MATERNAL LIFE INTERNATIONAL
Building a Better World through Safe Births and Secure Families
If infants could speak, I imagine they would express thanks for two gifts that surpass all others: the gift of a safe and healthy birth and the gift of being welcomed into the arms of a loving mother and father. The gifts are based upon medical science which shows us that the most important time in human development is the first 1000 days of life, from conception to two years of age. It is during this first 1000 days a child’s brain is developing most rapidly, setting up circuits and connections within the brain and within other organ systems.
Samuel and Jack: Two infants with safe births enjoying the first 1000 days of life
Within these 1000 days, the experience of birth is a defining moment. A baby whose birth is compromised by poor maternal health or a sudden obstetrical complication may die or be left with serious neurological sequelae. Some of these obstetrical complications such as a hemorrhage from a bleeding placenta or multiple seizures from toxemia may also lead to the death of the mother. While these complications can be recognized and treated through modern obstetrical care, there are vast regions in the developed world where this care is not available. The lack of skilled obstetrical care leads to maternal and newborn death rates in many African countries which are more than 100 times greater than North America and Europe.
After a baby is safely born, he or she enters a completely new phase of life. Whereas before birth, the placenta provided oxygen and nutrients to the baby, the baby now must breathe on its own and obtain nourishment through breast feeding. Within the minutes following birth, a baby is warmed and dried, placed skin to skin with his mother and then swaddled in a blanket.
A Healthy Mother and Baby: Doing well in the first 1000 days!
Our Mission and Commitment:
Maternal Life International is dedicated to making these two gifts, a safe birth and a secure family, a reality throughout the world. What transpires in a family is what ultimately leads to peace or brokenness. From what children experience in their mother’s womb and in their family home, in how they are either loved or neglected, the seeds are sown –for wellness or illness, for sainthood or terrorism, for selfish consumers or aware and altruistic citizens. What we do, what you do, to make this world a better place necessarily passes through the family. The greatest difference we can make is to secure the first thousand days of life, to mark those days as safe, as sacred, as worthy of our finest care and most passionate protection. The greatest gift we can provide to a child is a mother and father who say to each other and to their children, “I am here for you always.”
“The words “I am here for you” should be etched into every physician, midwife and nurse who care for pregnant women.
· To be “here” means we have the training and skills necessary to manage obstetrical complications.
· To be “here” means we have in place the resources necessary to provide life-saving obstetrical care: an operating room for Cesarean sections, medications to stop bleeding, intravenous fluids, blood transfusions and resuscitation equipment for newborns.
· To be “here” means we have profound respect for the mother giving birth, the child being born, the father at their side. We are their advocates and guardians. We offer to them the best of ourselves and the best of medical science.”
George Mulcaire-Jones, M.D.
Midwife checking the position of baby in labor
Safe birth is possible! We know how to save the lives of mothers and babies. Ninety percent of maternal deaths are the result of four obstetrical conditions: hemorrhage (predominately post-partum hemorrhage), hypertensive diseases (predominately severe preeclampsia/toxemia), obstructed labor (no access to Cesarean section) and sepsis and infection. These deaths occur during the maternal “window of vulnerability,” from the onset of labor until 7 days post-partum.
“Window of Vulnerability:” Note spike in both maternal and perinatal deaths from onset of labor to first 7 postpartum days.
This is what we bring to care for women during this critical window:
· Safe Passages is a comprehensive training program to upgrade the skills and abilities of midwives, nurses and physicians to provide life-saving emergency obstetrical care. Obstetrical providers who go through Safe Passages training are inspired, educated and equipped to manage the leading causes of maternal and newborn death. They become true guardians of safe birth!
· Mobile Surgical Unit and Blood Blank: To save the lives of mothers and babies, you must be able to provide a Cesarean section and blood transfusion. At MLI, we have built a prototype mobile surgical unit out of a shipping container which can provide life-saving Cesarean sections in a safe and sterile environment. And, we are working on the design of the blood bank, again using readily available and affordable shipping containers. We have a dream of hundreds of these units throughout rural Africa saving the lives of mothers and babies!
Life-Saving Cesarean Section Safe Birth Equipment: IV catheters, medications, infant resuscitation units
· Safe Passage Birth Kits: As health centers and hospitals may lack essential medications and equipment, we provide a “safety blanket” for expectant mothers. There is a blanket to warm baby, an intravenous catheter if mother would need IV fluids, a voucher to allow her to receive a pre-filled oxytocin syringe (for prevention of post-partum hemorrhage), a clean umbilical cord clamp and a safe passage educational guide.
The words “I am here for you” spoken and lived between husband and wife change everything. They are the foundation of our “Faithful House” marriage preparation and renewal program. Over 100,000 couples have been reached through the Faithful House program. It serves as a platform for many improvements in family life: less HIV infections, less domestic violence, improved food and economic security, better communication between spouses and better parenting.
Does it work?
· “The program has taught us how we can live happily as a family that is faithful to each other and above all, to God. We recommend that this program be extended to all married couples so that families can unite, and in turn, help each other to fight the scourge of HIV and AIDS.” Couple from Zambia
· “I was pleased to receive an email from Fr. Bonaventure Ngirenta, the new pastor for the Rushaki Parish. Fr. Bonaventure reported good news regarding the November 2015 Faithful House training in Gihengeli, Rwanda. It has just been one month since the training, and many changes are happening in the village. The time of examining “what’s broken” in our house, was an opportunity for true contrition and repentance, with couples asking forgiveness for past mistakes.
Early fruit from the training is witnessed when villagers see the husbands hauling the water while the wife is cooking, or the husband helping peel the bananas, in preparation for a meal. Spouses sharing household duties is something we may take for granted in our western society, but for our Rwandan friends, it is a significant paradigm shift. In fact, Fr. Bonaventure reports forty (40) couples have already signed up for the next FH training! Praise Jesus for His grace and mercy, and give honor to His mother Mary and St. Joseph, for showing us how to be Holy Families.” From Rwanda
· Do you know that these programs are the best thing that ever happened to women? You know now we have better lives.” Judith, Diocese of Kasese, Uganda
UGANDA: The Faithful House and Beyond
In 1988 National Geographic published an article entitled “Uganda, Land Beyond Sorrows.” It chronicled the devastation of the HIV epidemic in Masaka, Uganda. AIDS had wiped out entire villages at a time when the country was still recovering from the violence and destruction of Idi Amin’s regime. Growing up in this area was a young man named Gonzaga Lubega. Gonzaga had witnessed his older brother die of AIDS. It was frightening and difficult experience for him, his family and for thousands of other Ugandan families who witnessed the deaths of their loved ones. Was the disease caused by mosquitoes or witchcraft or brought in by strangers from nearby countries? What could they do as they watched those so dear to them waste away and die from horrific opportunistic infections?
Dying of AIDS before antiretroviral treatment
Shortly afterwards, Gonzaga was invited to a Christian retreat at Emmaus Center near Kampala. Struggling with all the challenges in his life, he decided to go. Emmaus Center was in the region known as the “place of skulls” as there were still human bones and remains from the slaughter of the Amin regime. During this time of retreat, Gonzaga made a decision to move from “sorrow to hope.” He went to school and became a counselor. He met his wife, Paskazia, a registered nurse. Together they dedicated their lives to helping the people of Uganda.
In 2003 I met Gonzaga and Paskazia at Emmaus Center. They shared their vision of how AIDS could be stopped – through rebuilding marriages and helping couples be faithful to each other. Their insight was prophetic. Years later, scientific studies would show the single most important factor in reducing the spread of HIV was “reducing multiple concurrent partnerships.” i.e. helping couples be faithful. In 2003, MLI, working with Gonzaga and Paskazia, started a program called “Circles of Life” to help couples be faithful. They were hired as the directors of Maternal Life Uganda and have continued to serve in that role.
The “Circles of Life” program was welcomed in Uganda and in 2005, MLI was asked by Catholic Relief Services to develop a program for HIV prevention modeled on the principles of “Circles of Life.” The result was “The Faithful House,” an interactive, participatory program in which we use the metaphor of building a house to help couples build a healthy, respectful marriage. During the “Faithful House” workshops couples are led by trained facilitators through aparticipatory process of examining key areas in their relationship: the foundation of their marriage in God, four pillars of love, respect, faithfulness and communication, walls representing their values, windows of light and forgiveness and so on. They examine together where there house may be broken: by not respecting by each other, by infidelity, by alcoholism, by domestic violence and what they could do to repair it.
Amazing things happened with this program. When a couple comes together and heals their marriage, they are much more likely to be faithful and avoid AIDS, they are less vulnerable to food insecurity and they are more likely to emerge out of poverty. The message spreads: neighbors see the transformation that takes place. They see the husband helping his wife cook and clean, they see the couple which previously was fighting, walking together and smiling, they see both father and mother helping each other with the children. “The Faithful House” changes the “culture of relationships.” Women are treated as equals, household tasks and parenting become shared between husband and wife, formerly taboo subjects such as sex and money are now discussed.
Gonzaga and Paskazia have become the lead “trainer of trainers” for “The Faithful House” throughout Africa. The program has reached over 100,000 couples. They have been part of moving Uganda from the “Land of Sorrows” to the “Land of Hope:”
In Uganda we have nearly been to all the dioceses, in Africa we have been to 13 countries, we have seen God’s hand in our work: couples have united, put together their money, many alcoholics have stopped, parents have started to be present to their children, couples have been able to eradicate poverty. We have seen God’s providence and care in our lives and in other couples!