‘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 5 months, and already in 4th month of pregnancy. My mother-in law assured that I would always be valued ‘if’ it turned out to be a boy child. (I shuddered at the thought ‘if’ it was otherwise!).
With 10 mouths to feed (my husband had 6 younger sisters and brothers, with parents living with us) and only two hands at work, it was difficult for me to ‘be at home’ during pregnancy. The whole day usually passed working in the fields, to make sure everyone had enough to eat.
As the 8th month set in, I came to my mother’s home; first child is always born there. It is a small sleepy village in Bikram village called Nagahar. 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, ASHA (a volunteer worker) of the village, she started asking me about my pregnancy. A little worried with the details, she convinced me to come to the ‘sub-centre’ next Wednesday. I received an injection which was for ‘saving’ me and my child from infection. As the ‘lady in white’ (she was Kusum, Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) checked me, she asked me to go to the hospital for a complete check up with a doctor as something was ‘not normal’. I brushed aside her remarks as useless.
Malti came again and asked me to atleast ‘prepare’ to deliver at the Primary Health Centre, Bikram where 24x7 delivery facilities were present. We said ‘ok’ to her but decided to do our own.
It was about 2 weeks before 9th month. In the wee hours of the morning, I had severe pains. My mother tried to ease them out by giving me hot water and going to look for the local dai. Intuitively, I cried out to call Malti also. Till the time everyone arrived, my baby was born. He was dead. As I still screamed in pain, Malti quickly arranged for a transport to reach the hospital. She was scared something might happen to me!
As we (my mother, me and Malti) settled in the auto, I delivered another baby boy. He was also born dead. My body and mind were losing their senses now. Finally we reached the hospital and I was transferred to the Labour room (a room where women deliver). 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 her in my arms. Seeing her tender face and fragile body, I seemed to forget my pains. I named her ‘Durga’, after the Goddess of strength! Just then, I saw the worried face of Malti as she said, “She is just 1500 grams.”
Malti strictly told my mother ‘not to feed anything other than mother’s milk’ to the baby. As I put her to my breast, she would open 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 track. 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 that ‘I would not start having milk before 3rd day’ 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 fair short lady with a white apron, smile at Malti from a distance as they exchanged knowing glances. We then returned home.
Next day, Malti came again. Enquiring about ‘my’ health, she observed the baby. She checked Durga’s cord and told me not to bathe her till atleast a week. After that she asked me if I was feeding the baby anything other than my own milk. I shook my head whemently and assured her that ‘I was doing just as she had told me to do!’ She had won over me till then. Malti then gave me one of her warmest smiles!
“Who was that lady with the apron in the hospital?” I asked her. “She was Seema didi, staff from CARE, an organization which works on 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 on task if I don’t ensure that!” laughed Malti.
As we had returned from the hospital my mother decided to give Durga a bath to ‘make her pure’ on the 3rd day. I was skeptic about it but my protests fell on deaf ears. As expected I felt Durga to be warmer than usual in the evening. She did not feed well too. Alarmed, I immediately carried her to Malti’s home, who quickly checked the baby’s temperature. She had developed fever. Looking grim, Malti asked me to do ‘Skin to skin care’. She demonstrated the same 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. Post mid night 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 loose her now!
Next day Malti visited me with another kind looking lady. She introduced herself as Sarita, 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 ‘on the field’ which was how the change would result, isn’t it? I nodded.
“Your baby girl is a survivor, but still very weak.” she told me. As she explained 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-centre next week.
It was a meeting for all the ASHAs and AWWs (who teaches young children and provides some supplementary food to mothers and children). Even ANM didi (sister) was there, with few more mothers like me. As Sarita didi 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 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. Next, the group discussed about ‘caring for the weak new born’. I felt the meeting was just made for me and my little one. Sarita didi explained that the ‘weaker babies’ needed more care. They should be handled by less people; preferably only by the mother with clean hands. Breastfeeding is also difficult with them and mother needed to work harder at it. “Extra cleanliness, extra warmth and extra breastfeeding are the mantra for the weak new born” she explained. “Sarita didi has only taught me all that I could do for you and your baby” Malti whispered to me. I was filled with so much warmth for didi that I almost cried and said “Are all of you so caring in CARE?”
As the meeting came to an end, Malti took me to ANM didi and asked her to look at Durga. ANM didi checked her pulse and assured me that the baby was doing ‘ok’ but asked me to take care of her as discussed in the meeting.Today Durga is one month old. Malti weighed her last week and she turned out to be 2600 grams. My baby has got a new lease of life; all thanks to our health system staff and CARE team who made a huge impact on my life and probably is going to make changes into many more lives through their noble ‘two-way’ work!