‘One Day Young’: Intimate photos highlight African mums’ tough plight

The One Day Young project was taken to Malawi

The One Day Young project was taken to Malawi - Credit: Archant

Celebrity photographer Jenny Lewis has taken her project capturing the first day of the intimate bond between mother and baby to Africa, to highlight both the euphoria of bringing life into the world and the fear of giving birth in insanitary conditions.

The One Day Young project was taken to Malawi

The One Day Young project was taken to Malawi - Credit: Archant

Last year Jenny Lewis published a book One Day Young, featuring 150 portraits of newborns’ first day of life that she had taken over the space of five years in Hackney.

Now the mother-of-two, who lives in Queensbridge Road, Dalston, has recreated the endeavour in rural Malawi.

Jenny, whose photos of the likes of Thandie Newton, Peter Blake and the Beastie Boys have graced the covers of magazines, was invited there by development charity Water Aid to their new Deliver Life appeal, which aims to combat baby deaths caused by infections spread through a lack of safe water and a dirty environment.

She spent seven days photographing mothers who gave birth at Simulemba Health Centre and their newborn babies on their first day back home.

The centre serves a community of more than 70,000, and 90 babies a month are delivered there, but it cannot be kept clean.

Jenny’s images bring to life the reality of giving birth in a health centre with no clean running water, crumbling bathrooms, no sterilization equipment and only four toilets for 400 people.

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Midwives are unable to wash their hands properly or keep the centre clean, and as a result the risk of sepsis infection is high, leaving mothers and newborn babies very vulnerable.

Sepsis can be fatal and accounts for 11 per cent of maternal deaths around the world.

In Simulemba Health Centre alone, around 15 cases of maternal sepsis and up to 20 cases of neonatal sepsis are diagnosed every month, which could be prevented with a safe, adequate water supply and good hygiene.

Jenny said: “Taking One Day Young to Malawi was a world away from my original project in Hackney.

“Without clean running water, the women I met were giving birth in the toughest conditions I’ve ever seen.

“Yet what struck me the most was seeing the triumphant victory that every new mother feels, even in this dangerous environment.

“Strength and joy were as ever present in my photographs here as they had been at home in London.

“While this series celebrates life, it also highlights the enormous challenges many women face to do the most natural thing in the world – give birth.”

To donate to Deliver Life, see wateraid.org.uk.