By Emma Mafara Originally from UNICEF Zimbabwe
After delivering 7 babies at home and suffering a miscarriage, Maria is now an advocate for safer deliveries at health facilities.
Maria Zhangazha, a 36-year-old mother of eight, quivers as she recalls how a failed home birth resulted in a miscarriage that almost killed her due to excessive bleeding.
From the town of Shamva in Mashonaland Central Province, she explains how she fainted due to bleeding and the grief and anxiety that followed the traumatic experience.
“Delivering a baby at home can be a life-threatening experience for many women like us hindered from accessing safe delivery services due to our religious beliefs,” shared Maria who is a member of an apostolic religious sect that often refuse medical treatment of any kind, even in the most severe cases of injury or illness.
Maria, like most women from her religious sect had never experienced a safe facility delivery.
“I delivered my seven children at home with the assistance of traditional birth attendants. This is normal for us who belong to my church (apostolic faith). In 2018, I suffered a miscarriage for my eighth pregnancy and that almost claimed my life,” Maria said.
The trauma she suffered following the miscarriage changed her mind about home delivery.
However, two years after the miscarriage, she conceived again: “I was stressed and often imagined that I would die and leave my other children.”
Thanks to the UNICEF trained Village Health Workers now embedded within her apostolic community who have helped in increasing knowledge and awareness on Maternal Neonatal Child Health (MNCH) and social issues, she felt compelled and received an early antenatal booking at a healthcare facility.
“The Village Health Workers selected from within our religious sect came to our community and shared the benefits of early antenatal bookings and facility deliveries with us, specifically on safe delivery and childcare, hearing the message from one of our own ,I felt empowered and confident to make decisions about my sexual reproductive health” Maria added.
She visited her local clinic for antenatal care, for the first time and received counselling.
With the presence of qualified and experienced birth attendants and health workers, safe deliveries are now possible for mothers like Maria, who were among the 7,659 pregnant women reached with the VHWs health education activities in Mashonaland Central last year.
“When I was nearing my expected delivery date, my husband took me to Shamva town together with my youngest two-year-old children to stay with his sister close to the hospital. He was also worried considering my previous delivery. He kept praying for me and the baby,” stated Maria.
‘‘I became motivated after my first delivery experience at the health facility and made regular visits, to ensure that all my children get other services such as vaccinations, which my other seven children did not get before,” she added.
Maria is now an active advocate for young women within the apostolic sect to register early for antenatal care, to deliver their babies in the facility, and to access healthcare services to keep their families safe from diseases.
“I feel happy that my child is healthy. The services are good at the hospital. At home I would deliver on a dirty sack, the traditional birth attendants would use unsterilized razor blades and thread. This time I had all the support from the nurses, and I felt at ease compared to what I used to do while delivering at home.”
Maria is now urging women to stop the risky and potentially harmful practices and visit health facilities to avoid unwanted outcomes. She is one of the thousands of women who were supported by UNICEF with support from The Australian Government and the Health Development Fund (HDF), which is funded by the EU, UK Aid, Sweden, Irish Aid, Gavi and
Shamva District Community Health Nurse, Netty Nelson said that UNICEF is working with health facilities in Mashonaland Central and across the country for better quality health care services.
“The programme helps improve facilities, train the health workers, and provides essential medicines and medical supplies,” he said.
One of UNICEF’s key partners – the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET) is providing support through engaging hesitant communities to address social norms that hinder young women and girls from the uptake of MNCH services for young women. It is also working on changing behaviours in Apostolic communities around COVID-19 prevention as well as prevention of Gender-Based Violence.