The expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’ aptly describes the conditions surrounding the birth of the last two of Mercy Bole’s three children.
Mercy gave birth to her second-born child on the roadside after an elderly woman who had promised to escort her to the hospital delayed coming to assist her. Her husband was away. She decided to go to the hospital on her own.
“The baby came when I was on the way to the hospital and some women helped me to give birth,” says the cheerful 31-year-old mother. “After that, I went home.”
Because of the unhygienic conditions under which the baby was delivered, her umbilical cord got infected. “It took a long time to heal but I thank God it did because it was a difficult time for me,” says Mercy, a small-scale farmer in Barwessa, Baringo County.
Her lastborn was delivered safely in the hospital, thanks to the help Mercy got from a community-based health volunteer trained by USAID’s Afya Uzazi program and Baringo County staff.
Mercy was six months when the volunteer, Monica, visited her home during an exercise to find women who had missed out on antenatal care and refer them to the local health facility for services.
Like many women in her village, Mercy was waiting for the 7th or 8th month to go to the clinic. Yet it is recommended that women visit antenatal clinic promptly when they realize they are pregnant. Although it was late in the pregnancy, Monica taught Mercy how to remain healthy and prepare for childbirth.
“She gave me a leaflet that showed what pregnant women should do and what to avoid,” says Mercy, referring to a scorecard with messages for pregnant women and their partners.
USAID’s Afya Uzazi program developed the scorecard and other information materials as part of a social and behavior change intervention to promote healthy behaviors by pregnant women, mothers of young children and their male partners.
“My husband read the messages and realized I should not be carrying heavy loads. He would fetch water for me or hire someone for the task,” says Mercy, smiling.
Mercy had a healthy pregnancy. When the time came, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy at a government-run health center.
“I tell pregnant women to always to follow the advice they are given and plan well for delivery,” says Mercy.
Mercy is one of over 40 women that Monica found at home and referred for antenatal care and other services. Monica belongs to a network of trained volunteers educate the community how to care well for pregnant women, new mothers and their babies.
The volunteers work hand in hand with traditional birth attendants who have been trained to become birth companions and now escort pregnant women to deliver in the hospital instead of conducting home births.