BBC Radio 4:Chine McDonald - 04/10/2017

Good morning,

At my baby shower last month, surrounded by my most treasured female friends, we celebrated and looked ahead to the birth of my first baby in around four weeks’ time.

Over the past few months, I’ve been amazed to see just how much pregnant women are wrapped in cotton wool – with regular midwife appointments and people offering me their seat on public transport once they realise I have a baby on board.

How different my life is from that of many pregnant refugees, fleeing turmoil and unrest; facing unimaginable horrors while attempting to protect their unborn children.

Arfa is just one 30-year-old woman who gave birth after violence erupted in Myanmar, having to bundle her baby up to cross the border into Bangladesh. The Jamtoli Refugee Camp where this little family now find themselves is full of new and expectant mothers.

But here there is not enough food for them, nor milk for their babies. And yet as a Christian, I wrestle with the belief that God cares just as much about those born into such terrible conditions as he does about my baby.

This week, a report by charity Doctors of the World, which draws on the experiences of 14,000 refugee women warns pregnant refugees who have fled across the Mediterranean to Greece are not given adequate care.

While these women face the very real physical dangers of giving birth in unsuitable conditions, what breaks my heart is the sense of loneliness and isolation they surely must feel. These forgotten women do not have access to anything like the local community groups of expectant parents I currently benefit from. Nor the hope that comes through the bonds of friendship with others going through the same life stage.

That shared life experience was important for Elizabeth and Mary – the mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus respectively. The two formed an unbreakable bond.

The title of Anita Diamant’s best-selling novel The Red Tent refers to the place in which women of Jacob’s tribe must according to ancient law take refuge while giving birth – often standing or crouching on bricks.

One line from the book stands out: “Until you are the woman on the bricks, you do not know the power that rises from other women.”

It is here – in this gathering place of women within a patriarchal society - that a sacred space is created in which women forge strong bonds of friendship and understanding through the joys and the heartbreaks of life.

For many women it is undoubtedly the best time in history both to give birth and to be born. But the plight of pregnant refugees should jolt us out of our complacency – like the women in the red tent, where will the “power rise from” for them?