Megan and I Co-chaired the UNICEF Next Generation Steering Committee in Los Angeles for 3 years before the fabulous Kelly Wilson took over for us this year. Megan was a founding member of the New York Steering Committee and encouraged me to apply in 2012. We both had the privilege of going on field visits while on the New York Steering Committee – I traveled to Ethiopia and Megan went to Guatemala. Both of us got to see first hand the incredible ways in which our fundraising efforts positively impacted children. Since then, both Megan and I have become mothers, and we wanted to share how motherhood has offered a new perspective on those experiences.
I will never forget the way I felt when I walked into the neonatology unit at the hospital in Addis Ababa. There were empty beds next to some of the mothers in the postpartum area of the unit, empty not because the babies were elsewhere in the hospital, but because they had died shortly after birth. I was overcome with emotion, as were others traveling with us as part of the 2011 NextGen Field Visit to Ethiopia. How was it possible that these mothers, in a hospital in the 21st century, were forced to endure the loss of a child for reasons that in other countries were entirely preventable? As we continued touring the unit, led by the inimitable neonatologist, Dr. Muluarem, we learned how much of an impact NextGen’s $150,000 donation would have on Dr. Muluarem’s patients and their newborns. The equipment provided by UNICEF would equip the first neonatology intensive care unit. This equipment would help to ensure that mothers would no longer have to endure the loss of a baby shortly after birth.
While I was so incredibly moved at the neonatology unit in Ethiopia, and motivated to continue to fundraise and advocate on behalf of UNICEF, experiencing a NICU in a different way, as a mother myself, profoundly and tangibly deepened my connection to those mothers at the hospital in Addis.
I’m not sure I can express in words the experience that is childbirth. Or my experience I should say. The anticipation, the excitement, the fear, the pain…it’s all so overwhelming. And the moment I met her, I don’t think I’ve ever screamed and cried like that in my life. It was just the most visceral, all consuming kind of love. And I felt it on the spot. So, when my baby was almost immediately whisked away from me because she wasn’t breathing well, I was inconsolable. I didn’t understand. She was taken to the NICU where she stayed for 4 days on oxygen. She was given antibiotics for pneumonia as a prophylactic measure until the doctors could determine what was wrong with her. She was monitored constantly, and supported by able machines. She had all the advantages that modern medicine and technology could provide.
So now, when I think about the fact that a NICU saved my own daughter, I am even more inspired to do what I can to ensure that others around the world have the same opportunities that she did… that other babies around the world do not needlessly die from childbirth-related issues that, with the proper technology and equipment, are relatively minor.
Megan Ferguson Evers-Swindell
Much like Bettina, I found the experience of becoming a new mother to be humbling in its intensity and emotion. At once you feel so heroic for bringing a little baby into the world via childbirth and then you realize that every mother walking the planet has shared that journey with you. And then very soon the stark reality of how different our experience of motherhood is from mothers in Ethiopia or Guatemala sets in. Every mother is consumed with a case of the "what ifs" - luckily I had the wonderful support of pre and post-natal care to ease all of my concerns. And as my daughter reaches her first birthday this month - I realize even more the amount of support it takes to raise a healthy child. Our fundraising work which provided basic care for mothers in Ethiopia and Guatemala now takes on a special meaning. Knowing that we brought some support and peace of mind to fellow mamas through pre-natal and nutritional care brings me such happiness. Being a mother immediately binds you to every other mother - a valuable reminder of our human connection. A mother's love will go pretty far, but I am happy to know that UNICEF is there to supplement that love with the medical care every child deserves. Everyone call your mama!