TCIHC Urban Tale: Family Planning Offers New Beginnings for Young Mothers in India

Apr 17, 2020

Contributors: Parul Saxena, Amardeep Kohli and Nivedita Shahi

When hearing about a woman in her early twenties living in an urban slum in India with three or more children and health issues like anemia, you may wonder “Why did she have so many children so young? What barriers and circumstances prevented her from adopting a family planning method?”

The Challenge Initiative for Healthy Cities (TCIHC) also questioned why this situation is so common in India and decided to go to the field to interview its stakeholders to learn more from personal life stories.

The following is part of a new series from TCIHC called “Urban Tales,” which are occasional real-life stories of women and girls benefiting from TCIHC’s work supporting local governments to implement evidence-based family planning and adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) solutions.

Shahnaz’s Story

Shahnaz lives in the Lavkushnagar slum in Uttar Pradesh with her husband Nasruddin. Tailoring is their livelihood, but it offers a meager and insecure income. Shahnaz is very familiar with hardship and has faced many challenges since childhood.

I lost my father when I was merely nine years old. My mother, due to low income, couldn’t take care of seven children. Hence, as a result of social pressure, she arranged my marriage. I never went to school. I got married at the age of 12 and I conceived soon after my first menstrual period.”

Shahnaz had her first child by the time she was 13. Since then, she has added two more children to her family and experienced four miscarriages. The pregnancies, births and miscarriages have taken a toll on Shahnaz’s health.

Her husband Nasruddin assumed it was her responsibility to take care of things like family planning and, unfortunately, they never spoke about it. Soon, Shahnaz was pregnant again with twins. In the eighth month of pregnancy, she experienced heavy bleeding and was rushed to a hospital where both were stillborn. The hospital bills were more than she and Nasruddin could afford, so they had to borrow 10,000 rupees for her treatment. Life became tougher still for Shahnaz as she struggled to pay for food and medicine.

By the time she turned 28, Shahnaz found the courage and determination to do something about family planning. She decided that the next time an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) knocked on her door, she would not ignore her and miss the opportunity to find out about about family planning method choices. Ultimately, she met with a TCI-coached ASHA and decided to adopt female sterilization as her method of choice. Shahnaz is no longer stressed by the fear of becoming pregnant again.

When I was child I had many dreams for the future. I wanted to earn and become independent. But, due to early marriage, I could not fulfill my dreams. I don’t want my daughters to make the same mistakes I have made in my life. We are educating our daughters so that they hold the power to create their ideal future.” 

Shahnaz is now learning how to read and write from her son. She is also saving some money for the future. Like Shahnaz, thousands of women in India wish to space or limit their family size but are either unaware of or do not have access to family planning choices.

This is why state and city governments in Indian states like Uttar Pradesh are strengthening the capacity of urban ASHAs, with TCIHC’s support, to provide quality family planning counseling and referrals to meet the needs of women like Shahnaz.

To learn more about the impact of urban ASHAs and how to adopt or adapt this high-impact approach, check out Enabling Urban Accredited Social Health Activists.