Story highlights

Nonprofit WaterAid asks pregnant moms to share what's inside their birth bags

Most bring clothes or blankets for their newborns

Some women need to bring their own basic medical supplies

CNN  — 

All over the world, a packed bag is a sign that a baby will soon arrive. Call it a birth bag, a maternity bag, a hospital bag – it contains what a mother-to-be believes she needs, and perhaps a few goodies that will bring her comfort. But the place and conditions where a woman gives birth can dramatically change what she brings along to meet her newborn.

A new series of images reveals what’s inside the birth bags of women around the world, including the United States, Australia, Madagascar and Zambia. The photos were made in 2015 for WaterAid, an international nonprofit that works to provide access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. Some of the women were photographed at home, all packed and ready to head to the hospital. Others met photographers for the first time at the clinics where they would soon give birth.

“It was a way of connecting with people all over the world,” said Sarina Prabasi, CEO of WaterAid America. “Mothers want to have the best conditions possible for themselves and their newborn babies.”

Some of the items they brought were nearly universal – clothes for the baby or blankets to wrap them.

But while some women had books, massage oils and music players, others brought basic medical supplies: plastic sheeting to cover their beds because they know they’re difficult to wash, flasks and basins to hold water, a blade to cut the baby’s umbilical cord and a string to tie it. One woman noted that she would give birth in one of the best hospitals in New York City; others acknowledged that there was no clean water available to them.

“There were remarkable similarities and there were remarkable differences,” Prabasi said. “I think it had a visual impact different than if we had written it in words.”

Since the publication of the photos, there’s been interest in the project from around the world, Prabasi said, and the organization might try to follow the women’s stories. The birth of a new baby is a poignant, vulnerable time no matter where you are, she said. Any parent – anyone who knows someone who is pregnant, even – can see the hope and struggle in the images, she said.

“Sometimes, these things feel like they’re very far away,” Prabasi said. “It’s a way to bring it closer to our lived experience.”

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