Sopore’s midwives uphold traditional forms of childbirth

Midwives lead the charge for normal deliveries

Society

March 14, 2024

/ By / Sopore, Jammu & Kashmir

Sopore’s midwives uphold traditional forms of childbirth

In Kashmir, a significant number of women continue to choose the care of a midwife during pregnancy

With advent of modern hospitals, most childbirths in India, like elsewhere in the world, take place under the care of doctors. However, in some places like Sopore in Jammu and Kashmir, a number of midwives are keeping alive the traditional forms of childbirths, that take place at home.

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Seventy-year-old Hajrah Begum has delivered hundreds of babies. And, no, they are not her children, for she is a midwife, who has helped pregnant women all across Sopore district of Jammu and Kashmir deliver normal and healthy babies.

Her decades-long expertise and reputation has comforted numerous families, earning her the endearing title, “Dai of Amargarh”.

Hajrah Begum’s journey as a midwife began 50 years ago, a path she inherited from her mother and grandmother. Despite having only completed her education up to the 10th grade, she became a beacon of hope and comfort for the people of her community. Currently employed as a helper in the municipality, she has dedicated her life to assisting mothers during childbirth, having performed over 1,000 normal deliveries.

Hajrah Begum

Hajrah Begum

“I learnt the art of midwifery from my mother and grandmother. It is a tradition passed down through generations. Helping women deliver their babies is a calling for me, and I find immense joy in it. During the last stage of my mother’s life, she pled me to make a promise, that is to carry forth the tradition of aiding in childbirth, a legacy that has been passed down through generations. As her final wish, she entrusted me with the responsibility to ensure that this invaluable tradition endures, urging me to pass the torch on to the next generation,” Begum tells Media India Group.

She says that the role of midwives is specially critical in the absence of availability of any healthcare facilities. “Hospitals are not available in far-flung areas, but the need for maternal care never diminishes. In such remote regions, the presence of midwives becomes even more crucial, as we provide essential support and assistance during childbirth, ensuring that mothers and babies receive the care they deserve,” she adds.

Over the decades, her reputation as a skilled midwife has spread across, drawing expectant mothers from diverse backgrounds and places across Sopore. Begum says that the lack of some formal training has not become a hurdle in her path.

“Despite lacking formal training, my intuitive touch and profound understanding of childbirth earn me immense respect. I even assisted in the delivery of my daughter-in-law’s healthy children at home through normal delivery. Despite people fearing the natural process of childbirth and preferring hospitals, I believe in the strength of women and the beauty of a natural delivery,’’ she says.

Besides aiding in childbirths, Begum is also actively involved in educating women in her community about the benefits and empowerment that come with embracing the natural process of giving birth. According to many local women, Begum’s support and knowledge have made her an invaluable resource for pregnant women.

She is a gifted person, always available for help. With her assistance, I gave birth to three healthy children through normal delivery. What she does is beyond just delivering babies, she brings a sense of warmth and assurance to the entire process, making it a truly empowering experience for pregnant women,” Safeena Shaban a neighbour of Begum tells Media India Group.

‘‘With Begum’s assistance, my sister overcame infertility. She is a source of hope and joy, transforming dreams of parenthood into reality. Many women feel fortunate to have her by their side during pivotal moments in their lives. I’m forever grateful for her remarkable commitment and positive impact on our lives,” she adds.

Hajrah Begum is not the sole midwife in the region. Sopore has silently been a beacon of life and hope for decades. Another notable midwife is Magle, a 64-year-old woman with an extraordinary story of dedication and compassion.

Magle

Magle

Her journey into the world of childbirth began at an age she can’t quite recall. ‘‘I used to go with my mother and help her with deliveries. It was through those experiences that I learned the art of bringing new life into the world,” Magle tells Media India Group.

I got married at a very young age, and unfortunately, my husband passed away early. I had to manage my home expenses, and it was through this work that I found a way to sustain my family,” she adds.

“Even during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic, when hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, I fearlessly stepped forward and continued my work in far-flung areas where medical facilities were scarce. I have performed thousands of deliveries without any support or training,’’ Magle claims.

“These days, many opt for modern technology over midwives, but in remote areas, people still rely on midwives. I often find solace in attending deliveries, even if it means leaving at night,” she adds.

As in the case of Hajrah Begum, locals express their gratitude for Magle’s unwavering commitment as well. ‘‘Magle Apa is like a guardian angel for us. When the world was facing uncertainty during the pandemic, she stood firm, delivering babies and providing solace to families in need,’’ Mohammad Shafi, a resident of Sopore, tells Media India Group.

The role played by the midwives is appreciated not just by the beneficiaries of their services, but also by formally-trained medical professionals who emphasise the human connection that develops between the pregnant women and the midwives.

“In Kashmir, a significant number of women continue to choose the care of a midwife during pregnancy, valuing a model of care that emphasises fewer interventions, particularly for low-risk mothers. The unique appeal lies in the establishment of a profound connection between women and their midwives throughout the pregnancy journey. Instead of a conventional clinical relationship, there is a desire for a more personal connection. Women seek someone they can trust and rely on, turning the pregnancy experience into a shared journey marked by understanding, support, and a bond that goes beyond traditional healthcare roles,’’ Dr Zulfkar Nabi, a medical officer tells Media India Group.

However, with advent of modern era and spread of hospitals, the profession may be endangered as the younger generation is not stepping forward to learn the art and continue the traditions.

“In Kashmir, this tradition of midwifery is waning, with no precise count of practitioners. The younger generation’s disinterest in perpetuating this ancient art is evident. However, in Sopore, a handful of dedicated midwives persevere, and among them, Hajrah and Magle stand out for their renowned expertise,” he adds.

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