As many of my readers well know, a big part of my work in Mongolia consists of teaching and educating women about pregnancy related issues. I think it's safe to say that Mongolia is about 20 years behind America when it comes to the knowledge and practices of the obstetricians here.
The Mongolian medical system and hospitals still heavily resemble the Russian hospitals they were modeled after more than 80 years ago. Pregnant women are treated as sick patients and many of them got to the hospital for a rest period leading up to birth. Because these women show up many days before labor, the use of pitocin to free up beds and the doctors' time, is high. A high rate of induced births leads to more interventions such as episiotomies and sometimes even Cesarean sections. This is also true for those who go to the hospital during the early first stage of labor.
This highly "medicalized" treatment of pregnant women darkens a subject already shrouded in superstition. Many Mongolian women will tell you that just 2 generations ago, it was not uncommon for women to give birth at home or even out in the countryside while herding their sheep. Nowadays, pregnancy -- especially among non-Christians, is spoken about in hushed tones and it is generally taboo to collect baby items before the baby is actually born.
Once at the hospital women are treated with very little respect. Some experience abuse, verbal and physical. I personally had one doctor slap me repeatedly on my mouth when I tried to vocalize when Nate was born ( my first and ONLY hospital birth, thank ya very much). I've heard of doctors telling women that they are "killing their babies" by not pushing hard enough. Or that they'll go blind if they close their eyes while pushing. One woman was not allowed to nurse her baby because the "yellow stuff" (colostrum) would cause her baby to turn yellow.
I'm not lumping all the doctors together. Some of them really do care and are interested in making a difference. Last Monday I had a dinner meeting with one such doctor. I had heard about her through a lady in my G12 group. It turns out that Dr. Saraa has been coming to our church for about a year. She has been catching babies for about 30 years.
I was a bit nervous about our meeting. I don't really have anything against obstetricians but I have even less in common with them. My previous experience has been that when I tell them of my homebirths, they get very defensive and even angry. I couldn't really see myself having anything in common with this doctor.
Nevertheless, for the sake of progress, I decided to be honest with this woman and hope for the best. I made it clear to her that our home births were based on very personal decisions and that in the birth classes I teach, the emphasis is on natural childbirth not necessarily home birth. I never push anyone to give birth at home. We have had several other couples in our church opt for home births but that was their decision as well.
Right now I have 8 pregnant women with whom I am closely working (it was 10 but 2 just gave birth--one in my house!). They have been through or are going through the birth class I teach, along with their husband coaches. I asked Dr. Saraa about the possibility of their husbands being present for the births, something they have prepared for and are really looking forward to. She beamed as she told me of plans to implement a "doula" program in the Mongolian hospitals. The idea is for the husbands to not only be present for the births but to have an active role in helping their wives throughout labor and birth. She had just had a meeting with the staff at her hospital about it THAT VERY MORNING!!! This is something unprecedented in the history of Mongolia! Their only concern is that the already overworked doctors had no time to train the husbands or plan classes for the couples. As it would turn out, I was exactly what they were looking for! And SHE, a Christian OBGYN with an inclination toward natural birth, AND a high ranking position in the hospital, was exactly what I was looking for too.
Progress in this area is something I live and strive for. I'm so happy to be a part of it. I want to see couples being brought closer together through birth. And mothers being empowered and changed for the better through their birth experiences.
Please pray for continued progress and success in this area. Pregnancy and birth related work is not something I set out to do but it is certainly something God is leading me toward. Now, the hospital wants me to train other couples who are not Christian and this is a huge open door to speak into their lives and share with them the truth of Jesus Christ.