What Happens to One Woman Matters for all Women

The butterfly effect is real: a tiny change in a system can have a measurable effect (photo: www.flickr.com)

The butterfly effect is real: a tiny change in a system can have a measurable effect (photo: www.flickr.com)


Did you ever study the butterfly effect in physics class? The idea that even the tiniest movement–like the flap of butterfly wings–can have a large effect on a system?


Several years ago I interviewed Marianne LaFrance, a psychology professor at Yale University and author of Lip Service, a book that explores the social and cultural history of the smile. LaFrance mentioned that smiles are contagious. If someone smiles at you, you are apt to smile back. She also told me that people react subconsciously to smiles. Even if you see one for just a fraction of a second, it has an effect on your mood.


Small things matter.


Small action can have big consequences.


I know it doesn’t always feel like that.


You clean your kitchen. Fifteen seconds later your daughter leaves her cookie batter bowl in the sink, your son forgets to put away the cheese he just sliced, your husband breaks a wine glass, and your kitchen is a mess again.


You spend months organizing, writing letters, testifying in front of your state senate, and making phone calls to defeat a bill that tries to exclude children from school, only to have a similar bill pass one state away.


It’s not a straight line of cause and effect. You don’t control the outcome of the flutter of butterfly wings. You can’t make everyone smile. You can’t fix everything.


But you can try.


If there is one cause to stand up for and support it is birth. I believe that how we come into the world has an effect on us for the rest of our lives. And how any woman is treated during childbirth has an effect on every woman.


My friend Debbie Zaslow’s daughter Rachel became a midwife because she loves women. She contacted me a few days ago about a problem they have at their clinic in Uganda, supported by Mother Health International, where Rachel delivers babies.


They need more motorcycle ambulances to pick up laboring mamas and bring them to and from the clinic. They need more bikes for their midwives to reach mamas in rural areas. And they need a van to bring moms and babies 50 miles to the hospital when there is an emergency.


She sent me this picture of a mom with twins. This mama is a farmer. She couldn’t leave her garden to walk miles for prenatal care or she risked putting food on her table. Midwives from Mother Health International came to her village and thus were able to detect twins early in her pregnancy and she got all the care she needed for a safe delivery.


A mom in Uganda holding her newborn twins. Photo courtesy of Rachel Zaslow

A mom in Uganda holding her newborn twins (photo courtesy of Rachel Zaslow)

Mother Health International has never lost a mom in labor.


Their infant mortality rate is almost six times lower than the national average (11 in 1000 births v. 64 in 1000 births).


When Rachel came to give a talk in Ashland, Oregon about her week she said that doctors in Uganda sometimes slap women in the face during labor, yelling at them not to make so much noise if they cried.


I don’t think a woman should be slapped in the face when she is having a baby in a hospital in Uganda.


I also don’t think a woman should be bullied or misinformed, which is what happened to me in a hospital in Atlanta.


I asked Rachel why she became a midwife and why she works in Uganda.


Here’s what she told me:


“I became a midwife because while women know how to give birth, we need to fight for our rights to do so safely and I wanted in on that fight. I got a Ph.D. in women’s health so that I could be a better frontline warrior.


“I began working in Uganda 9 years ago. I first worked in a government funded hospital where women survivors of war would come to give birth, often dying in childbirth. As I began to understand the layers of complication that women face when giving birth in really hard conditions, I also began to truly understand that the solution to any problem has to come from its own community.


“So Mother Health International is a response to women in a community coming together and talking about what they needed to give birth safely.


“The answer was: trained/skilled midwives who live IN the community and are trusted. Prenatal care that comes to mothers homes. A safe, warm and loving birth center where midwives and community members work. Rides to that birth center when in labor. Rides home post partum and follow up by those same trusted midwives.


“What we do is really simple. It’s what midwives do. We listen.


Rachel Zaslow at a training with traditional midwives in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Rachel Zaslow.

Rachel Zaslow at a training with traditional midwives in Uganda (photo courtesy of Rachel Zaslow)


“The more complicated part of my job now seems to be getting funders and ministries of health to believe that something so simple could actually work. But the proof is in our outcomes, which are outstanding. Midwives have always known we don’t need fancy tools or high tech. We just need our hands and we need to listen to mothers.”


I usually support non-profits working in the United States–the really local ones doing really good work in my own state (like Friends of TreesWildlife Images, and Jefferson Public Radio). But I sent Mother Health International a check for $100 for their Valentine’s Day Fundraiser to help them get more #midwivesonbikes. They are asking for $10 donations because even just $10 can make a big difference. I’m old-fashioned, though, and I don’t like contributing on-line. So I mailed a check to Mother Health International 229 Lankford ave, Charlottesville VA 22902. Uganda may seem like a world away but what happens to any woman in the world matters to every woman in the world. I hope you’ll support Mother Health International too; the easiest way to do so is by clicking here. It made me smile when I wrote the check (studies show that happiness increases when you do something kind for someone else, according to this post). I hope it has a butterfly effect.
JenniferLookingSideJennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning author, Fulbright grantee, and investigative journalist based in southern Oregon. In 2006-2007 she and her family moved to Niamey, Niger, where she taught at the Abdou Moumouni University. Her book, The Vaccine-Friendly Plan, co-written with Dr. Paul Thomas, M.D., is forthcoming from Ballantine. Find her on Facebook. Follow her on twitter at JenniferMarguli [no “s”] and Pinterest.

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Categories: pregnancy and childbirth.

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