In Tanzania, women don’t have photo shoots of their pregnant bellies.
They don’t name their children before they are born.
They don’t have pregnancy-announcement parties or even announcements on Facebook.
Usually, they don’t actually even talk about their pregnancies. Strangers don’t ask them how many weeks they are. Family members don’t usually ask either. They don’t talk about their pregnancies with their children.
When the baby is born, it’s not often named for days or even weeks.
Toddlers, sometimes, are ignored. Other than their basic needs, ignored. Sometimes, they are even named Not Wanted or Undesirable.
As an objective observer, someone from the West might assume that Tanzanians don’t care about babies or children, that they are not important to them.
And then you read the statistics:
In Tanzania, there are45 infant deaths per 1000 live births.
In the U.S., there are 5.
In Tanzania, there are 460 maternal deaths (mothers who die during pregnancy or childbirth) per 100,000 live births.
In the U.S., there are 21.
In Tanzania, 54 children out of 1000 won't make it to their 5th birthday.
In the U.S., 7 won't make it.
I spent this week in Washington with my wonderful friend Janelle. Janelle is mom to a little guy named Jeremiah, who was dearly wanted and dearly loved. Janelle and her husband Rudy live in Central Asia, but while they were visiting Thailand two months ago, their beautiful Jeremiah died from a tragic accident. I wrote about it here.
Janelle and Rudy are in the States now for a few months, regrouping after their loss and awaiting the birth of their next child. It was my privilege to spend time with her these last few days.
How does a mother bear the loss of a child? The one she carried next to her heart, the one born through pain, the one who is knit with her soul? How does she bury the child, the dreams, the expectations of who he would have become? How does she get up in the morning and allow life to continue?
I wonder if this is why Tanzanians don’t talk about pregnancy, don’t wait in anticipation, don’t name their child before he is born. Perhaps they wait in dread instead of hope. They know too many children who have died, too many mothers who have died. They hold their breath and hope for the best, but are not surprised at the worst. Is that why?
Or is it also their animistic worldview, the idea that the spirits are in charge but they are evil, that they must appease them to keep them at bay? So the mamas must keep the attention off of their pregnant bellies, and away from their precious little ones. They ignore their bellies, and ignore their little ones, or give them an ugly name….in hopes that the spirits, too, will ignore them. Could it be the bond of love….and the fear of loss, that causes some to act like they don’t care?
How does a mother bear the loss of a child? As one who is rooted firmly and completely in Christ, Janelle taught me this these days. The pain is excruciating, and yet she has hope. The despair seeks to overwhelm her, and yet she presses on. She knows who she belongs to. She knows who Jeremiah belongs to. She knows where he is. Her eyes bear light and her voice bears confidence, despite her exhaustion and never-ending sorrow.
I watched her minister to others, to me! in the mist of her pain. She has helped me not to fear. She has deepened my trust in my Savior, as she has given testimony of His power. She is a beacon of God’s grace.
Oh, that the dear mamas in Tanzania would be granted the medical care and education they need so that they are able to celebrate the lives growing inside of them, that they can be filled with anticipation instead of fear.
But even more, that they would come to know the hope and grace that God has granted my friend Janelle.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed....
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)