It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the monthly SHARE group meeting in Sotuba is about to get started.
SHARE is our special savings program for pregnant women. At each meeting, women not only save funds for their maternal care and delivery, they also receive maternal health information, as well as sharing and receiving plenty of support. Everyone is welcomed warmly; there are plenty of chairs waiting and you can settle right into one and join the circle.
The meeting starts with the group’s facilitator sharing greetings and introductions. Today, the midwife from the Sotuba health center joins the meeting, as she often does, as well as the president of the ASACO, the community health association. The president is here to get to know the needs of women in her community and make sure the health center is responding to them. You see a few other women from the community walk over to join the circle too, just to hear the health information.
You notice that a few of the women have newborns and have already given birth. The women who participate in SHARE are at different stages of their pregnancy and the topic for discussion changes each month. The group facilitator reminds them of last month’s discussion and then she introduces the subject for this month. Because a few women are due soon, today the midwife walks women through what to expect during delivery at the health center.
She stresses the importance of planning for delivery early, advising women to think through all the details. She encourages them to choose the person who will accompany them to the health center, bring the funds they have been saving and their Mali Health card, bring at least five cotton cloths for the baby, bring soap to wash, and bring clothes for the baby and themselves to go home in. Throughout the conversation, women ask questions and the midwife occasionally stops to make sure everyone understands what to expect. She invites women who recently gave birth to share their experiences. She asks other women about their birth plans and questions they have about their preparations.
You can feel the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in the group. Even when the presentation concludes, the group continues to chat and those who have already given birth share stories and advice. One of the women is pregnant with her first child and she seems a bit scared after listening one of the others talk about a more challenging delivery. Soon, the whole group notices her discomfort and begins to console and encourage her. She still has a few more months to prepare for her own delivery.
The purpose of the group is not just to ensure they have information about their pregnancies and make sure they are prepared financially, building relationships is just as important. Women in SHARE value the connections they make with one another and express their desire to support other mothers in their neighborhood. There is an openness among them here in this group that is unique; they don’t have many opportunities to talk with other women about their health, children, and lives. After their shared experience, they tell you how they feel like sisters.
Perhaps the most important relationship they build is with the midwife, which helps them build the trust they need to deliver at the health center with her help. The monthly talks provide a safe space to ask questions and get all the information they would not otherwise have, which also builds their confidence. Women note that their connection with her feels more like that of a trusted friend.
At the end of their meeting, you notice that saying goodbye seems to be the hardest part. Women linger and chat, checking in with those who gave birth, asking about someone who stayed home today. They all must get home to continue with their day’s chores, but they are soaking up every moment, until they meet again next month.