The moment I stepped into the dimly lit house in rural Jharkhand, my life was transformed. As I stepped into the home, I saw a baby boy sleeping on the bed in the corner of the room. When I came closer, he turned his head and saw me through his big brown eyes, but it wasn’t until his tiny hand grasped mine that my heart melted and I truly understood the pricelessness of a human life. However, this baby was no ordinary child. In 2015, a village Sahiya named Babita visited a mother who was 8 months pregnant. The mother was already having contractions and labor pain, so Babita travelled with her to the hospital.
At the hospital, the doctors found that the woman was anemic, which had not been identified during earlier check-ups. The woman would have been treated with iron pills if Babita had known that she was anemic, but since the woman had not been treated, any bleeding would be lethal to both her and her baby. The doctors demanded that Babita sign a waiver in order to give the mother medicine, but Babita was unable to sign the waiver as a result of confusion in the hospital pharmacy. The anemic mother gave birth to her baby that day, but the premature baby boy was born at only 3 pounds, making him a very high-risk baby. Luckily, the baby was fine for the first day; however, by the second day, he was vomiting so severely that the doctors at the hospital were convinced that he had no chance of survival. The doctors measured his temperature, which had decreased to 93 degrees Fahrenheit, determining that he had hypothermia and needed treatment. However, since the family did not have the money to pay for the treatment, they took the baby home. Though there was little hope, Babita persevered, determined to help the baby survive. At home, Babita harnessed the village’s largest natural resource, placing the baby in the sun so that it would keep warm. She then taught the mother how to express her milk and spoon-feed the baby who was too weak to feed normally.
With the help of the Sahiya, the baby’s temperature became normal and he started to gain weight, and now at 1-year old, he is happy and healthy. The way that the Sahiyas are trained by AIF is unique because they are given skills that extend beyond those of a medical doctor and are much more relevant to the problems faced by people living in these communities. However, not all babies are lucky enough to be saved, sometimes obstacles such as the cost of receiving care in a hospital causes many husbands to prevent their wives from receiving proper care, which can cost him a much greater price, the lives both his wife and his child. Another Sahiya named Bharati came to visit a mother who was only seven months into her pregnancy. This mother was very young, meaning that she was at a high risk of experiencing fatal complications during birth. When Bharati arrived at the home, the woman was bleeding, so Bharati advised her family to let her to go to the hospital. Bharati travelled with the mother in a car to get to the hospital, and on their way there, the woman started to bleed very heavily. When they arrived at the hospital, the doctors realized that her health was in critical condition and that she could die any at any moment. In hopes to save the mother’s life, she was given injections to stop the bleeding, however these injections actually caused her water to break instead. The doctors were alarmed, since she had gone into labor three months early, and they decided that they could not take care of the mother, so they demanded that she depart for the bigger hospital. While the mother was on her way to the bigger hospital in an ambulance, the Sahiya observed that the woman’s stomach appeared unusually large for her size.
The mystery was solved when the woman started to give birth in the ambulance. Using her bare hands, the Sahiya helped the woman deliver the first baby. After the first baby was delivered, the Sahiya noticed that that something was not quite right, since the woman was still in labor. The Sahiya then realized that the woman had not been pregnant with just one baby, but instead, twins. She then helped the woman deliver the last baby before they arrived at the hospital and she recorded that at birth, the twins only weighed 1 kilogram and .9 kilograms. Since these babies were premature by 3 months and they both had very low birth weights, their lives could be over in a matter of seconds if they were not taken care of. When they reached the hospital in the ambulance, the Sahiya told the woman’s family that her newborns needed to be put in an incubator if there was any hope for survival. However, the cost to put one baby in an incubator was about 700,000 rupees (roughly $10,000), which was not affordable for the family. Though her children’s’ health was in dire condition, the mother’s family forced the mother to take the twins back home, where they died the following day.
This story demonstrates that though the lives of the woman’s twins could not have been saved, the Sahiya used her skills and training to save the woman’s life. Though barriers such as cost became the ultimate unavoidable obstacle for this family, this instance has empowered the woman to take charge of the health of both her pregnancies as well as her children in the future and has taught her husband the serious consequences of premature births and will motivate him to take input from the Sahiya seriously next time, even if it means sacrificing money to ensure the good health of his future children. Even in these situations, the Sahiya is still creating a positive impact on her community and educating people about the seriousness of high-risk pregnancies as well as the dangers of premature and low weight births.
Through AIF’s training, a Sahiya learns how to think on her feet like a doctor, because a baby’s life could end in just a matter of seconds. However, she also knows how to come up with frugal solutions and harness the resources available to her in the village since many families chose not to deliver at a hospital for these financial reasons. One misconception that I had before visiting this baby boy whom I mentioned at the beginning of the article was that AIF’s MANSI initiative could be summed up as a kit filled with concrete items. However, once my fingers were grasped by his strong, yet tiny hand, I realized that MANSI is really about each and every life empowered and saved by the incredible Sahiyas, and that is not something that can be wrapped in a box.