It’s hard being a recovering know-it-all.
I came out of the womb my own way (up-side-down) and as far back as I can remember I’ve had strong opinions on pretty much everything.
Though I can’t remember it my mom tells me that as a four-year-old I’d come home from preschool with a bright red band around my waist where I’d tighten my belt over my dress—always a dress—until I was practically cutting off my own circulation. Despite my mom’s best efforts to talk some sense into me and loosen the belt, I’d immediately tug it back to the way I liked it.
Four-year-old fashion sense, no? (Mom said she had learned to pick her battles by then and that wasn’t one of them. Fair enough.)
Nearly every teacher and professor I ever had suggested I become an attorney. I could argue most any average paper into an A grade if I wanted to. Pick an issue – creation verses evolution? No worries, I could argue either side and come out ahead. The only thing I couldn’t seem to argue my way out of was having to run the timed mile in gym class. Apparently that blasted thing was mandatory. Ugh.
(By the way, when I say argue I say that in the ‘best’ possible way – always the teachers pet, never in trouble, but always simply going for the win. I know – it’s sickening, right?)
When you mix a personality type like mine with strong convictions (the more grown up way to describe being strongly opinionated) with a strong sense of belief (sometimes called faith) with a strong ability to argue (can I go with persuade here?), you get a recipe for bull-headed, no budging, the world as I see it in absolute black and whites.
I’ve been applauded and criticized for that more times than I could ever describe, and I’m aware that with every strength comes a weakness – so no doubt both have been warranted at different times… probably even at the same time.
But as an adult I’ve come to terms with my make-up and I’m not trying to be someone I’m not any more. I realize that in my self-assurance I have the potential for being wrong, and in my confidence I have the ability to undermine truth with poor delivery, unchecked motives, or an unbridled string of words or thoughts that haven’t had enough time to marinate.
For a while I let fear of the weaknesses associated with my personality silence me a little. Will I offend? Will I be rejected? Will I be scoffed at? Will I not be taken seriously? Will I hurt someone? Will I regret being transparent about how I really think and feel? Will I be too intimidating or too pushy or too passionate or too bossy or too idealistic or too loud or too gung-ho? Will I just be ‘too much’?
My motives were mixed, but my fears were real.
But here’s what I’m learning the older I get: My convictions aren’t getting weaker, but the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know… And the more I realize that sometimes there really are a thousand shades of gray.
I’m going somewhere with this.
In the last few years I’ve become passionate about maternal health – both in the developing world and in the suburbs right around me. And the more I learn about maternal health and women’s issues in general, the more I’m convinced that often there are not simple answers and clear cut solutions.
This makes me want to pull my hair out. I don’t like it because I like to fix things; I like to right wrongs and work hard and invest much so that I can tie things up with nice, happy endings.
Last year while visiting remote Papua New Guinea where 1 in 7 women die in childbirth (geeze I hate that statistic), I was jarred into reality by seeing Bokoro give birth right here in the mud:
Maybe the rain and ankle-deep mud weren’t planned for but this birthplace was no accident. This was the location set up in advance for her to give birth to her child.
Our team doctor delivered her retained placenta and quite possibly delivered this young mom from impending death. I know that sounds dismal, and possibly even exaggerated to the average listener, but the painful truth is that something simple like this occurring while women are under the care of sisters and aunties (with no training or resources or health facilities near-by) could very well mean a family loses their mother, their wife… forever. Unfortunately I’m not exaggerating; it’s actually that dire.
Back in Papua New Guinea again two months ago I arrived on another scene, just after beautiful Aipa gave birth to her baby boy in the jungle. Although it was a clear, sunny day without the rain and mud that had surrounded Bokoro’s birth (no doubt amplifying the shock of her birthing conditions), Aipa’s birthing environment was extremely similar.
There was a small board, a bucket of muddy water, and scattered leaves covering the small pools of blood seeping into the damp ground around her.
When asked what she had used to cut the cord she pulled this off the ground – a small, bloody shard of bamboo.
We had heard of these sorts of practices but to see it with our own eyes was something else completely. Aipa, however, was happy and thriving after giving birth just exactly how women before her have for centuries.
The very next day we arrived at this young girl’s hut. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old (but when asked she didn’t know her age, nor did her family).
She had given birth to a healthy newborn the day before but her placenta remained attached by membranes, still hanging on the wall next to her when we peered inside the dark house on stilts to assess the situation.
Our midwife remedied the situation in just a few minutes — a simple procedure for a skilled professional, but a rare miracle in a place with zero access to regular, basic health care.
Again, had we not come in time would this girl-mother be alive to look after her tiny daughter today? I shudder to think of the answer.
And then just days later our team of midwives saved baby Naomi’s life by resuscitating her after she was born with no heartbeat in a tiny regional clinic.
Had we not been there, we’re almost positive Naomi would have died, and possibly her mother—Joycie—too.
These are just a few stories out of many and would you believe these were all in the space of just one two-week medical mission?
Pregnancy and childbirth is a matter of life and death.
Complications in pregnancy and childbirth cause 1000 deaths every day. Ninety percent of those are preventable with better training for health workers, cleaner and safer birthing environments, and greater levels of care, education, and support for the pregnant mothers themselves.
Problems surrounding pregnancy and birth are not isolated to the developing world either. In America, 1 in 5 women of childbearing age have no health insurance and can’t even get their foot in the door of women’s clinics and maternity wards. There’s a huge disparity between women with health care and women without and I’m fairly certain there’s not an American on either side of the political fence that wouldn’t agree that the nation’s health care system is in complete disarray – often seemingly without any hope at all.
The more I know and understand these issues, the more I realize that I still don’t know. The more I realize that my world of black and white simple ‘truths’ don’t always translate beyond my safe, comfortable borders and limited Western worldview.
Addressing the maternal health crisis.
In our work in developing nations we encourage women to travel to clinics to give birth. In theory, I support this—even advocate for it, of course—but in actuality there are cultural and economic and religious factors to take into consideration that don’t fit into anyone’s nice little boxes. And I actually hate that. Because I just keep wanting it to be easy.
We can educate and distribute clean birth kits and resource local clinics and up-skill their health workers – we can and should continue all of those. But we also have to figure out what local women really want and how to empower them within their circumstances and societal norms.
We have to factor in education opportunities for girls and issues surrounding child marriage and feminine hygiene and reproductive health and birth control. Whether we agree with the morality or not we have to be willing to look at the reality of abortion and post-abortion care (especially in places where it’s illegal and back-ally ‘procedures’ are ruining women physically and emotionally from the inside out). We have to look at patriarchy and violence against women and sex trafficking and unethical “poverty” orphanages and adoption. We have to look at systems that are corrupt and confusing and policies that just don’t make sense when they’re translated into real life in the real world.
And you know what? That doesn’t even scratch the surface. The whole rabbit trail just makes me dizzy. I want to put on my jammies and watch ‘Friends’ reruns with a nice, big bowl of salty, buttery popcorn and a glass of red and pretend that everything will be fine as long as my remote control doesn’t run out of batteries.
I want to unicorn-and-rainbows, rub the lantern, pat the belly wish it all away. *poof*
Becoming learners in a greater way.
When thinking about poverty and women’s issues and empowering girls, and any community development concern there are no straight forward answers. There are no easy or quick fixes and there are no black and white solutions MUCH TO MY FREAKING DISMAY.
I will continue to dream and experiment and look for innovations that can help change the world, but in doing that I admit that I will never know all the answers. We will never know all the answers.
If we truly want to change the world we cannot do it as Know-It-Alls; we have to do it as Learners.
Motherhood is worth fighting for.
The last several months have been difficult for me – extremely – as I meditate on what it means to be a mother, lose a child, hope and try for another, and not take the children I already have for granted through the waves of grief and tides of transition all the while being confronted with issues of extreme poverty that I’m exposed to through our work. And as much as some days (uh, today) I want to throw my hands in the air and say it’s all just a little too hard, too tender, too much weight on my fragile little heart… I know that it’s worth fighting for – MOTHERHOOD.
Motherhood. Is. Worth. Fighting. For.
I can’t stand that so much of the world approaches motherhood with fear and trembling – not just the insecurities and learning curve and comparisons and pressure to perform that you and I may have experienced – but the actual fear of losing your own life or your baby’s life during childbirth. I can’t stand that around the world 1000 mothers die every day, with 900 of those deaths being preventable.
Nine hundred women a day dying that shouldn’t be.
So what will we do, friends? Honestly. What will we do?
I wish I could give you a formula – sign this petition, tweet this, share that on facebook, and then say a prayer containing fill-in-the-blank. But I can’t. There are no quick answers, no simple fixes, no 1-2-3’s to follow.
What I can do for now is say that every woman, every child, every family is worth fighting for. Every woman, every child, every family is worth praying for. Every woman, every child, every family is worth investing in, working for, serving, listening to, and lending our microphone to so the world might begin to hear them a little better.
Although I can’t promise to figure it all out, I will continue advocating for women and using whatever platform I’m given for bringing light to hard places – I can promise you that. As long as I can find a soapbox to stand on and as long as I have breath I will use my stubbornness, my conviction, my strong opinions to live my life – and rally others – to make a difference.
I highly doubt I’ll ever become an attorney, but I will try and use my life to make a case for those who need an advocate standing beside them.
I’m a believer who will keep on believing, a dreamer who will keep on dreaming, a mobilizer who will keep on mobilizing, and a pray-er who will keep on praying.
Although I’m well aware that I can’t save the world, and I know that I can’t even change it all that much, I know that I know that we can change the world. Together we really can – I’m digging-my-heals-in sure of it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
When we strip all the press releases and polished responses away we know what is really needed – an actual revolution for our daughters, a world transformed into a place where Love prevails, a work that actually requires we not even worry about rolling up our sleeves. We just hold hands and hold hearts and worry about the laundry later.
What we need is to give of ourselves, live beyond our circumstances, and look to a loving God and a willing people (within the church and outside of it) to link arms and serve others and pull heaven down around us.
Cuz they’re worth it:
Dear friends, I wish I could just give you a crystal clear call to action today. As much as my head reels with this stuff, my heart beats even stronger for it… but I still have more questions of my own than answers. I just know and believe this deeply – we can work for change and our work won’t be in vain if we’re willing to listen to those who’s voices are being ignored and if we’re willing to link arms across denominations and religions and political parties and NGOs and nations to respond in compassion. It’s as simple, and as complex, as lending our very selves to one another. Can we change the world? Maybe I’m naive, but I think together we can.
P.S. Perhaps you might check out Every Mother Counts or CARE or Love A Mama or Every Woman Every Child or Girl Effect or Days for Girls… Need I go on? I also have a few more resources on my Love A Mama & Maternal Health pinterest board: