I reach out to shake the hand of 32-year-old Nobel Prize Award nominee for 2015. Smiling, and her eyes lighting up behind her reading glasses, Esther Madudu sits on a chair directly opposite me in the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) boardroom.
I later learn this woman has delivered about 50 to 60 babies a month for the past 11 years she has worked as a midwife. Including Tiriri Healthcare Centre in Soroti District where she currently works, Madudu has worked in five hospitals since 2001 when she first started out with her practicing certificate from Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery.
The makings of Madudu the midwife
Madudu explains she almost passed over her dream to be a midwife to join police force due to insufficient funds for school fees. Growing up in a polygamous home did not give her much confidence to count on her father for her school needs. “I eventually completed O-Level at Lwala Girls in Kaberamaido District after skipping terms of school,” she recalls.
Madudu, the dedicated midwife
Preferring to keep her reasons for separation with the father of her two children private, Madudu has left her nine and three-year old children under the care of her mother to focus on her work. Questioning which mother would give up raising her children, she discloses that she lost a baby in 2007 in Soroti Hospital because there was no midwife to conduct the delivery.
“I watched my new baby gasp for breath. There was no one to resuscitate it. I tried to feed it but it died in my arms. The midwife on duty was in a meeting,” Madudu recounts. She says she did not lose the passion to be there for women during deliveries, but instead resolved to save other women from undergoing similar experiences.
Growing up, Madudu also shared a close relationship with her grandmother, a traditional birth attendant. “I first watched a delivery of a baby when I was in Primary Four or Five. Before that, I only watched women in pain with bulging bellies visit grandmother only to later leave with smiles on their faces,” she lights up as she says this.
Today, she says each time she delivers a baby is her happiest moment on the job. “The first cry of the child fills everyone’s heart in the ward with joy,” she says.
Going the extra mile
The urge to help women have safe deliveries has in the past pushed Madudu to conduct deliveries in the night with a phone in her mouth. She used the torch on the phone as light during deliveries when the Tiriri Health Care Centre had no access to electricity.
An article in the the Guardian Journalist in 2011 about her experience using a mobile phone light during deliveries would mark the start of Madudu’s collaboration with AMREF in 2011 as the face of the organisation’s Stand Up for African Mothers campaign. The initiative is aiming at training an additional 15,000 midwives by 2015.
In 2012, Madudu won the Real Award offered by Frontline Health Workers Coalition and Save the Children. The Real award recognises frontline health workers around the world who are protecting health and saving lives daily. In reaction to the recognition, Madudu calmly says, “I took it easy because it was a reflection of my hard work. With my background though, I had never dreamt of being recognised internationally, so it was motivating.” Beaming, she says her day begins at about 5.30am with housework and cooking at her home, which is a few meters from the hospital. She arrives at the Tiriri Health Care Centre at 8am, does general cleaning, makes rounds in the antenatal ward, checks on admitted mothers and attends to other midwifery duties that may arise like conducting deliveries. Grateful for the increase from two to four midwives this year at the Tiriri Health Care Centre, Madudu leaves the centre at 6pm or 5pm, depending on the demand for her services.
Madudu acknowledges she is living her dream. With her 11-year expertise in midwifery, it is difficult to believe her first time to conduct a delivery was a nervous wreck for her. “Gloves are slippery so I was scared , trembling and the funny bit was when I failed to cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors and requested for a razor blade yet it could even be cut with thread,” Madudu says, leaning back in her chair and laughing out loud at herself.
Doing nothing else in life but midwifery, this queen of the labour ward identifies her most disappointing scenarios as those when she refers a woman in labour to a referral hospital. “Since the midwives at referral hospitals have degrees, they abuse a midwife with a certificate overlooking our efforts and hard work,” she explains.
The good, bad and hilarious moments
Funniest moments: A young girl of about 14 years of age was in labour and she took off all her clothes, swore and sang a song that, “I will never go back to fornication.”She asked the nurses to call the father of her child so that she could say her last words and even asked for a Bible but after delivery, the pain was history.
Blood! Blood is something normal to me. I could take a cup of tea as I monitor and wait for a mother to deliver her second twin.
Are all midwives rude? Every human being has expectations as to how they would like to be treated. A midwife is like a soldier at a battle frontline. She wants to see a living mother and a crying baby at the end of the delivery. A midwife usually tightens up when the mother is not coping because once the baby or mother dies, she has a number of people to answer to.
Worst moment: It was when a mother pushed a baby with the bums out first. I had to pull out one leg first and then the other, slowly pulling out the baby. I then resuscitated the mother who had lost consciousness. They both survived.