I Am NOT Going to Die!

I Am NOT Going to Die!

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“Sarita, Sarita, you are going to be OK!”

I hear faint voices and think that, perhaps, I am not going to be OK after all. I can feel someone dabbing at the end of my yellow sari and continuously caressing my brown curly hair, but the repetitive movements soon feel numb. With darkness gathering around me, I think back on what I’ve endured over the past couple of hours – days, months and years.

That was my ordeal as I tried to deliver my first child. But there’s a lot that came before that difficult evening – and, thanks to CARE, many good things have come to me since then.

This all began when I was still a girl. As soon as I started puberty, my parents were fanatic to get me married for reasons I couldn’t understand at such a young age. They quickly chose the first decent boy they came across as my future husband. He lived in Tilhavan, a village situated in the Patna district of India’s Bihar state, far from my home. When my parents informed me of my impending marriage, all I could do was sit and wonder what my life would be like from that moment on.

Time went by, months and weeks and days. I was married. One morning I woke up feeling very sick and weak; minutes later I started vomiting. Surprisingly, everyone started congratulating me! It took a few moments before the truth dawned on me: I was pregnant at just 15 years old. Despite village gossip, especially the not-so-subtle whisperings of my mother-in-law, my family kept the secret for quite some time – but every day I struggled with what it meant to be a mother-to-be.

More days passed. One morning as I was putting out the clothes to dry at my home, a lady walked up to me. She introduced herself as Rashmi, a volunteer health worker in my village, and then asked if there was a pregnant woman in the house.

I immediately thought of my gossipy mother-in-law.

The very next day, Rashmi took me to meet Manisha, a nurse midwife at the local health clinic. Manisha gave me a tetanus shot and, telling me I looked pale, also handed me 100 small red pills she said would increase my blood supply. Over the course of those weeks leading up to delivery, I could feel my baby growing within me! Most days I felt dizzy and sapped of energy; he seemed to take away all the nutrition from me.

(If you are wondering how I knew my baby was a “he,” it was wishful thinking – my mother-in-law constantly threatened me that “it better be a he.”)

One evening, I started feeling pain. I dropped a dish full of food, and it fell to the floor with a loud noise. It was time to go to the hospital to deliver my baby. Since there was no vehicle in the vicinity, my family brought me there on a cot. At the hospital, there was no one around except for a sleepy lady who cursed me for having labor pains at that hour! As soon as I was moved onto the cold steel delivery table I started shivering. The cranky lady told me that my blood pressure was far too high and she couldn’t handle such a risky delivery – so she asked my family to take me to another hospital that was 40 kilometers away from the village. An ambulance came to transport us, but we had to pay the driver ourselves.

It was a long and difficult ride. When we arrived at the second hospital, a nurse took blood from my finger and shook her head. She told my husband that I had anemia and the clinic did not have any way to supply blood during the delivery. So, for the second time that night, I was on my way to another hospital; my family had to pay for another ambulance.

I fought between life and death in that ambulance – just like I described at the beginning of this story. I was uncertain whether I would survive this third journey to a hospital. And I wondered, once I arrived, if a doctor would even be there to help us. My family members worried about my survival in this impossible-looking situation.

But, despite the hard journey, my baby boy was born that night.

Six months later, having settled into the daily chores of a young mother in the village, some people who looked like they were from the city arrived at my door. They introduced themselves and told me they were from CARE, an organization that just had started working in my village. During the conversation that followed, I told them the story about the long, hard night that I delivered my baby. They talked about birth preparedness and many more things, and promised to follow up.

Soon afterward, I received a visit from a woman named Madhuri, a government health worker responsible for post-natal care, medical check ups and immunizations. Madhuri also brought us some supplementary food to help my baby grow. She weighed him and registered us for medical services. She also asked me to attend monthly health, sanitation and nutrition meetings at the village clinic, where young mothers like me were learning ways to keep our young children healthy and happy.

But today, that support is making a huge difference in my life: I’m pregnant again!

During one of those monthly meetings, I met some more people from CARE. They encouraged me to visit the health clinic more regularly, ask plenty of questions and keep learning about what’s good for my baby and me. It felt nice to have someone actually listening to my concerns and talking about my child’s well being. I felt there was so much more that I could have done for my baby during my pregnancy if I’d had this kind of support.

But today, that support is making a huge difference in my life: I’m pregnant again!

However, I’m not that naïve girl anymore – I am an empowered woman. I know what I need for a healthy pregnancy and know where I can go if complications arise during delivery. I learned all this in those monthly meetings and other visits with local health workers that, as I later found out, CARE had trained.

Today I also know enough to help other young women through their pregnancies – including my sister. I’ve been talking to her about birth preparedness. This time I am ready, and I am committed to helping others be ready too. I thank CARE for helping me change my life and make this pregnancy much easier than my first. 

© 2008 Brendan Bannon/CARE