It’s a Tuesday afternoon, the monthly SHARE group meeting in Sotuba is about to get started. SHARE is our special savings program for pregnant women. They not only save funds for their maternal care and delivery, but they also receive information about their health and pregnancies and 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 facilitator sharing greetings and introductions. Today, the midwife from the Sotuba health center has joined the meeting, as she usually does, as well as the president of the ASACO, or community health association. She is here to get to know the needs of women in her community and make sure the health center is responding to them. A few other women from the community join too, just to hear the health information.
You notice that a few of the women have newborns and have already given birth. The women in SHARE are all at different stages of their pregnancy, so 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 they discuss what to expect during delivery at the health center.
The midwife stresses the importance of planning for delivery early and advises 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 to share parts of their birth plans and questions they have about them.
You notice there is a 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 from their past experiences. One of the women is pregnant with her first child and she seemed a bit scared after listening one of the others talk about a more challenging delivery. Soon, the whole group notices her discomfort and begin to console and encourage her. She still has a few more months to prepare for her delivery.
The purpose of the group is not just to inform and make sure women are prepared financially – building relationships is just as important. Women value the relationships they are building with one another and express their desire to support mothers in their neighborhood. 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 are soaking up every moment, until they meet again next month.