We met Monica in Bangladesh, a country where 91% of all births occur outside a hospital. In Bangladesh cultural barriers deter pregnant women from seeking proper health care. There is not only a sense of fear surrounding hospitals, but delivering a child outside of the home invokes a feeling of shame as well. Monica was 27 and pregnant with her second child, living in a slum in Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka. Monica told us, "I have heard people say that at the hospital, babies are taken away and sold. Then I heard from someone that a woman had given birth to a baby who was healthy but then the baby died."
Yasmine,a community midwife from BRAC's Manoshi project, was able to convince Monica to get an ultrasound at the hospital because she was past her due date. Monica reluctantly visited the hospital, and was treated brashly by doctors who criticized her for not knowing her medical history.
We were worried that her uncomfortable experience at the hospital would undermine her confidence in delivering with a skilled birth assistant. Sure enough, when Monica went into labor she had an untrained birth assistant come to her home. After a few hours she began to bleed and in a panic found a rickshaw driver who agreed to take her to the hospital at two in the morning. She told us, "since I live in a slum I decided to tolerate the pain. I didn't want everybody to start talking about me. If you let one person know, everybody finds out." At the hospital the doctors were able to stabilize Monica and control the bleeding.
We learned from Monica's story that having access to proper medical care is not enough, if there are underlying cultural stigmas and barriers that prevent women from seeking care when they need it. Shortly after delivering her son, Monica and her sons reunited with her husband in the countryside.