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Family Planning

Sister Alegría del Señor
On Reconciliation (January 2015)

Dear Editor: When I saw Friend Richard Grossman’s letter to the editor on reproduction (Nov-Dec 2014), my heart leapt for joy. I am a contemplative Methodist-Quaker nun living on the north coast of Honduras, and I volunteer once a week at the Public Health Clinic in Limón, Colón. My experiences as a pediatrician are typical of any part-time health care provider in rural Honduras.

One day in July 2014, I gave consults for a newborn and his 36-year-old mother. I had been very concerned about her two years before (2012), when she was nearing the delivery date of her fourteenth child. She had contracted a viral vomiting and diarrheal illness; this, coupled with her chronic overwork and undernutrition, put her at risk for the upcoming delivery. I made a passionate case for her to go to the hospital to give birth, in contrast to her first thirteen deliveries at home. “A family without a mother is not a family!” (Don’t forget, this is Honduras.) There is such a thing as exhausted uterus. Just because a woman can get pregnant doesn’t mean that her uterus still has the oomph it needs to push that baby out. I prayed for her. I admit, mostly I prayed that she would go to the hospital. She didn’t. All went well enough.

The 2014 baby (#15) came as a surprise to me. “Judge not” is super important advice for a nun who provides health care. Mostly, I was relieved that she was alive. I ask the routine questions: “Where did you give birth?” “In the hospital in Tocoa.” Then, in response to my look of surprise, “I spent three days in labor and the baby didn’t come.” Now I nod in understanding.

Soon I come to another routine question: “Did you have the operation done?” (Vocabulary lesson: “The operation” is well understood in this area. It is tubal ligation, female sterilization.) Answer: “No. They told me I would have to buy the gauze and gloves and other stuff. I couldn’t do that.” So she came home, still fertile, with her fifteenth child.

The hospital has materials for the poorest of the poor who cannot buy them, for women exactly like her. Well, not quite exactly like her - for poor women who are articulate and will advocate for themselves. She is not articulate and does not advocate for herself. She doesn’t receive the “free” materials; she doesn’t receive the operation. She accepts all of this matter-of-factly.

This is the twenty-first century. Women are not kept barefoot and pregnant. She wears flip-flops – at least when she comes to town to the clinic.

– Sister Alegría del Señor, Amigas del Señor Methodist Monastery, Limón, Colón, Honduras

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