Mother Health International’s Mission and Model
by Kay Sandberg and Shane Carnahan

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article which appears in Midwifery Today, Issue 115, Autumn 2015. View other great articles and columns in the table of contents. To read the rest of this article, order your copy of Midwifery Today, Issue 115.]

Photo provided by Mother Health International

mobile midwife taking blood pressure reading on woman

Mother Health International (MHI) is dedicated to responding to and providing relief to pregnant women and children in areas of disaster and extreme poverty. MHI is committed to reducing the maternal and infant mortality rates by creating healthy, sustainable holistic birth centers using the midwifery model of care.

Mother Health International was founded in 2007 after midwife Rachel Zaslow spent several months working in a government-funded hospital in Northern Uganda at the end of the civil war. The hospital was functioning at what the WHO estimated to be over 10 times its capacity. Women were turned away in labor or sent to walk home minutes after giving birth, often bleeding to death on the road home. Women who were admitted to the hospital were often treated violently by the hospital staff for not “pushing fast enough” or failing to bring their own piece of plastic on which to give birth. These conditions made the hospital a traumatic, dangerous place to give birth in an area already ravaged by war.

Over the last seven years, MHI has worked in coordination with local midwives who serve their own communities. They work to build Earth Birth Centers, which are country-specific maternity centers run by local midwives. Mother Health International helps to physically build structures, develop culturally competent protocols, work hand in hand with traditional midwives to develop skills and create sustainable methods for obtaining supplies and emergency equipment.

Each clinic provides: comprehensive prenatal care, both on site and through mobile outreach programs into rural areas; education and support groups for pregnant women; labor support; postpartum care; transport to and from the clinic for laboring mothers and postpartum families; ambulance services for emergencies; postpartum follow-up of babies from birth until six months; and education and support of traditional midwives.

Creating spaces where women can access comprehensive care and also join in community restoration efforts is intrinsic to our mission. Our outcomes make it clear that our model works to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Simultaneously, we are combating the violence and trauma that women often experience giving birth in overcrowded and understaffed hospitals. When women do not see pregnancy as a potential death sentence they take care of themselves and their children differently. Our model allows women to participate actively in their daily health care. Women are treated with respect and given one-on-one attention.

—Rachel Zaslow

Kay Sandberg is the founding president of Global Force for Healing, a visionary nonprofit which convenes the Healthy, Compassionate Birthing Network of global grassroots projects for underserved, remote communities based on the midwifery model of care ( Kay lives in Ashland, Oregon, and is a member of Southern Oregon Birth Connections (SOBC).

Shane Carnahan is a registered nurse in Ashland, Oregon. Shane has spent a great deal of time advocating for women and families in childbirth locally as a midwifery apprentice and as a certified doula. As a nursing student, she was an active member and media/communications chairperson of the OHSU Nursing Students without Borders university organization and an intern with Global Force for Healing, a local nonprofit organization. She is the mother of a 13-year-old boy and an advocate of human rights.

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