I began my journey considering textile shortages, baby carriers, and clean birth kits.
Over time, I had spoken with Maternova about textile shortages, packaging for goods, strategies for compiling clean birth kits, and the potential of designing baby carriers for women in developing countries who didn’t have easy access to textiles. As this had come up more than once, I decided to begin my journey by considering these issues, and to see what I could come up with.
A clean birth kit is a minimal medical kit that provides the tools necessary for a woman to give birth either in a clinical setting or at home such that she and the child have a greater chance of remaining free from infection or disease.
As I researched variation among clean birth kits around the world I quickly realized that there was a great deal of diversity when it came to the nature of these kits. Content, style, and structure varied depending on their origin and destination. The process of creating the kits varied, too. Some kits were made in the US and shipped abroad. Some were put together in the same country that would use them. This saved cost. Some included fabric and some did not. Some included gloves and some did not. Some included single odd unique items that were necessary to make the kit effective in a certain location, in a certain culture.
That was the case with this kit from Nepal, seen below. In Nepal t is common tradition to cut the umbilical cord of the infant over a rupee for good fortune. But this practice contaminated the newly cut umbilical cord, and could potentially lead to tetanus, which meant a quick and painful infant death shortly after birth. A plastic rupee was added to the kit so that families could cut their newborn baby’s cord on a clean surface and still observe the spirit of their tradition. This led me to consider the importance of cultural understanding and the effect presence or lack of it might have on the maternal mortality cause.
But this was not the only thing that led me to consider the importance of cultural understanding in relation to this issue. As I began to research infant carriers, the same concern became apparent. I couldn’t comfortable design a baby carrier for the whole world when each individual and established culture had its own way of carrying children. In many ancient, very rooted cultures, all women carry their children the same way. It is a deep part of their culture and identity, and introducing a foreign and different baby carrier was not likely to be very productive or respectful of their cultural background.
Once again, I was faced with knowledge of the limitations culture could place on design, as well as the opportunity to design in a way that showed respect for these beautiful, strong, and established cultures that are so prominent in developing countries.
Here is an example of some of the variations one can find around the world in infant carrying methods:
After a great deal of research, consideration, and various attempts to design universal life-saving products for women and infants in developing countries, I realized that the design process – and the resulting product – must be appropriate for the culture in which it is to be used. And in order for a product to be culturally appropriate and effective, there needed to be a way for designers, engineers, and health care workers to learn about specific pregnancy, birth, and post-partum practices around the world.
Not suprisingly, the ritual of birth is very different across the seas, in the deserts, in the depths of an ancient culture… in distant cultures, individuals are surviving and relating to one another on very different terms, and they give birth on very different terms as well.