In my search for an easy recipe for garlic string beans I arrived upon a fascinating article and slideshow by Alice Proujansky. Alice is a documentary photographer whose stories focus on birth, education and the lives of women. Her birth photography is a poignant reminder of how challenging and dangerous birth can be in poor countries.
" An estimated quarter of a million women die each year from pregnancy-related causes like pre-eclampsia."
The pictures I shared below are of the maternity ward of Juan Pablo Pina public hospital in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic. "The maternity ward, which saw 600 deliveries per month, lacked hot water and dependable electricity in a country whose maternal mortality rate was among the highest in the Caribbean. Caesarean sections were very common. The doctors and nurses were brusque, and women who had induced abortions illegally and then come to the hospital for care were scolded until they cried before being sent to recover beside newborn babies."
Viewing these images and reading the article about the conditions these women endure bringing life into the world makes me thankful for being (a) an American, (b) middle class, and (c) aware of my body's ability to birth without medical interventions. I think of these women, who have little rights and money, being forced into situations that are almost like entering a torture chamber. Can you imagine laboring on a thin plastic mattress on the floor without any loved ones to guide and support you while contractions ripe through your body? I think of the countries that circumcise female babies. I think of all the female babies that are aborted because their worth is established prior to becoming a fetus. Women definitely have it hard. My prayers goes out to every women able to conceive and carry a baby to term.
A patient with her newborn baby in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic
Original Article in NY Times here. A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 10, 2013, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Life’s Unequal Beginnings.