Saving a Mother, Sustaining a Child

Days after delivering a baby, 19-year-old Laxmi Baiga started convulsing in the middle of the night. In their moment of panic, her family members could think of calling just one person for help – Sheela Singh, the local RF-trained Swasth Sangini

Building a Home, Rebuilding a Life

Discharged from hospital after giving birth to a healthy baby boy, 19-year-old Laxmi Baiga had just returned home to Katkona village in Shahdol district, Madhya Pradesh, when her health suddenly took a turn for the worse. Laxmi recalls, “I had a safe and normal delivery in hospital and returned home with my new-born infant in a few days. On the day of my return, my house was flooded with relatives, who wanted to meet my son and bless him. It was the happiest day of my life. But when I woke up the next morning, I had a splitting headache, and felt a vague sense of unease.” Though the headache was very severe, Laxmi and her family members dismissed it, assuming that it was a side-effect of the exertions of childbirth.

That afternoon, Laxmi was paid a visit by Sheela Singh, the local ‘Swasth Sangini’ – a grassroots-level health worker trained by Reliance Foundation (RF) to provide essential primary health services for new and expecting mothers and their children. Sheela first examined her infant son and assured her that he was in the pink of health. But when she examined Laxmi, she was alarmed. Laxmi recalls, “She first examined the baby, and told me that he was in good health. But when she checked my vitals and measured my blood pressure, she looked worried. She asked me if I was in any kind of discomfort, and I told her about my headache. Calling my in-laws into the room, she informed us that my blood pressure was very high, and urged us to visit the hospital immediately. She even offered to take me to hospital, but my family members promised that they would take me.”

Worried about Laxmi and unsure about whether her family would act on her advice, Sheela shared her number with the family before she left, making sure that she was just a phone call away – a simple, instinctive gesture would help save Laxmi’s life later that night, when her health deteriorated.

“I was woken up by the sound of my mobile phone, ringing incessantly. It was pitch dark outside, but when I saw the name of the caller on the screen, I knew something had gone terribly wrong. When I answered the call, it was Laxmi’s husband crying at the other end: Laxmi was having convulsions. I knew I had to help the family,” recalls Sheela. Sheela rushed to Laxmi’s aid, reaching her home and taking her to the community health centre first, and subsequently to the district hospital, where she was given treatment.

While Laxmi and her son are both in good health today, this incident impressed upon all villagers in Katkona the need to be vigilant about a mother’s health in the immediate aftermath of childbirth. Sheela says, “In villages, once the baby is born, the entire attention of the family shifts from the mother to the new-born. This is what happened in Laxmi’s case. Thanks to the training that I had received from RF, I knew that elevated blood pressure, accompanied by headache, is a sign of danger during and after pregnancy.”

Acknowledging the role played by her Sangini didi, Laxmi says, “If there is one person I am grateful towards, it’s the Sangini didi. Throughout my pregnancy, she was my pillar of support. From getting me registered for ante-natal check-ups at the government hospital to ensuring that I delivered my baby in hospital, she helped me in every way. On that fateful night when I fell sick, she showed her willingness to help me even at an odd hour. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the love of my baby today. She still visits us. I hope and pray that she gets to help more women like me, who need her.”

Almost as an answer to Laxmi’s prayers, Swasth Sanginis today have a presence in 39 villages in the Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh. Identified by RF with the help of members of the community and the village panchayat, the trained Swasth Sanginis identify signs of danger in the ante-natal and post-natal phases of the gestation cycle. They also provide guidance on good nutritional practices for the mother and appropriate feeding practices for the new-born. They arrange community meetings, mobilise the formation of health committees, conduct home visits, and provide point-of-care diagnostic services for anaemia, blood-sugar content, and high or low blood pressure. If anomalies are detected, they link the women to relevant government health facilities.

Determined to use all the skill and resources at their disposal to ease expecting mothers into a new phase of their lives, Swasth Sanginis encounter diverse challenges every day, and routinely use their practical wisdom and presence of mind to save lives, by offering timely guidance, help and support.