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CHANGING ENTRENCHED ATTITUDES

Updated October 23, 2018

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MOTHERS wait in line at the KMC maternity hospital in Gizri to get their newborns vaccinated.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
MOTHERS wait in line at the KMC maternity hospital in Gizri to get their newborns vaccinated.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Nazo Peerzada barely gets a minute to herself all week; when she isn’t preoccupied with taking girls from her neighbourhood to school or cleaning up her lane, she’s occupied with talking to women about their health.

Last weekend, Nazo had to take four pregnant women to the KMC maternity hospital in a rickshaw.

“One woman called me because her mother-in-law could not take her, another wanted some moral support, the third one had some blood pressure issues and I’ve been coming here regularly for the fourth one’s check-ups,” she said, adding that there had been times when she had to bring 10 women in rickshaws for delivery.

This is a recent change, she told Dawn while distributing goodie bags from the Mama Baby Fund, an emergency financial fund for maternal and neonatal health. Nazo keeps tabs on all the pregnant women who’ve shown up for their checkups, vaccinations, C-section and normal deliveries.

“I’m from a Pathan family. In our community and neighbourhood it is understood that women will give birth at home. They don’t realise how dangerous it can be. You need sterilised equipment to avoid infections and monitor blood pressure and other vitals. Women can die because of PPH — one wrong cut and a woman can lose more than 1,000ml of blood within 24 hours,” she explained.

“Our elders believe that since it worked for them and our ancestors before them it is good enough for us too. I had decided a long time ago that I would do something about this. I have seen too much sorrow in my own family to let others suffer as well. My aunt passed away during childbirth and my own mother lost a child due to birth-related complications,” she added.

According to Nazo, back in 1997 she started approaching women and tried to persuade them to start taking their health seriously. “I would talk to fathers, sons, husbands and explain to them why it is imperative to take their women to hospital to give birth. Initially, people did not respond well.

“They accused me of being dishonest and pointed fingers at my character. It was a tough time for me.”

Things changed a couple of years later when a woman in her neighbourhood (Neelum Colony) died during childbirth. “It was preventable. She died because of loss of blood. If they had taken her to hospital she would be alive today,” she said.

“That day things changed for me. People started taking me seriously. I also started wearing the abaya to gain the community’s trust. You know those typical mothers-in-law came up to me and asked me to take their daughters-in-law to the doctor,” she added.

Nazo usually takes women to a KMC hospital in Gizri. It costs women from low-income neighbourhoods like Neelum Colony, Shireen Jinnah Colony and Delhi Colony almost Rs4,000 to give birth.

“In a normal delivery we ask the woman to stay for a day-and-a half whereas in a caesarian we ask them to stay at least three days,” said Victoria, the head midwife at the hospital.

“The 50-bed hospital caters to a large number of women from different communities. On an average we have around six to seven births in a week, but some days are busier than others. For example, on Friday night/Saturday morning we had four newborns between 8pm and 8am. We’ve had more than 150 women here today for checkups, births and vaccinations,” she added.

During a round of the maternity ward, Nazo spots Baby R. Barely three days old and wrapped in a towel, the baby was wailing as his mother and grandmothers huddled over him.

“You can’t give him the bottle. The mother must learn how to feed him. Try again and again and he will latch on. Sit up, gather yourself and try to feed your child,” she said as the baby’s cries got louder.

Sitting in the waiting area with her twins, a relative of Nazo’s waits for her turn with the doctor.

“Her mother-in-law is my cousin. She had eight babies at home, but is bringing her son’s wife to the hospital because of me,” she said proudly.

Nazo’s cousin Zaibunnissa claimed that she had decided to take a step considered ‘bold’ by the rest of her family, including her sons, because she wanted healthy grandchildren.

“My time was different. My mother-in-law did not let me out of the house alone for anything. I wanted my daughter-in-law to have the opportunity I didn’t have so I bring her here myself,” she said.

Noreen, her daughter-in-law, is in her last trimester. She said she considered herself lucky to be giving birth at a hospital as she had seen women in her family literally bleed to death during childbirth.

“There are so many diseases in the world today. Why take risk? I don’t want to put my daughter-in-law or her children in danger,” said Zaibunnissa.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2018

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