Friday, March 28, 2008

Once again, I blog to you from a cybercafé in (way too) sunny downtown Ouagadougou. The power cut out in our neighborhood at about 7am this morning and who knows when it will be back on... My technique is to spend the maximum amount of time out running errands in cool places like banks and supermarkets. My car (repaired now!) is also a nice place to be, as the air-con works really well. Nothing else does, mind you, but the air-con is fine.
I am just hoping that we're not headed for a long, hot, electricity-less wekend.
Curse you, Sonabel!

My mailbox today contained an invitation from the US Ambassador to attend the groundbreaking for the new compound that they will be building over in the über-chic neighbourhood of Ouaga 2000. It’s on April 1st. I’ve thought about going, just so that I can have the experience (and blog about it, of course!). But it says that “office attire” should be worn. Office attire??? I guess I could stick post-it notes all over a t-shirt and have my girls make me some nice accessories out of paper clips… And heck, even if I did own such strange things as a skirted suit and heels, I wouldn’t put them on and stand around outside in the 110° F heat.

So, it looks like I won’t be reporting on the groundbreaking ceremony, but I’m sure that some other interesting (if not frankly bizarre) thing will happen to me, providing plenty of blog-fodder. I just hope it’s nothing bad - nothing like the horrible and mysterious guinea-pig plague that swept through our pet population on Wednesday.

That day we lost three one-day old babies (who had seemed quite healthy for several hours) and also the mom pig Patches. The post-mortem c-section that the vet’s assistant and I did revealed three more dead pups, so we lost seven in total.

I have been involved in two c-sections for human friends since I have been in Burkina. I only had to pay for them- I didn’t have to assist the surgeon (How thankful am I for that? Very.) Of course, they cost a lot more- about 100 dollars. I paid about 80 cents US for the one at the vet’s office.

I’m very happy to report that the human cases both had much happier outcomes. Live babies and moms. Not that the average Burkinabe maternity clinic is a walk in the park- it’s not even a short stroll somewhere vaguely pleasant. In general, to give birth, you lay on a cement slab in a stifling room (you’re lucky if there’s a fan) while overworked nurses bark orders at you and even insult you. I’m not saying this always happens, but I’ve talked to lots of women and spent many hours in maternity wards… (Plus, JP’s research team has done research on the topic! Fascinating stuff!)

If you are lucky enough to get out of that alive, (which is quite a trick-1000 mothers in 100,000 die in childbirth. 36 babies in each 1000 dies as a neonate) you get a cracked vinyl mattress in a hot, dirty ward jammed with women and babies. Plus, each woman has a female friend/family member staying with her at all times- even sleeping at night on the floor next to her mattress, on a bit of cloth or a plastic mat. You have to have this help because there is no help at all for you in the ward. You have to be up washing diapers in a bucket, heating bath water over a fire, etc…there’s lots of hard physical work that need to be done. Plus, there is no food at the hospital- at all. There's no food service, no cafeteria, not even an old lady going around with a pot of rice to sell. Nothing. Someone has to cook for you there (over a wood fire) or bring food in. If you are a woman on her own, you have no help and no food.

One of the friends I mentioned is paralysed due to childhood polio and gave birth to twins, so her case was very difficult and she was in the hospital quite a long time. I brought her her breakfast every morning and spent time visiting with her. This gave me lots of time to observe the goings-ons. It was a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.

There is lots of pressure on women here NOT to give birth at home with traditional mid-wives. Everyone is supposed to go to a hospital and be “modern”. But based on what I’ve seen, I certainly understand why many women resist. If I were given a choice between giving birth in a local maternity clinic and doing it in a mud hut- frankly, I’d choose the mud hut.


Catherine said...


I would just like to tell you that I think your blog is great!

I am a 20 year old university student in Canada who will be travelling to Ouga in May for 3 months as part of an internship with my school. I am very excited but nervous at the same time as I have never been away from home for more than a week! I really enjoy your blog because it provides information and insight about Burkina Faso and Ouga that I haven't been able to find elsewhere (Most sites all have the same usual historical information...).

I look forward to reading more!


babzee said...

Almost 30 years ago I fled the American hospital where I had been transported in labor against my will, had a normal, easy delivery to the great, vocal disappointment of a pre-scrubbed surgical team, endured snide comments about hippies, young mothers, and women in general, and for a month afterward I told everyone I would have been happier if the baby and I had both died at home. Do I still feel that way? No, but I *remember* feeling that way, and I respect and honor the depths of that misery.

I had the fortitude and options to assert myself and have three subsequent home births. I grieve for women who have no control and no resources, and who are living through the male-centric birth perversion that the US endured a century ago.

lu said...

wow. once again, what a fascinating post. and especially potent to me at this time. it is the first post i read in a few weeks, and i just gave birth to my first little boy 19 days ago! i knew ahead of time it would be an uphill battle to give birth in a hospital without epidural (95% of women have an epidural at my hospital), or "emergency" c-section (30% have c-sections, including elective and real emergencies and "doctor-claimed emergencies"). happily all went well, and there was no medical need for anything more serious than a bathtub and a few stitches, but in the "worst" moments (it's all relative, isn't it?) my inspiration was actually to keep telling myself "breathe breathe breathe, if my friends in burkina and cote d'ivoire could do this without all the frills, (and do it multiple times), i can do it too...". this also worked for the first long long nights of breastfeeding a crying baby. which is why when i read your post i am just reminded again how much i had it easy - with family present, friends working in the hospital, food delivered to me, meds if ever needed...
now, after reading your post, i once again sigh in equal parts thanks and agony that it went well for us, but at the same time, knowing that it is NOT so easy, or that care is NOT so accessible for everyone everywhere...
here's to women the world over with their unbelievable strength.

Bridget said...

Knowing at first hand the horrors of Burkina pediatric hospital care, I can only applaud you for attempting to describe the ordeal of infants daring to enter the world.

BurkinaMom said...

I'm thrilled at the great comment thread going here! On this blog, 4 coments is a regular chat-fest!

Thanks to Catherine for the kind words- Hope to meet you in person in May!
Ms. Smarty Pants- Happy Birthday!!! Sorry I'm late!!!
lu- Thanks so much for sharing and many, many heartfelt best wishes for you and your brand new son. So exciting!!
Bridget- You are a Good Girl and you know I love you!!