Mother Accesses Care for Pregnancy, Mental Health
Young mother in Peru carries out a safe, risk-free pregnancy
Posted on May 9, 2023
Joyful, laughing, and playful—this is how María Elena remembers her childhood in Carabayllo. But as a single mother, daily life in the district in northern Lima was full of challenges.
In the summer of 2021, she was working as a cook and caregiver for an elderly person—jobs that enabled her to pay for her two daughters’ education. One day, she felt a flood of symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, and loss of appetite. She decided to take a pregnancy test.
The result was what she had feared: she was pregnant.
"I felt very sad, lonely, down,” she says. “I looked for work and was unsuccessful. No one would hire a pregnant woman."
As she continued the grueling and uncertain job search, she experienced another challenge: a breakup with her partner. The circumstances took a toll on her mental health, worsening her depression and anxiety.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she recalls. “I didn’t even want to cook for my daughters.”
As many as 15.6% of pregnant women in low-income countries experience some type of mental health condition, mainly depression, according to the World Health Organization. The lack of support and stigma around mental health can lead to women suffering in silence. As women navigate the challenges of pregnancy and mental health conditions, other health issues can arise too.
For María Elena*, these conditions led to her neglecting her diet, which resulted in anemia. She also contracted COVID-19.
Maternal care: a commitment to mothers
María Elena connected with Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Peru, when she was two months pregnant, during a visit to La Flor Health Center. Socios En Salud has worked in Peru since 1994, when it responded to a deadly outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. In the years since, Socios En Salud has expanded its programs to provide medical care and social support for patients across the country.
For María Elena, the connection to care could not have come fast enough.
Carabayllo, where María Elena lives today, is not only the largest district in Lima, but also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country’s capital. To address this problem, Socios En Salud supports four health centers, including in La Flor, to strengthen maternal and neonatal health in Carabayllo and beyond.
At La Flor Health Center, María Elena accessed maternal care such as prenatal checkups and met Yndira Choque, one of Socios En Salud’s 91 community health workers, who helped her navigate the health system and access medication and additional forms of care, including mental health support.
"They [health center staff] have been very compassionate, supportive and very professional. I felt listened to," she says.
The feelings were mutual.
Choque, who has been a community health worker with Socios En Salud for three years, notes the “affection one feels” for patients. She would check in with María Elena regularly, in person or on the phone.
“It is a beautiful feeling,” she says. “Calling and talking creates bonds of friendship, affection, and trust.”
During the first six months of her pregnancy, María Elena accessed free therapy, four times per week.
In addition to mental and physical health care, she also accessed essential resources, also known as social support, from Socios En Salud, including food baskets.
With medical care, social support, and accompaniment from Socios En Salud, she was able to deliver her child safely and through natural childbirth. Abdiel was born on February 1, 2022, weighing a healthy 7.7 pounds.
Now, more than a year later, María Elena is thankful for the care and support she accessed through Socios En Salud. Abdiel is healthy and up-to-date with his well-baby checkups.
One of the greatest impacts of Socios En Salud’s support was access to mental health care, helping her manage her depression and anxiety.
"Unlike my previous pregnancies, this time I proved that despite the adversities that came my way, I never fainted. I fell down and got back up,” she says. “And I showed everyone that my greatest strength is my children."
*name changed for privacy reasons