Belizean Women Learn Childbirth Safety


Gail Johnson instructs the only childbirth education class in Belize for a group of Mennonite women in Blue Creek, Belize. Image by Samantha Danis. Belize, 2011.


Gail Johnson answers childbirth questions from women in the class. Image by Samantha Danis. Belize, 2011.


A young mother attends class with her child. Image by Samantha Danis. Belize, 2011.

"My husband didn't believe me, but I knew something was wrong. I could feel it. The nurse kept saying, 'No, no, no. It's all in your head. She is going to be just fine'. So, he believed her over me--at least until I went into labor, and our baby came out feet first. She had severe problems and died two years later. So, yeah, he believes me now."

In a small warehouse built above a gas station in Blue Creek, Belize, over 20 Mennonite women, young and old, gathered to attend their first childbirth education class. Gail Johnson, a midwife from Texas who moved here four years ago, brought childbirth videos, books, and other materials with her to help educate these women who were more than eager to learn.

They each shared stories about the births of their children and said how much better prepared they would have been if they had known someone like Gail sooner. Suzy Dyck, organizer of the class and a young mother herself, explained, "It's not that we aren't educated; we are... but it's just when it comes to this area, you go to the doctor, and you do what the doctor says, and you don't question it. Well I'm saying we have to question it; we have our right to."

Many of the women in the group felt that they were forced into having c-sections because they weren't confident or knowledgeable enough to stand up to their doctors. For a Belizean woman, questioning her doctor or going as far as getting a second opinion from another physician is not something she would ever do. In her mind, she has no choice but to trust the doctor and do as he or she says.

To avoid the possibility of a c-section, a woman will often choose to give birth down the street at the community health nurse's office. It is convenient; however, if any complications arise during delivery, the nearest hospital, in Orange Walk, is more than an hour and a half away.

I thought some streets in my small town in Maine were bad, but they are nothing compared to the dirt road that separates the woman in Blue Creek from the hospital. Traveling down that road in a jeep going a mere 15 miles per hour caused me to be thrown every which way. I have no idea how a woman in labor could go through that--especially one experiencing a complication. That's why many of them don't. They choose to take their chances in the calm, quiet delivery room in their own community.

The village nurse's assistant was one of the mothers who chose to take that chance. While in the middle of her labor, the nurse realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck, and that they needed to get to the hospital immediately. The mother knew there is no way to "rush" down that road, and she said she would rather lie there and die calmly, surrounded by her family.

"I wouldn't have made it in time. It was impossible," she said. "I was either going to die on that table or on the road."

In the midst of all the panic of making a decision, the cord loosened, and she gave birth to a healthy baby there in the small doctor's office. Her life, and her baby's, was spared.

Some older women recalled that not everyone is that lucky. They each know of four or five cases of maternal deaths that occurred when they were growing up. None of the younger Blue Creek Mennonites present at the class that night knew of any maternal mortalities, which said a lot to them about the progress that has been made here.