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She met a Peruvian midwife, and that changed everything

Photo: Claire Celestin, a fifth-year behavioral neuroscience student at Northeastern, is the recipient of a Marshall Scholarship. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In the hospitals of Peru, it is not unusual for a woman to be forced to stay out in the hallway, wearing little more than a flimsy medical gown, as she waits for her baby to begin crowning. Inside the delivery room, she is commanded to push, and if her efforts are deemed unsatisfactory, a male doctor is often called upon for help. It is not unusual for him to get on the table and push on the woman’s stomach to force the baby out.

Claire Celestin witnessed all that first-hand. The Northeastern student was in Cusco for a three-month co-op, thousands of miles away from home, immersed in a system that was foreign to her.

But then came along Ruro, a trained obstetrician-gynecologist who had worked as a midwife in public Peruvian hospitals for years. Her approach was different. Simple. Ruro was all about natural remedies and mindfulness practices. She told expecting mothers: your bodies already know what to do. If they trusted themselves and the training she had given them, she told the women, birth would come naturally.

The midwife, working in a country where home births and midwifery are illegal, had a profound impact on a wide-eyed Celestin.

Celestin, who is studying behavioral neuroscience at Northeastern, returned to Boston in 2017, her future path looking clearer. She recounted the experience in a personal statement that she submitted to the committee that, in December, awarded her a Marshall Scholarship. She said that the scholarship will allow her to pursue advanced degrees in women’s and children’s health in the United Kingdom starting this fall.

“Winning this award was an incredible achievement—and surprise—for me,” she said. “If you had asked me a year ago what I would be doing, I never would have dreamed that my answer would be going to obtain my master’s in the United Kingdom. I now have this amazing opportunity to pursue an education in a field that I am passionate about: women and children’s health.”

Just as the women in her life—her mother, Ruro, teachers, advisors and friends—had used their voices, experiences, and stories, to open doors of opportunity for her, Celestin wants to do the same for other girls and women around the world. She said that she hopes to attend medical school in the United States and become an OBGYN.

She said she wants to tackle the rising rate of maternal mortality in the United States and work toward eliminating racial disparities. Here, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The end goal of it all is to make widespread changes to the way that our country views and addresses the pressing needs in the field of women’s health,” Celestin said.

Celestin will be one of several honorees celebrated by President Joseph E. Aoun at the Academic Honors Convocation on April 18. The annual ceremony recognizes students and faculty who have received prestigious awards for scholarship, research, or teaching over the past year.

Extolling her “perfect” academic record, Jonna Iacono, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, described Celestin as a talented scientist and student in her endorsement letter to the scholarship nomination committee.

“At a moment when the gains women have made are imperiled with significant implications for the well-being of one half of human beings, Claire has the potential to be a healer that the world needs,” Iacono wrote.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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