On any given day there are thousands of women in active childbirth in rural Guatemala. The highest birthrate in Central America also comes with increased infant and maternal mortality statistics. The numbers are alarming, and reflective of a multitude of health care issues. Combine a lack of health care access, abysmally inadequate governmental funding for rural health care clinics, an overabundance of young mothers and the odds of a successful birth outcome grow dim. The Center for Disease Control (CDC article) estimates that less than 54% of the rural Guatemalan population is adequately served by physician care. The areas FFF travels to have far worse statistics.
Our Finding Freedom volunteers see the ramifications of these issues every time we travel to the highlands of Guatemala. A difficult birth process is not only a healthcare risk for a Guatemalan mother. Traumatic deliveries lower critical blood flow to a neonate’s body and brain during the birth process. The outcome is often a child born with lifelong disabilities that then add to the burden of a rural Mayan mother’s daily life.
We see the results of inadequate maternal prenatal assistance every time we travel to the remote mountains of Northwestern Guatemala. News travels rapidly and efficiently in Central America, despite the lack of newspapers and television. Within an hour of arriving at a village, local Guatemalan mothers are at our doorstep, children in tow. It is a rewarding experience to be able to administer an antibiotic for a toddler’s ear infection, or hand over cold syrup to a village mother who has been up during the night with a coughing child. Fortunately we can network with other nonprofits for children who need surgery. We wish improved health were this easy for all of the children who make their way to us.
Ana (left) is one of the children we bring home in our hearts when we leave Guatemala. This preschooler will be just that for her lifetime; she doesn’t speak, she is blind, and she has no motor control of her limbs. She will be an infant, in every sense of the word, for the duration of her lifetime. Born to a young mother, Ana’s difficult birth left this beautiful little girl with a legacy of difficulty that she and her family will endure for the rest of their days.
We had no bottle of medicine, no pill, and no cure for what Ana has. Lack of oxygenation during birth causes irreversible brain damage. At the very least this doe-eyed baby needs daily physical therapy sessions, a social worker, good pediatrician, a wheel chair, hand splints and a blender to liquefy her food. None of those resources are available in Ana’s isolated village. Her situation creates feelings that adjectives don’t describe. Is there a word that describes hopeless/angry/scared/frustrated?
Empathy without action is called pity. Ana’s mother doesn’t need our feelings if they are not accompanied by realistic ways of assisting her with the needs of her child. As we left her mountain village, Ana’s mother bundled up her toddler into her traditional rebozo (shawl) and carried her back up the narrow dirt path to her home. Tucked into the hand-woven fabric wrapped around Ana were vitamins, antibiotics, a months worth of food and some new clothes for her child. So little in the face of so much need.
We can’t undo the damage incurred by this sweet girl. Our talent is in prevention. Keeping illness away by donating housing with intact roofs and concrete floors. Obliterating illiteracy through education. Abating malnutrition via food donations. And for Ana’s future siblings, donating safe birthing kits to Indigenous midwives in Guatemala. It feels so small in the face of her large issues.