Unsung Heroines: Traditional Midwives in Kenya and Africa at Large
Her name is *Elizabeth Nasieku. I met her as a young journalist seeking stories about women and maternal health over ten years ago. Her courage and amazing knowledge have remained with me to this day. I appreciate her more especially now that I have had my own children, two of them very difficult births and one a still birth. I wish everywoman and mother to be had a Nasieku at her side.
At over 80 years of age, Nasieku was a celebrated traditional Birth Attendant in Ewaso Kedong, Kajiado County. She had delivered hundreds if not thousands of babies successfully, yet she had never set foot in a classroom, let alone a medical school.
She told me she learnt the craft from her grandmother, whom she was named after. According to tradition, she was expected to follow in her namesake's footsteps, no questions asked.
So Nasieku the apprentice followed her grandmother when she went to collect herbs in the bushes and helped her prepare remedies for expectant mothers, and when a woman came to deliver in her grannies manyatta, Nasieku held the lamp and learnt by seeing and by asking questions, so that when her turn came, years later, she would be the best midwife that she could be.
Years later, in 2000, Nasieku herself old, wise and strong, had delivered thousands of babies and trained other women to follow in her footsteps. This she did in her humble manyatta, with only an old mat for a bed, a blade for each mother and a specially made thread for tying the cord and of course the carefully prepared herbs she gave mothers before, during and after birth.
She told me she knew when a baby was in breech just by touching the mother's belly and how to turn the baby around, she also knew when the baby was too large to pass through the birth canal and what to do to help should a mother bleed excessively.
Nasieku's prowess was legendary and women came from far and wide to deliver in her manyatta. Her beneficiaries share freely how valuable she is, how she saved their lives and that of their babies.
Sadly though, women like Nasieku are seldom recognized or celebrated for the work they do with little more than a mother's instinct and love for the mother and child to work with.
These are the true heroes of our time because without these Traditional Birth Attendants(TBAs) thousands of women in remote kenya who are under-served by modern medicine would surely die at child birth.