Celebrating every child: Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy

Involving Faith Leaders

The Revd Gabriel Anyiko Owino is an Anglican priest in Siaya County, Kenya. He has combined a faith approach with family planning information and has been encouraging couples to think about safe spacing of pregnancies so that every birth can be a healthy event for mother and baby, and every child is celebrated. Here, he writes about his experience.

Charles received teaching about Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancy (HTSP) and family planning at their church from the Congregation Hope Action Team (CHAT) members of St Mary’s Ong’iende. He embraced the teaching and decided together with his wife that they will start to use one of the methods of family planning because they had many children (six) and he was not seeing himself capable of caring for them.

He said that he realized that a gap or spacing between his children will give him good chance to care for and educate them; he will have time to do his duties, and his wife will be strong and able to do her work or normal duties which she used not to do before. Charles says that in the local indigenous religion it is difficult for leaders to embrace such teaching but as a leader and elder in the village he would speak to his seniors so that he could invite the pastors to train them and give the HTSP information.

Prior to 2014 in Siaya sub-county, Kenya, there were numerous reported cases of maternal and child deaths resulting from preventable health-related problems. Then World Vision Kenya Karemo Area Development Program mobilized pastors within Siaya sub-county and took us to Kisumu for training on Maternal and Newborn Child Health.

 During the workshop we were able to get facts on conception, pregnancy, birth, new mother and new baby. At every stage we discussed myths and misconceptions and demystifyied them. We learnt what can go wrong and how to prevent problems. Finally, looking at the Scriptures, we were convinced that as faith leaders, individually and collectively, we had a role to play in transforming the lives of our people.

We made a work plan to take back to our churches:

  • mobilize six Christians per congregation to form a Congregation Hope Action Team (CHAT) and identifying community health volunteers, youth leaders, men’s leaders, Mothers’ Union leaders, Sunday school teachers and opinion leaders;
  • share with the members of our churches a sermon on the importance of stewardship of those whom God has placed in our care (1 Timothy 5.8 “but if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than unbeliever”), and create an enabling environment where children are given opportunity to grow like Jesus who experienced holistic growth in the hands of loving and caring parents (Luke 2.52 “and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man”);
  • include in the premarital guidance and counselling curriculum issues of Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancy (HTSP) which helps couples time their pregnancies to occur during a mother’s healthiest years (age 18-34) and space pregnancies by three to five years, improving both maternal and child health;
  • speak boldly on family planning methods and let people choose a method that is convenient for them in terms of health and faith;
  • -reach out to other pastors who have not gone through the training so that they join us.

CHAT teams went to churches and community groups as well as ‘one on one’ and also made referrals to the health facilities. We taught about birth plans. Pregnancy gives notice of nine months, thus it is not an emergency. Parents can know the expected due date of giving birth, know the health facility one wishes to deliver at in order to be attended by a skilled professional, and save money to pay for transport to the health facility or buy some essential items not provided for in the health facility.

We encouraged mothers to go to the antenatal clinic immediately they realize they have conceived and make at least four visits as this enhances healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. The people were informed about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding of the newborn as this immunizes the child, helps in the development of the brain, offers nutritional value, and is safe and readily available.

Change was realized as a result of the active participation of faith leaders in partnership with World Vision and the Ministry of Health.

Rose was giving birth every year. The spacing of her seven children was one per year or less. She had no time even to do her work as a woman and wife. She was always with child and her health was weak. CHAT members talked to her and she realized that she was in great danger and vulnerable to death if she would not take any action. She embraced the teaching, saying that “If at all I could have known this before, I could have not had such many children”. Looking at the children one could see how they follow each other so closely to the extent that one would think that they are twins.

Rosaline already has four children. A CHAT member took the initiative and accompanied her to the antenatal clinic. She was attended to and from then went to clinic without fail till her time of delivery. She was taught about exclusive breast feeding, which she embraced. Rosaline is strong, not sick as she has been with previous pregnancies. She is now using a method to protect her from conceiving again soon.

Emily has had four miscarriages after the birth of her first child. A CHAT member advised her to wait till six months are over before attempting another pregnancy because the womb was still weak. Emily embraced the teachings and uses a birth control method. Her husband is supportive.

CONTACT: Revd Gabriel Anyiko Owino, Diocesan HIV and AIDS Program Coordinator, Dean of Hono Deanery and Vicar of Ywaya Parish, Anglican Diocese of Maseno West, Kenya.    Email gabrielanyikoowino@gmail.com.