Access to information and proper training can make a difference in life-and-death situations, especially in cases like pregnancy and childbirth. India Fellow Dyuti writes about such a case where Mahila Mandals helped a young mother save the lives of herself and her newborn.
Renu Devi was seven months pregnant, and expecting her second child. It was around midnight that she started having labour pains. She ignored the pain since her expected due date was two months away, and she thought these were false pains. Moreover, it was late at night, and she didn’t want to bother her family unnecessarily.
Gradually, as morning came, her pain also increased. Her husband called the Asha to arrange for a vehicle in which they could take her to the government hospital. By the time the Asha came, Renu’s water broke, and she had already delivered a premature baby girl. The family started panicking, and Renu’s husband went to call the local dai, but he was unable to find her.
In this tense situation, Renu, despite terrible pain, kept her calm. She herself cut the umbilical cord and removed the placenta (a flattened organ in the uterus of a pregnant woman which nourishes the foetus through the umbilical cord). She then cleaned her newborn child and breastfed her.
Renu did all of this on her own, with her nervous mother by her side to provide her with materials like a blade and clean cloth.
This is the story of a courageous woman, who found it in her to stay calm and deal with an emergency in spite of being in immense pain. Renu is an inspiration for all those women staying in rural areas who do not get proper medical facilities due to many reasons. Deliveries at home are still common in villages, but the absence of a Skilled Birth Attendant (SBA) during such deliveries can pose serious problems for the mother.
A number of complications—like heavy bleeding, high blood pressure (or eclampsia), and obstructed labour—can pose serious threats to the mother and newborn, and these cannot be managed at home. These complications can only be taken care of in a well-equipped medical facility, with the presence of a SBA.
During the initial days of her pregnancy, Renu stayed with her husband in a village called Malpur in Bihar. There, an organization, Innovators In Health, runs a Maternal and Neonatal Health programme (MNH). A major part of the programme includes regular interactions with the community through meetings, as well as individual counseling sessions for pregnant women and their families. The community meetings are organized once a month in each ward where the program is being implemented.
The meetings are called “Mahila Mandals” and women of all age groups gather for them, including expecting mothers. Men have never been excluded from these meetings, but from the beginning, they haven’t been involved. The reasons ranged from issues with timings—since the men were out for work—to cultural issues—like not sitting in the same place where women from other households are sitting. Another reason is the nature of the discussions in these meetings, since many men still consider pregnancy solely a woman-related issue. Ideally, the presence of men would have been beneficial, since husbands are the decision makers of the families.
Very few women are independent enough to take health-related decisions on their own.
Renu was a regular at the MNH meetings. The topics included information regarding danger signs in pregnancy, healthy food habits, steps to take during an emergency, and different aspects of newborn care.
Renu is a average woman with basic education, and very little knowledge about health issues. But she was always eager to learn. She was attentive during the Mahila Mandals, and picked up the basics of safe delivery and newborn care which later helped her in saving her own life and also her daughter’s. Many women like Renu have found such meetings informative, and have used that knowledge for their benefit. The Mahila Mandals are not a place for one-way communication—the women share their experiences as well. This is done to ensure peer learning, and to build their self-confidence.
Recently, the author (who conducts these trainings), had a conversation with Renu and asked her to share her story in one such meeting. She smiled at first, saying that what she did was nothing great, but when requested, added, “I did not have any other option. I had to save my newborn. If I had waited for someone to come and take care of us then it would have been too late. My newborn was already premature and weak, and every second was important for her. I was definitely in immense pain, but I think God gave me the strength to get up and deliver my own baby.”
She continued, “I had heard during the Mahila Mandal that newborns must be breastfed immediately. So, that’s the first thing I did. I did everything that I could to help her survive. During the first six months, she had respiratory and other health problems because of being premature. But with the help of Aahan (the name by which the local community knows Innovators In Health), my daughter had regular health check-ups in the hospital, and now she is healthy. My daughter is a fighter like me.”
Renu’s family members are extremely proud of her, and encourage her to continue going for the community meetings.
Renu has agreed to become a community counsellor and work with IIH to advise other women in her village. Her daughter is almost a year old now, and healthy. Renu brings her along to the community meetings and continues to be an active learner. She wishes to keep all pregnant women in her village well-informed and well-prepared for their delivery, so that no one has to face difficult situations during their childbirth like her.
Sometimes, the right information and a keen sense of learning is all it takes to make life-saving decisions in time. We hope every woman in the country has the courage and the confidence to take matters in their own hands when the situation demands for it.
The author is an India Fellow working with an organization called Innovators In Health (IIH). IIH works on Tuberculosis and Maternal and Neonatal Healthcare with 20,000 women in Dalsinghsarai and its neighbouring districts in Bihar.
Help IIH ensure access to TB treatment and maternal and newborn health in rural communities by donating here.