Pregnant Child in Afghanistan: Miriam's Story


Miriam was one of the lucky ones. She was visited by a midwife who taught her what to expect when she went into labor. It was her first lesson about surviving the treacherous journey of birth. Her only weapon: a pregnancy kit containing soap, gloves, and a sterile razor.

With two months to go before delivering full-term, Miriam went into labor in the middle of the night. When the midwives arrived, she was lying on the floor, frightened and confused. When the midwives unwrapped her baby, his body was icy cold.

He weighed only five pounds -- but amazingly, he seemed healthy. A midwife tried to teach Miriam how to breast feed but she struggled. The baby would not latch and Miriam burst into tears. In the chaos of these first few hours, Miriam's mother-in-law asked, "How will you take care of your baby when you are a baby?"

For many girls, getting married and having a baby heavily affects the amount of education they receive. Giving them a choice, Nick Kristoff said, could be one of the single most effective ways to help these young women.

"The expectation that a girl at 13 or 14 is going to be married off to somebody she's never met," he said. "You educate that girl and she's much more likely to stand up and say, no I want to stay in school I don't want to be married."

For the past 10 years, organizations like Jhpiego have assembled an army of women – midwives– to teach women all over the world how to save their own lives.

"I'm honored to work with such incredible women," said Sheena Currie, who has been working with Jhpiego in Afghanistan for the last nine years. "I think the people are Afghanistan's greatest asset. Seeing their dedication and enthusiasm to move ahead despite all their obstacles, they're becoming empowered."

There are now about 3,000 trained midwives in this country. In fact, according to a recent survey, the number of women who die because of childbirth has dropped from one in 11 to one in 50 in Afghanistan.

Around the world, the number of women dying from childbirth each year has dropped from more than a half a million to about 350,000, Kristof said.

"There are still far too many women dying," he said, "but one gets the sense that change is not only possible, but to some degree inevitable."

Watch the full story on the latest episode of "20/20."

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