In early November, I was overjoyed to be with many of you at the gathering so graciously hosted in Guatemala by our sister/brother Affiliates there. At that time, I shared the somewhat bittersweet news that the work of the Casa Materna would end December 31st. We are grateful that we have fulfilled our primary goal of providing services for rural mothers with high-risk pregnancies, reducing maternal death here in Nicaragua.
When Casa Materna MAJ received our first mothers in October of 1991, here and throughout the world maternal death was called “the silent epidemic.” There were no news broadcasts or headlines that called attention to “a maternal death every moment of every day.” Programs such as ours were greatly bolstered by the United Nations Millenium Development goals, and maternal death throughout the world has been greatly reduced, close to 50%. In 2012, the Nicaraguan government reported a 75% decrease here.
Through the years, my letters sought to give you a sense of being right here with us in our sacred work of accompaniment, and many of you have come to visit and help out. Thanks to generous friends in the North, we have welcomed more than 17,750 mothers and newborns. Of that number, there have been only two maternal deaths, and neither Nicolasa nor Susana died in the Casa. We know that your prayerful accompaniment of our staff and mothers brought about this miraculous blessing.
The path has not always been smooth. We nearly lost the Casa in 1995 when fewer than 2,000 mothers had been attended. Thus, we will be forever grateful to the mothers and midwives who gathered together to “take back the Casa” and reinstate the staff. The subsequent “rebirth of the Casa,” also helped reconfirm the staff’s commitment to loving care and financial accountability.
But the Casa was not meant to continue forever. We had set out to ensure that women did not die in childbirth in Nicaragua and we were able to make significant strides. Adopting the model we had set up in 1991, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health has now developed over 177 Casa Maternas throughout the country. However, the government has also decided that “mothers will be attended only in their Casas.” Jackie, a longtime community leader and Casa friend in our Detroit Circle of Support recently said to me, “Well, Kitty, it seems like you folks have worked yourselves out of business.” And then she smiled and heartily congratulated me, adding, “And, isn’t that our hope for every project we start?”
While grateful to all of the Affiliates who have supported our work,my special thanks go to the Sacramento, CA, Affiliates who, through Bob and Nancy Link, have been a Circle of Support for us for the past eight years.
As we approach our final days of service, we are consoled to know that the legacy of the Casa continues. It lives on in each mother and child and in their families. It also lives on in the Maryknoll Affiliate community that has so lovingly accompanied us in our “heart work.” As Ram Dass reminds us, “in the end, we are just walking each other home.”