When Being Pregnant At Work Has Distinct Advantages

When Being Pregnant At Work Has Distinct Advantages
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After a failed marriage and the ticking of a biological clock, I often wondered if I was ever going to experience the joy of being pregnant. The first dream came true in 2013 when I married an amazing man who, like me, also really wanted to have children. After a year of trying, our first wedding anniversary was celebrated with a pregnancy test that finally showed a smiling face.

And so the second dream came true, and the journey began.

Having moved to Botswana (from South Africa) just over a year ago, I suddenly had to find a new gynecologist and hospital. Being far from family and friends -- especially those who have been down this road before -- left me worried and uncertain about what was to come.

After a series of hectic overseas work trips (9 flights in 8 days!), I finally had a chance to go to my new Botswana-GP and do a blood test to confirm my pregnancy. As the long first-trimester-waiting-stint began, I told only close family and a few girlfriends at first. The next big step was telling my work colleagues, and I was scared that they would not be excited or happy for me.

Thankfully, I didn't have much to worry about. I work for a company who sends text messages like this:

Week 25: "Your baby's movements will get stronger and more regular. Your baby won't move all the time. Like you, sometimes he'll just want to rest and sleep."

These are part of my daily work-life as a member of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action's team in South Africa. Our project, known as MAMA, provides health information via mobile phone to women throughout each stage of pregnancy and continues through the newborn phase.

Working on a national maternal health project, I learnt that the following things really are important:

  • Sending this "week 25"-SMS to the right mother, when she is actually 25 weeks pregnant, in her language of choice
  • Making sure that the technical infrastructure kept up with our growth in user numbers, and that our connections with mobile network operators and mobile aggregators, were stable
  • Making sure we have the correct content and tone, and that we made each of the allocated 160 characters in each SMS count, was equally important.

This power of health, in the form of a basic cellphone, was hardly ever challenged as one of the most effective ways to reach every single pregnant woman in South Africa. However, cost of access, scalability and sustainability were the three ugly sisters that, like swollen ankles during pregnancy, refused to go away.

But all of our hard work is leading to its own new beginning. On August 21, Praekelt Foundation celebrated the launch of our sister project, MomConnect. Supported by partners including Johnson & Johnson, this National Department of Health initiative aims to use mobile technologies to create South Africa's first pregnancy registry.

Once pregnant women are registered for MomConnect, they'll get access to stage-based, personalized text messages in their language of choice. They'll also get an opportunity to engage further with the health system, by rating the service they receive at public health facilities; sending in a question, compliment or complaint; and also search through "life guides" delivered via USSD - a basic mobile technology that even the most basic phone in South Africa can access.

So, after three years, I know about maternal health, mobile health (the use of mobile technology in health) and how these two sectors cross paths in projects such as these. I know South Africa's maternal mortality and mobile penetration rates by heart. I know the right players in the National Department of Health, in the corporate offices of the big mobile operators; and I know who to ask if I needed help in world-class content for pregnant women (thanks BabyCenter!).

I did not realize how everything I knew -- or that I thought I knew -- would change, when I became pregnant myself. Today, I look at this 25-week SMS message very differently. It's now personal as my gestational age and my first pregnancy. Being pregnant increases my investment in all aspects of my work in maternal health.

But now I know what it feels like to look forward to my weekly message, to analyze every word, and to share them with my husband, and I am in awe of what is happening in my body. I also can now begin to understand how lonely, confusing and daunting it must be, for first-time-moms especially, who don't have access to this information and who don't know who to ask. This realization now overshadows all the other operational challenges we're experienced on the way to launching MomConnect. And it re-affirms my commitment to the MAMA and MomConnect work, and it has proven to me that "taking your work home", has its distinct advantage.

Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.

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