Giving birth is not a comfortable experience for most women. Even the most uncomplicated labours have a degree of physical and mental intensity. There are moments along the way that push you (literally) to your limits.
As I reflect on the births of my two children, there was a singular moment that was the most desperately uncomfortable: the 15 minutes in the car between home and the hospital. The urgency, the inability to move around, the stop and start and bumps along the way – everything was intensified in the confined space of the front passenger seat.
While it was a short, straightforward journey, and I was met with skilled midwives and excellent (and free!) facilities at the other end, for me, those 15 minutes were excruciating. I look back on them with a mixture of emphatic never again-ness and glorious triumph.
And then I heard about Cher Sa.
Cher Sa and her family live in a remote village in the mountainous region of Phongsaly, northern Laos. Coming and going from her village is not easy at the best of times, but in the middle of the rainy season, journeys can become treacherous. The roads that wind around the hillsides become slippery and unstable.
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Landslides cause widespread damage and blockages. Travelling via means other than foot, or the occasional motorbike, is not at all common – and yet, there are times when you just have to be somewhere. Like the delivery room of the health centre in the neighbouring village.
When I heard Cher Sa’s story, she had given birth a month earlier to a healthy son, Chue Kia. Rather than having her baby at home, which is the experience of many mothers in the community, Cher Sa delivered her son at a health centre.
Despite being a mere 10km away, the literally laborious journey from Cher Sa’s home to the health centre took three hours, navigating bumpy and muddy roads – on the back of a borrowed motorbike!
Suddenly, my 15 minutes along a sealed highway didn’t seem so bad.
The determination to make such a journey, persevering through obstacles along the way, demonstrates just how dedicated mums like Cher Sa are to giving their babies a strong start in life.
You see, a birth announcement is often good news, but it can also carry fear and risk, especially in remote areas like Phongsaly, where healthcare and birthing facilities are limited. Even once the hurdle of pregnancy and birth is passed, access to good nutrition and a safe and healthy environment in the early years of development make a vital difference.
In a region that faces the highest infant and child mortality rates in the country, where every second child in the province is not meeting growth milestones, a thriving child really is good news.
Families in Phongsaly live in a daily reality of limited access – whether to clean water, education, livelihoods or health services – but as they encounter the skills, resources and support to forge new paths, they create life-giving opportunities.
Tearfund’s local partner, World Renew Laos, which has worked with communities in Phongsaly for the past 14 years, has been instrumental in helping to clear the way for such opportunities. Community health volunteers, trained by World Renew, have supported Cher Sa and other mums with antenatal care, education on mother and child nutrition, and access to health facilities.
With confidence and care, empowered women go on to actively encourage other expectant mothers with the knowledge and resources that have made a life-giving difference to their families.
As I think about a way being made through obstacles and upheaval, pressing on to bring good news, I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD… Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain…” (Isaiah 40:3-5). ‘
Isaiah spoke of the Saviour to come, the One whose birth would be announced as “good news of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10). The good news of Jesus’ arrival didn’t end with his birth: it continues today as Christ’s power, hope and peace meet the world’s brokenness.
And as Tearfund’s Christian partners – in Phongsaly and beyond – support communities to tackle the root causes of poverty, empowering them to overcome the barriers to fullness of life and futures of hope, they are themselves bringers of Jesus’ good news.