Meet the Mamas is a feature on our blog where we introduce you to some of the women we serve. Our goal is for you to hear their stories, see their faces, and get a better understanding of where they are coming from, the needs they face, and how we help.
During my 11 years of traveling to Uganda I have met thousands and thousands of women. I have heard so many stories of abuse, poverty, death, and survival. I don’t ever want to exploit these women and their stories. I don’t want to embellish their experiences to fit my purposes. I simply want you to hear their stories, to understand a bit more about their lives, and get a grasp on the needs they face. I must say that Annette’s story is one that has lingered with me more than probably any other.
I met Annette in a small village at the edge of the sugar cane plantation. When we asked the crowd of women if anyone had a birth story or had used one of our mama kits and wanted to share about that experience with me Annette was the first in line. I could tell she was so eager to talk to me.
Annette is 38 years old and works in the sugar cane fields each day. She is a mother to 10 children from age 1-19 years old. She delivered all ten children completely on her own. Six of the children are living.
She sadly told me how one of the children was a stillbirth when she was seven months pregnant. She felt like that baby died because she had been working too hard and had not had enough food to eat.
She then told me the story of how one of the children was born in a swamp while she was working. She said that labor came on quickly. She didn’t know what to do, so she just delivered the baby right there in the fields. She said when the baby came out he fell into the dirty water. She didn’t have any tools with her so she used a piece of sugarcane or a branch to cut the umbilical cord and a piece of thread from her dress to tie it off. One week later the baby died from an infection.
Two of her children at ages 2 and 4 died from severe malnutrition and anemia. She said it broke her heart that she did not have enough food to feed them properly.
While she was talking, I didn’t know what to say. There was so much pain and loss to take in. I had a million questions for her, but didn’t feel right asking most of them. I simply sat and listened.
Then she began talking about the birth of her youngest. She said she had attended one of our outreach seminars while pregnant. She couldn’t believe it when we gave her a mama kit. She had never had special supplies for the birth before. When the time came to deliver she set out all of the things from the kit. She said she realized at one point that the baby was not in the right position. She proudly said she put on the surgical gloves from her kit and was able to reach up and get the baby in the right position. (I think my mouth was probably hanging open at this point of her story. I can barely cut my own hangnail, let alone reposition my own baby during birth.) She told me how grateful she was to have all of those sterile supplies and what a difference they made for her and her baby.
The baby was strong, but was born with an eye condition which causes blindness. Thankfully, our ministry partner in this community, Welcome Home Ministries Africa, has been able to get him treatment. He has had surgery on one eye which restored sight and is awaiting the second surgery.
I asked Annette how often she had gone for prenatal checkups. She told me she had never gone. She told me she never saw the need before. When I asked her why she gave birth alone, she just told me that was how she had always done it and didn’t know who to ask for help.
Annette has been able to use her experience to help others. Her oldest daughter (age 19) gave birth several months ago. When it came time for her to deliver, Annette packed up her mama kit and started walking her to the local clinic. Unfortunately, her labor progressed too quickly, and they didn’t make it. So Annette opened up that mama kit and delivered the baby on the side of the road. Thankfully, mother and baby are doing well, and grandmother is quite proud she was there to assist her.
Annette went on to tell me that her husband left her not too long ago for a younger woman. She doesn’t know if he will come back. She said she won’t be having any more babies. She is just focusing now on taking care of the ones she has and helping her daughter with her baby.
Annette’s story is full of pain and suffering. But she is such a picture of strength, resiliency, and survival. When I sat with her she kept pouring out her thanks for the mama kits. She told me what a difference it had made for her and her daughter and how she wished she had had them before for the other births. As I was listening to her I was completely overwhelmed. She was thanking me for a $7 mama kit. Why should she thank me for such a meager gift? If I was in her shoes and had gone through these trials, would I still be grateful and have a genuine smile on my face?
I have no idea why this precious woman has endured so much in her life. There are some things I will never understand this side of heaven. But I think that meeting Annette was a gift. She will probably never know the impact her story has had on me. When I question if what Mercy for Mamas does really matters, I think of her smile. When I wonder why I am spending so much time, money, and effort on this work, I remember Annette. She is my why.