Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Power of Purpose

Pamela Putney has dedicated her life to improving women’s health around the world, bringing her knowledge and passion to such far-off places as Zambia, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Guatemala, Egypt, and Bolivia.

I am honored to have met Pam at the beginning of her journey (see my post of 8/27/09) and grateful to have had her by my side in 1976 as I went through my first pregnancy.

In her own words, here is an excerpt from her story:
Thirty-three years ago as a young student nurse I was sent into the delivery room of a large teaching hospital to witness my first birth and watched helplessly as an obstetrician and medical student brutalized the woman as she screamed in pain.

In that moment I made a silent vow to dedicate the rest of my life to making the childbirth experience more humane.  I became a midwife.

The word midwife comes from Greek, meaning “with women.” Midwives sometimes joke they are “the second oldest profession.”

From time immemorial midwives have attended women during their most intimate moments as advocates, healers and sages, often at great risk to their lives. Many women burned at the stake were midwives. They were too involved in matters of life, death and sex, and knew too many secrets.

As families place more faith in technology than in honoring the natural processes and birth becomes more medicalized, we are losing a profound connection to the mystery of life.

The ancient art of midwifery is dying.

After years of attending births at home and hospitals in the United States, I began working in other countries to improve health care for women, children and families.

The situation with maternal deaths in developing countries is a human-rights issue. Almost 1,500 women a day still die in childbirth, one every single minute. Six hundred thousand women a year. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths take place in developing countries, and almost all are preventable with access to low-cost basic care.

My sister midwives and the few enlightened physicians who are supportive inspire me to keep going despite the constant challenges of working in dangerous places and negotiating corrupt systems in countries where women’s lives have little value….

Women sometimes stop me in the street in places like Cairo, Katmandu, and La Paz and say, “Do you remember me? You delivered my baby many years ago. I’ll never forget how kind you were, how you gave me the confidence to give birth.”

Yes, I remember. I hold every single one of you in my heart. Though it fills me with gladness to hear I was a source of comfort to you in your time of need, I owe you a debt so great it could never be repaid.

To all the thousands of women around the world who entrusted me with their lives when they gave birth, I thank you. You gave me the ultimate gift. You taught me the power of purpose.


  1. How wonderful! I have a friend who went back to get her master's in midwifery and absolutely loves it.

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  2. Oooo, I needed a tissue for this post. So very beautiful. I think so often we see something we wish to change, but then let fear get in our way... I'm so glad Pam followed through. What an awesome gift to the world.

    ~Barbara Techel
    Author of Frankie, the Walk 'N Roll Dog

  3. Barbara & Diane-- Both of YOU are a gift to the world as well.