The Ottumwa Courier

November 16, 2012

Health care for poor moms and babies was CNN Hero's dream

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — For those who ask how they can be a hero, Robin Lim tells them that in a way, they already know.

That thing you were good at as a youngster, said Lim, is the same thing you’ll be good at — and happiest at — later in life. That’s one way to become a hero, she said.

Lim is the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. She was recognized for her work in bringing free child birth care to women in the most poverty-stricken parts of Indonesia, where she maintains a residence and a free clinic.

Lim spoke Thursday to an assembly at Fairfield High School. Her address: “Finding the hero inside you.”

As a teen, Lim was a bit of a nerd, she told students.

During high school, she was unpopular was involved in math, chess club and women’s rights. She also became a teen mother. But Lim, an Iowa resident who votes in America even while she’s in Indonesia, always wanted to care for others — to share love and compassion.

“What made you know you could make a bigger impact on the lives of others?” asked one student.

“I didn’t know,” she said.

“I still don’t know. But I wanted to [make a difference]. And I held on to that passion.”

She also avoided looking at the big picture. At first, as a midwife, her goal was to safely deliver one baby for a mother. Her tiny clinic and the midwives she’s helped train are now known beyond the village and across the island of , [but we] say there’s always room at the inn. We never turn anyone away.”

Which means a secretary may come in one morning to find a mother nursing a baby at her desk, that a child may have been born in the exam room and that a couple of new moms have been transported to recover at Lim’s house nearby.

It also means that after a couple of decades helping deliver babies, Ibu Robin — Mother Robin — knows nearly every child in the village. The students, she said, should consider where their passions are — and stick with them.

Yet the move to Indonesia came after tragedy in the United States. Lim’s sister died during childbirth. The baby died, too.

“My life’s purpose is love,” she said. “I realized if I wasn’t living for love every day, what was the point?”

When she first arrived on Bali, birth complications was one of the biggest causes of death among poor women. That rate has dropped.

“Midwives help lower the risk of motherhood,” she said.

She says nations with well-trained midwives often have better rates of safety among pregnant women. Right now, the United States is No. 50 for mother survival. That means, she said, it’s safer to have a baby in 49 countries outside of the United States.

It’s not just that there are fewer doctors or more midwives in other parts of the world. At least 10 states ban midwives from assisting with a delivery. While a doctor in Bali may spend five minutes doing their part in a pre-natal exam, a midwife may spend 30 minutes or an hour with the expectant mother.

Lim calls being born at home a “gentle birth.”

Midwifery is for healthy women having healthy babies. If they notice a problem, they will help get the mother to a traditional doctor. Babies and their mothers should not be separated too soon; a child benefits from natural breast feeding and proximity to mother.

Some of the things she favors sound like quotes from Democratic politicians. Others sounds like direct quotes from Republicans. She wasn’t certain when asked which U.S. political party continually promotes the best concepts for safe mothering.

But she does know this, she said: “If you have to pay for health care, the poor are going to suffer.”

In Iowa, Lim said, the activity for which she was honored in front of 16 million worldwide viewers is considered a felony. To offer a service to poor mothers in Iowa, she said, the government would be wise to reconsider midwifery.