Welcome to the World
130 million babies are born each year, and not one of them decides where they’ll be born or how they’ll live. The condition of their Mother, including how likely it is she’ll survive birth at all, is also not something they can decide in this birthright lottery. In Cambodia, you’re likely to be born to a family surviving on less than $1/day and scavenging in the streets to survive, with nothing to eat on some days, like Neang’s family. In Sierra Leone, Hawa’s baby’s chances of surviving its first year are half those of the worldwide average and her child’s life expectancy is 48 years, even though the country has an abundant supply of diamonds and other natural resources. Even in the US, a baby is at risk from birth – statistically more likely to grow up obese, or perhaps born in a homeless shelter like Star’s new baby will be, one of 1.6m homeless children now living in the US. Brian Hill takes a worldwide trip to meet the women struggling to nurture, the clinics teaching illiterate women feeding and nutrition through song, and the surgeons fighting to save rural mothers and babies who lack access to hospitals. This is the bloody reality of birth and life for those at the bottom of the global pile. When it comes to pregnancy, birth and childcare, poverty is a feminist issue.
Hill compares life prospects for mother and child in these 3 countries, with access to decent medical resources being the major difference between life and death. The blunt reality being that most, maybe all, of the dead babies we see extracted on screen in Sierra Leone would have survived in the US because physical intervention would have come a lot earlier. 19 of the worst 20 places to be born in the world are in Africa. But whilst the child born in San Francisco might have more chance of actually being born alive, its likelihood of making a better life than its parents, in a system of declining social welfare, is low. Is this really so much better than the scavenging Cambodian family? In both Cambodia and the US, families survive on whatever they can find day-to-day, and families are not in control of their destinies.
In Cambodia, Neang was given AIDS by her husband, and her life is one long sacrifice for their good, including for her young daughter who she adopted, because even at this low level of society, there’s still some who are worse off. This is a film where women are visibly the strongest ones, whether the traditional village birthing expert Mammie, tireless surgery staff in Sierra Leone or the many pregnant women featured themselves. Men are primarily absent and irresponsible, not facing the disastrous consequences of their actions in regions where contraception use is appallingly low.
Poverty has big consequences for the ability to nurture – constant exhaustion, the daily need to work and find food, and a lack of basic education in how to keep a baby alive. The babies we see being born are endlessly cute and vulnerable, but there’s so many sad faces around them. A Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor in Sierra Leone estimates it costs €1.70 per person to provide basic clean facilities for a healthy birth – compared to a good start in life for a new person, this cost is nothing. But many countries are too poor to even go this far.