|Lane at 5 lbs, 8 oz|
“It is time to do a c-section,” my doctor said around 8 pm on February 11, 1991. I had entered the hospital that morning to have my labor induced because I had preeclampsia and my baby (Lane Alden!) was very small. Preeclampsia is a medical condition characterized by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman. If left untreated, it can develop into eclampsia, the life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy. (For all Downton Abbey fans, Sybil dies of eclampsia in season three because she does not get the c-section she needs.)
Ten hours of pitocin IV and breaking my water yielded only mild contractions. Although slightly uncomfortable to me, these contractions proved life threatening to Lane. So I had a c-section and delivered a healthy baby even though he was borderline low-birthweight! Two years later, my second son, John-Mark, was also born by c-section in a simple but adequate birthing center in Indonesia because I again developed preeclampsia and he was breech.
While my first reaction had been disappointment that I was not able to “give birth naturally”, I now realize just how grateful I should be for modern medicine. I took a safe birth, including the right to a c-section, for granted. But is this procedure that saves many, many women and babies every year, available to all women worldwide? I used to think so (after all, I had a c-section in a developing country), but now I know better.
In Half the Sky, authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take an honest look at the oppression of women today. They address many areas of injustice (such as sex trafficking and violence against women), but the section on maternal mortality resonated most with me.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia are only two of the many reasons that women need c-sections. In the developing world, other reasons are genetically small or underdeveloped pelvises (due to race or age), obstructed labor and lack of medical care during pregnancy. Kristof and WuDunn state that about 536,000 women perish in pregnancy or childbirth every year and ten times that many suffer significant injures such as obstetric fistula or serious tearing. (p. 98-99) According to Wikipedia,
“Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a hole develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available.”
This condition can leave women with no control over their bladder or bowels or unable to stand or walk due to nerve damage.
“These are women most to be pitied in the world. They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries… The fistula patient is the modern-day leper. She’s helpless, she’s voiceless…The reasons these women are pariahs [outcast] is because they are women.” (p. 96-97)
Then the authors conclude, “Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” (p. 116)
“The Bible’s message for women…applies fully to those who live in brutal outskirts of society where poverty engulfs, education is non-existent, women’s bodies are ravaged, and lives are in constant peril simply because they are female.” (p. 37) The message is that “their God-given identity is secure and can’t be destroyed, that the way they are regarded and trampled is a personal offense to God because they bear his image, that they have leading roles in his story and nothing can keep them out.” (p. 54)
So, what can we do? First, be grateful for what we have, whatever that might be. Second, read books like Half the Sky and Half the Church. Third, pray with Don Stephens, president and founder of Mercy Ships, “We pray for the millions of women who are outcasts and cannot live the quality of life they deserve. We pray their burden will be lifted; we pray they be led to the place where they can receive the comfort, guidance and surgery that they so desperately need.” Fourth, give. Most fistulas can be repaired in a $300 surgery so donate to organizations such as the Worldwide Fistula Fund or the Fistula Foundation or Mercy Ships. And lastly, let’s make sure our message to women worldwide accurately reflects God’s truth that they are his beautiful and highly valued daughters – his image bearers!
As a woman who needed two life-saving c-sections, I feel connected to these women who are suffering on the other side of the world. And as a follower of Jesus, I must speak for them and raise awareness for their plight within Christ’s body. I can make a difference.