In the last couple of days, I have been so close to people who lost their loved ones in the course of childbirth.
The first was a friend’s cousin who went into comma after childbirth at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). She died a month later, leaving behind husband and children, among other family members.
The other person was a stylist in a salon who died while giving birth to her fourth child. The painful part was that she was under 30 years and already had three children. She died with the baby as she could not be delivered of it.
As I ponder over these deaths I could not but wonder how rampant maternal deaths have become to women. Indeed, the needless deaths of women and children have continued despite global efforts since 2,000 when world leaders agreed to improve the standard of living of the common man, courtesy of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Jude Osaze, whose relative was a victim, stated: “When I hear the statistics of women who die during childbirth in Nigeria, I doubt the statistics and wonder how they came about such an exaggerated record. But I’m now convinced that more women lose their lives during childbirth. Do you know that, in some rural communities, women patronise traditional birth attendants and some of these births and deaths are not documented?”
Yomi Pearse, in a similar situation with Osaze, said: “I lost my wife during childbirth even after all the antenatal and precautions taken to prevent her from dying. But, alas, my dear wife died giving birth. The baby survived but my precious wife is gone. Every time I look at that child, I regret getting her pregnant but that was meant to be our last child because we agreed on having three kids.
“Atinuike struggled till she could not fight any longer. She lost so much blood after delivering the baby and we had to buy six pints of blood but all to no avail. She died with a smile on her face. I wept day and night for weeks but it did not bring back my baby girl.”
Some cultures pride having many children as a big deal. Among the Mbaise people of Imo State, when a woman gives birth to 12 children, she is appreciated by the sacrifice of a goat/cow, depending on the wealth of the family. With the harsh economic realities and poor state of our health facilities, will a woman risk her life in the name of cultural celebration?
In as much as the Holy Book urged us to “multiply and fill the earth,” now men should consider many factors before getting their wives pregnant. I also know of a school of thought that believes that children bring progress and success.
My parents named me Uzoma which, according to my mum, was informed because my birth ushered in economic advancement for my dad. My mum said that my dad bought his first Peugeot car after my birth.
As Africans, in as much as we hold strongly to our belief system/values, should we sacrifice our sisters, daughters, wives, in-laws, cousins and nieces in the name of childbearing, when it is obvious that the odds are against her getting pregnant and having safe delivery?.
The God-factor is inevitable when miracles happen, when a lady could have been written off by science and medicine.
But daily, many lives are lost during childbirth across Nigeria. The only reason we might not know or feel it is because it is not “close to home”, that those who die are not our immediate relatives.
It is now a common trend for most Nigerians that can afford it to go abroad for child delivery. I know of a friend who gave up suing a hospital for the death of his sister during childbirth because, according to him, the more the case dragged in court, the more he got frustrated and the pains intensified.
How committed are our government officials to fight towards improving maternal care?
Sometime last year, I sat in a committee to determine the fate of our women as regard safe delivery and I saw that politics was more important than the improvement of maternal care and child mortality.
I will sing the praises of Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo State, who established a specialist hospital to ensure safe delivery. The Abiye Hospital that I visited last year in Akure, the state capital, aims to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality.
It is time for more government actions in ensuring that our healthcare facilities are worthy of receiving new lives during childbirth and not snuff out lives from both mother and child.
May a death of a woman at childbirth “close to home” not bring forth the reality – that one in every 10 women lose their lives during childbirth.
Safe delivery is the right of every woman in Nigeria and not the reverse, a situation that has now become a testimony in our places of worship.
By Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna