Jennifer Nettles: Making Dreams Come True for Less Fortunate Mothers
Jennifer Nettles is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, a performer and an activist for women’s and children’s health in developing nations, specifically Guatemala. She and her husband live in Nashville, Tennessee, with their son, and she is a contributor to the recently-released “Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope,” a compilation from Zondervan Publishing on global maternal and child health issues, from which this piece was taken.
I am a planner. I prefer planning to surprises because I find so much joy in anticipating an event. So, being a mother of "advanced maternal age" came with some perks for me. My American Medical Association specialists had machines so powerful that I could see the healthy flow of my child’s blood throughout each room of his heart. I think those machines could have even given me a vision of him in his cap and gown graduating from college, if I’d asked for it.
The technology was truly amazing. So even though I can be a totally crunchy, granola, earth mama, you better believe we found out the gender of our baby as soon as was technologically possible!
It sounds romantically nostalgic to save the surprise of your baby’s gender for his or her birth, but I had a feeling there could be many surprises on that day, so one more wasn’t going to make or break the experience for us. Besides, I wanted to call my baby by name when I patted my very big belly and painted his room. I felt it was part of the pre-birth bonding.
Of course, as expected, my birthing experience did come with its own set of surprises. I let Magnus take the reins on when he’d be born, to the tune of a week past his due date! Sheesh, buddy, get a move on! But an exhausting twenty hours later, my husband and I had a healthy, precious baby boy in our arms.
My experience in becoming a mother is an exceptional, first-world example. Justin and I were able to plan when we wanted to start our family. I was able to give birth with knowledgeable doctors to keep me healthy during my pregnancy and safe during my delivery. But sadly, many mothers across the world don’t share in such a safe, joyous experience as they give life to their children.
Working with the Shalom Foundation of Nashville, Tenn., has allowed me to witness closely the struggles of mothers and families in Guatemala. Guatemala is considered to be the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, right behind Haiti, and it is a land where extreme beauty is harshly shadowed by the extreme poverty of their people. And in this country, more than half of the population is under the age of eighteen. That takes a tremendous toll on the economy of a country.
For mothers in Guatemala, the experience of childbirth is vastly unlike mine. Only 36 percent of indigenous women give birth at a medical institution, and many women who give birth at home do so without trained a birth attendant. Less than half of Guatemala’s indigenous women have access to contraception, and these women living in extreme poverty are perhaps those who need it most, so they can choose to become pregnant only when they are ready to grow their families.
Can you imagine learning that you were pregnant, knowing that you can’t afford to feed the children you already have? Or the desperation of facing difficult, possibly life-threatening pregnancy complications when you have children at home who depend on you for survival? My heart breaks for these women who have so little control over their lives, simply because access to resources is common in my everyday life.
The Shalom Foundation has stepped in, however, to help these beautiful children to be educated and to have access to medical resources to which they otherwise wouldn’t. The foundation has built a school, where hundreds of children are being educated, and a medical facility that rivals that of the nicest hospitals in the area.
The result of this work is that hope is being cultivated in this community. As I sit with children and their mothers, I hear them dream of being teachers and singers and doctors. They dream of changing the world, making it a better place. I want to help make these dreams come true.
See Pictures of Country Stars With Their Moms