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Birthlight’s outreach to the Shiphrah birthing home in Manila

Last month I took Birthlight courses to the Philippines for the second time, through our partnership with Maricar and Lasse Holopainen, the founders of the exemplary Urban Ashram Manila Yoga Studios and Training School. It was a joy to meet Deborah Gustafson, who currently runs the Shiphrah birthing home in a popular district of Manila, after hearing about links established with the home by birthlight teachers Amena Ball and Ines Marti. Urban Ashram Manila, who hosted the Perinatal course (prenatal and postnatal) kindly supported the participation of Deborah and her midwife colleague Ariane.  Ines also organised visits by mums to be and mums with babies, bringing the courses to life. On my last day at Urban Ashram, an introductory talk on Yoga Therapy was well attended and the proceeds were handed over to Deborah as a small contribution to the Shiphrah or to the small children’s home that she also runs. Heartfelt thanks to Ines Marti (Dharan Gian Kaur) who carried out some of the most life-changing case-studies I have ever come across among marginalised women in poor suburbs of Manila after attending the first perinatal course at Urban Ashram in 2012 reluctantly, with an opening statement that she had little interest in pregnancy, birth or babies…Ines joined me and Sally for a refresher with the Rainbow Kids Yoga training in Vietnam later in the year and since then her role has been crucial in the creation of a true Birthlight community around Urban Ashram, fulfilling the ideal we expressed not to offer birthlight yoga only to the affluent yoga practitioners in town but also to the women who need this yoga most in the deprived areas. Links are now being consolidated with the Shiphrah birthing home and teachers from Urban Ashram can make practical contributions through their case studies and perhaps continue on with community classes.

The Philippines has a high Maternal Mortality Rate (230 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2009), which ranks it 48th in the world, well behind its neighbours Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The main causes of death include haemorrhaging, high blood pressure and sepsis (blood poisoning), all of which are preventable with proper diagnosis and intervention.  And the seems impossible for the Philippine government, as the country lags far behind the Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) of reducing the maternal mortality rate to 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Deborah Gustafson, who has recently taken over from her mother Geri, the founder of the birthing home, and their staff at the Shiphrah Birthing Home attempt to make a difference by helping as many demographically marginalized women through pregnancy and childbirth as possible. The majority of their patients have a daily income of less than US$8 a day, but as Shiphrah is also one of the cheapest birthing home around, it provides a service for the community that almost anyone can afford.

‘Shiphrah Birthing Home is … a public centre where professional midwives help deliver babies of impoverished mothers, providing pre- and postnatal care, and family planning assistance…[and promoting] well-being for pregnant mothers and newborn babies…’

Shiphrah (pronounced Shif-ra) comes from the biblical story of Moses, in which two midwifes defy Herod by preventing the genocide of Hebrew boys. Shiphrah sees approximately 1,500 pregnant women a year, of whom a third will return for the birth of their next child, in comforting surroundings and amongst familiar and caring faces. The rest will opt for home birth or hospitalization. Each week, staff carry out 150 prenatal examinations and prenatal classes for up to 120 women. Shiphrah also supports the development of traditional Aeta midwives. Deborah and her mother believe strongly in self-control and choice: empowering women, and giving them the right to choose where and how, even if they have no control over when. Together they work to ensure a healthy, happy and dignified mother, and the birth of her child to be a safe, nurturing, and affirming event in her life, a privilege that we from more developed countries take for granted.

‘Midwifery services are [vital] to a healthy and safe pregnancy and childbirth. Worldwide, approximately 287 000 women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Most of these largely preventable deaths occur in low-income countries and in poor and rural areas…Many maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented if competent midwives assist women before, during and after childbirth and are able to refer them to emergency obstetric care when severe complications arise.’         ~ The World Health Organization

In parallel to the developing relationship with Shiphrah, it was also a pleasure to welcome Zeny in the Postnatal course. Coach Zeny has helped a lot of women through her breastfeeding support. She recently published a book called Breastfeeding journeys, straight from the Coach. And she also keeps a blog, to empower women, by sharing her experience with others. Her warm and open personality, readiness to help and love for what she does make Zeny the most popular coach in Manila. We are honored that she has opted to incorporate some of the birthlight postpartum and postnatal practices in her support of new mothers.

*credits to article published in ANZA News, July/August issue, 2013

Giving article  Dharan Gian Kaur (Ines Marti)  below (pdf)