Hamlin Alumni: Ruth Kennedy, When a Midwife Arrived at Hamlin

Ruth Kennedy is a Scottish midwife who grew up in Brazil. Ruth first met Dr Catherine Hamlin in 1991. Below is the first in a series of her blogs about her experience working with Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

She was young, small in stature, only a child… she was lying in a head down prone position, with her knees tucked up under her on the basic operating table. This was the small mission hospital where I was working in Chad, Africa.

This little woman was a survivor of childbirth, but her baby died. Most days as a midwife in the early 1980s, women were brought in more dead than alive. If the baby were alive, s/he would be spotted between the moribund woman’s breasts. I would quickly take the baby until we could confirm death or life of the mother. Otherwise both babe and mother would be buried.

No telephone, no internet, simply a shortwave radio manned once or twice a day was our contact with the outside world and my small shortwave radio… BBC News seemed so remote! I had books and magazines and anything readable. It was in the mid-1980s that I read in the Reader’s Digest about two surgeons in Addis Ababa caring and repairing women with childbirth injuries. They appeared to have a better technique that I had seen in the small operating theatre in Koumra. I was curious.

In 1991, after the downfall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia, I was led to go to that country. I wrote to Catherine Hamlin about possibly helping with prevention and health awareness programmes in Ethiopia. She replied that they were not ready for that yet. However, I decided that when I arrived in Addis Ababa, I would visit this hospital.

I did. I was in Language School to learn Amharic, so this place was an ideal environment to put into practice the main language of the country. I also soon realised that there were some eighty other languages!

“Who are you?” asked a tall, attractive lady with a rather posh voice. Of course, I recognised her. “I am Ruth Kennedy, a midwife.”

Thus, our friendship began…

Click here to read more stories from Hamlin Alumni.

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