“When life is good and we have no problems, we can almost let ourselves believe we have no need for God. But in my experience, sometimes the richest blessings come through pain and hard things” – Anne Graham Lotz
So many things here are wonderful, amazing and good. The people who live here. The sweet and amazing patients that we get to serve. The other missionaries we get to work alongside. The food. The weather. The ways we are able to make an impact in the health care of men, women, and children. And the way we are able to share the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ.
But there are hard things. There are things that hit you over the head, stop you in your tracks and make you wonder…
One of those hard things happened three times this month. THREE times. We had 3 mothers die. It’s called “maternal mortality” and it happens here in Ethiopia 22 times more frequently than it does in America. As an OB/GYN in America I was usually pretty insulated from death. It happens so infrequently. In my 20 years practicing in America our hospital had 3 maternal deaths over that entire time. That’s 3 deaths in almost 60,000 deliveries. One maternal death is too many, but 3 in 60,000 over 20 years isn’t too bad. Here in just a matter of a few months we had 3 – and that’s WAY WAY WAY too many. The reasons for this are complex, but we’re doing all we can here to help improve that number and do all we can for these mothers. The rate in Ethiopia has actually gone down almost 75% over the last 20 years but it’s still too high and we’ll continue to work on this issue.
Another hard thing here is infant mortality. A baby born in America has a 50% chance of surviving starting at 24 weeks and by 28 weeks that number is 98%. Here in Ethiopia a baby has virtually no chance of surviving until 28 weeks. And even at 32 weeks it is VERY challenging to take care of these babies and to help them survive. We just don’t have the medications and tools necessary. Here at Soddo we have an AMAZING doctor taking care of our premature babies but we continually struggle with premature babies dying. Babies that would not die in America, but they do here. ALL.THE.TIME. It’s gut wrenching for the mothers, the doctors, and the nurses who work so hard.
2 weeks ago we had to deliver a very premature baby at 25 weeks because the mother had developed severe preecalmpsia and if we didn’t deliver her, she would have died. So we delivered her baby knowing what would happen. The next day I asked when the baby had passed away and I was told that the baby was still alive. I was shocked and asked where she was, only to find that she had been put in a sterile room by herself lying on a cold steel table. I was shocked, and asked why she wasn’t with the mother. Nobody really knew so we asked the mom if she wanted to hold her baby, again knowing that she would soon pass. She said “yes” and we brought the baby into her. I was happy at least this baby would be with her mother as she passed, but then the family got involved. I’m still learning about the culture here, but culturally (as we understand it) if they know that a baby is going to die they don’t want to be involved with the child. They think it’s too hard on the mother and family and they don’t want anything to do with the baby. So they took the baby away back to the sterile room and back onto that cold steel table. I was heart-broken over this and was NOT ok with it. We’ve been taught to try and respect the cultural beliefs of those around us, but this was one of those situations where I just had to get involved. So I went back to our house, got Cheryl and one of our new friends, Toya, who is another American missionary, and we took turns holding her. The sweet baby did pass away a few hours later, but she did so while in the loving arms of Toya.
These things are hard. Very hard. But it’s part of the journey here. There are many many more good and joyful things than hard things. Please pray for us and the rest of the staff here as we go along our journey here. There are reasons for the hard things. But sometimes understanding those reasons elude us. And sometimes it is not for us to understand. It is for us to walk through and trust in Him for all of our needs.