Tibetan Maternal Health
Over the last 3 years, it’s been my great pleasure to research what pregnancy and childbirth look like for Tibetan women living in the far corners of the Himalayas. Through my research for MountainChild, I have attempted to understand which cultural factors influence and challenge the use and benefits of maternal care in remote Tibetan villages. I’ve spent hours and hours asking women about their traditional behaviors in relation to pregnancy and childbirth and compared it to the outcome of their pregnancies and deliveries - meaning I’ve spent hours and hours drinking butter tea and listening as they told me their stories.
In one village, in the far west corner of Nepal, where MountainChild has recently started working, I interviewed 18 women, who’d had a total of 52 pregnancies. Disturbingly, my research revealed that the average age of their first pregnancies was 17 years and 7 months. 13.5% of the pregnancies had been medically aborted. And 30% of the women were currently pregnant at the time despite the fact that they didn’t desire any more children.
I also listened as 11 out of the 18 women told me how they delivered their last baby at home, without a skilled birth attendant present to assist the delivery. And I listened to one woman explain how she delivered her last baby alone in the forest while working.
My research also found that the number of pregnancy check-ups a woman has during her pregnancy will affect her knowledge about family planning, which then correlates to her use of contraceptives. Even though none of the women I interviewed desired to be or get pregnant at the time, only 25% of them were using a form of contraceptive between pregnancies.
It was clear that the need for maternal health education was huge.
During my next visit to the village, I made time to sit down with the women to explain the wonders of the female reproductive system, as well as encourage them to go for regular pregnancy check-ups at the new village health post.
Since 2016 MountainChild has brought hope in the form of education to 1,065 Tibetan women and their future children. Through education on topics such as Family Planning, Abortion, Pregnancy Health, Newborn Care and Fetal Development, MountainChild is working to help bring needed- and much wanted-- change to women throughout the Himalayas. And it will happen, one village at a time.
-Maj Jensby (She is a midwife researching maternal health care for MountainChild in Nepal.)