Sexual and reproductive health is a significant public health need in all communities, including those facing emergencies.
Change Begins at Home
Change Begins at Home
Thanks to the Join My Village maternal health program in India, women like Seema are learning about prenatal care and safe births in their local villages. This program from Join My Village – a Merck, General Mills and CARE partnership – is aimed at building stronger communities through healthier pregnancies.
Seema doesn’t know the exact year of her birth – she’s in her mid-twenties – or the number of years she has been married.
However, this shy young woman is certain about one thing: she’s four months pregnant. Seema is married to Surendra and they have a six-year-old son, Shivam. The three of them live with Surendra’s parents, younger sister, younger brother, his wife and their two-year-old daughter. The daughter of Surendra’s elder sister also lives with them in a two-room mud house in a village that is considered to be one of the least developed both socially and economically in Uttar Pradesh, India.
When local health workers informed Seema about the Join My Village program meetings aimed at mothers and their families, she was very excited. Before the maternal health program was established, most women delivered their babies at home. Mothers had no knowledge of vaccinations and check-ups. Seema had delivered her first child in similar conditions. Seema accompanied her neighbors to the first mothers’ group meeting and learned about spousal support and good health practices for a pregnant woman. She came home and shared her experience with her family. Since then, her sister-in-law and mother-in-law have accompanied her to all of the meetings, which take place once a month. Gradually, Seema’s husband and brother-in-law started attending the men’s group meeting, where program health workers discuss a father’s role in raising children and issues related to family planning.
"My mother-in-law never stopped me from attending any meeting. In fact, she encouraged both me and my sister-in-law to attend the meetings and would even accompany us. Other ladies her age would laugh at us, but that never deterred her," said Seema.
A child bride, Seema gave birth to her son when she was still in her teens. She had limited knowledge about health risks for pregnant women and child care and she stuck by traditional practices as do most women in her community. However, for her second child, Seema is applying the information about health practices she has gained from regular discussions in her mothers’ group.
When I was pregnant with Shivam, I was the last to eat and ate whatever was left. This time, my mother-in-law ensures that I eat healthy food and that there is enough for me. Sometimes, I even eat before my husband.
So how much support does she have from Surendra, who is now a regular at the men’s group meetings? He may not help out with household chores, but he does take me for regular check-ups and chips in with taking care of Shivam,” she added. “This pregnancy has been easier than the first one and I have only fallen ill once, unlike last time. I am sure it is a girl this time,” she said. When asked if she wanted a girl, her husband replied before she could.
“Of course, I want a girl now. Daughters care for you so much! I am praying for a girl and will celebrate her birth,” he said, while trying to get a reluctant Shivam to pose for a family photograph. The change in attitude toward prenatal care hasn’t been an easy one. And although Seema and her family face ridicule from the neighbors who don’t understand why their ways have changed, they agree as a family that Seema’s health and the health of her baby are more important.
“I no longer care about what other people have to say,” said Tejwati Devi, Seema’s mother-in-law. “If something happens to either of my daughters-in-law, my family will suffer. Their lives and health are more important to me than the opinion of the community.”