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From Malawi to the UK: meet the hero midwives delivering babies around the world

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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They’re often called the unsung heroes of the health service, but midwives do a fierce job of bringing new lives into the world.

And whether a midwife works in a modern hospital equipped with birthing pools and stringent hygiene protocols, or a health centre in a developing country with no water supply or working toilets, they all share one thing in common: a love of delivering babies.

In celebration of the work that midwives do, international charity WaterAid travelled the globe to interview and photograph midwives and new mums around the world in the hours and days after they had given birth. The images also highlight the vital importance of sanitation and clean water when giving birth.

Here, you can meet some of the hero midwives delivering babies in every corner of the globe, from the UK and Canada, to Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Bangladesh.

All images: courtesy of WaterAid

  • Malawi

    Carolyn Nkhoma, 26, at Mdunga Health Centre in Malawi is so proud to be a nurse midwife despite facing enormous challenges. The health centre has only three medical staff treating over 100 people every day, and she has been working here for five months.

    New mum Charity says, “I am very happy to have my baby boy. The nurse here has been by my side all the time. Whenever I felt anything funny in my body, she would quickly come and assist me. I am so happy to have successfully delivered my baby."

    Images: WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

  • Malawi

    Carolyn says, “So far I like my role as a midwife because I feel so proud whenever I successfully help a mother deliver a healthy baby. I do take a holistic approach both during the antenatal and postnatal care. For pregnant mothers, I counsel them on the importance of having a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.”

  • Bangladesh

    Midwife Surovi Sardar, 29, has been working at Dacope Upazila Health Complex in Bangladesh for six months and believes she has delivered 30 babies in that time.

    Here she poses with new mum Aporna Biswas, 19, and her newborn baby.

    Images: WaterAid/Al Shahriar Rupam

  • Bangladesh

    Aporna says, “Surovi is so kind and generous in giving help. Because of her continuous help during my labour I have been able to give birth to my boy. I am really grateful to Surovi for her support and care.”

  • Bangladesh

    Surovi says, “Before we had running water and better sanitation, we were at risk of infection, but now that risk is much lower. Now we can wash our hands properly. It is much more comfortable to work now than before in this hospital.”

  • Bangladesh

    Surovi adds, “Aporna was a little bit weak during her labour pain. It took some time for her to gather her courage and strength. But we successfully managed to deliver her child and keep her from any harm.”

  • Bangladesh

    Midwife Bimola Kobiraz, 29, has worked at Dacope Upazila Health Complex in Bangladesh for six months and estimates she has delivered 30 babies so far.

    Here she is delivering a newborn baby to Hera, 20.

  • Bangladesh

    Bimola says, “When I started working here there was a poor supply of clean water and also there was no well-conditioned toilet. So patients suffered a lot from not being able to drink clean water and use a clean toilet.

    But now toilets are improved and we have a supply of clean water, which was not possible without the help of WaterAid. The new facilities have made doing my job easier. It was tough to work in a health complex without water and decent toilets.”

  • Bangladesh

    She adds, “I hope for mother and baby a healthy life. I also want to make mothers more aware about poor conditions of water, sanitation and hygiene, to help their babies be safe. I hope to learn more in my career so that I can take care of patients efficiently. I hope the health complex develops further.”

  • Rwanda

    Nurse-midwife Samuel Nshimyumukiza, 30, has been working for a few years but only arrived at the Nzangwa Health Centre in Rwanda, where he now works, two months ago.

    Here he poses with new mum Ruth Nyirahabimana, 24, and her baby Uwamahoro Emeline.

    He says, “I just love my hob. Seeing a mother who is in pain and then you help her to deliver and you take the baby and give it to her and you see her happy to be holding it in her arms, I think that's an amazing thing to behold. I feel like I am happier than the mother herself at that moment.”

    Images: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

  • Rwanda

    Ruth says, “I am very happy. I gave birth yesterday at 2pm. She is not even one day old. I can't wait to go and see how the older sister reacts when she sees her.

    [The midwife] is a very kind man. He talked to me, he calmed me down. I was in the waiting room, waiting for the real labour to kick in, and he would frequently walk and check in on me.”

  • Bangladesh

    Parboti Rani Dhali, 45, has been a midwife for more than 20 years and estimates she has delivered more than 300 babies. 

    Here she is checking on new mum Shokla, 19, and her baby, who is just eight days old, at Dacope Upazila Health Complex in Bangladesh.

    Images: WaterAid/Al Shahriar Rupam

  • Bangladesh

    Parboti says, “With Shokla's child birth, there was no complications except the limitations with our labour room equipment. Shokla is a strong woman and she cooperated with us very smartly. She and her baby is in perfect shape.

    Because of the improved toilets and hygienic environment both mothers and babies are in a good hospital environment. I hope both mother and baby will be fine and healthy.”

  • Bangladesh

    Shokla says, “Parboti helped me to bring my child into this world. From then till now she is looking after me and my child regularly with great care. She told me how to feed my boy, what to do when he cries and many other things. I am really grateful to Parboti for her support and care.”

  • Tanzania

    Midwife Daniel Paul, 26, poses with new mum Sada Juma Njuki and her baby Jafary, who is six days old, at the Kiomboi District Hospital in Tanzania.

    Image: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

  • Tanzania

    Midwife Daniel Paul, 26, says, “The work being done here at the hospital truly makes me feel good because I'm seeing change and the work is going on very well.

    Personally, when I think of a baby getting sick it is really paining me because all I can think if it were me during that time, if I had got sick, I could not be here today.”

    Image: WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • Tanzania

    He adds, “I chose to be a midwife so that I can help the women who are pregnant, the women who are breastfeeding and also the newborn babies. I believe that if I help these women, they are a big help to the nation.”

    Image: WaterAid/Eliza Powell

  • Tanzania

    New mum Sada Juma Njuki says, “I have enjoyed my stay in the hospital because the maternity ward is always clean, we have mosquito nets, everyone sleeps on a bed and, above all, we have tap water nearby and nice toilets.

    Although I have had complications with this pregnancy, the nurses have been very supportive. Everyone looks motivated and happy to help.”

    Image: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

  • Canada

    First-time mother Colleen gave birth at home; here she is shown at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre in Canada for a checkup with her new baby daughter, Soraia.

    Colleen says, “I think I was too busy to even prepare mentally for the birth. I was trying so hard to get everything done before the due date and she came a week early.”

    Images: WaterAid/Danielle Donders, Mothership Photography

  • Canada

    “I had a lot of trust in Joanne. Her medical background put me at ease. I was confident in her skills and her abilities. But also, her demeanour and the way she talks.

    She's so gentle with everybody. So compassionate. When it was crunch time, she wasn't soft then.”

  • Canada

    She adds, “I have thought about developing countries… It must be really hard, especially with sanitation. They have to carry clean water. They have to go find clean water. They have to boil the water.”

  • UK

    Every day, on average, 20 babies are born in Liverpool Women's Maternity Unit.

    Another three babies are born prematurely and cared for in the Neonatal Unit, which equates to around 8,000 babies every year. It is the largest single site maternity hospital across the UK.

    Here, midwife Helen Faux, 46, is checking on new mum Rebekah McLaughlin, 23, and her one day old baby, James Brian.

    Images: WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • UK

    First time mum Rebekah delivered her baby through an emergency C section. She said, “The first 24 hours of being a mum have been good, it's been a learning curve as first time parents, but it's been fab.

    [The midwives] have all been brilliant, they've been really supportive, they gave me the best advice of what's going to be best for the baby. If I didn't the midwives supporting me I would probably have been an emotional wreck. I would probably have broken down, because the midwives kept me going and they helped me get through because it was really difficult when it came to (giving birth) to him.”

  • UK

    “Helen’s lovely,” Rebekah adds. “I can't imagine what it would be like (delivering in a hospital without running water). Everyone should have the right to basic things, without that you take away your dignity.

    It puts a pain in my heart a little bit to think that things aren't perfect for those women.”

  • Malawi

    Rhoda Mphambala, 28, is a nurse midwife at Katimbila Health Centre in Nkhotakota. She has been working at the health facility for three years. 

    Here she is checking up on new mum Veronica Makiyi, 30, and her baby son.

    Images: WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

  • Malawi

    Rhoda says, “We have a lot of problems here at Katimbila. The bathroom women use is in a dire state. In the past, women used to cover the entrance with their own Chitenje fabric. The surrounding communities assisted to cover the entrance with some bamboo sticks although it is still not enough as one can be seen bathing inside. There is no privacy at all. 

    However, I get so excited when I successfully help a mother deliver a baby. It always pleases me to see both the mother and the child doing well after delivery.”

  • Malawi

    Veronica and her partner, Makiyi Phiri, have four daughters. They have just welcomed their first son. Makiyi says, “We are indeed going to celebrate today.

    This facility has very good midwives. They do their best despite the many challenges they face. I appreciate what they have done for my wife and my baby boy.”

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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