Motherhood: An impressive feat for Bajura moms

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A story of mothers in Bajura who gave birth to 15 children but could not save half of them.

-Prakash Singh: Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal

Bishna Kala Thapa, 41, of Himali village municipality -1, Bajura has apparently a womb of steel. This June, she gave birth to her 16th baby at the district health post. However, she gave birth to other 15 children in her house without the assistance of health care providers.

Among 16 children, only seven are alive now. How could anyone speculate that her biggest achievement – after her marriage at a tender age of 14 – she has been giving birth to 16 children? Ask her how she managed to endure such pain. She has no answer. Her husband Jaidhan Thapa, however, has a modest answer: “We had no idea…no contraceptive facilities.” Sighs!

Dr. Tika Ram Rai, medical officer at Bajura emergency pregnancy center says, “Bishna Kala has become anemic along with some other complications.” In fact, Bishna Kala’s family is undergoing disaster. Farmer Jaidhan, whose yield does not even suffices three months, is panicked and troubled. A question that regularly pops up in his mind is about raising his children and saving his wife.

He works as a laborer at Kolti bazaar while at times he sells medicinal herbs to make a living. His eldest child is an eighth grader. Asked about educating his children, he quips, “Forget about studies, the concern is about survival.”

Arma Buda of Swamikartik village municipality was almost dead while giving birth to her 16th baby six months ago at a primary health center in Kolti. Married at the age of 15, Arma’s life is not too different from Bishna Kala. Her seven out of 15 babies were stillborn. According to Arma’s husband, Payan Buda, only the 16thbaby was born in a health post. If so, were all the 15 children born at home? The answer is ‘no’. “Some were born in the fields, some in the jungle, and some…” he recalls.

These heartrending stories of Bishna and Arma are merely symbolic ones that represent the far-western hilly district of Bajura. Majority of the couples of the district neither have idea about contraceptives and family planning techniques nor do they have plans or knowledge about the appropriate age for conceiving a baby.

Shristi Regmi, Deputy Mayor of Budinanda municipality says, “This practice is not unusual here. This is common in the villages of Bajura.”

A mother of 14 children, 42-year-old Kalsari Buda of Himali village municipality candidly expresses her woes, “There were no health posts to undergo pregnancy test. We gave birth anywhere felt comfortable.” Women of this district are still facing hardship due to lack of modern facilities like transportation, communication and knowledge. Kalsari is only a representative character, who has undergone numerous sufferings while giving birth to a baby in the village. Despite leading a miserable life with insufficient food and clothing, Kalsari sent her children to school but the adverse situation in her family compelled her to send children to collect medicinal herbs or to work as laborers in Kolti and Martadi bazaar. She says, “Don’t know why, I started experiencing pain in my uterus after I gave birth to my fifth child. What else can I do than to endure the pain?”

The story is similar to 62-year-old Muga Giri of Budinanda-2. She gave birth to 18 children, including twins. Now a mother of nine living children, Muga says, “People take it a burden to raise one or two children. Imagine how we raised our children by feeding sisnu (a plant that gives burning sensation when touched).” Hard to believe, but says she never ate at her fullest while raising her children. Now, she complains of back pain at sometimes and problem in her uterus. “Perhaps, God saved us,” she grins.

Uterus prolapsed problem

Due to unsafe delivery, lack of rest and giving birth to many children create problem in the uterus for many women in the village. Many women have been facing uterus prolapsed problem, which they have been hiding with the fear of family and society.

Another Namakala Buda of Swamikartik municipality-3 also gave birth to 13 babies. She got problem in her uterus after she gave birth to her fifth child. Like other women, she also gave birth to her children at home; some were at jungle and or in the working fields. She said, she has not seen any doctor yet, and the only reason is poverty.

Nankala Kathayat of Swamikartik-5, who gave birth to 14 children, shares the same story of pain in the uterus. She narrates a horrific story of how she is going through the uterus prolapsed problem while giving birth to a baby.

For Laxmi Pandit, 73 of Badimalika-3, it’s been 10 years she is suffering from uterus prolapsed.  She felt ashamed to share the problem to her husband and other relatives. The problem first occurred while giving birth to her third child. Only after a decade of her problem, she got chance to share it with health workers at the district health office in Bajura. Luckily, she managed to grab the opportunity of free health camp to get her problem operated and relieved.

Another 35-year-old Jalu Saud of Badimalika-8 has been suffering from the same problem since the last 21 years. She had been suffering from uterus prolapsed problem soon after she gave birth to her first baby at the age of 14. She gave birth to three other children despite being aware of the problem.

Badimalika municipality’s 50-year-old Fugi Dani, who underwent successful operation, shares the same story. Senior health assistant at the district health office in Bajura, Tek Bahadur Khadka says, “Marriage in a tender age, giving birth to too many babies, carrying heavy load during and after pregnancy are some of the main causes of uterus prolapsed.”

According to senior health worker Sharmila Shahi, lack of education is one of the reasons for this problem. She described the situation as “horrible”. Usually, 20-35 years is considered ideal to give birth to a child. However, a 20-year-old woman in western remote villages does have two to three children. Giving birth to babies continue until 45 years of age, which is unsafe to both mother and child.

Consider what Dr. Rup Chandra Biswokarma, Chief of District Health Office has to say: “The root cause of the problem is early marriage, and maternity in a tender age or old age.”

Weak and crooked

Another common problem among the women is anemia. A 35-year-old woman of Budinanda municipality-8 gave birth to 11 babies and has been living with anemia. Doma Gurung has only three survivals now.

Dr. Biswokarma says, “Insufficient intake of green leaves, vegetables and iron-based food causes anemia.” Bisnakala Thapa, who took the help of health worker to give birth to her 16th baby, had to be given two pints of blood due to anemia. Many other mothers are now suffering from back pain as well. These mothers look aged in early forties, and even can’t walk straight. Mufa Giri, who gave birth to 18 children, can’t walk straight due to severe back pain. Kalchu Nepali, 55, of Budiganga-9 too faced the same problem while giving birth to her 11th child.

 Culture and poverty

Janajati women representing Bhote community of the northern belt of Bajura district basically have this problem and seem to be getting worse because of unhygienic and unsafe pregnancy. Hard work and lack of rest during pregnancy and after delivery are other reasons for getting weak and anemic.

Nrip Thapa (Bhote), Chairman of Federation of Bhote Janajati says, “Most of the Bhote women are compelled to give birth to babies on the way while migrating to warmer areas (for six months) to protect from cold basically due to poverty.”

Majority of people in the mid and far western hilly districts like Bajura, Bajhang, Mugu, Humla, and Jumla have the practice of seasonal migration to warmer areas during winter season when many women give birth to babies on the way or even in the fields. These women neither see health posts during pregnancy nor do they administer vaccines to them and their children. That creates problem to both mother and babies and such stories are hard to come out in the public.

Janajatis representing the Bhote community basically reside in the northern belt of Bajura district. Seasonal migration, geographical remoteness, and lack of awareness have been the major reasons for their ignorance about health posts and facilities. Moreover, health posts in these districts are neither equipped nor effective. Dipak Shah, senior health assistant of district health office says, “Problems could be numerous, but the major problem is poverty.”

From : CIJ Nepal