Who would you turn to if you didn’t know how to breastfeed your newborn? How do you nourish your body with nutritious foods to ensure your baby’s healthy birth weight—if you have three other mouths to feed and limited income? Or if you were a sex worker who was pregnant—how would you ask for and receive help if you were turned away from services due to your profession? What if your family was barred from access to the birthing room, and you were terrified—and you didn’t know that you had to push to get the baby out?
Mary Brannock, our first participant in our ambassador program for tekMountain Women’s eHealth, is committed to broaden our global perspective to aid in better understanding population health and access—and in turn be able to create innovative solutions to stimulate positive change for women’s healthcare. She is in Ubud, Bali, and learning first-hand the challenges that women face when preparing for a birth, and the immediate aftermath. The first challenge is not the mechanics of delivery, the lack of funds, nor the supportive family not being allowed in the birthing room at most hospitals—it’s the simple fact that talking about maternal and sexual health is highly stigmatized in Bali due to cultural and religious beliefs.
How do you learn how to ask for help, when the process of asking is so full of shame?
Gentle birth for a peaceful future
Mary met with leaders of the organization Bumi Sehat Foundation International, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered in the US, located in Bali. Their mission is to provide access to quality healthcare to families; and kind, hygienic and culturally appropriate childbirth to traditionally underrepresented populations. The full name of the organization is Yayasan Bumi Sehat and translates to Healthy Mother Earth, a name where their calling resonates strongly. The clinic primarily offers free birthing for mothers who cannot afford to go to the hospital and education services for women and their families—on nutrition, breastfeeding, preventive measures to lower the transmission of HIV/AIDS to their babies, and how to facilitate safe delivery, while still being culturally appropriate. They also provide mobile phones to expecting mothers to provide access to accurate information on maternal health and the birthing process.
On a broader scale, Bumi Sehat also offers community outreach and environmental programs to educate village chiefs and the individuals who reside in remote locations about their resources and services. They are truly devoted to work in partnership with people to improve their quality of life and to build peace—one mother, one child, one family at a time.
Breastfeeding is the “gold standard” for promoting health
One of the insights that Mary learned during her frank conversations with the organization’s leaders is how lacking health messaging is in Bali, due to the stigmas about speaking about maternal and sexual health. Young women often learn about their bodies from their friends’ experiences or from TV commercials. Bumi Sehat confirmed that many mothers who are poor will buy formula to feed the baby. They don’t breastfeed because they haven’t had the right outlets to explore the proper process to breastfeed, as hospitals in Bali often send new mothers home with formula instead of teaching how to feed the baby naturally. Mary learned that this current situation is compounded by the lack of instruction for properly sanitizing formula bottles, and often the babies become ill. Research has shown that when possible, breastfeeding is “the gold standard,” that it’s a “win-win” for the health of the mother and the baby, and it’s FREE. Bumi Sehat is on the forefront, striding ahead to spearhead change to initiate efforts to educate mothers, their families and the communities that they serve.
Nutrition is key to cultivating healthy mothers, healthy community
Another challenge in the way of healthy childbirth is malnutrition of the mother which can lead to low birth weights. Bumi Sehat works to educate individuals and families how vital the mother’s health is before, during and after pregnancy. The materials they use attempt to teach husbands about the importance of maternal health, as men are the dominant figure in Balinese culture. Mary learned that often mothers will give their allotted food to another child, and that a cigarette costs as much as an egg, and that many times mothers buy cigarettes instead of healthy foods. Part of the solution that Bumi Sehat offers are life-skill classes on gardening: how to produce nourishing, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables affordably and sustainably.
Upholding culturally appropriate childbirth through honest partnerships
Bumi Sehat’s mission is to work in partnership with people to improve their quality of life.
Mary learns that it’s not just the family unit and the mother that are addressed—it’s a dual effort to improve health messaging via community outreach by visits to villages in the surrounding environs. She learns of their approach: Through transparency and openness, they seek to first gain trust of the village chiefs as they make decisions regarding the health and wellness of the women there, then they gain access to the ones who directly serve expecting mothers, the birth attendants. Birth attendants are typically older women who will assist in the delivery of the baby—a traditional way to give birth. Bumi Sehat works together with the birth attendants in villages to ensure maternal health: Tweaks to traditional methods that are suggested include not putting dirt on umbilical cords, higher-levels of sanitation and reinforcing cultural practices that are not harmful. Bumi Sehat deeply understands that to help more women, they need to first gain the trust of birth attendants to show respect of the culture of the Balinese people.
We at tekMountain Women’s eHealth are dedicated to contributing to the dynamic conversation serving the wider women’s health community and the ehealth landscape. We are helping to cultivate a culture of collaboration, dialogue, and resource-sharing. United, we have the power to truly change the world by connecting with other advocates across the globe. We invite you to join us on our website, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Stay tuned for updates on this blog on Mary’s experiences, informed insight and hope for the future of women’s health.