What started as a casual conversation between two moms unfolded into a lesson about the sanctity of life, when our parallel stories took dramatically different turns.
A minister and his wife were visiting the Christian non-profit where I work. They had traveled from Uganda to discuss the possibility of setting up a medical clinic in a rural part of his diocese. In an attempt to find common ground, I’d asked the shy wife if they had children. Yes, she smiled, they felt blessed with four of their own and several they welcomed into their home after their birth parents could no longer afford to raise them. We talked about the difficulties of pregnancy and the joys of being a parent.
I shared how my first child was born prematurely. Since all indications from my prenatal care pointed to a normal healthy birth, the delivery at six weeks early was unexpected and frightening. During labor, my blood pressure suddenly rose to a critical level. There was no time for a C-section and my risk of stroke was alarmingly high. I found myself surrounded by a medical team singularly focused on saving my life as they delivered my daughter as soon as possible, as safely as possible.
The minister’s wife, in turn, confided that a close friend also had a premature delivery. However, her village did not have a health clinic, and prenatal care was almost non-existent. So when contractions began, her friend labored under a tree for hours while her family scrambled to find transportation to the nearest hospital, miles away. The baby, born in the hospital corridor, was too small, too premature, and died shortly after birth.
In addition to the obvious medical intervention that separated our experiences, other factors contributed to our tragically different outcomes. Her friend already had two children under the age of three and her body was not fully recovered from those births. She was exhausted and under-nourished. Her husband worked hard, yet there were times when the family went hungry. This couple did not have access to methods to help space out these births, which, ultimately, may have resulted in the premature birth and death of her baby. We know these factors can mean the difference between life and death, because this tragedy is far too common.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The deaths of 1.6 million children under the age of five could be prevented each year if we met one of the most critical needs for women around the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) tells us that if pregnancies were spaced three years apart, infants would have a healthier start to life. This spacing gives the mother time to breastfeed for the recommended one to two years; her body has a chance to recover and avoid high-risk pregnancies. Even though we know that healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies saves lives, and preventing unintended pregnancies reduces abortions, today, 225 million women worldwide who want to safely space the births of their children lack the ability to do so.
My faith compels me to believe in the wholeness and well-being of a person as physical and spiritual and a blessing God intends for all people. It is disheartening to me that family planning is perceived as being in opposition to Christian values. The Christ unites us, and honors and strengthens life so all may live abundantly as Christ proclaimed. This must include women’s health, and the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
Valuing life means helping every child off to a safe start. Which means it is within our Christian faith to help women globally access counseling and information about reliable ways to help plan our pregnancies that includes natural, hormonal and barrier methods. With this support, and consistent access to contraceptives, couples can use planning methods that align with their values and religious beliefs to ensure pregnancies occur at the healthiest times in a woman’s life. Something every mother and child clearly deserves.
Over the past fifteen years, my work in global health has focused on assisting clinics and hospitals in developing countries with their medical equipment needs and challenges. Without question, the medical equipment that clinics and hospitals rely on, and our biomedical team prepares and distributes, saves lives every single day.
Yet what doesn’t get nearly the positive attention it deserves is the low cost capacity to save millions of lives every year. My conversation with the minister’s wife underscores just how critically important “Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancies” is to women and children in rural and impoverished areas, and in developing countries, where tragedies unfold daily.
We did help the minister and his wife establish a medical clinic. Just as important, through their church they established a program to promote the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, which helped the community flourish. This has enabled families to devote more attention to the health and well-being of each child, allowing more children to survive — and thrive. We have seen that good health keeps children learning in school longer, leads to social stability, and economic growth.
Fundamentally, our two stories with vastly different outcomes show the massive gaps in access to reproductive health globally. I encourage you to join me in urging the United States to support the programs that promote family planning through the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies in developing countries.
Amy Hewitt is the Grants Manager at International Aid. Working and advocating for global health during the past 15 years, Amy finds God’s calling in the midst of meeting and connecting with people distinctively different from, yet ultimately similar to, herself. To learn more about biblical perspective, please visit: http://www.ccih.org/ct_resources/family-planning/.