For a happy childhood
‘The shortest way to a mother’s heart goes through saving her child’
‘There is a saying that to understand someone, you need to put yourself into their shoes,’ says Nurten, a nurse with the Maternal and Child Health Centre in the town of Shumen supported by UNICEF. In her daily work she is guided by the belief that ‘it’s the way we touch other people’s lives that counts.’ Having met Sophia, she once again reaffirms to herself that ‘the shortest way to a mother’s heart sometimes passes through saving her child.’
The lack of money and support had been the reason for that mother to consider abandoning her child.
‘When Sophia called me, she was eight months pregnant and thus far had not seen a doctor. She complained she had no income. She told me she had spent several months in the Netherlands looking for a job. Once she realized she was pregnant, she came back to Bulgaria and now lives with her mother. She has two other children, aged seven and five. I saw her at home, the house is neat and tidy, but too small, that’s why her husband doesn’t live there. Her emaciated body betrayed anemia as a result of undernourishment. She said she would put her as-yet-unborn child up for adoption. The lack of money had broken her.
Still, the fact that she was taking good and loving care of her other two children, and the fact that she had sought my help, gave me hope
that I would be able to persuade her to change her mind. So I took her to the doctor for a check-up. The baby seemed to be doing well, so we started preparing the requisite documents. With the Mayor’s assistance, we took out a temporary registration for Sophia in the village where she lives, so she would be eligible for social security. Then we completed the documents for the coming delivery. We went back to the doctor for another check-up. Like the previous time, Sophia was lying on the couch with an expression of utter indifference. To some extent, I could understand her: she had born her first child at fifteen, missing a very important stage in her life: maturity, and perhaps had not been ready to be a mother. Besides, having only finished fourth grade at school, she had no idea what was going on in her body during pregnancy, as though she was not aware there was a child growing inside her. I therefore asked the doctor to turn the monitor towards her, so she could see and feel the life within. While he was showing her the baby moving its arms, rolling its eyes, the little heart beating, her expression changed. Her maternal instincts had awoken. As we were leaving the doctor’s office,
Sophia looked at me and said, ‘My girl is kicking.’ The miracle, as I call it, had happened.
I was hoping that this would turn things around, but as soon as she entered the maternity ward she again declared she was going to abandon the baby. The doctors immediately alerted the local Child Protection unit so a foster family would be put on stand-by. Two days later Sophia called me, she was crying on the phone, I could barely make out her words. She said the moment she had seen her daughter she realized she was making a mistake, that she would never part with her, and she was asking me to help her keep the child. Meanwhile her husband had found lodgings and a cot for the baby, and had whitewashed the walls and cleaned up everything. However, the foster family proceedings had already been set in motion so I had to meet with my colleagues from Child Protection to explain that the mother had been confused, and that all conditions for raising a child had been met.
I promised that the child would be kept an eye on and supported by the Maternal and Child Health Centre and they agreed that Sophia could keep the baby.
At first, I would visit her twice a week, I showed her how to breastfeed the baby, how to oil her body and massage her, how to clean her navel; I advised her to interact more with the child, as well as to avoid long-rejected practices like ‘salting’ the baby, keeping her tightly wrapped in her nappies, bathing her with egg yolk or rubbing ash over her body. As she started coping quite well on her own, from one point onwards I started seeing less of her, but we remained close. She was grateful to me for giving her my support the whole time without judging her, and I was grateful to her for helping me keep my faith in the power of maternal love.
A year later, the bottom line is as follows: A child is growing happy and peaceful in her family, rather than being handed from institution to institution.
It is stories like this one that fill me with optimism and make me proud to be part of the Maternal and Child Health Centre in Shumen.
What is a MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH CENTRE like?
At the core of this UNICEF supported activity is the understanding of early childhood as an exceptionally important period with an impact on the health, education and self-fulfillment of every human being. Present-day scientific data show that investment in parental support programs in those critically important years of a child’s life after birth, when the foundations for personal development and well-being are laid, contribute to the formation of a healthy and successful generation.
In early 2013 UNICEF Bulgaria, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the Social Assistance Agency and the Bulgarian Association of Healthcare Professionals, developed the model for a Centre for Maternal and Child Health. The methodology for the Centre’s operation has been approved by the Ministry of Health. Through their operation the Centres supplement and expand the work of general practitioners and pediatricians in out-patient care in terms of parental counseling, awareness and education, thus contributing to the early detection of risk factors for the well-being of children and an early intervention for mitigating those factors.
The centres provide home visits to would-be parents and families with children up to 3 years of age, in order to support the provision of the most nurturing conditions for their development. At present, the project is being implemented on pilot basis in the territory of two Bulgarian districts: Shumen and Sliven.
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*Based on a true story. The image used is unrelated to the actual characters in the narrative.
:: See the newest UNICEF report "Early Moments Matter For Every Child".
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