Isn’t It Romantic?
“If you walk along the creek early in the morning you can see the women washing their saris and hanging them to dry in the sun. Its so beautiful and amazing”. These are the words that came out of a 20-year old backpackers mouth to me. She said it in this very romantic singsong sort of way with the vacant look that many backpackers traveling India trying to “find themselves” have.
“Women in the developing world just go outside their huts and squat and have their babies. No one interferes and babies are just born. If you just trust birth enough it will happen.” Words that have been said to me by someone that has obviously never seen birth in rural Africa where the neonatal and maternal mortality rate is somewhere around 1000/100,000 in many places.
The train stations in India are dirty, filthy, hot, smelly, and covered in feces and urine. This is where many women and their families live. Some are in transit and most are homeless. There is water so they can clean themselves and wash their saris. At any time you can pull up to a train station and see beautifully colored and jeweled saris flowing in the breeze (if there is any)…hanging off of poles, train tracks, and benches.
Sounds romantic doesn’t it?
Everywhere you look in India you see beautiful colorful saris hanging on walls, railroad tracks, and trees. This is not because there is a lack of lines to hang their saris on; it is because the women have no home to attach a clothing line to. The romantic scene of walking along a creek and seeing saris drying in the sun is not romantic at all. It’s desperate, sad, haunting, and debilitating. The saris are hanging in that particular place because the women that they belong to are homeless or living in slums and squalor. They have no running water, no sanitation, no toilet, no electricity, no income, and no way to feed their children. The beautiful and colorful sari that is drying so peacefully in the sun is a cloak to hide the desperation. The desperation of the women hidden behind the blinged out rainbow sari.
Recently there was an article about how women in Uganda are turned away at clinics and hospitals because they do not have a plastic sheet with them to birth on. A thick, dirty, hot plastic sheet…more like a heavy-duty garbage bag. The article failed to add how the women get slapped around and degraded beyond belief. Women do not make it…they die because they cant get care…because they have no plastic sheet to birth on. This is the reality in Africa, India, SE Asia…I have seen it with my own eyes. Women of the world deserve so much better than this. Why is this ok anywhere in the world? We should all be worried about our global sisters.
The woman drying the rainbow sari was married at 10 years old. She did not go to live with her husband until she was a teenager, but nonetheless her life was set out for her before she even knew what life was. Her whole life has been about finding a husband. She has been primped, prepped, and paraded in front of suitable families until “the right one” came along. Its all a financial transaction, her feelings do not matter. Her parents are following tradition and doing what they think is the best thing for her. She has never been educated and she knows what her role in life is…mother and wife and that is it. And now here she is 16 years later washing her saris on a rock and living in the middle of nowhere with 6 children that she can not feed. Even though she knows that life for her has been horrifically hard, she does the same for her daughters. She works to find them the best mates she can so that they can have a “better life”. But they don’t…the circle continues. So every day she puts on her blinged out sari only to try to survive another day. No one has ever told her that her life matters, that she is her own person, that’s she is smart and beautiful, or that she matters.
Romantic isn’t it?
Its nightfall and labor starts. She lives in the middle of nowhere…in rural India. It’s her first baby and she is 15 years old. The closest hospital/clinic is 4-5 hours a way at least. But that does not matter because she has no way to get to such a place anyways. There is no money for transport anyways…its not even a thought. All the women in her village have been giving birth in the village as long as she has been alive. Everyone she knows just about has lost a baby at birth and some women have lost their lives at birth as well. It’s just the way it is for her and her village. She labors through the night alone…this is woman’s work after all. In the morning with increasing pains her sisters and aunties come over. Between the groups of them they have had so many babies they know what they are doing. She labors through the day into the night. There is no clean water, electricity, or sanitation in her village. The pains are getting so intense she is not sure she is going to make it. She knows something is wrong but what can she do, she grits and bears it. At some point one of the women tells her to start pushing. So she does…she pushes and pushes and pushes for hours. Nothing is happening. The women attendants do everything they know to get the baby to come. They strangle her with the hopes that she will pass out and the baby will come out. That does not work. They shove their hair and fingers down her throat in hopes that the vomiting will act like the pushing mechanism. That does not work. And finally they do intense fundal pressure (they try to push the baby out from the outside). None of it works.
She pushes through the night into the next morning, and then she starts to bleed heavily. The TBA of the group decides that she needs to get to a clinic or hospital. Hours and hours go by as transport is arranged. After a long 6-hour journey on the back of a cattle transport truck she arrives at the clinic. By the time she gets there the baby is no longer alive, and she is hanging on by a string. The C-section will cost $121 and she has to pay for upfront. She is yelled at and hit and slapped by the doctors. The family brought the money with them, but what they had to promise for that loan will essentially break them for the rest of their lives. Luckily she lives but looses her uterus and thus her ability to have more children. All she can think is “how lucky am I really?”
Sounds romantic doesn’t it?
This is the harsh reality for MANY women living in the developing world. I will not sugar coat it. Life in the developing world for women, especially for birthing women is not romantic…its down right horrific. Women wear the weight of the world on their shoulders and under their saris. Here in India they do it wearing the most beautiful and vibrant saris you have ever seen. They cover their faces and become just another brightly colored woman. No one tells them how important they are. No one tells them that they deserve happiness and that they deserve the world to be better to them and for them.
No matter how difficult, desperate, haunting, or just downright insane it is…. I will always fight for women. We will spend our lives making the world a better place for women and their families. The women of the world deserve better!