Matagalpa is a community with a population about 20,000 fewer than Topeka. Local residents seem much more surprised to see us and the street-side shops sell daily necessities rather than tourist souvenirs.

Two guests of Casa Materna resting in the craft room with a mural of the center's founders.

Two guests of Casa Materna resting in the craft room with a mural of the center’s founders.

At Casa Materna, the 14 women currently staying there are from communities outside Matagalpa city. (Matagalpa also is the name of a district in Nicaragua.) The organization, funded primarily by donations from the United Staters, works to prevent maternal and infant mortality by providing education in many communities and the casa itself, which houses and provides health care to woman in the final weeks of pregnancy.

One woman, preparing to have her second child, lives an eight-hour bus ride away. She told us she already has been at Casa Materna for 15 days and is expecting her child in late January. Her local clinic encouraged her to come early the first time and she’s returned this time because she said she appreciated the care she received, and the rest from the toil of housework and other responsibilities.

Many of the women appreciated the rest of the Casa, and “the attention” they receive, including nutrition, regular care by a doctor, midwives and nurses. Nearly all of them had nicely painted toenails, a sign of the papering they do receive.

When a woman staying at Casa Materna goes into labor she is transferred to the local hospital to deliver the baby. Nearly all of the woman had received an ultrasound exam and 11 of the 14 knew the sex of their babies. The other three wanted to be surprised. In 2012, for example, 638 women were served at the Casa. Each of them, and their babies made it home.

Literature from Casa Materna suggests the women are experiencing high risk pregnancy. But when we spoke to them, each said they were referred because they were between 38 and 40 weeks pregnant. So, we looked into it. The CIA Factbook estimates that in 2013 the infant mortality rate in the country was 21.09 per 1,000 live births. We took that to mean every woman here has a high risk pregnancy.

We were able to ask all of our questions. Babies born as late as 29 weeks may not survive here, even if the mother is in the hospital at delivery. Most of the woman being served at Casa Materna now have some type of formal medical care in their communities. Each of them said their communities are well aware of the services provided.

Rachel said afterward she was glad to know the women were pampered and well cared for. She enjoyed the chance to hear from so many of them during our visit, too.

For Travis, the reality that problems easily addressed at home are major crisis for women here was difficult.

“These women are like my hero,” he said in a discussion afterward. “It’s crazy to think it’s 2014 and this stuff still happens.”

The Casa Materna logo, a baby held up in front of the sun with two doves flying above.

The Casa Materna logo, at the entrance to the center.


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