Joy, excitement, exhaustion – these are all common feelings among expectant mothers.
But for women in Myanmar, lack of trained medical staff can add worry and fear to the mix.
“My first child was born at home, with the help of a traditional birth attendant like most people.
“But I had a terrible pain inside me and I knew something was wrong,” says Cho Cho Win in Myanmar. “I was so afraid. I thought my baby and I would die, I suffered so much.”
Luckily mother and baby survived. But when Cho Cho Win became pregnant with her second child, she began to feel anxious that the same thing could happen again.
“I was so worried when I was pregnant the second time,” Cho Cho Win says. “Every night I couldn’t sleep.”
“So I went to see my community health worker for advice. This time she helped organise a hospital check-up for me.”
Helping mothers stay safe
The community health worker that Cho Cho Win saw is one of three in her village. They are all supported by the Red Cross.
Each worker spends a month at the local hospital to learn more about health care and build relationships with local midwives and doctors.
In the past, nearly everyone in Cho Cho Win’s village of Mu Thar gave birth at home with support from a traditional birth attendant. This is usually an older woman from the local community who helps deliver babies but has no formal health training.
Now, the community health workers help women get care from the public health midwife. The midwife visits the village to carry out check-ups.
If there is a problem and the midwife cannot be contacted, the community health workers immediately arrange for the pregnant women to be taken to the nearest hospital. In emergencies, the Red Cross covers the transport costs.
The trip to hospital takes just over an hour by car in the dry season. In non-emergency cases, women travel to the hospital by motorbike or ox cart.
But in the rainy season, roads turn to mud and the only option is to travel by boat.
Thankfully, for Cho Cho Win, the road was still accessible when she was taken into hospital for a check-up.
Support before, during and after the birth
At the check-up “the doctor said the problems during the first pregnancy were caused by the placenta,” Cho Cho Win said. “Because of this, this child must not be born at home. He should be born in hospital.”
“My second child was very easy for me. Every month during my pregnancy the community health worker came to support me.
“My little boy, Htet Wai Kyaw, was born in the hospital.”
The support also continued for Cho Cho Win and her small son when she returned home.
“After my baby was born, when he was just one week old he suffered from jaundice.
“I went to the community health worker again, who said I had to go back to hospital. We stayed there for another six days.”
Because the Red Cross community health workers live in the villages where they work, they are always on hand to support their community.
The team in Mu Thar Village provide general medical advice and organised a village cleaning session to make sure homes are clean and hygienic.
In addition, they go house to house to share information on dengue fever, which is carried by mosquitoes. This includes warning people not to leave standing water – where mosquitoes can breed – around their homes.
“The community health workers, they live in this village” said Cho Cho Win. “We believe them, we trust them.”