Twenty years ago, Suman was born in the confines of a thatched hut; her home before she got married at the age of 16. Her mother didn’t consume iron tablets, or undergo regular prenatal check-ups during any of her 6 pregnancies, much like the other women in the village. Lack of facilities, but more importantly, lack of awareness prevented them from knowing better. Today, the same cannot be said about Suman, who is expecting her second child.
I met Suman during my visit to a “Mother’s Meeting” organised by CARE in the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh, as part of the on-going Join My Village initiative. The objective of this project, being run in 1000 villages of Barabanki, is to catalyze sustainable improvement in maternal and newborn health through effective service delivery and women’s empowerment initiatives. While meetings like these are routinely organised for pregnant women, this one was unique. In order to ensure that the women had a conducive and supportive environment at home, their husbands were invited to participate in the interactive meeting.
I noticed Suman throughout the meeting. She looked young and shy, and sat just behind her husband, cradling her daughter in her arms. She veiled her face with her saree for most part (a common practice by rural women in the presence of other men), but chipped in confidently to answer some of the questions related to prenatal and postnatal care.
Later, I sat across her and her husband, a 22 year old farmer named Chandrashekhar as they shared their story with me. They admitted that during the birth of their first daughter, one and a half years ago, they were unaware of the risks and precautions related to child birth and had therefore made no arrangements for an institutional delivery. As was common practice, the child was to be born at home with the help of a midwife. However, when Suman experienced acute pain that lasted 3 days, she was finally admitted to the hospital. The doctors informed Chandrashekhar that any further delay would’ve resulted in severe complications, putting both the mother and daughter at risk.
“Though that incident taught me the risks involved in home deliveries, today’s meeting taught me how to be better prepared even before the child arrives. My wife stopped taking her iron tablets as she said they made her nauseous. I didn’t bother much about it until I came here today and learned how important they are for both the child and my wife. Now I will ensure she takes them at the appropriate time to avoid uneasiness. Planning for the future is another critical thing I learned, and I will start saving for the child right away,” Chandrashekhar said.
While Suman was made to drop out of school after class 5, Chandrashekhar is one of the few men in his village who is pursuing higher studies, a correspondence bachelor’s degree. On being asked what inspired this decision, Chandrashekhar shared that apart from helping him economically, education will also aid a change in perspective. “Uneducated people resist change and education helps you embrace it. I see how older people around me abuse openly; they are crass, and even beat up their wives. It is very common. Education is what will help us overcome this state. It has already helped me talk to and learn from new people, like all of you here today. It will help me take wiser decisions for my family and me in the future,” he concluded.
The couple, happy to have attended the meeting, feel that they are now better equipped for the birth of their second child. With less than a month left for Suman’s delivery, we wish them the best of luck, and a wonderful life ahead!