We love this blog from a student who recently spent time in a maternity unit in Tanzania – really interesting – we hope you enjoy -
The Birth Experience in Tanzania – by Megan
I am looking to study midwifery next year and was keen to gain some direct experience in a hospital. As a result, I went to Tanzania this summer with GapMedics and worked in the maternity unit of a hospital there for two weeks. The standards were very different from those in the UK, but it was well-run and clean and I got the impression that the local people felt very lucky to have it.
Ante-natal care was relatively sparse and ultrasounds were only carried out if there was a problem during the pregnancy. It was quite common for women not to know their exact due date or even their own age! The ages of women having babies varied, ranging from 15 to 44 years old. We saw quite a few ladies who were having their 5th, 6th or 7th child as well, which is much more common there than it is in this country.
The labour ward consisted of six beds, each one surrounded by thin curtains that didn’t quite meet up at the corners. The beds were very basic and neither pillows nor blankets were provided. There weren’t any toilets so each woman brought in a basin to keep under the bed and she would also bring in several pieces of material that would be used to lie on, cover herself and – eventually – in which to wrap the baby. I loved the way that the babies were swaddled in pieces of brightly patterned material as soon as they were born – they looked so snug and cosy but almost doubled in size with all the layers.
In Tanzania it is not normal for a woman to have her partner or any other family members to support her during the birth. Every woman I saw was there on her own, including the ones who were under 18. The midwife I was shadowing was always lovely to the women, made sure that they understood what was going on and gave them as much privacy as she could, but unfortunately some of the other midwives were more old-fashioned and offered no support until the baby was nearly born.
One of the most noticeable differences in Tanzania was the noise – or lack of it – in the labour ward; the room could be full and not a single woman would make a sound! There was no pain relief available whatsoever so the women were all incredibly brave. Whether they have a high pain threshold or it is just not acceptable to make a noise they were all amazing and I think I only heard one lady making much noise in the fortnight that I spent there.
I assisted in the delivery of one baby, hopefully the first of many – my first direct experience of birth but her seventh! I was amazed at how calm and collected she was, I think it was just another day for her. About 10 minutes after her son had been born, she got dressed and wandered through to the next room with her new baby, no doubt wanting to go home to her other children straight away!
I absolutely loved my time working in the hospital and it only made me more eager to be a midwife. The midwives who worked there and the women themselves all earned my respect and made me more determined than ever to pursue this career.