Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism. Here, she tells us about her work in Uganda, where she created an eco-birthing center to support expectant mothers, their children and the planet.
What are the risks a mother in Uganda faces during childbirth?
There are so many. Sometimes, out of fear or too great distances, the mother won’t go to a clinic but will choose to give birth at home, where she runs the risk of having the umbilical cord cut by a rusty knife or scissor, which can create infection. Also when a baby is born out in the village, the mother can easily bleed out if there aren’t the necessary instruments to help stitch or deal with hemorrhaging.
Unfortunately, a lot of the clinics don’t have contemporary devices to support the mother – and the mother and child could die for the same reasons as in the bush.
When I was in a clinic I saw a lot of fear and panic. Midwives hit the birthing mothers – told them not to cry or scream. These mothers also had to provide their own plastic bags, which they gave birth onto.
What is the risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS to the child?
I believe that 65% of the rural communities, where we work, have HIV. Rape is also very prevalent. The child of the young girl that I helped deliver was – I’m quite sure -- the product of rape. And of course when you’re dealing with rape, you’re dealing with the additional risk of HIV.
If a mother is HIV positive, there’s a risk that it will be transmitted to the child through vaginal birth. That risk then rises when the mother starts to breastfeed.
There is an injection that can be given to the mother prior to giving birth to prevent the child from contracting HIV. Unfortunately, it’s probably too expensive for the mother – at around $4.
What inspired you to build an eco-birthing center in Uganda?
I met a woman named Natalie Angell who was creating an organization – Shanti Uganda. Her focus was HIV/AIDS and how it relates to women and infant-mother mortality issues in Uganda.
She was providing a solution to a problem, and I wanted to help her create this kind of safe and effective environment to give birth in. That’s how the eco-birthing center came to be.
It could have been any Third World country. Unfortunately the circumstances are largely the same – when you’re dealing with poverty and illiteracy, you’re going to deal with circumstances around birth that are unsafe, unsanitary, and in some cases, unsacred.
Uganda happened to be a country we focused on because of the genocide – and we tend to focus on cultures that have dealt with trauma.
What is an eco-birthing center?
First of all, all the materials are natural and sourced from the local environment: We use the earth, the hay and water to create the brick mixture. And then the bricks sun bake. Water that has been used is reused as gray water. It’s run on solar. So it’s a sustainable environment.
The birthing center itself has a birthing house where the midwives and birthing attendants can all get together and take classes on HIV, safe birthing practices, contemporary birth practices and traditional birthing practices.
The birthing house offers traditional beds as well as alternative means for childbirth (like bathtubs and squatting areas). We really try to create an environment that supports women in their birthing practice, whatever that is for them.
Building the eco-birthing center
What have you seen in Uganda that has given you hope?
So much. I’ll give you a beautiful story – we went to build a 7-room schoolhouse in an area that didn’t have access to education.
We had made 400 bricks which had sundried. We were trying to figure out the most effective way to move them all the way across the field. One of the girls collected all the children and 400 of them got in a line and passed the bricks to the other side of the field. I was at the head of this line, which meant my job was the worst. This little boy – he must have been 11 – pushed me aside and took my job. He was pouring sweat. But I could see the pride in him. He knew he was building his school. He was taking responsibility for this.
Those were the experiences that gave me hope for the future – the children and their potential.
What can those in The Women's Conference community do to improve maternal health nationally and globally?
There’s so much. Just going into your local community and putting together boxes to send to these rural environments helps. They get used.
There’s also an organization in the U.S. called Birthing from Within that is remarkable. Or you can go to ShantiUganda.org to donate.
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression and inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both the physical and mystical aspects of the practice of yoga. For more on Seane Corn, visit SeaneCorn.com.