By Alice Lin Fabiano, Worldwide Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson
“I am a mother of four, but every pregnancy and every baby is different.”
I met Sara* an HIV+ mother in front of her home in Malawi late last year. She graciously welcomed me for a conversation and shared her story. It was a hot day, and we found a shady spot under the tree near her home. She had a friendly smile and looked to be in her late forties. Her experienced eyes watched over her children nearby.
Grace, a new community member from mothers2mothers (m2m) who mentors HIV+ women including Sara, joined us. Sara told us the story of her most recent pregnancy. She reflected on the difference having a “friend” like Grace made, providing information and encouragement, even though she’d given birth before. I was surprised. I had assumed that she wouldn’t need the same support as a first time mom. She quickly corrected me. “I am a mother of four, but every pregnancy and every baby is different.”
Her husband works in the city center, a few hours bus ride from their home. She often found herself alone during the days. Grace visited Sara each week during her pregnancy. Some days, she had questions on recent changes to her body or her care. Once, when she had missed her antenatal appointment, Grace came to check on her and remind her to go in. The regularity of her visits, and her encouragement, had a profound effect.
Today, Sara’s baby remains HIV negative and she is leading a healthy life. And Grace continues to follow up with Sara’s other children, ensuring they are healthy, get health care when they need it and are enrolled in school. Grace continues to monitor Sara’s health as a HIV+ mother and help her keep to routine health appointments, even after her post-natal visits. This model of continued follow-up ensures a healthy pregnancy, improves the chances of newborn survival, and builds a healthy family and community.
Caring For A Newborn
More than ten percent of the adult population in Malawi is HIV positive. Many women find out they are pregnant and HIV positive, in the same conversation. The joy of bringing a new life into the world is tempered with worry for the health of their newborn.
Every day, more and more babies throughout the world are being born HIV-free, healthy, with a chance at living life to its fullest potential. Ten years ago, Johnson & Johnson came across mothers2mothers (m2m), an inspiring organization focused on eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV (EMTCT). They’d been working with women in sub-Saharan Africa, showing them how to care for themselves so that their babies could be born free of HIV. And once the women had given birth to healthy children, they were employed to stay on and teach other expectant mothers with HIV how to do the same.
I am about to welcome my second child into the world. I can only agree that every pregnancy is different, and that everyone—especially a HIV+ mom—needs a Grace in their lives to encourage, support and champion the continued health and wellness of moms, babies, and families.
Lead photo courtesy Tatiana Vdb, Creative Commons 2.0