A midwife's decade helping the poor

By Thanh Nga   June 4, 2024 | 06:13 am PT
At two in the morning, upon hearing that a pregnant woman was in labor, Mua Thi Ghenh quickly set off with a flashlight and a toolbox.

Ghenh, 54, is the only midwife in her remote Dien Bien Province village of Huoi Song.

Few homes have electricity, so she carries her own lights and birthing tools, including cotton, bandages, gloves, and towels.

"The village is far-flung and its people are underprivileged," Ghenh said. "Having witnessed them undergoing risky home births and struggling to reach a hospital in emergencies, I want to offer help."

How it all began

Ghenh's career as a midwife started more than a decade ago after a challenging home birth of her own. Nearing death during childbirth, she was inspired to learn about maternity care to help women in her village deliver healthy babies.

In 2012, Ghenh apprenticed under a veteran midwife, learning essential skills such as palpating the abdomen to ascertain the fetal position and instructing mothers on proper breathing and pushing techniques.

After two years of training, she delivered her first baby for a 17-year-old girl.

She said the young mother cried incessantly, asking for painkillers, and could not concentrate on pushing, so the birth took longer. Ghenh had to coax her, promising to give her a new dress if she listened to the instructions. About an hour after the baby was born, Ghenh wrapped the child in a towel and held the baby boy gently in her arm as she used scissors to cut the umbilical cord.

"When delivering babies at people's homes, I use whatever is available. Many families don't have clothes for their children so I have to come prepared," Ghenh said.

Bà đỡ Mua Thị Ghênh, 54 tuổi, ở bản Huổi Sông đỡ đẻ thành công cho hơn 60% dân trong bản, tháng 4/2024. Ảnh: Thanh Nga

Mua Thi Ghenh, 54, has successfully delivered babies for more than 60% of people in Huoi Song Village in Dien Bien Province, April 2024. Photo by Thanh Nga

After her decade of experience, Ghenh is adept at diagnosing and adjusting fetal positions from 15-16 weeks. She notes that difficult and premature births often involve mothers under 18, and so she allocates her free time to educating the community about the dangers of early pregnancy and encourages them to report any cases immediately.

The pain of loss

Despite hundreds of successful deliveries, Ghenh's heart still aches over the one life she couldn’t save.

A 15-year-old girl delivered prematurely at 27 weeks, and despite the Ghenh’s warning, her family refused to go to the hospital due to the long distance. Although Ghenh managed to save the mother, the baby was lost shortly after birth.

"A few minutes after the baby was born, its body turned blue and had no reflexes. And it didn't cry. I tried to resuscitate the baby, it was too late at that point. I wished the hospital were closer," she said.

Vang Senh Ho, head of Huoi Song Village, described it as one of the most remote areas in Hang Lia Commune in the northern mountainous province. The 20-km journey to the local health station is arduous, especially in bad weather, leading many women to prefer home births. With 74 households, more than 40% are impoverished, and 60-70% of village births are assisted by Ghenh free of charge. Before electricity arrived in early 2024, Ghenh often relied on oil lamps and flashlights for deliveries.

"People here are not well-educated, they work in the fields all year and rarely leave the village. Even with hospital assistance, they are still fearful. Thankfully, our midwife Ghenh has ensured many safe births," said Ho.

Quang Van Kim, head of the Hang Lia commune health station, mentioned that medical staff visit villages like Huoi Song monthly for prenatal check-ups and vaccinations. The station also trains midwives in maternity management and proper birthing techniques, emphasizing the need to transport high-risk cases to hospitals promptly.

Another ongoing challenge is combating child marriage, as pregnant women under 18 without regular check-ups face significant risks of complications, serious infections, retained placentas, and uterine issues.

After successfully giving birth to four boys with Ghenh’s assistance, Huoi Song resident Giang Thi Song, 25, regards the midwife as a second mother.

Giàng Thị Sông, 25 tuổi, ở bản Huổi Sông, được bà Ghênh đỡ đẻ 4 lần thành công, tháng 5/2024. Ảnh: A Chua

Giang Thi Song, 25, in Huoi Song Village, successfully delivered babies 4 times with Ghenh’s help, May 2024. Photo by A Chua

The family relies on farming, with a yearly income of VND15-20 million (US$590-790). Giving birth in the hospital was never an option.

"Thanks to mother Ghenh, my children were born safely," she said.

Song recalled a stormy night when Ghenh braved the weather to deliver one of her babies. Although she was soaked, Ghenh still wore a smile on her face and encouraged the pregnant woman to successfully pass labor.

Ghenh herself works in the fields in the morning and afternoon, but whenever a pregnant woman goes into labor, she gives up her own work to monitor the new mother at home. Instead of asking for monetary wages, she only accepts the even more priceless, though less economically "valuable" gifts from villagers, such as chickens, wild boar meat, and ginseng the farmers had grown themselves. Many families even sent their relatives to Ghenh’s fields to help her farm as a way of saying thank you.

"My joy is hearing the cries of children delivered safely," Ghenh said.

"I just hope the road to the clinic will be improved and the quality of life for people also improves so they can reach the hospital with ease."

With the goal of rekindling faith in pediatric patients, Hope Foundation, in collaboration with Mr. Sun, launched The Sun of Hope program. Another contribution from the community means another ray of light sent to the future generations of the country.

Click here for further information on the program.

go to top