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This Is What Women Around the World Pack in Their Hospital Bags

When it comes time for most of us to pack our hospital bags, we focus on the essentials: comfy postpartum pajamas, a hairbrush so we can try to feel normal again, a toothbrush, and in my case, chocolate-covered peanuts and my favorite lotion.

But not one of us thinks to pack our own sheets for the delivery bed or haul our own water to the hospital. And yet, across the world, women are doing exactly that.

Earlier this week, WaterAid, a non-profit dedicated to helping the people living in the world’s poorest communities gain access to safe water, toilets, and hygiene, shared pictures of what women in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, USA, Australia, and the UK pack in their maternity bags. The project highlighted the challenges faced by women who live in areas without access to clean water and sanitation in sharp contrast to areas where some of us worry about just the right essential oil to take with us to the hospital. 

Ellen, 23, Malawi

Image Source: Wateraid/Jenny Lewis
Image Source: Wateraid/Jenny Lewis

This is Ellen, who will give birth in Simulemba Health Centre, which serves over 70,000 people and delivers more than 90 babies a month. The Health Centre has no clean running water, only four toilets for 400 people, showers that are a crumbling block with no doors or roof and no sterilization equipment. Water is collected from a water pump shared with the local community of 2,000 people. This water is not clean and the lines to even get to the water are very long.

Image Source: WaterAid/ Jenny Lewis
Image Source: WaterAid/ Jenny Lewis

What’s in her bag:

  • Torch, as there is no electricity supply
  • Black plastic sheet, to put on the delivery bed as, with no clean water, it’s hard to keep the delivery room and beds clean. Beds are not even cleaned between patients giving birth because there’s not enough water.
  • Razor blade, to cut the umbilical cord
  • String, to tie the umbilical cord
  • 200 Malawian Kwacha note for food
  • Three large sarongs, for the mother to wear for their stay (which could be as long as four weeks) and to wrap the baby in

Ruth, 19, Simpemba Village, Monze District, Zambia

Image Source: WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda
Image Source: WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

Ruth lives in an area that WaterAid has recently sunk a borehole into to provide clean water. Instead of breathing exercises in her parental classes, she and other expecting mothers are taught how stay clean during delivery. “We were taught a lot of things about hygiene during my antenatal classes,” she explains.

“I heard that the father to the unborn child should never sleep with another woman during my pregnancy as that would result in the death of the baby during delivery. If he did, elderly people must take his belt and roll it while performing some rituals and then throw the belt on the ground. If it stretches and becomes straight, then the baby would survive; otherwise it would die.”

 

Image Source: WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda
Image Source: WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

What’s in her bag:

  • A baby suit with a cap — “I love the baby suit!” exclaims Ruth.
  • Napkins
  • Socks
  • A peg, for clipping the umbilical cord
  • Soap
  • Fastener
  • Baby powder
  • Dish
  • Black plastic, (polythene roll) to put on the bed
  • Surgical blades, to cut the umbilical cord

Claudine Razafindrabary, 26, Ambohitsara, Soavina

Image Source: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala
Image Source: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Claudine is a first-time mother who considers herself very “lucky” because she and her family are able to boil the water at their hospital and cook their own food there. “We’ve just arrived here, and it’s going to be my first delivery so I am a bit anxious,” she says.

“I was advised by my mother and my sister to buy everything we may need for being here,” Claudine explains. “It’s really safe to give birth here because we have almost everything we need. We have a nurse, equipment, a few beds, a shower, toilets, and running water. It’s really simple for me and my family because we can boil water if needed and are able to cook and eat here. We brought everything to be able to cook here.”

Image Source: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala
Image Source: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

What’s in her bag:

  • Clothes
  • Cotton wool
  • Alcohol for cleaning
  • Nappies
  • Thermos
  • Bucket
  • Sanitary pads

Jackie Atuhairwe, 25, Masanafu settlement of Kampala

Image Source: WaterAid/James Kiyimba
Image Source: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

Jackie is a entrepreneur in her village, where she runs a small retail shop. “I am happy to be a mother of a baby girl called Abagail Mulungi,” Jackie says. “She is my first born.”

Image Source: WaterAid/James Kiyimba
Image Source: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

What’s in her bag:

  • Nylon sheets, for covering the bed during the childbirth process so that it would not get soiled with blood
  • Six pairs of gloves, for the midwife to put on during the delivery process
  • Bottle of Jik disinfectant powder
  • Bar of soap, to be used in cleaning the birth place
  • Roll of cotton wool, for padding
  • Two razor blades, for use in the delivery process
  • A basin
  • A bucket
  • A cup
  • Tea leaves and a tea flask
  • A baby wrapper, for keeping the baby warm
  • Body stockings
  • Change of clothes

Deanna Neiers, New York City

Image Source: WaterAid/ John Neiers
Image Source: WaterAid/ John Neiers

“I feel so happy nurturing this life inside of me, it truly is a miracle,” says Deanna, who is pregnant with her first baby. “I also am very fortunate to live within walking distance of one of the best hospitals in New York City.”

Image Source: WaterAid/ Deanna Neiers
Image Source: WaterAid/ Deanna Neiers

What’s in her bag:

  • Music player
  • Coconut oil, for massage
  • Lavender oil
  • Arnica gel
  • Snacks
  • Nursing bra and pads
  • Nursing pillow
  • Comfortable clothes, to wear at the hospital and to travel back home
  • Soft swaddle blanket for baby
  • Long-sleeve onesie
  • Baby knitted hat

Agnes Noti, 22, Kiomboi Hospital, Iramba District, Tanzania

Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari
Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari

Agnes will deliver her baby in one of three rooms in the hospital dedicated to labor, delivery, and postpartum. There is no separation in the rooms between laboring mothers and those who have already given birth, and two of the rooms have four bunk-beds in them for patients. None of the rooms have basins or any other form of water.

There is only one toilet in the entire labor ward and no shower. To clean after birth, women either wash up in the toilet or climb into a sink in the sluice room — the same sink which is used to dispose of waste and wash medical equipment.

“I come from Tutu. The water for drinking, we buy from the shop. (Last time the other water came from) the river. There was white water. It was my grandmother who went to the river, ” says Agnes. “The water from the river is not safe for drinking. So in the river many people fetch water that suffer. So using that one you can’t trust that water.”

Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari
Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari

What’s in her bag:

  • Clothes for the baby
  • A cape (blanket) for the baby
  • Socks
  • A basin
  • A flask
  • Tea

Joanne Laurie, 34, London

Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari
Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari

Joanne is expecting her first baby in London, but no word if she picked up any tips from the Duchess, who is an experienced mother by now.

“I have packed a water bottle, my sister suggested to bring something to make it (water) easier to drink (during labour),” says Joanne. “I will bring it empty, and I assuming the hospital will have somewhere I can fill it. They must have a water fountain. I am taking that for granted, unlike people in Africa.”

Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari
Image Source: WaterAid/ Anna Kari

What’s in her bag:

  • Nappies
  • Baby clothes
  • Some knitted trousers
  • Lots of snacks
  • Clothes
  • Towel
  • Toiletries
  • TENS machine
  • Maternity pads
  • iPad
  • Water bottle
  • Medical notes
  • A blanket — “The same one my mother brought me home in.”

Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment. Through the child and maternal health appeal, WaterAid wants to ensure healthcare facilities have access to clean water, have adequate toilets, and are committed to good hygiene practice and promotion.

Connect with WaterAid on Facebook, and Twitter.

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