Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Four born - part one

I've only seen one dead baby real life. That sentence, even as I type it, is shocking.

Not that I've only seen one dead baby but the fact that I have seen one at all.

Here in the UK, where we have good and universally available healthcare infant and maternal mortality figures are very low. Remarkably low, a happy testament to what we can achieve. Of course, they could be better and there is always room for improvement but watching my friends raise and nurture their children with the stresses and strains that accompany bringing a new human into the world is in stark contrast to what many women face.

I've just watched Four Born Every Second, a BBC documentary following women's birth experiences around the world. It reminded me of the dead infant I'd accidentally seen when I worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I'd been taking my usual route through the hospital from one department to another when walking past the morgue entrance I saw a nurse holding a baby. I glanced at the child, preparing to do my usual mix of cooing and daft gurning I reserve for the youngest in our society, when the stark
 realisation that the baby was dead hit me hard in the gut. The baby didn't look very different from a healthy living child and the nurse was sensitively holding the baby as you would a living child. I was shocked. Surprised. Upset by what I had seen and those sensations stayed with me for a good week.

I'd become accustomed to seeing seriously ill children, some with pretty severe appearances, as well as grieving parents in my workplace. It was normal, though being away from the wards - I worked in a research department - I was removed from the brutal fate of some of the kids at work.

My train of thought chugged its way back through other similar experiences. A good friend of mine lost her four-month-old son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome two years ago. While I'd never met her boy as she lives in Australia I still grieve for her loss. In a similar vein friends have gone through miscarriages, some very late on in pregnancy, devastating their hopes for their future.

However, the majority of my friends have had good experiences of parenthood, with healthy kids and sick kids, the poorly children getting treatment for things from chest infections to epilepsy to childhood cancer. No doubt you have similar stories to share.

So where am I going with this?

After I graduated from University I spent a summer volunteering in Tanzania helping to build a health clinic with a small British NGO called Health Projects Abroad. As well as providing health clinics in remote parts of the country, one of the aims was a cultural exchange, breaking down barriers and preconceptions for us and for the local people who became our neighbours.

While there were many amusing moments it was also my first encounter with poverty. Not full on starvation as Africa (so often referred to by continent rather than diverse cultures and countries) is often portrayed, but limited access to healthcare, education, balanced diet and communications. Many of the kids I met were relatively healthy, but there were some sad incidents, things you'd hardly ever see at home.

Heck, I've just seen the time, 1am, I really should go to bed. I'll try and pick up the thread tomorrow. In the meantime, check out this interview with MSF's Dr Philip de Almeida who was featured in tonight's film. He's an inspiring person.

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