Mothers to Mothers: Healthy Mommy & Me
By Amy Porter*
Vilma and her family live in the indigenous town of San Pablo la Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. She is twenty-eight years old. As is common for girls from rural villages such as San Pablo, Vilma only went to school until sixth grade. She can read, but writing is difficult. As a housewife, Vilma dedicates her days to taking care of her home and her children.
Vilma and Alexander, her eighteen-month-old son, are enrolled in Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya (ODIM) Guatemala’s “Healthy Mommy & Me” initiative, which provides prenatal and postnatal support for mothers from pregnancy until their babies reach two years old. Vilma entered the program when she was six months pregnant. In a region where three out of four babies suffer from chronic malnutrition, “Healthy Mommy & Me” provides nutritional support and progress tracking during the critical first one thousand days when a child’s growth trajectory is determined for life.
Vilma sits on the patio outside her home, waiting for our interview to start. She and her family reside in a communal housing arrangement. They have their own bedroom and kitchen, and her husband’s nephew and his family live in the room next door. Other neighbors are close by, and eight young children live in the small complex. Vilma cradles Alexander and her seven-year-old daughter, Enly, entertains him as we speak. The interview is conducted with a local translator as Vilma speaks her mother tongue, Tz’utujil.
Vilma and her two children, daughter Enly, and son Alexander, pose for their picture before the interview. PHOTO: AMY PORTER
How has the program helped you?
“When I was pregnant, they helped me with food and prenatal checks, which was very helpful because in other places these are very expensive. And also, when my baby was born they gave me some baby clothes. In the support group, we talk about how our babies are, and things like that.”
Did you always want to be a mom? Why?
“Yes. I like being a mom because children are fun. Every child is different. And without children, my life wouldn’t have purpose.”
How many children do you want? Why?
“Just two is good. I had to have caesarean deliveries, and I don’t want to have another one of those. If they’d been normal births perhaps I’d want another one. But no.”
What is the best thing about being a mom, for you?
“I love to play with my kids.”
What is the most difficult thing about being a mom?
“Well, when you’re young, you have worries, but they’re about other things. It’s not the same when you’re married with children. The most difficult thing is when my children get ill. I love them so much, but sometimes when they get ill, I regret having children.”
What would your advice be to your daughter, if she wants to have children one day?
“I would advise my little girl not to get married because it’s really difficult. I’ll tell her about my experience, everything I’ve been through, the birth, and so I’ll tell her not to get married, and to keep studying.”
And after she graduates, if she wants children then? Would you like grandchildren?
(Vilma smiles) “Well, after she graduates, and when she has her own experience, a stable job, then she can get married. And if she wants to have children, have them, and give me some grandchildren! Yes, I’d like grandchildren, one day.”
If you had a message for a mother in another country far away, what would you say, for Mother’s Day?
“I’d congratulate her for having children, because being a mom is not easy. There are moments of sadness and moments of happiness in the life of a mother. So, I’d congratulate these women who have the strength to fight for their children. We have to keep going!”
What hopes do you have for the future of your children?
“I hope for them to be healthy and to have good nutrition. I worry about their food being adequate. Also, I hope that they will both graduate with a degree. I want them to have stable jobs to be able to support themselves. I worry a lot and always ask their teachers how they’re doing at school. That’s what I want for them, for them to go further and take a good path.”
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*Amy Porter is Interim Development Manager for ODIM.