“Babita! You are going to be a mother soon!” As these words echoed in me I felt a sense of fear. It was difficult for a 20-year-old to imagine what being a mother was like.
I had only been married for five months, and already in my fourth month of pregnancy. My mother-in law assured me that I would always be valued only if it turned out to be a boy child. I shuddered at the thought if I had a girl.
With 10 mouths to feed (my husband had six younger siblings and our parents living with us) and only two hands at work, it was difficult for me to stay home during the pregnancy. The whole day usually passed working in the fields to make sure everyone had enough to eat.
As my eighth month of pregnancy set in, I came to my mother’s home as the first child is always born there. She lives in a small sleepy village called Nagahar in India. But it turned out to be a boon for me.
Within two days, I had someone to come and see me. She was a petite woman with dark, kind eyes. Introducing herself as Malti, a volunteer health worker in the village, she started asking me about my pregnancy. A little worried with the details, she convinced me to come to the sub-center next Wednesday. I received an injection to save me and my child from infection. As she checked me, she asked me to go to the hospital for a complete check up with a doctor because she noticed something was not normal. I brushed aside her remarks as useless.
Malti came again and asked me to at least prepare to deliver at the primary health center where they had 24-hour delivery facilities. We told her OK, but decided to do it on our own.
About two weeks before my ninth month of pregnancy, in the wee hours one morning, I had severe pains. My mother tried to ease them out with hot compresses – intuitively, I asked her to also call Malti. No one arrived in time; my baby was stillborn. As I still screamed in pain, Malti arrived and quickly arranged for a transport to the hospital. She was scared something might happen to me.
As we (my mother, me and Malti) settled in the car, I delivered another baby boy, but he was also stillborn. My body and mind were losing their senses now. Finally we reached the hospital and I was transferred to the labor room. After another 10 minutes, I delivered the third time. The events had horrified me; losing two babies within a span of few hours! I was almost half dead when they placed my tiny daughter in my arms. Seeing her tender face and fragile body, I forgot my pain. I named her ‘Durga’ after the goddess of strength. Just then, I saw the worried face of Malti as she said, “She is just 1,500 grams (3.3 pounds).”
Malti strictly told my mother not to feed anything other than mother’s milk to the baby. As I put her to my breast, Durga opened her mouth but was unable to hold my nipple. Perhaps she was too weak even to feed. After few tries at it, I got impatient. I asked my mother to get infant milk from outside.’ Hearing this, Malti stopped in her tracks. She asked my mother to bring a clean katori (small round vessel) and a chamach (spoon). She also arranged for some warm water. Then, she asked me to wash my breast with warm water thoroughly. In spite of protests from my mother, Malti asked me to express my own milk into the katori. She showed me how to hold my breast and express the milk from back to front. We all were amazed by the amount of milk that collected in that small katori. Malti then asked my mother to sit back comfortably and hold the baby. She then showed her how to feed the baby with katori and chamach.
I saw a lady with a white apron smile at Malti. Soon after that, we returned home.
The next day, Malti came again. She asked about my health and observed the baby. She checked Durga’s cord and told me not to bathe her for at least a week. After that, she asked me if I was feeding the baby anything other than my own milk. I shook my head vehemently and assured her that I was doing just as she had told me to do. Malti then gave me one of her warmest smiles; she had won me over.
“Who was that lady with the apron in the hospital?” I asked her. “Her name is Seema, and she is a staff member from CARE, an organization that works with mothers and children. Apart from her other work, she ensures that all the babies born in the hospital are only breastfed and nothing else! She even takes me to task if I don’t ensure that.” laughed Malti.
As we had returned from the hospital my mother decided to give Durga a bath on the third day. I was skeptical about it, but my protests fell on deaf ears. Durga felt warmer than usual that evening. She did not breastfeed well either. Alarmed, I immediately carried her to Malti’s home, who quickly checked the baby’s temperature. She had developed a fever.
Looking grim, Malti asked me to do skin to skin care. She demonstrated it for me. I had to open the front of my blouse and place the baby between my breasts, with only her head and feet covered. Malti then wrapped us together; Durga and me with a cloth. I stayed with her that night. After midnight, the baby began to cry. Malti asked me to put her to my breast and, surprisingly, she began to feed. Early next morning, Malti again checked her temperature, which had come down to normal. It was the scariest night of my life; I did not want to lose her now.
The next day, Malti visited me with another kind-looking lady. She introduced herself as Sarita, a facilitator from CARE. “I met someone else from CARE earlier” I told her. She explained to me that CARE was working at the hospital as well as in the field.
“Your baby girl is a survivor, but still very weak.” she told me. As she explained to me how to take care of my baby through skin to skin care and breastfeeding, she also invited me to attend a meeting at the sub-center next week.
It was a meeting for all local health volunteers. As Sarita showed a video on breastfeeding, I started wondering if I was feeding my baby well.
Just then little Durga started crying. In order to pacify her, I put her to my breast. This time, I was careful to notice whether she was feeding well or not. I tried to see if the signs of correct latching applied to my little darling. Everyone in the group also gave me encouraging nods. I was filled with so much warmth for that I almost cried as I asked “Are all of you so caring at CARE?”
Today Durga is one month old. Malti weighed her last week and she turned out to be 2,600 grams (5.7 pounds). My baby has a new lease of life; all thanks to our health system staff and CARE team who made a huge impact on my life.