Jeera Devi was born in 1994. Nearly two decades ago, when the health system was not proficient, and there was a lack of awareness, particularly in the rural areas. She was born in conditions which are not feasible for delivery. There was no midwife to assist her ailing mother, and women from the other houses came forward. With no birth preparedness, Jeera Devi was born. The only light source was a flickering lamp.

Unfortunately, she was not the only one to be born in unhealthy conditions at home. Before her, five of her brothers were born at home. When she was six, she had a younger sister, who was also born at home. Jeera recalls her mother and her painful voice as the delivery took place. She was too young to understand the situation, yet she was frightened. All her siblings were born at home, without the assistance of a midwife.

Jeera Devi was married to Bhulu Singh at the tender age of 12. However, she started living with her husband in Adour block, Kimura district of Bihar five years later. It was a happy time for the couple, as she recalls. The trouble started in 2013 when she learnt she was pregnant, and her memories took her instantly to a flashback that she feared. She recalled the pain her mother went through while giving birth to her younger sister. On one side, she was happy to welcome a new life but on the other hand, she was scared. Every day, she shared her fear with her sister in law. Her sister in law and mother in law would tell her, that in their village delivery at home is not a new concept. When the time comes, her fears would go away. But for Jeera, each passing day was of fear. She even told her husband about her fear, but he ignored her.

When Jeera was delivering the baby, she fainted and later when she regained her conscious, she noticed her own mother in law was administering the delivery procedure. She feared her nightmare was turning into a reality. Later she told herself that she would stand strong and be a brave mother. An hour passed without much success and she was in unbearable pain. Her mother in law was furious, and she was coaxing her to push out the baby. Jeera was exhausted, but being an obedient daughter in law, she pushed with all her energy. Soon after that, she fell unconscious. When she woke up her baby was next to her, wrapped in an unclean cloth.

She was too afraid to raise her voice. However, she held her child happily near her chest and looked at her. She said to herself at that moment that she will not risk another new life when the time comes. Since the village was in a remote area, health facilities were limited. The Referral Hospital(RH) was unclean and due to the shortage of trained midwives, people hesitated to opt for delivery there.

Three years passed by, Jeera Devi was expecting another child. This time she decided not to seek help from her family. She heard that in the last two years the Referral hospital was renovated and shifted to a new building. She walked all the way from her village to have a look at the changes. She intended to break the unsafe stereotype of giving birth at home. Accredited Social Health Activist or commonly called  ASHA workers were now present in the village. ASHA workers are women trained in maternal and childbirth preparedness. Jeera was very delighted with this information because  Manika Devi an ASHA worker was her neighbour. She was like a light shining out in the darkness for Jeera.

In her spare time, she would meet her and try to learn as much as she could about childbirth. As she recalls, in those discussions she understood how risky it was to give birth at home, she thanked her stars for her safe delivery. In the night, Jeera would narrate her knowledge with her husband who now loves her for opening his eyes and enlightening him. One afternoon, Manika took Jeera to the RH, as she told her that a CARE official was expected to review the ASHAs of the block.

The official reviewed the entire facility and interacted with the ASHAs midwives, doctors and including the  janitors. He was not surprised to find the poor state of the delivery room, with the unavailability of different types of equipment. Jeera managed to ask the official with fear if there would be changes in the current scenario. The official smiled, for two reasons. One because Jeera was the only villager to speak her mind, and secondly, she was happy because the locals were concerned about maternal health rights. His translator later addressed the crowd and Jeera left, with some hope.

Closer to the delivery she was not scared. Along with Manika she visited the Anganwadi, a small enclosure that provides basic health-related needs to the villagers. Her weight was checked, and she was injected, as she recalls. She was given tablets of Iron folic and the Anganwadi worker told her birth preparedness and its importance. Her diet was changed, thanks to her husband who now took good care of her. This time, her family  realised their mistakes.

Her second visit to the Anganwadi was repeated with the same procedure. Manika would visit her once in a week, the Anganwadi worker would also come to inquire of her health. With so much love and affection showered by everyone, Jeera was spellbound. Finally, the day arrived. But her pain started early at 2 AM and the RH was far. To her surprise, her husband called the local auto rickshaw. He told her that transportation was also a crucial component of birth preparedness. She was taken to the RH, Manika by her side along with her own mother in law. Once they reached the facility, the faint memory Jeera could revive was of a clean room strongly smelling of disinfectant. The only people she could recall in the room was the doctor in a green apron, her mother in law and Manika. Then she said, she was injected and then her pain subsided. At around 4 AM, she gave birth to her second daughter, who was wrapped in clean clothes and put on a radiant warmer. The baby was healthier as compared to her first child.

Her fears vanished, and she was discharged from the RH at around 9 AM. Greeted by her family and in-laws, Jeera recalls that day with a smile. Her second child’s birth had given hope to her community . Thus, encouraging them to give birth at the RH. Jeera gave birth to her son in January 2018.CARE India’s last visit to Jeera revealed that the couple has sought family planning measures due to the encouragement of Manika Devi.

The story of Jeera Devi highlights CARE India’s interventions and how a facility that was considered unreliable with no quality of doctors and team, is now a flourishing aid to the locals. It houses its own medical store, has an eminent delivery room with updated equipment and has routine monitoring by CARE officials. Events are organized, medical and health awareness camps are held where CARE is the prominent supporting body. Today, RH Adhoura is the place where deliveries take place and birth at home has drastically gone down. CARE takes a special interest in the training of the block health managers and ASHAs from time to time to ensure that people are aware and prepared in times of health emergencies.



Ronnie Clive Francis