Complete makeover

The story of Svetlana is a valuable lesson on motherhood, experienced and told by Meglena Kostova, a nurse with the Maternal and Child Health Centre in Shumen, supported by UNICEF

Stanislava Stambolieva
A mother and her baby are smiling in front of the wall. The mother hugs her child. There are happy eyes.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2016/Popov
12 April 2018

The Centrers for Maternal and Child Health (CMCH) supported by UNICEF, help the most vulnerable children and families. Like the one in Shumen, for example. It played a crucial role in Svetlana’s life, whose story, told by the nurse in the center Meglena Kostova, is a valuable lesson on maternity and support.

When I first saw Svetlana, Meglena says, I instantly recognized the signs of her life on the street: the scars on her face, the shapeless clothing, the boy’s posture, the furtive glances she was casting all around. Her pregnancy looked even more advanced on her skinny, undernourished frame.

She had never been to a doctor, she didn’t know how far into her pregnancy she was, or how much time she had until delivery.

She never spoke much about her past, she would sum it up in a couple of sentences, as if she was trying to forget it. I realized she had two other children, one already adopted by another family, the other in the care of relatives. As I suspected, she had been living on the streets for long until the man by whom she was now pregnant had taken her into his home.

I had encountered destinies like Svetlana’s back when I was working for an orphanage, but in those days I has felt completely powerless. Now, at the MCHC, my job is essentially different. We undergo special training courses organized by UNICEF, where they educate us how to help women in need of assistance during their first steps into motherhood.

The stakes are high, as a child’s chances of staying with the family hang in the balance. That’s exactly what Svetlana’s case was all about. What gave me comfort was the fact that she had come to the Centre to seek help, which meant she cared about the life bidding inside her. I took her twice for a check-up. She was estimated to be due in a month and a half, we had plenty of time to prepare the necessary documents for the delivery and the social benefits. After that I visited their home to make sure that the place was suitable for raising a child. It turned out to be a garage, converted into living quarters. It was a spacious and clean room, with an en suite bathroom and toilet. The only thing that worried me was they were using a gas burner for heating, but they promised to get a space heater.

The time came unnoticed, and Svetlana gave birth to a wonderful baby girl, they named her Mariana.

Everything was going fine. After they returned home, I would visit them often. During the day, the mother was alone at home, because the father had taken on a job with a roofing business.

At first, we would do most things together, so she would get accustomed to caring for a baby: bathing, massaging, navel cleaning.

She was getting better and better at breastfeeding, she would smile to the baby and talk to her, clearly savoring the moment.

We would go together to the mother-and-child consultations, too, so I could explain to her the doctor’s advice in case she got something wrong. Actually, as I look back I can say that Svetlana was making quick strides to make up for lost time, to try and be a good mother for Mariana, although people wouldn’t give her much slack on account of her past.

Mariana is six months old now, and the challenges facing her parents are increasing: giving her baby food in addition to the mother’s milk, vaccinations, first words and first steps, child-care. The road this family will have to travel is long and, in all likelihood, far from easy.

The Maternal and Child Health Centre will continue to provide support, because the story so far shows that the power of motherhood can turn a woman’s life around and help her expect a better future for herself and her child!         

The early years of child’s development are key to his or her physical, psychological, and cognitive development. Warm relationships, communication and parental care give children the best start in life to fulfil their full potential, social skills and the desire to learn with pleasure later on.

UNICEF works with the families, with professionals, with the state institutions and with the media in order to provide the best start in life for every child.

Bulgaria has established traditions in providing the most favorable conditions for development of small children and family support. However, the country faces serious challenges. The high infant mortality rate, the large number of pregnant women without access to healthcare services and insurance, the large share of children living in poverty or in risk of social exclusion, low breastfeeding rates and feeding practices, the many cases of anemia among infants and children, as well as the inadequate understanding of the importance of early childhood communication and stimulation, are just some of the factors that put thousands of children at risk of not realizing their potential in life.

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*Based on a true story. The names and images used are unrelated to the actual characters in the narrative.