Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MotherWit in Madagascar

I am very very excited, because the possibility of finally going to Madagascar is upon me. As many of those who know me know, I have been wanting to do this trip for a couple of years. We are planning to go most likely in the month of September.

The lady behind this amazing project is Dr. Karen Samonds, who is Curator of the Redpath Museum at McGill University (among other varied and wonderful things, such as recent discoverer of an ancient, fossil sea cow!), and mother of 2 lovely girls, both of whom I've had the pleasure of seeing born. Karen and her husband Mitch live in Madagascar for several months of most years and do all kinds of cool things there, like studying lemurs, to put it very simply.

After experiencing the transformative process of childbirth herself, Karen started talking to the midwives in the area she and Mitch do their work in Mahatsinjo, Madagascar, learning a lot about their practices and the issues they deal with. Their approach to birth was something that touched Karen's heart. She told me their thoughts about birth are very akin to those of doulas. There are also a lot of challenges, with very high maternal and newborn death rates. After doing some research and talking in depth to the midwives and mothers of the community, Karen gathered information about the areas of challenge women and babies experience in pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early childhood, and thought there was a real opportunity for a great exchange of information between some friends from the west (myself and a family physician who catches babies at a hospital here in Montreal included), the midwives of Mahatsinjo, as well as physicians from the area.

The intent of this project will be, and I'm paraphrasing what Karen has outlined for me, a round table discussion about and identification of the main challenges in the reproductive health of the women of Mahatsinjo, and educational workshops by the international participants to complement traditional practices. The midwives are interested in empowering themselves wtih more clinical skills, like more ways to effectively deal with dystocias, bleeds, tears, babies with RDS, etc. As they are the primary caregivers of the majority of the pre and perinatal women of Mahatsinjo, attending virtually all births at home, improving and expanding clinical skills could definitely improve overall outcomes. So there will be an obstetric skills component, as well as discussions on nutrition, birth control, breastfeeding (many many babies die of diarrhea), etc..

If you're interested in reading more about the organization formed by some of the midwives, mothers, and young women of Mahatsinjo, who are in communication with Karen about things they want to learn about birth and accomplish in their community, you can check out this link:
www.sadabe.org/taratra.html , which will explain things better than I have, as well as the other incredible things my friends do there.

This will be fascinating for me, as I always love observing the teaching of clinical skills. Not that I'd use them, but I do enjoy knowing more in detail about the things I observe in the hospital. I'm also very excited to learn about the midwives' thoughts on birth, learning some of their traditional ways, and about some of the unique tricks of the trade they have to support women in labour. I want to connect for a time to their motherwit. Karen told me awhile ago that abdominal massage is often used to help treat infertility, which is a nifty trick indeed. I want to know what kinds of herbs they use to tell my herbalist friends about, what they do when a placenta is retained, etc.

There is a lot for everyone to gain. And of course, I get to hang out for a week with wonderful people in an amazing part of the world. Where we'll be staying is on a camp from which the team Karen and Mitch work with do their research. There isn't electricity. It is very rudimentary, but from what I've heard quite comfortable. We'll be going in what is their winter, so it's apparently lovely during the day, but cold enough to wear a fleece and a tuque at night. Because it's high altitude and winter, the malaria possibility is very low, and a nice thing to know is that there are no man eating anythings, or poisonous crawlies. Sounds like heaven to me!

The plans are still tentative, as we need to make sure the polticial situation is stable, but the possibility looks greater all the time. Cross your fingers for us. This will be some good work. I promise to take tons of pictures.