Scan after scan after just-to-be-safe scan
The Risk of just-born jeopardy,
Entirely absent from my pregnancy plan,
Concealed by the masters of modern medicine.
Launching oft-futile guerrilla assaults;
Striking in response to the misstep of man
Rebellion against the promised assurances
of midwives and monitors and surgeries and scans;
But rarely a success in battle. If it occurs:
there is shock, and shame, and blame, and a cry
That ‘no child should die’!
No baby should lie
Without a life to satisfy
But in the occupied territory, where risk reigns in little lives:
Over the great chasm of access and supply
Faintly, if you have ears eager to listen to the cry
And block out the lapping of luxury at your heels
And make room for what this dystopia reveals
And pierce through the privilege that cocoons your truths…
With each live birth, each safe passage to our world;
Comes the quiet grief of a mother’s tears
Sidelined by other-ness and foreign fears
Whispering of sweet promises unkept
Until, with un-lived memories; she wept
Wept for the babe, their newness now gone
Wept for a health system she cannot depend on
Wept for the vacuum of drugs, staff and cars
Wept for tiny hands, now safe in the stars.
Geography seals fates for these babes, and thus;
They’re torn from women who, despite the distance, are like us…
But with sad acceptance of their world;
Where children do die
Where babies do lie
Without a life, to satisfy…
In a world where risk is always nigh
No just-to-be-safe scans, no monitors, no available staff
The certainty of risk beyond our comfortable grasp
A gamble for mothers, who bet on their own hearts;
A gamble unseen, unheard by us; their counterparts
A gamble, in Uganda, which mothers’ lose,
If only there were other choices to choose….
On this lop-sidedly serviced earth,
For every 19 Ugandan babes? 1 ill-fated birth*
A little story behind the poem:
I started writing this poem a few years ago, when a staff member at MH lost his newborn baby. It was him and his wife’s first baby, and the grief seemed to swallow up our team for a few days. I remember the jarring nature of the baby’s death, some 12 hours after birth, when staff were still celebrating the original message that he and his wife had welcomed new life into the world.
It was tragic, and mainly left unexplained. There was deep sadness. One of the things I love and find frustrating about Ugandan culture – in equal measure – is the passive acceptance of, and embracing of the world as it is with all its suffering. It seems to allow Ugandans the ability to grieve well, and then rise up out of the ashes, resilient as ever. In the same breath, this acceptance often prevents a critique of the source of the suffering; so often relinquishing the possibility for questioning and change.
This particular little baby died in a big hospital; all seemed fine until it wasn’t. MH doesn’t offer maternity – we don’t have space or resources to do so – though we hope to in the future. But the lack of quality maternity services in our region, juxtaposed against the incredible obstetric/neonatal care available in Australia that I have been lucky enough to access with my own births, will always stay with me, and drives much of our passion in the journey of MH.
*based on 2017 infant mortality rate of 54.6/1000 live births