As a feminist who once grew in the womb of a feminist, I find that, like everything in life, even pregnancy has to be looked at through a critical lens. As a woman in a Western country with a relatively high standard of living, it’s not hard to understand why I might take my reproductive health for granted. While we are always fighting off the crazies who try to challenge Roe v. Wade, I have always had access to birth control, annual gynecological exams, and a wide array of resources focused on maintaining my health and understanding my fertility.
Upon becoming pregnant, I opened the Pandora’s box that is the internet and certain bookshelves at the library and realized that not only can I find out everything I want to know about what is growing in my body, I can investigate all the symptoms of the things I don’t want to know about. I have access to a doctor, to screening tests, diagnostic procedures and, if needed, medication. Although I have spent some time worrying about the health of my baby and the risks to me throughout pregnancy, I by no means dwell on these issues because I fully believe that I have done and continue to do what I can to prevent any bad outcomes. The rest is out of my hands.
All this is overwhelming when I heard about the story of Dr. Grace Kodindo, a native of Chad in Central Africa, a doctor educated in Canada, and a crusader for the rights of mothers and babies in her motherland. Chad, where maternal mortality ranks 4th highest in the world (1 in 11 pregnant women dies as a result), has incredible rates of fertility, due to a lack of contraceptive options. Both cultural and govermental forces keep women from being able to control their ability to conceive, and these same forces fail to protect Chadian women from marriage before puberty, polygamous marriages, and marital rape.
It’s very easy to think of Africa as this distant, primitive, homogeneous place with problems so deep and so complex that they are impossible for us to play a part in solving. Unfortunately for our consciences, Africa is a continent made up of many countries, different goverments, amazing cultures and both simple and complicated problems that affect real human beings who feel love, fear, pain and hope the same way we do. I may not be able to mediate civil wars that have waged for decades. I can’t solve the hunger crisis that faces many people there. But I can learn about, and tell you about, the simple and sad truth of expectant mothers in Chad.
The top two killers of pregnant women in Chad are pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and post partum hemmorage. The first is treated with magnesium sulfate, by no means a new medication, which costs about $1 per dose and usually requires 3-5 doses. The second is most sucessfully treated by roughly 3 tablets of Misoprostol, costing about 30 cents per pill. Finally, any common infections that can occur as a result of labor and delivery could be treated with the most basic antibiotics, which are often unavailable to the women of Chad.
Maternal death rates in Chad are by no means the most prominent humanitarian issue in the world. To be honest, the conditions in Chad that kill pregnant women and new mothers are not as deadly as AIDS or even malaria in Africa as a whole. But as a feminist, as a hopeful humanitarian, I have to come to terms with picking and choosing. Picking a cause that is close to my heart, choosing small ways that I believe can make a small impact. Most of my blog readers are wome, many are mothers or will be someday by their own choosing. I urge you to do the same picking and choosing, always bearing in mind that pregnancy for us is generally a joyful, expectant time full of promise and minor aches and pains. For many women, in Chad and around the world, what we consider minor or treatable complications are potentially life threatening conditions. While we are framing ultrasound photos and fretting over stretchmarks, these women are fearing for their lives and the futures of their existing children.
As women, as feminists, we should focus issues like this one because they affect women disproportionality and prejudicially. I suggest to you that if 1 in 11 of every expectant fathers in Chad were dying of a disease treated with $3 worth of pills, this problem would have been addressed years ago. Click here or here or here to begin investigating, questioning, and doing what you can to promote awareness.