So far, we’ve survived. Its been nine days and I know most of my students’ first names. I’ve figured out who needs to be in the front of the classroom (because they can’t seem to remember to put on their glasses before coming to school) and who needs to have a table to themselves (because they can’t keep their hands off their neighbor). We have come to the point where we can begin to truly learn about one another. I have started asking questions about their goals and dreams and I have asked them to start thinking about where they are going and what they want to be. As I ask my students those questions I remember the story my mom tells me about my response to that same question.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” a friend of my parents asked me. Without a second to think, I replied confidently “Just a plain mommy.” I said. “Like my own mommy.” My four-year-old brain must not have had the capacity to understand that my mom was more than just a mommy. By profession she is a nurse, but had taken several years off work to stay home to raise myself and my three sisters. After the four of us were in school she returned to work as a home health nurse. For years she spent every day driving from home to home providing loving care to those that were not able to visit a doctor or a hospital. She was the one who sat by my uncle’s side and held his hand as he lost his battle with cancer. She took care of her own mother for several years while she was overtaken by dementia and she eased the discomfort of her father during the time he waited to join his wife.
All three of my sisters did a better job of me than being ‘like my own mommy.’ They all followed in her footsteps and when to nursing school. My oldest sister, Tracy, splits her time between cancer care and school nursing. She is a brave and confident woman who is well respected by her coworkers and patients alike. Angie, who is the next oldest, is a labor and delivery nurse. I couldn’t imagine a person with more patience or a more calming presence than Angie. She is wonderful at easing the fear of new mothers and soothing crying babies. My youngest sister, Susan, aspires to be a Hospice nurse. She is extremely empathetic and finds joy in bringing comfort to those who grieve the loss of a loved one. I don’t know if they know it, but I admire them greatly. I see the passion each of them has for what they do and the compassion they have for the people they take care of.
When I was in South Sudan I met 46 women who displayed these same characteristics. I had the opportunity to help at a Traditional Birth Attendant class that Diantha organized with help and financial support of people from the local Martha Clinic and Mother’s Union. (I know nothing about taking care of pregnant women or delivering babies, but let me tell you, I did one heck of a job updating the excel spreadsheet, if I do say so myself!) As I compiled the information we had collected about these women who delivery babies in their villages, I was shocked to see that most of them had been delivering babies for more than twenty years and this was the FIRST training they had ever been to. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine what it takes to step up to the plate and become a midwife with no training. I can’t imagine the heartache of the trial-and-error it must have taken for them to figure out how to successfully deliver a baby. My heart goes out to these women. As I sat there and listened to the discussion I felt much like I often do when I gather for a meal with my mother and sisters. They women talked passionately about the type of issues they encounter and offered advice and shared stories about times they had been in similar situations. During lunch the second day, someone turned on a television in the back of the room that just so happened to be airing an African soap opera in which there was a woman giving birth. The screaming woman caught the attention of everyone in the room and quickly chairs were turned around and eyes were glued to the scene of a woman in childbirth. Diantha and I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.
At the end of the second day, as a gift for completing the training, each of the women was given a certificate of completion as well as 10 birthing kits provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). To my surprise, the birthing kits did not contain the “luxuries” we are used to having here in the states, like anesthetic or pain killers, but instead include the basic necessities for a clean birth. Each kit contains a 1 oz bar of soap, a pair of rubber gloves, a square yard of clean plastic sheeting, a 3 inch piece of cotton string, a razor blade and two receiving blankets. All of the contents are contained in a plastic bag to protect them from dirt. You would not believe the women’s excitement at receiving these things. As each woman’s name was called, she would dance down the center aisle and sing praises to God for his provision. She would take the certificate and hold it in the air and thank God for the training he had given here. She clutched on to the bag of birthing kits, elated to know that the next ten babies she delivered would have a sanitary place to enter the world. I was blown away by the compassion and dedication of these women to help all the new mommies of their communities.
As I sit here reflecting on my response to that question so long ago, I can’t help but think that maybe my 4-year-old heart knew something I didn’t. Although I have no children, I can see both as a teacher and a missionary, God has challenged me to love people unconditionally. He has put me in a position to help provide for people’s most basic needs and He has asked me to practice being selfless. He has guided me to be both an encourager and supporter. As I think about it now, I am quite sure that in doing all of those things I am much like the ‘plain mommy’ I aspired to become- those are the things that make me like my own mommy.
If you are interested in learning how you can help support more health trainings like the one mentioned above, please contact Diantha Hodges at firstname.lastname@example.org