“My parents arranged my marriage. I was 14. I didn’t have a choice.” Lutfa didn’t know anything about pregnancy. She had a baby every year for the next three years. “It happens when you can’t make decisions about your family or your own body.”
As a teen, Lutfa raised her three daughters in an urban slum in Dhaka. She got a job at a garment factory, working up to 16-hour days. Her family relied on her salary—roughly $77 a month—and whatever her husband earned pulling a rickshaw. It was never enough. Their situation was dire before it got worse.
One of Lutfa’s daughters got sick—an illness they couldn’t identify—and died four months later. Lutfa was inconsolable. “I was not physically or mentally OK,” she says.
That didn’t stop her husband and mother-in-law from pressuring her to have another baby. Lutfa wanted to wait, but she got pregnant again. “I got fired from my job because I was pregnant,” says Lutfa. “I felt helpless. But that’s when I met Gulshan Ara.”
A Light in the Dark
Twice a week, a woman named Gulshan Ara walks to the garment factory and surrounding slum. She counsels women on pregnancy and contraception, and refers them to the clinic for care.
Gulshan is one of more than 6,600 community health workers supported by the largest Pathfinder-led project in the world. With funding from USAID, this NGO Health Service Delivery Project strengthens a massive network across Bangladesh* to save women’s lives.
“Gulshan Ara gave me advice,” says Lutfa. “She told me how people at the clinic could help me.”
At the clinic, Lutfa got prenatal care for the first time in her life. “The clinic convinced me to save a little money to pay for things like transportation and medicine, in case something went wrong during my delivery.” Lutfa decided not to give birth at home. She delivered at the facility with skilled providers.
You can’t overestimate the power of quality maternal care. It’s largely responsible for Bangladesh’s enormous drop in maternal deaths—a 40 percent decline between 2001 and 2010. Pathfinder is committed to helping even more women seek care and deliver their babies safely. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Lutfa had a safe delivery and a healthy baby boy. Yet she couldn’t shake her fear—how long before I get pregnant again?
“I learned the risks of having another baby too soon. I feared for my life.” Lutfa wanted desperately to use a contraceptive implant, but how could she convince her husband?
“A clinic doctor called me and my husband in together,” says Lutfa. “He told Zasim the implant is reversible. If we wanted to get pregnant again, we could have it removed.” A smile grows across Lutfa’s face. “That’s how my husband finally changed his mind.”
Finding Her Voice
Today, 26-year-old Lutfa speaks with remarkable confidence. “I am happy with my implant. I am free from worry. Free from fear of pregnancy.” Lutfa shares her story with every woman that will listen.
“In our society, men make all the decisions for their family. But women are human beings. When we are in pain, we are the ones that can feel it. That’s why it’s important for us to have choices about our own bodies.”
Lutfa thinks about her daughters. Her oldest—12-year-old Suma—is just two years younger than Lutfa was when she got married.
“I want my daughters to be happy,” she says. “To have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. I want them to have power.”