Save the Mothers’ Dr. Eve Nakabembe (pictured at left), consults with a young mother at Uganda’s Mubende Hospital. In a deeply personal reflection below, Save the Mothers’ Program Intern Marissa Ware offers insights into different cultural attitudes surrounding motherhood today.
As a young woman professional working in maternal health, I am frequently asked when I will have children; a reflection of societal values around the globe – asking “when” rather than “if.” In Uganda, even more so than in my native USA, the prevalent cultural expectation is that men and women should create life. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that to fulfill your duty as a human being, you must leave offspring as a legacy.
When I respond that I do not want children, I am generally met with a shocked, blank face. As I explain my reasons, I watch the face opposite mine contort with expressions of disbelief, concern, incomprehension; unable to believe a healthy young woman doesn’t wish for a child. After hearing my response, the next question asked is usually, “If you don’t want to be a mother, how can you work with mothers? You can’t possibly understand their issues.”
It’s a salient point, one that has brought me confusion and self-reflection. I’ve recently questioned myself, feeling varying degrees of hypocrisy, wondering how can I be a champion of safe motherhood, encompassing all the barriers women face. It is true, in some respects; I will never be able to practice what I preach, or use lived experience to guide my knowledge and interactions, truly understanding what it means to be a mother.
But while I’ve never felt the natural maternal instincts to create, love, and nurture a baby, I do feel a strong pull towards supporting, loving, and encouraging mothers.
Recently, I visited a large National Referral Hospital in Uganda to shadow a colleague who is an obstetric and gynecological specialist there. Women at this hospital give birth in large open rooms equipped with 10-12 hospital beds, lacking privacy and family members to support them due to severe overcrowding. While there, I noticed one woman giving loud voice to her labor pains: crying, gritting her teeth, and occasionally calling out. She was awaiting a Caesarian section; as the pain became unbearable, I called a midwife over to make sure she was okay. As a contraction came, the laboring woman strongly latched onto my hand. As the contraction passed I moved to let go of her hand, but she looked up at me, and in a small voice said, “Don’t go.”
I looked down at this terrified woman, not much older than I was, and I knew I couldn’t leave her. I held her hand and stood at her bedside for a couple of hours, leaving only to fetch her water, seeing fear flood her face as I moved to go. I promised her I would return, though when I did so not 10 minutes later, she had already been taken for her C-section.
I believe I wasn’t meant to be a biological mother. But that experience helped me realize I want to be a “mother to mothers” – to learn, live, and experience motherhood alongside women as a protector, cheerleader, advocate, sister, and friend. I know I can nurture their innate desire for family, helping to remove barriers women may face on their path to motherhood, a role I am learning to embrace more fully through my experiences with Save the Mothers.