Last week, visits to two mothers of new babies gave a new perspective on the complications refugees encounter in their transition to life in a new country. Both mothers had given birth before, but in different countries, and under very different circumstances. The Karen mother, whose previous children had been born in a refugee camp, was overwhelmed by the pre-natal check-ups - something neither had experienced before. The time, the need to arrange transport and translation, and the check-ups themselves were unexpected.
The Sudanese mother was struggling to believe that germs that you cannot see can cause sickness and death. A volunteer from the Refugee Network provided materials, demonstrated more thorough cleaning and storage procedures, especially in the kitchen, and provided containers for storing rice and cereal.
Both mothers were traumatized by having to be in a hospital for the birth. In their experience before coming to the United States, anyone entering a hospital was unlikely to come out alive. The birth process, not assisted by female relatives, was something they could not even imagine. Then they could not leave the hospital without a car seat, even though they did not own a car!
The process of obtaining a birth certificate was also puzzling. They did not know the actual date of birth of any of their previous children, only the season. Now there are check-ups both for the mother and the baby, and a host of new requirements to be adjusted to, as the baby grows.
In these transitions, the presence of trusted guides, supporters, and outreach workers who can translate, makes a huge difference.