Midwifery. It's one of the oldest practices—the first known reference to it appeared in Egyptian medical papyri between 1900 and 1550 BC. It's also totally of the moment: The international megahit TV show Call the Midwife is the BBC’s most successful new drama in more than a decade.
But in real life, there’s a global deficit of these potentially life-saving professionals who, research shows, can help reduce preterm births, episiotomies and other complications that can arise pre- and post-partum.
In fact, according to a 2014 report in The Lancet, maternal and newborn mortality rates could be reduced by up to 82% over 15 years if the services midwives provided became more universally available.
That’s why, dating back to the early 1990s, Johnson & Johnson has been working with partners around the globe to support midwives—so that women can better survive childbirth, and babies are more likely to have a healthy start in life.
This month, as a new midwifery leadership program kicks off in Abu Dhabi, we decided to reach out to three success stories—young women who've taken the training they’ve received through our partnerships and programs and put it into practice in areas of great need.
Mookho Kumpi, a graduate of the Sigma Theta Tau International Maternal-Child Health Nurse Leadership Academy in South Africa; Leticia Mendoza García, who attended Mexico’s CASA school; and Dong Fenfang, who was part of China’s National Neonatal Resuscitation Program, shared with us their inspirations, favorite moments of midwife training and the serious impact they're already having on the lives of mothers and babies.
Talk about delivering on your promise!
Meet Midwife Mookho
Kronstad, South Africa
I wanted to be a midwife because …
I [initially] just wanted to be a nurse. But during my third year of training, I started studying midwifery and fell in love. Watching how beautifully the body worked to enable birth amazed me. I thought, Wow, if every woman could go through this, how great. The mother and baby are communicating in a way that you don’t understand: Even if nobody is telling the body to push, the body is pushing the baby out, and the baby is responding to what’s happening. The mechanism of labor still absolutely astounds me.
My path to leadership started when …
I got my diploma in advanced midwifery at the local university in my home province of Mpumalanga, then started working at a small hospital. There was a district specialist in midwifery who used to come and visit. I think she just liked me, or maybe she saw something in me. But she sent me an email that said: I’d like you to be involved in this program, so you can really do something with your midwifery.
The program she was referring to is the Maternal-Child Health Nurse Leadership Academy Africa, an 18-month series of workshops funded by Johnson & Johnson that helps prepare nurses to become serious healthcare leaders for childbearing women and young children. I was very interested, and my application was approved within a few days.
The number-one benefit to me? Encouragement. I finally felt my true potential. But I also gained perspective: Although we’ve always felt very disadvantaged in terms of resources in South Africa, after meeting and hearing the stories of midwives from other countries, we realized we’re not that disadvantaged. And we were motivated to do more with what we do have.
The accomplishment I'm proudest of …
I thought, Let me do something for the community I work for now that I’ve learned the skills. So I looked for funding, booked a hall, got the required permissions and created a really great event where mothers, fathers and babies could come get immunizations, labor and birth education, screening for TB and much more. I wouldn’t have had the initiative to create such a thing if I hadn’t gone through the leadership program.
The moment I knew I'd found my calling …
At the small hospital where I work now—where we sometimes have to wait for a doctor to come from 70 kilometers away—a doctor had been present to deliver a baby when I was off-duty, but the baby was not very healthy. One of the midwives called to say that no one at the hospital had been able to insert the necessary umbilical drip, and asked if I could come try. I jumped out of bed and got there as fast as I could. The doctors and nurses were struggling, and I struggled, too—but after some time, I succeeded. The baby’s condition improved drastically. Clearly, I didn’t wake up for nothing that day!
I realized how unknown, and even mistrusted, midwives were among healthcare providers in Mexico—and I knew I wanted to change that.
Meet Midwife Leticia
San Luis Potosí, Mexico
I wanted to be a midwife because …
I always knew I had a calling to take care of people. When I was a teenager, I was introduced to Doña Antonia—one of the best local midwives—who really shaped that calling. Although she spoke to me about the importance of maternal health and safe births, her enormous respect for the mother, and the process of labor and birth itself, is what really got me. I thought, I love this lady—and I’d like to be like her one day.
By my last year at midwifery school, my mom couldn’t afford the tuition. So Johnson & Johnson gave me a scholarship, and also provided lodging for students like me who lived far away. That year gave me a much clearer view of what I was about to face after graduation. I realized how unknown, and even mistrusted, midwives were among healthcare providers in Mexico—and I knew I wanted to change that. I finished with the highest grade in my class.
How I'm helping to make a difference ...
Midwifery is my daily motivation—it gives me great satisfaction to see healthy babies and moms. I now work at The Child and Mother Hospital in San Luis Potosí, and I’m helping to give advice to doctors and nurses about whether babies should be born through labor or not. There is a motto at the hospital: “If the midwife says that the child can come out, the child will come out.”
One of my biggest goals here was instituting the concept of skin-to-skin contact between mother and child right away—before the cutting of the umbilical cord. Although this may be common practice elsewhere, it wasn’t in Mexican hospitals until recently. It’s now become the norm at my hospital, unless there’s a problem with the baby. This is still considered an innovative approach, even at private hospitals.
Why that's just the beginning of what I hope to do …
I like that doctors are learning to respect what midwives do because I can continually help show them that there are all kinds of things they may not have learned in medical school—lessons that aren’t contained in books.
For example, another goal of mine is to have the mother’s partner on hand throughout labor and delivery—our hospitals traditionally haven’t had the space to allow for that, but little by little, we’re getting there.
I keep improving my skills in order to help every pregnant woman get out of bed healthy, and to see kids come into this world safe and sound in their mothers’ arms.
Meet Midwife Fenfang
I wanted to be a midwife because …
I actually didn’t want to become a midwife until I gave birth to my own child. I studied nursing when I was younger. But years later, when I had my own baby through natural labor, I realized how sacred midwives were.
I'm now in my fifth year working at the Beijing Global Care Women and Children’s Hospital, and my third year as a delivery-room midwife. I participated in the Johnson & Johnson-sponsored Neonatal Resuscitation Program [which trains healthcare professionals to resuscitate newborns who can’t breathe at birth—a leading cause of newborn deaths], and due to that training, midwives like me are now quite confident when a newborn baby needs our rescue.
Before I came to this hospital, I worked at a local hospital for a half year. We had some exercises on how to deal with emergencies, but we were nervous when we encountered such issues. [Thanks to] NRP trainings, whenever an emergency comes, we are able to have a quick response to it, and know exactly what to do.
I keep improving my skills in order to help every pregnant woman get out of bed healthy, and see kids come into this world safe and sound in their moms’ arms.
Why trained midwives like me are so important …
In our hospital, obstetricians and pediatricians arrive when pregnant women are ready to deliver, so midwives don’t take a leading role. We serve as assistants.
But on the night shift, we only have one doctor on duty and it can be very difficult if two moms deliver babies at the same time. And pregnant women tend to deliver at night! So if all midwives know how to resuscitate babies, they can partly serve as pediatricians.
The longer I work, the more valuable I feel my contribution is. And now that the one-child policy in China has been abolished and a second child has been allowed, I feel the job of a midwife is becoming more and more important.
The best part of my job is …
The moment when I help a baby come into the world. They are like angels. As soon as a child is born, we take the baby to its mother for skin-to-skin contact. I always like this scene; I like sharing in their happiness. I also get quite excited when a baby comes alive, thanks to our [resuscitation] techniques.
Some moms have cried. I’ve also received several letters, which is really touching, saying, “It is so lucky I had you and gave birth in your hospital.” When I hear these words, I really feel grateful to have these skills.