The CMS missionary training college is called St Andrew’s Hall and we went to their graduation today. There’s a wealth of missionary experience in the people there, including a number from Tanzania. What a wonderful opportunity for us to hear stories and learn! We got talking with Dulcie, an elderly woman who went to Tanzania single, married another missionary and had her children there. I took it as an opportunity to ask her questions about having children in Tanzania and her answers just about floored me!
To give a bit of background, I’ve been of two minds about the possibility of one day giving birth in Tanzania. Most of me thinks women have been doing it for years and it’s a natural thing with little need to make a fuss. If Tanzanian women can do it, why not me? But then, though Tanzania’s infant and maternal death rate is improving, it is still much higher than Australia’s. And even if 99% of births are smooth, what if you’re the 1%? On top of that, we’ve heard varying reports:
- We’ve heard that Dodoma actually has a neonatal unit – but no doctor, so it lies dormant and empty! (The unit doesn’t feature in the government’s report on newborn health. It lists them in Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, Mbeya and Kilimanjaro.)
- One missionary mum we spoke to in Dodoma was adamant that having a baby wasn’t something you mess with – we would need to go to somewhere like Nairobi, which has ‘proper, western healthcare’.
- Most people just assume that we’ll come back to Australia to have our children, or at least time things to coincide with home assignments.
- Another missionary played down any concerns about childbirth in Tanzania – but she’s a doctor herself.
- A doctor who’s done short term work in Tanzania told me that the midwives in (significantly more developed than Dodoma) Arusha are world-class.
With all this conflicting information, personal testimony is important to me, so I asked Dulcie about childbirth. Her response: ‘Pfft, absolutely fine, no worries!’ She had her boys (now 43 and 46) at a little catholic hospital 11 miles down the road from where they lived on the far side of Lake Victoria and it all went smoothly. What a relief, I thought! She was clearly relaxed about it and confident that we’d been fine. Medical care has improved, 45 years down the track, she pointed out, and there are mobile phones and other ways to get in contact with health professionals if need be.
That all sounded fine until she dropped the bomb – “I did have one child that died.” You can imagine my surprise! How could she not have mentioned this earlier?! As it turns out, her oldest was actually a twin but one was much weaker than the other and didn’t survive. Dulcie says it’s survival of the fittest out there and this is the natural way of ensuring healthy babies. In Australia, they might save that child, but it may have a significant disability – in her words, it wouldn’t be perfect. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that statement!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.