A midwife’s story

Sonja Liggett-Igelmund is a midwife, a mother of two and politically active. She lives with her family in the disctrict Sülz.

„Where my energy comes from? Every generation should do things better than the one before. That is just what I expect and that is my motivation.

I was born in 1974 in Weyertal (a street in Cologne with a hospital of the same name). My maternal grandmother was from Rotterdam (Netherlands) and my father is from England. He came to Cologne to work at Ford. I have three English half siblings and have been to many English weddings and christenings. I think it’s beautiful to be more than just German. That is why I chose a double surname.

When my parents met, the war was not over for such a long time yet. Imagine my German mother marrying an Englishman, who – on top of that – had been married before. Life was not particularly easy for them anyway. Let alone in the district of Lindenthal, where they lived and which in my opinion has always been rather stuffy.

I am very interested in the destructions caused by the war – in the city as well as within the people. I always asked my grandparents about their experiences during the war. They told me a lot, but not everything. After each bombing, my grandfather used to search among the dead for people he knew. He did not talk about that, but I read it in his diary.

After the war, my grandparents wished to live an ordinary life. They did not talk about emotions, let alone show them. That is typical for their generation and I actually think, this affects society up to today.

Take myself as an example. Born in 1974, I consider myself a „grandchild of the war“. Now what does that mean? For instance, that when I was born, the people working in obstetrics belonged to this generation denying emotions. Back then, newborns were separated from their mothers for the first two weeks. In the morning, a mother could watch behind a glass pane, how some midwife bathed her baby. Breastfeeding was considered old-fashioned. Instead, babies were given milk powder. People thought this was the right thing to do – but if you ask me, this was totally crazy. This does not have to do anything with being close to each other. A lot has improved since then, but in healthcare innovation really just comes at snail’s pace.

Ever since I was 19, I wanted to become a midwife myself. After the A-levels I went to a midwife-school in (the city of) Wuppertal. The job just fits me. I worked in several hospitals and eight years as a freelancer. Now I am employed again. Unfortunately, being a midwife has become much harder during the last ten years. In my opinion, this makes it harder for every woman to have a child. To me, this indicates a lack of equal rights. Midwife is a female occupation. Everybody knows that those are being paid badly. Plus, it is a female occupation helping fellow females. Hence the midwife lobby really lacks power. That is not just because of male domains. It is also because women simply put up with that. They do not fight together enough. I myself, I try to be a good networker.

Earlier this year, other midwifes and me went to (the city of) Braunschweig and attended a meeting of Frauen-Union der CDU [a meeting of the female members of German major party CDU]. I knew there would be a petition concerning the situation of midwifes. I wanted to do something to support that petition. But it would have to be something else than a plain and boring demonstration. So we got ourselves sticks of chalk and painted the Venus symbol with an exclamation mark all over the place.

I even managed to meet chancellor Angela Merkel and talk to her about my concerns. I said to her: „The latest package of measures by the Health Minister did not improve anything.“ She listened to me and she wanted to have my business card and she was rather impressed that I came all the way from Cologne.

Obstetrics should be part of school education. Pupils learn things like: How does fertilization work? How are hereditary traits passed on? How do you protect yourself from HIV? Hence I cannot understand that they do not learn what happens, when and after a child is born. The whole society would profit from this education.

It sounds crazy, but I did not become politically active in Germany until I went to Africa. In the town of Havé in Ghana I helped to improve the situation of pregnant women and young mothers. During my first journey there I was accompanied by a German TV-crew. After that, I continued. Together with many supporters I raised money and commodity contributions and I return to Havé at least once a year. Meanwhile, we even built a school there. German media was interested in this project every once in a while and one day I was asked about my opinion concerning midwifes in Germany, as well. Until then, the situation at home just annoyed me, but I kept basically quiet about it. But then people began listening to me.”

You can read more about Sonjas work in Havé in her blog: http://meeting-bismarck.blogspot.de/

In social media you will find more information about the initiatives of German midwifes using the hashtags #zurückindiekreidezeit and