Hope is Born

Posted Apr 09, 2009 by 4 Comments

This article is the second in a series by our freelance writer Maeven Mendoza, who spent last summer in Malawi. If you haven’t read her first article yet, feel free to check it out!


We carefully stepped into the dimly lit maternity house, cool mud plastering the walls, mats distributed on the floor. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and for my head to realize what was about to happen.

A Malawian birthing room.  No free HBO here.

A Malawian birthing room. No free HBO here.

Karen, my leader, and I followed the midwife to the back room, where we were invited to sit and left to wonder where the expecting mother was. As walls and objects continued to come into focus, I noticed her. She was lying on the ground in the room next to us, the outline of her body illuminated by the glow of a lantern.

The darkness and silence surprised me! Maybe American TV has conditioned me to believe that birth is a loud event… lots of yelling, Lamaze breathing, husbands fainting, doctors running—and all under nauseating, florescent hospital lights. I’ve seen Father of the Bride II way too many times.

But this night was different. The mud birthing center was cool and calm, ambient, and peaceful.

A Malawian midwife.

A Malawian midwife.

The midwife invited Karen and I into the birthing room. It was time to check the position of the baby inside the mother. I was surprised to see a cardboard box of latex gloves on top of a worn, wooden shelf. Where the heck do they get latex gloves in the middle of the Bush? I couldn’t even get coffee! But I put on my latex gloves and was guided by the midwife’s hand to where the baby’s head was. The landscape of the mother’s stomach was a mixture of soft and firm as I felt the outline of the baby’s body inside of her. It would be another couple of hours before the she was dilated and ready to push.

Pastor Phiri, Karen, and I used that time to drive back down the mountain and to Namanda Village to gather more supplies: sleeping bags, dinner, a lantern.

Two hours later, we arrived for the second time at the birthing center; nervous we would miss the big moment.

It did not take long.

By the time Karen and I were situated next to the aunts and agogos (Chichewa for “grandmothers”), we heard the mother cry out for the midwife. Grabbing a small stool to sit on, Karen and I followed the midwife into the birthing room.

Holding baby Catherine for the first time...

Holding baby Catherine for the first time...

Twenty minutes later, I was the first to hold her. I was astounded, thinking it unusual for this mother to let a young, white girl hold her newborn before anyone else. But I trusted the Malawians around me to interpret the situation from their cultural standpoint. The mother wanted her guests to share in the birth of her baby. What a gift!

After tying and cutting the umbilical chord, the midwife took the baby from the black plastic sheet outstretched underneath the mother and placed her in my arms. I was so elated and humbled to see this wiggly, beautiful girl handed to me. And I cradled her with fear and trembling.

Her face was like soft clay, creamy and fresh. Her tiny body still wet and slippery, wrapped in a faded chitengi.

At this moment, I was aware that I was experiencing one of those unique times when the gift, and the realization of the gift come packaged together. I was acutely in the moment, feeling the weight and wonder of it all.

There is definitely more to be said about this night. I could write a book- one chapter for every minute. I could write about how Karen had the privilege of naming the child Catherine, and why she chose that name. I could recount the story of when we took Catherine and her mom home, and how Catherine’s grandmother came out of the house, wrapped in nothing but a chitengi, and held her new granddaughter close to her breast and cried, “God has blessed us! God has blessed us!”

Baby Catherine.  Welcome to the world!

Baby Catherine. Welcome to the world!

I could tell about the moments after the birth when I sat with Catherine’s aunts and oohed and aahed over her wide eyes and wrinkly toes. There was a lot of “woman” in that room, and I never felt more awake to all the emerging maternal parts of my 21-year-old self.

I could write about all of that, but I’ll just say this instead:

Watching Catherine be born was one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me. It brought hope that all of the incubated brokenness in me would one day be delivered into something beautiful and fresh, and uniquely purposed.

I take time to remember this now as I sit in the middle of the night with mountains of homework and requests of all the things I wish to be delivered from, in the middle of Indiana, far from Africa and that night. I sit here and remember the hope.

Catherine- Peace and joy and provision to you, baby girl.

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About the Author: Maeven Mendoza is a freelance journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from Indiana Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in International and Community Development, and is now pursuing a master’s in Social Work from Indiana University.

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  1. Kathy Whitesell said... 


    April 9th, 2009 at 3:25 pm  

    Lovely article. Great correlation with what God does with our lives. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Mable Mendoza said... 


    April 17th, 2009 at 4:06 pm  

    Uniquely purposed: this describes both you and Catherine. “There was a lot of ‘woman’ in the room”….what a great description of maternal love and support.

  3. rob said... 


    July 9th, 2009 at 12:58 pm  

    Every day, all over the world, the gift of life. Yet so few of us remember, til yet again we have taken the time to stop and look. Thanks for letting us see.

  4. Nick Kirongo said... 


    February 26th, 2010 at 12:53 am  

    Wow, a great reading. somebody once told me that there is always relief even in the midst of grief. I hope anyone who stereotypes Africa out there reads this. God bless

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