beliefs, for 24-year-old Nome, it was vital to take part in the ‘Manaboaka Jabely’ birthing ritual. Both mother and child must stay at home for the first seven days after the birth, and when they eventually leave the house for the first time, they must wear a ‘masonjoany’ facemask made from sandalwood paste, as it’s believed to ward off evil spirits.
“In our culture, once we have made it through these sacred first seven days, we step outside for a short time to face the reality of life and the bright sun – we celebrate this moment with our family members,” Nome said. “The tradition says we should exit to the eastern side of the house because the east is where the sun rises, and the sun is life.”
Nome’s hopeful for the future and doing all she can for seven-day-old Stephan. Her first son sadly died when he was just 18 months old from a diarrhoeal disease caused by the dirty water in her village.
Globally, around 800 children die every day from diseases caused by a lack of clean water and decent sanitation – that’s one child every two minutes. For many, the essentials for having a safe and healthy birth are simply clean water, a decent toilet and good hygiene.
Giving birth without being able to wash yourself, or your baby afterwards, is a situation no woman should face, but 16.6 million mums go through this experience every year – one every two seconds. Likewise, for midwives, the thought of having to deliver babies without clean water to keep hands, equipment and space hygienic is also unthinkable. Yet one in four healthcare centres around the world have no clean water, and almost half have no basic handwashing facilities.
Afonsina, a mum-of-six from the rural district of Cuamba in northern Mozambique, gave birth to her children at her local health centre, which has no piped water supply. When her youngest son was born, she had nowhere to wash afterwards. “When a woman gives birth at the health centre, she has to go home to shower,” she said. “If we have water here, things will be better for women after they give birth. We will also be able to use the toilet.”
Sadly, she’s not alone. Some 47% of people in her district have no access to safe water, while 13 out of 16 rural healthcare centres in the district lack water on tap.
Mathilde lives in the district with her nine-month-old son. Three of her children died at a young age, and she sees dirty water as a real problem, contributing to disease. “We fetch water far away from the river and the water is not safe,” she says. “It’s a traditional well but the water is not treated. Everyone, even animals, uses the same water. We use it for drinking, washing, everything.”
Infections associated with unclean births account for 26% of newborn deaths and 11% of maternal loss of life each year. Together they account for more than a million deaths annually.
A brighter future is possible. Organisations like WaterAid are making a huge difference to the lives of new mums and babies, transforming the life chances for millions around the world, including Valéria, who lives in Niassa Province, Mozambique.
“My baby was born here at the hospital. It was wonderful. Before delivery, I used hot water; after delivery, I used it to wash myself. Many things need water such as bathing, cooking, drinking and washing clothes,” Valéria says.
“Water saves lives. There is no life without water. I feel good that the doctor can wash his hands with soap and water, because by washing his hands, the doctor is preventing diseases.”
Jennifer, a 23-year-old first-time mum,also found having water and toilets on site made the birth of her son easier. She delivered her baby boy at Sinde Rural Health Centre in Zambia’s southern province. She said “The presence of water has made a very big difference; it enabled me to spend more time with my mum at a time when I needed her most. People in rural areas need clean water and toilets. Right now, I have a mixture of feelings, but prominently I feel overjoyed for the baby that has been born. He has brought so much joy to me.”
And that’s what it’s about – enabling all mothers, wherever they are in the world, to feel that same joy. To give birth safely and hygienically, with clean water and decent toilets on hand – the essentials they need most.
Stylist has teamed up with WaterAid for a special bonus episode of Baby On The Brain: The Returners, a podcast dedicated to the big life questions you face when you’re a new parent. Featuring special guests Shakira Akabusi and Dr Amalina Bakri, the episode discusses advice for navigating life with a newborn and the essentials every new mum needs.
WaterAid’s winter appeal Water Means Life aims to bring clean water, decent toilets and hygiene facilities to health centres in Mozambique and around the world, making sure the real essentials, the ones we take for granted, are available to all who need them. You can find out more at wateraid.org
Images: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala; WaterAid/Jenny Lewis; WaterAid/Cynthia Matonhodze
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