A few weeks ago, I got a call from a cousin that we just lost one of us; a much younger cousin had passed on days after a stillbirth, she was just 28 years. I was told she had foolishly neglected going to the hospital for ante natal, instead she pitched her tent with the traditional birth attendant in her community, drinking agbo and getting stomach massages instead of scan and necessary drugs.
How can a pregnant woman neglect ante natal?
Answers I got were quite disturbing. Having had a child that was considered ‘special,’ my cousin had been informed she needed to prevent another such birth, so the traditional birth attendant was the go-to woman to prevent a reoccurrence.
This is not to denigrate the traditional birth attendants, they have their place in the socio-cultural life of our communities and I’m also aware the government has been trying to integrate them into its primary health care scheme, particularly in the rural areas but I fear many of their practices are harmful to the general wellbeing of the women they attend to. Child birth in this day and age should be a simple procedure and if there are complications, they shouldn’t be life threatening.
The Yoruba salutation best conveys the precarious situation of pregnant women in Nigeria, they say to the family of a new born, ‘eku ewu omo’, loosely meaning congratulations but etymologically it means, “You have been passed through the danger or hazard of childbirth and survived,” this sentence describes the process of childbirth in the olden days. Unfortunately, that ewu or danger, if you like, still hovers like the sword of Damocles over a good number of women who die needlessly while birthing children in Nigeria today.
This is affirmed by a UNICEF report which says that a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria is 1 in 13. Although many of these deaths are preventable, the coverage and quality of health care services in Nigeria continue to fail women and children.
Here’s one of such ways our health care services fail our women. Years back, when I confirmed via scan that I was pregnant, I was immediately informed as a matter of necessity by concerned friends and relatives to go register at the General Hospital, Ikeja. I didn’t like the idea, because General hospitals are rowdy, full of rude and uncouth nurses and never present doctors who are always on strike (mostly through no fault of theirs as I have been made to understand).
My circle of support insisted I could register at my private clinic but it was mandatory I registered at the general hospital.
“Just in case…” my advisers left it hanging.
“Just in case something happens, they can rush you to the general hospital where the experts are and they will ‘take’ you. If you don’t register there, they will just leave you there to rot!”
I was to witness a confirmation of my friends’ fears months after during one of my antenatal visits at the hospital. Did you ever visit the ante natal wing of Ikeja General Hospital? It used to be called Ayinke, not sure if its same today after all the renovations by Fashola, anyway, in those days, it was a huge hall and could seat some 150 or more patients on those long hospital benches. Most times the halls were dark save for sunlight streaming in from both ends of the hall.
Ayinke was often rowdy with sweaty and anxious pregnant women as well as foul mouthed nurses. The doctors never show up before 10am but as a patient, you were required to be there at the latest 7am or earlier so you could pick a number, like a first come first serve basis.
So there I was, waiting my turn on a dirty gurney used for some 50 or more patients assigned to a doctor when a woman in labor was rushed into the emergency section. If you’ve ever been in labour or witnessed one, you get a sense that the patient needs urgent help not snide remarks from nurses like-
“Na mi open your legs gi you get belle? Shut up joo, are you the first woman to be in labour?”
The woman screamed louder, she was too far gone in pain to hear the insults. The attending nurse enquired if the woman was registered at Ayinke, her distraught husband said no and that answer sealed the woman’s fate.
One nurse raised her voice to get our attention, told us this is what happens when obstinate pregnant women refuse to register at Ayinke. “We will not attend to women who did not register with us.” She announced, then turned away from the gurney where the woman was still writhing in pain and began calling out names of the rest of us who had come for clinic.
At this point, the husband who up till that time hand held the pack of blood feeding into a vein on his wife’s arm dropped the pack and went full length prostrating and begging that his wife be attended to.
Nurses and personnel just went about their duties, which included making themselves hot cups of tea and sending an attendant to buy agege bread. They later informed the husband to take his wife back to the hospital that referred her, there was nothing they could do they said, “…our hands are full.”
The woman died, another statistic.
The healthcare system is Nigeria is sick so much so that in a (WHO) report on ‘Trends in maternal mortality”, Nigeria is described as “…one of the 10 countries of the world that contributes about 60 per cent of the world’s maternal mortality burden.”
But let’s not go all out blaming the system; women also endanger their own lives. I’ve heard many say, “CS (caesarean section) is not my portion!” They prefer to give birth naturally, “like the Hebrew women of old.”
Odi egwu! Who’s portion is it then? Which is easier? A CS birth or a dead mother and child?
Does a CS birth make the child any less of a human being compared with one born naturally? Biko, who gives a darn?
A woman is told she has a small pelvis, can’t birth a child through natural means, she hurries to church and begins to ‘faith’ it. I was that foolish once. I was told I should have a CS birth by a doctor at the general hospital but I was asked to “faith” it in church. I did, neglecting to see the doctor who advised it, na God save me from my foolhardiness because you see, if I had passed on during childbirth, God would still remain God, no shaking. I would have died from my foolishness which has nothing to do with faith.
So dear sisters and concerned brothers, talk to those women carrying new life in them, warn them that we live in a country that kills its pregnant women and unborn children. Tell them to get info on birthing options and see their doctors regularly, these may just save their lives.