Guest Post: What They Expect When They Are Expecting

A new rom-com about pregnancy, birth and babies is about to hit our cinema screens: What To Expect When You’re Expecting. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it looks to do well in the chick-flick charts.

The film focuses on the journey of five American couples. The same journey of pregnancy and birth that is followed by millions of women around the world each year. I say ‘same’. Actually, the reality is that what expectant mothers can expect in pregnancy, birth and motherhood differs enormously depending on where in the world they themselves happen to have been born.

My daughter, Lydia, was born almost 18 months ago in a London hospital. During the pregnancy, I remember feeling extremely privileged at the number of routine antenatal appointments and scans I had. In my work with Tearfund, I’d met many women in developing countries who were pregnant or had young children. I knew most of them had experienced no such care.

In our antenatal classes my husband and I were encouraged to write a ‘birth plan’ outlining our wishes for the birth. Looking back, it’s interesting to reflect on what our birth plan did not include. There was no mention of things such as ‘clean water and soap for hand washing’, ‘hygienic and skilled care’ or ‘access to a toilet’. These were basic expectations – ones that giving birth in the UK, we took for granted. Most mothers in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa give birth without skilled care and many are denied the basics of water, sanitation and hygiene, often with tragic consequences. Approximately 99% of all maternal deaths (about 1000 a day) occur in developing countries, and most are preventable. As many as 15% of them are caused by infections in the six weeks after childbirth, mainly due to unhygienic practices and poor infection control during labour and delivery (according to Tearfund’s Joining the Dots report).

Mari with her new baby Lydia in 2010

I won’t go into detail, but Lydia’s birth wasn’t straightforward. The ‘birth plan’ went out of the window and the whole process required a fair bit of medical intervention. After the birth, I was severely dehydrated. But I was placed on a drip and had unlimited access to clean drinking water. Lydia was moved to an incubator on a ‘High Dependency Baby Unit’ with suspected pneumonia. She was put on antibiotics, monitored and cared for in clean and hygienic surroundings. Thankfully, Lydia only stayed on the Unit for 36 hours and we were both out of hospital within a week. 17 months on, Lydia is thriving. Had she been born in a place without such care, it could have been a very different story.

And what about the differences in expectations for childhood around the globe? The statistic that stays in my head the most from my time at Tearfund is this: every day, 4000 children under the age of 5 die because of lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation. 4000 children, children like Lydia, every single day. That is outrageous.

Mari and Lydia happy and healthy in March this year

I want Lydia to grow up in a world where no woman dies due to preventable causes in pregnancy or childbirth and no child dies because they lack clean water or decent sanitation. There are 3 years left for governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals related to water and sanitation, maternal health and child health are some of the most off-track. Governments must recognise the links between these Goals, and act with unprecedented financial and political will to achieve them.

Is that too much to expect?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting comes out in UK cinemas next Friday, 23rd May.

Mari Williams worked in Tearfund’s policy and campaigns teams for 7 years. She now spends her time looking after her daughter Lydia and working as a freelance researcher and writer. 


  1. Helen Sabin says:

    What an interesting blog. I have known Mari since she was a child and have met Lydia a few times.

    I know how dedicated she is to working to help families in the parts of the globe where they are not as lucky as we are in the UK to access the basics we take for granted here. Well done Mari. Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s