Millions of babies were born successfully eons before midwives and so-called baby experts were invented. As for so many of us in this technological world of us, there is no readily available information of who attended the birth of pregnant women before colonization of the African continent. But we all know that for centuries midwives assisted women during and after births. Most of these midwives could not read or write and therefore, no documentation were done. What is known is that midwives have always been there from the stories told by our parents. They were called midwives, not birth attendants. Today, midwives are a dying breed and Africa need midwives now more than ever.
Africa’s traditional midwives are facing marginalization and prosecution for the valuable services they have given to women and children in local communities for centuries. The rich women in this beautiful continent of mine are about to experience the dehumanizing treatment of western medicine. Traditional midwives have safely delivered babies for several centuries before the advent of modern medicine, and have enjoyed high prestige within local communities. My grandmother and many others received widespread support in their mission by their village. Since African governments passed Midwives Amendments to forbidden midwives from delivering babies at home or unless they have registered with an association, women have been left alone during birth and some will even die alone. Because of this amendments or forced issues by the West, people must walk miles to clinics and hospitals just to deliver a baby.
The Western governments brought along several changes in the education of midwives in Africa. Firstly midwives must be nurses and secondly all colleges need to be affiliated with a university to complete a four years course. After completion of this so-called four years course which is designed for a western society, these nurses must now tackle the problems of Africa. This shows that these so-called western trained midwives must now take care of women in a hospital setting and this is where the problem starts. These highly western trained African midwives are looking down at the traditional midwife and start calling these women birth attendants. All they know is a hospital birth and that this is the only way how birth should be done. They learn nothing about labour supporting issues of birth at all.
Traditional midwives provide more than just child delivery, they act as counselors, nutritionists and masseuses for mothers before, during and after childbirth. These skills are vital to the health of both mother and child, which could never be provided so consistently in a hospital setting. These services can extend for up to 40 days after the birth, ensuring optimum health of those in their care. Since midwives are dying out, many women in rural communities are being subjected to the traumas caused by inexperienced government nurses.
A good African midwife like my grandmother can easily cope with breech birth and would never shave or cut a mother’s birth canal to facilitate the natural birth processes. And, when an expectant mother displays serious complications, she is always referred to the hospital by the midwife. Why then the interference with rural women’s’ rights to their traditional midwife?
African governments have linked high maternal deaths with traditional midwives who practice home births. This prejudiced view fails to take account of the fact that African women have the highest poverty and the highest numbers of births. There is no evidence that an uncomplicated birth is any safer in hospital. And this is a crucial area where traditional midwives, African governments, hospital four years course nurses and the entire world could work together to provide information and assistance to vulnerable women in these communities that are deprived from their basic rights. Traditional or new western trained midwives should all learn from one another. They should respect and embrace each other regardless of training and credentials.