This blog post is dedicated to the memories of all women who have lost their lives in childbirth. It is dedicated to those who have been left behind. Our thoughts are with you.
On the eve of the birth of my son, I read the status of one of my friends on Facebook. It was a status expressing disbelief at the loss of a friend in Kenya. I clicked on her name to check out her profile. She looked too young to have lost her life. As I scrolled through the “RIP” messages her friends tagged her in, I learned that she had passed away during childbirth, bringing forth a son. This sent chills down my spine.
A few hours later, I went into labour and gave birth to my third child. It was a safe and quick 3 and a half hour event from when my waters broke en route to hospital, to when my son emerged. All did not go according to my birth plan because things happened so fast, but I am grateful to have my life and that of my son’s.
Things in my world are intact. My family is safe. My children have a mother. But I cannot help but think about the Kenyan lady whose story is different. She was now dead. Her baby boy without a mother. Her partner without her. It brings tears to my eyes that something considered so natural and “womanly” is still the cause of the loss of life for some today. And grief.
I live in the UK and we have a free medical service known as the National Health Service or the NHS. I feel lucky to be here, really, I do. The fact that I can even fancifully come up with the birth plan of my choice says it all. Some want home away from home and birthing pool experiences.
As for me, all I wanted was an epidural. Having delivered 2 babies prior to this, I figured that I knew full well how my body worked and how much pain I could take.
My first labour was the longest. I tried all I could to avoid any medical intervention but in the end, not progressively dilating after a concoction of drugs that left me loopy and in a state of being “not all there”, even when my daughter was born; to the eventual epidural which allowed me to finally relax, dilate and progress to push the baby out; I needed some form of intervention to get through it.
My second birth experience was more straight forward. No mind numbing drugs, thank you. Just the epidural. And that is how it went. I was fully alert when baby #2 arrived, and I was happy.
I thought my third birthing experience would flow just like the second did, but as they say things happen faster and faster with every subsequent birth, it all went too quickly to get an epidural so I had to push my baby out on gas and air.
I remember when I initially asked for the epidural, one of the midwives, of African origin, asked why I didn’t just go natural, you know, like how “we do it in Africa.”
But they tried to oblige my requests. It was too late for an epidural though. I was fully dilated and needed to push. By this time my only focus was to get that baby out, then it would be over! As the contractions intensified, I started to push and make noises which I can only describe as animalistic grunts.Believe me.
Another midwife came by, also of African origin. She asked me not to scream so much. I ignored her and carried on my business. At that point I was facing a baby’s head stuck on exit feeling as though knives were attacking every stretched piece of skin I had down there.
I grunted on without a second thought. Baby was finally out and I was so relieved and emotional. I was offered painkillers only after the event. To this day I am asking myself what is the point of gas and air again; because when the labour pains are closing in, it really is no laughing matter. But that is beside the point.
Yet still, I am lucky that I have access to these sorts of things. Please note: Whether or not a midwife in the UK is of African origin, or makes suggestions that don’t go down well is irrelevant and does not reflect on the quality of skill available to me through the NHS.
I called my mom in the morning to announce our happy news. She was thrilled and relayed how much they had been praying for me the night before; at church all the way in Accra, Ghana, with her pastor’s wife and 2 other women.
I truly cherish my mother’s prayers. She also told me about another woman they were praying for at the same time. She had been labouring for 3 whole days before she delivered her baby. I could only gasp! Three days of labour pains must have been unimaginable torture. Thank God the prayers helped.
So I feel lucky to have the resources of the NHS available to me. I feel lucky that I did not have to endure a life threatening 3 days of labour. I feel lucky to be alive. I feel blessed. But I am also mindful of the fact that it doesn’t mean those without the resources I am lucky to have available to me are not blessed. We are just in different places.
And so as I continue to ponder upon what could have gone wrong for the young Kenyan lady who did not survive child birth; whether it was a lack of medical intervention, skill or the right resources, or just bad luck; I realise just how much Africa based women need from medicine. They want to survive birthing experiences and need relief from labour pains. No one should have to die during childbirth.
And so, as I recover and settle my family into a new routine, I am reflecting upon the hundreds of thousands of women without the luxury of a birth plan. The great news is that there are midwives in some communities who I can only view as heros for their dedication to seeing African women through their labour pains. The reality though is that medical resources are never enough anywhere, let alone in Africa.
But there is hope. No matter what, there is hope.
If this blog post has touched you and you want to help in some way, read on and find out more about the hope being brought to women in labour in Africa and how you can help further the cause.