Chandra Bisht doesn’t have a moment to spare. She begins her work in the maternity ward of the Women’s Hospital Haldwani, meeting mothers who gave birth the night before. Then she’s off to the labor room to talk to women in early stages of labor, circles around to the prenatal care area where women wait for their checkups, before she starts her rounds again. “As the only family planning counselor at this hospital, I want to make sure I don’t miss out on a single woman,” she says.
In less than two years as a family planning counselor in this hospital in Uttarakhand State, Chandra has changed the face of postpartum family planning at this facility and gained the respect of doctors and paramedical staff. And she is not alone. Hundreds of committed Family Planning Counselors like Chandra are playing an increasingly vital role in the uptake of postpartum family planning services –explaining the benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and family planning methods to women and their families.
Chandra and her colleagues often convince reluctant husbands and mothers-in-law to support a pregnant woman or new mother in choosing a family planning method.
Family planning indeed is beneficial to families because it protects the lives or improves the health of the young mothers, the wives of the husbands, and of course, the children. Anurhada Gupta, Mission Director of National Rural Health Mission Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
“Despite our best efforts, it would have been very hard to make a success of this program without the help of our counselor,” says Dr. Meena Bhat, the Medical Superintendent at Women’s Hospital, Haldwani.
Healthy birth spacing is fundamentally about saving the lives of women and newborns. In Uttarakhand, one out of every 28 infants born annually dies before its first birthday and one out of every 279 mothers loses her life due to birth related complications.
Anuradha Gupta, Mission Director of National Rural Health Mission Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has said that family planning is a key component of India’s strategy on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health: “Family planning indeed is beneficial to families because it protects the lives or improves the health of the young mothers, the wives of the husbands, and of course, the children.”
Chandra is among two dozen counselors now employed by India’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) to promote postpartum family planning to women and families in the state. Their role as a FP counselor has given these women a distinct identity. As one FP counselor recently told me, “We get to know the lives of the women in the community and the challenges they face on a daily basis more closely. Counseling these women to adopt family planning methods which will help improve their conditions has increased our self-worth.”
A single mother, Chandra grew up in the same neighborhood in which she works. “Maybe the hardships I have faced makes me more determined to help the women of my community to live a better life,” says Chandra, who received her training through the US Agency for International Development’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program.
To be an effective counselor, it takes much more than sound knowledge. It takes skill, commitment and compassion. These qualities have helped Chandra make such a difference at her facility. Her simplicity, ability to listen to the women and talk to them and their families like their own, is a big reason behind her success.
To read about how frontline health workers like Chandra are leading the way in promoting family planning, click here.