Our “Casting a Wider Net” series features mothers around the world whose voices have typically been excluded from the blogosphere, due to lack of access to the internet, low literacy or poverty. This feature aims to include their important and distinct perspectives with interviews and occasional video clips.
Peng is a soft spoken but opinionated housekeeper who is meticulous, professional and very kind. Like many of her peers, she switched careers to become a housekeeper because it pays more money. After finishing high school, her father paid for her to attend trade school to become a trained cook, after which she began working a stable but odd hours catering job in a big hotel here in the capital city of Vientiane. Despite her burgeoning restaurant career, after one year Peng’s father advised her to become the housekeeper of his then foreigner boss instead, not only because it paid more but offered more reasonable hours and a nice environment in a large, well appointed home. She hasn’t looked back on her restaurant career and still agrees today that being a housekeeper for foreigners pays more than restaurant work as an assistant cook, even in large establishments.
The only time Peng has stopped working was when she became a mother to her daughter, Cofie, and raised her at home for her first four years. Cofie was born in 2001, in a small hospital near Peng’s house on the outskirts of the city. Peng said that she chose this particular hospital to give birth because it was close by and not as crowded as the main government run Mahosot Hospital. And good thing that it was nearby her home because she was turned back twice within two days after her initial contraction pains started. On the third day, the doctors told her to walk around the outdoor courtyard to hasten the birth, which she did surrounded by her mother, father, sister, husband and a whole band of caring relatives. But when it came time for her to go into the delivery room, she said she was in so much pain that she didn’t want anyone else near her but the doctor and shoo’d everyone away, even her husband! And when the child came, she was filled with joy and relief that the pain was finally over. She could not believe that she was now a mother!
It came as a surprise to me when I asked Peng how expensive it was for her to give birth inside a hospital here in Laos that she responded casually, “Oh not much… at a government hospital,” as if it was the norm, when in my research about the high maternal/child mortality rate (470/100,000) here indicates that 80% of the population gives birth at home and only 20% gives birth with skilled birth attendants. The fact is, she is in the capital city where there is easy access to hospitals and clinics, and government hospitals are practically free of charge for child birth except for nominal fees paid for doctors (unless it is a c-section, surgery is extremely expensive).
“Well, then how about pre-natal care?”, I asked her (knowing again that it is practically non-existent in most of Laos). I was jaw-dropped stunned to hear that she had prenatal checkups once a month, with an ultrasound at seven months, after which she had twice weekly checkups until eight months and weekly checkups until birth! Wow! And all of it is free, even the vitamins given to her at each visit. The ultrasound cost her at the time 20,000kip (~USD3.00).
So with good prenatal care and a healthy birth in a hospital with nurses and a doctor attending, Peng was able to give Cofie a pretty good start in life, but wait. It gets even better: Peng’s doctor advised her to breast feed for at least six months and up to a year or more, if she could. She was also told that if Cofie drank breast milk that she wouldn’t need to give her water like most Lao mothers do for a variety of reasons, including fear of dehydration, difficult lactation, convenience so others can “feed” the baby, and lack of money to purchase formula or powdered milk. Peng took her doctor’s advice to heart and breastfed Cofie until she was over 1 ½ years old! That is great considering most of her peers tend to give up soon after birth, despite her good example and advice. I asked how Cofie was weaned she laughed a slightly ashamed wicked laugh motioning how she put chili water on her nipples to turn Cofie off the breast! Unconventional, but it worked.
Cofie is now a healthy, smart, happy twelve year old who’s mother works hard in order to provide her with as many advantages in life as she can possibly afford. Peng pays tuition for her to attend a private school which has fewer students, longer hours, and shorter summer breaks. She also pays for Cofie to attend English school every evening. She works very hard to make that happen.
Every mother wants the best for their children, from the time they are inside our womb until their years well beyond our days with them. Peng is a beacon of hope that with good prenatal care, safe birth, and a sound nutritional start, that children in Laos can have a great healthy beginning, too, just like Cofie.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow, in Vientiane, Laos. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
Photo credit to the author.