„I believe, that all Colombian women and families will be able to receive maternity services that are safe and accessible. The supplies shall be based on evidence and provided with all appropriate respect to the mothers – for a healthy beginning of a new life.“
On first steps
„Everything counts! When you move towards your goal, see every single little step as a great progress.“
visionary midwife & global health alumni
On the four-day jungle hike to „The Lost City“ in the north of Colombia I met Luise, a close friend and university colleague of Ana. We came to talk about my project and one of Luise’s first responses was: „You have to meet Ana!“ Luise connected us and a couple of weeks later I met Ana in Bogotá. Luise didn’t promise too much.
„It was 9 PM and the doctor decided to make a caesarean section without even asking the heavily pregnant women if she agrees on that severe – and in that case unnecessary – intervention. She already gave birth five years ago to a healthy baby. I suppose, he just wanted to go home and didn’t want to wait for hours until the lady could give birth to her child naturally.“ Ana Vélez shares her experience when she was invited to a hospital in Cartagena, Colombia, to witness child birth standards. Her voice sounds concerned. What she describes stands exemplarily for a maternity system that lacks both dignity for women and respect for their needs: „Stories like these can be told throughout the whole country. It happens way too often in Colombia.“
Ana spent several years in Europe
She started her nursing studies in 2005, finished in 2008 and moved to London afterwards to start working as a nurse. She became a midwife in 2012 and became familiar with the British maternity system: „More power is given to the pregnant women. Doctors, midwives and families decide in accordance with each other and with the natural process.“ When Ana came back to Colombia after seven years in London, she was confronted with a system that lacks nearly all what she had appreciated so much in the United Kingdom. „I started to research on the maternity system in my home country. That was when I realized how difficult things here really are for women.“
Midwife is not a profession in Colombia
„Natural childbirth here is more associated with shamanic rituals than with a serious occupation. It’s rather something esoteric than a serious occupation“, Anna tells. In 2015, the maternal mortality ratio in Colombia was 64 per 100.000 live births. The United Kingdom counts 9, Austria 4. „90 percent of the births take place in hospitals, but women are not treated well there. Mostly the doctor tells them what to do without asking for permission or explaining anything. We call that obstetric violence, where the wishes and desires of the women are not respected at all.“
Colombia is home of 87 indigenous tribes
Hence a lot of knowledge is stored in traditional birth attendance, which is passed on from generation to generation. „This knowledge is not acknowledged in Colombia at all, although it could help so many pregnant women on the secluded countryside that don’t have access to hospitals“, Ana describes the status quo. She has volunteered and worked with several tribes to learn about their skills and exchange knowledge with them. The maternal mortality ratio amongst indigenous people is about five times higher than in the rest of the country. „The goal is to identify alarm signs and train safe practices of child birth while reinforcing their traditional knowledge.“
Ana just finished her master degree in global health
She returned to Colombia for many reasons, first and foremost to contribute what she has learned in Europe to improve the system in her home country:
„Being part of a well running system as in London was not what made me happy on the long run. That’s my comfort zone there. I can earn good money with a job I like and the profession is well respected in the British society. I can help women giving birth, but I realized that I am not making an impact on a bigger scale.“
„I have the dream to improve the system. I know, it’s a long way, it’s going to take years and needs a lot of political will. But I believe in the change and I want to contribute my skills to improve the system. Little by little.“
The next steps
Ana’s goal is to develop a humanized childbirth, where interventions are negotiated upon the patients needs and desires on eye level. „We need to give back the power to the women. This is how it works in Europe and this should be state of the art in Colombia too.“ The road is not clear yet, for the system is incredibly complex. Ana has ideas though about how to climb this huge mountain. „After I finished my studies in June I want to go back to London for a while – to make new contacts and learn more about the field. Working more with the indigenous tribes in Colombia is also part of my personal project.“ Armed with this rather unique set of skills and knowledge she wants to go deeper into the political processes that are crucial for the change she longs for.
One doesn’t need to see the whole path. Essential is knowing the next steps, the willpower to take them and trust in the process.
Find Ana Vélez on Facebook or connect with her via e-mail: email@example.com