I was waiting for my sister to finish her shift in the maternity hospital so we could go home together.
As women passed by, I could see their concerned faces. Every so often a woman would quickly walk out of the gate to pass good news to the impatient men outside the birthing room, and get her gift. In Afghan traditions, bearer of good news receives money or sweets.
My eyes turned to a young woman who was twisting from pain. Her face was pale like white chalk. She looked like 16 or 17 years old and it seemed as if it was her first time giving birth. One of her companions, who was a middle-aged woman, kept reminding her that she should not scream because according to her, only shameless women raise their voices. To prevent herself from screaming, the poor woman was holding her breath, making the pain more visible in her face.
Another woman, who looked like her mother, was anxiously walking and praying. After a while of struggle and pain, the baby was born. Nobody smiled or congratulated the mother, because her baby was a girl. No one ran across the hall to share the news with the men. They said that they would name her Azadeh, the free one. They wrapped her in a shroud and left the hospital.
In the overcrowded room, I saw a midwife. She was checking and helping women patients with her strong and tireless hands. She was different. She had been able to break the boundaries imposed by the concept of gender in our patriarchal society and use her knowledge to help other. Although she was also born in a land of hardship and discrimination against world, she did not let the storm bend her. She was like an angel, saving human lives like it was something ordinary. I wished that Azadeh would grow up to become like the midwife, a woman who serves no matter the sex of the baby.
Midwives like the one at my sister’s hospital save lives. They are especially important in a country like Afghanistan where infant and maternal mortality claims thousands of lives every year. In 2009, a survey by UNICEF showed that Afghanistan had the highest rate of infant mortality in the world. And although there have been improvements since and governmental reports have touted astounding but implausible gains, Afghanistan still has a has some of highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world.
With access to professional care, women and their children have a higher chance of surviving. According to the United Nations Fund for Population, 83% of maternal deaths are preventable. What gives us a fighting chance is the hard work and growing number of midwives around the country. In 2002, Afghanistan had only 467 midwives with different levels of skills and knowledge to serve the entire nation. Today, we have thousands of midwives who have gone through educational programs and have a streamlined procedure for serving women.
To preserve the gains we have made so far and prevent more women and infants from losing their lives, we must invest in increasing the number of midwives for they truly are our unsung heroes.
Read this piece in Persian here.