My Birthday Wish for Moms Around the World

By Seema Jalan

October 21, 2016

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The urban slum of Bwaise in Kampala, Uganda

As I reflect on my birthday today, I often joke about being of “advanced maternal age” which in the U.S. means the tender age of 35. If you are near this age group, you know that it means scores of extra tests and close monitoring by doctors if you are or want to get pregnant, even if you are otherwise healthy.

What it really means is that we’ve had the great luxury to wait until we’ve wanted to become a parent, with the help of having access to safe and affordable birth control. For me, it meant that we had our son Aiden when we were emotionally, physically, and financially ready — all things that have allowed us to provide a good life for our son.

I recently returned from Uganda where approximately one in four girls is pregnant by their 18th birthday. Boys and girls generally don’t learn about sex education in schools so some don’t even know how pregnancy occurs. If they do know about birth control, they don’t use it because they’ve heard myths about side effects (like it causes cancer or infertility) or don’t know where they can access it in a safe, judgment-free way.

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Mebra Nantatya, a young mother, student, dancer, and peer educator in Kampala

On a hot day in an urban slum of the capital city of Kampala, I met Mebra, a 20-year-old community educator for Marie Stopes International. Mebra is a force of nature trying to change things for her community. Mebra grew up in a rural area of Uganda. After her family moved to Kampala she desperately wanted to continue with school but couldn’t because her family could no longer pay the school fees. She saw her only option for financial support (a common experience) to buy basic necessities like menstrual hygiene pads through a boyfriend, and ended up having a baby at the age of 15. Now Mebra uses an intrauterine device which provides her with birth control for five years, as she doesn’t want to get pregnant again until she’s 25. Mebra has big plans for the future. In addition to taking care of her daughter, Mebra is back in school studying to become a nutritionist and works in a hospital. She also organizes a dance troop at her church and teaches people in her community about sex and how to stay healthy and protected.

So how does this relate to my birthday wish? Mebra shared that she plans to talk to her daughter about contraceptives when the time is right and hopes that she will grow up to be a doctor. Like many moms, I have similar hopes for my young son. For Mebra, her daughter, my son, and all those around the world who want access to the most basic of healthcare, I wish that they will have what they need to be able to decide if, when, and how to become a parent. There are more than 225 million women around the world who simply don’t want to get pregnant at all, or until they are ready. A solution costs about $25 to deliver to each woman a year who wants it – but those 225 million women can’t get access to what they need.

Picture outside of Marie Stopes International in Uganda

Signage at the Marie Stopes International pop-up health clinic where Mebra does community outreach

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Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series of four highlighting Universal Access Project’s recent trip to Uganda. Learn more about their initiative here.

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