CNN Hero Robin Lim visits Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — Renowned midwife and CNN Hero of the Year Robin Lim has returned home with a message for midwives practicing in Iowa: “Don’t give up.”
Lim has taken leave of her free clinics and birthing centers in Bali, Indonesia, the Bumi Sehat Foundation, for a speaking tour in the United States. During a stop in Washington, D.C., the ambassador of Indonesia invited her for tea, and insisted she stay with his family next time she visited. Before arriving in Fairfield Monday, Lim addressed an auditorium full of college students, doctors, midwives and nurses at Des Moines University. The city of Fairfield will be recognizing Lim’s service at 8 p.m. today at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, where she will speak about her work and Mayor Ed Malloy will proclaim Nov. 13 “Robin Lim Day.” Admission is free.
Lim’s newfound celebrity status has not caused her to overlook the place she still calls home. She’s booked extra events in Fairfield, not only to see old friends, but because Iowa is one of more than a dozen states where it is illegal for midwives to assist with home births.
“I find it ironic, CNN called me a hero for my work as a midwife, when in my home state, delivering a baby at home is considered a felony,” she said.
Lim won CNN Hero of the Year last December by popular vote for assisting thousands of low-income women through her clinics, offering free prenatal care, birthing services and medical aid in Indonesia, where many families cannot afford care.
Under Lim’s direction, Bumi Sehat has been a first responder in disaster relief efforts in Indonesia including Aceh in 2004, Yogyakarta in 2006 and Padang in 2008. She also helped set up a clinic in Haiti in 2010. Lim said reproductive care falls by the wayside in tsunami zones, leading to an urgent need for midwives who can deliver reproductive healthcare, even in the most dire circumstances, without access to running water or electricity.
“Every baby’s first breath on Earth could be one of peace and love. Every mother should be healthy and strong. Every birth could be safe and loving. But our world is not there yet,” Lim said during the CNN award ceremony in Los Angeles, with a reported 16 million viewers watching.
“It was a special victory for all midwives,” she said Monday. “I received hundred of emails from people who said they were crying tears of joy.”
Lim hopes her recognition by CNN will help states like Iowa see the merits of midwifery beyond disaster-relief settings.
Her goal? “For the state of Iowa to embrace midwifery care as an important option.”
While Lim faces many challenges in Bali, such as high rates of hemorrhaging during labor due to malnutrition, she said midwives in Iowa face challenges of their own.
In the United States, Lim has seen fellow certified professional midwives prosecuted for assisting with home births. She said the controversy surrounding midwifery discourages young women from pursuing training in midwifery, and causes women to have hospital births who would prefer to do it at home.
“There are people all over the world who would rather have their baby safely at home,” she said. “The sad thing in Iowa, is many, many families are not getting that opportunity.”
Lim said home births could help decongest hospitals and lower welfare expenses.
In Bali, she said it creates an environment where she can work harmoniously with hospitals and doctors when pregnancy complications arise.
“Midwives are well respected in their profession in Indonesia,” she said.
Lim believes midwives and hospitals should not be at odds, but providing complimentary services.
“Hospitals are amazing life-saving places,” she said.
Lim said The Bumi Sehat Foundation “stands on three feet:” excellent medical science, respect for nature and holistic medicine.
The clinic carries antibiotics, oxygen, intravenous fluids, anti-hemorrhagic treatments and also has an ambulance at the ready for when complications arise. Lim said less than 2 percent of the women she sees need to be transferred to the hospital.
Last year, she expanded services to include community healthcare, elderly yoga, birth attendant training, disaster preparedness support, acupuncture and homeopathic medicine, youth education, village-based recycling and organic gardening.
Lim’s dedication to providing the highest quality care to poor, marginalized women emerged after a crushing personal loss. Lim’s younger sister died 22 years ago due to complications with a pregnancy.
“She felt unwell during her pregnancy,” said Lim. “She called her doctor, and he said “I’ll see you in three weeks.’”
Before she got that chance, Lim’s sister suffered a stroke in her sleep and died. Lim said they determined she had high blood pressure and hypertension.
“Simple medications could have saved her life,” said Lim.
Shortly thereafter, Lim decided to take the plunge into midwifery. She moved to Indonesia where she began offering services informally out of her living room and returned 12 years ago after completing training as a certified professional midwife.
In her work, she said she treats each woman with the love and respect she wished her sister had received.
“When a woman calls me, I’m not going to say let’s talk about it in three weeks, I say ‘I’ll see you right now,’” she said. “I decided to be a very good midwife.”
“Licensed certified midwives are the guardians of normal birth,” she said. “They are trained to notice when a mother needs special care.”
Lim said she’s had very positive childbirth experiences herself, which gave her the vision for her clinic.
“What inspired me was the birth of my own children,” she said. “It is the biggest life passage you can have.”
She said her goal has been to try and help other women have safe, positive birthing experiences.
Lim’s Iowa roots took hold when she moved to Fairfield as a teenage mother in 1976. She had all of her children at home, and researched natural approaches to childbirth, postpartum diet and exercise.
“I wanted to be a happy, good mom,” she said.
Looking into her past, Lim said it was inevitable she would one day become a midwife. At 14, for instance, she was fascinated by a school course on reproductive health.
Lim will be speaking to students about their interests 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Maharishi School, and 9 a.m. Friday at Fairfield High School.
“I will tell them, ‘Pay attention to your dreams when you are young, they are there for a reason,’” she said. “For me, it turned into a lifetime of service, which has brought me more joy than most people ever experience.”