I met Pushpa last year at a health post in Bardiya, a far-western district in Nepal. I was instantly inspired by her story and continue to draw inspiration from it.
“I was only 15 when I got married and 16 when I had my first baby. I thought the baby would be born easily but the labour pain lasted few days. I still could not give birth. My hands were tied to a branch of a tree outside the house for four days. It was supposed to help me push the baby out. The traditional birth attendant didn’t know what to do. I gave birth to a baby girl like that,” Pushpa says, recalling her harrowing experience at childbirth.
This experience changed her life forever. She decided at the young age of 18, already a mother of two children by then, to become a nurse. She took the grade ten exams that year to complete high school. Going back to school is not an easy choice for a married woman in a rural area. She decided that she would earn the money required to see her through college by poultry farming. A year later, she got an opportunity to join auxiliary nurse and midwife course on a government scholarship along with four other women. She now had to look after her home, her husband, his parents and her children while attending classes. She failed her first year exams. This didn’t discourage her. She worked harder the next year and finished the course.
Pushpa, now 36, is working as an auxiliary nurse and midwife at Dhodhari sub-health post in Bardiya, a district in far-western Nepal for the last three years. Bracketed between a plush mustard field and a dusty road, the sub-health post is a busy place now. She looks after women from her village and adjoining areas who come to the health post to have their babies delivered by her. Helping women through the birthing process and looking after newborn babies is part of her daily life.
Few kilometres away from the Dhodhari sub-health post, a young woman named Asha was having a prolonged labour at home over a year ago. She was brought into the health post as Asha’s condition worsened. Pushpa helped Asha give birth to a baby girl but the baby was neither crying nor moving at the time of birth.
Pushpa had recently acquired newborn care skills through Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives programme’s community based newborn care training so she quickly tried to revive the baby by stimulating the baby and using the dee lee suction. She finally used the bag to resuscitate the baby. After a while, the baby started crying. She remembers being filled with the sense of relief when the baby finally started breathing.
“I have seen many babies born like Asha’s little girl, not breathing. I didn’t know how to save them. Now I know what to do now. I became a health worker thinking I will help women but now I am also saving newborns,” says Pushpa, who recently also managed to save pre-term twins born at the sub-health post.
The people in her village call her a “doctor” and she smiles with pride.
Quietly working away in village health posts, health workers like Pushpa is one of the reason why Nepal is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce deaths of children under the age of 5 by two thirds.
(Previously published in www.every1.asia)
Take action! This post was submitted in response to International Women's Day 2011: A Call for Heroes.