Despite vast improvements in maternal and neonatal healthcare globally, the past 25 years have sadly brought limited advancements to my native Nigeria, which continues to suffer some of the worst maternal and neonatal records in the world. In fact, between 1990 and 2003 Nigeria’s infant mortality ratio rose, largely as a result of the high prevalence of births taking place in the absence of a skilled attendant.
There have been some improvements – for example, the maternal mortality ratio declined by more than a third between 1990 and 2015 – but the legacy of Nigeria’s inadequate maternal health services lives on in the minds and hearts of so many of my fellow countrywomen and men who have lost mothers, sons, daughters and sisters at the hands of short-staffed and underfunded maternal health services. Today on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day I will share my own personal story, as both a reminder of the loss incurred by too many, and an imperative for greater action in the future.
Twenty six years ago I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my first children (I was blessed to be expecting twins) having always wanted to be a mother. Three months prior to the due date I returned from London to Nigeria for my wedding, having received antenatal care in London up until this point. Sadly, what should have been the happiest time of my life quickly became the saddest, as on the day before the ceremony, my life changed forever.
Realising that my amniotic sac was hanging out, I was rushed to the emergency unit. Having planned to give birth in London, my expectations of what the birthing process would entail were high, yet on arrival I was shocked to hear that not only was an epidural unavailable, but that understaffing would mean I had to wait for an anaesthetist before an urgent caesarean section could be carried out. This blatant example of underfunding in healthcare cost me my unborn daughter’s life, and nearly my own.
In the days that followed, the stark absence of modern equipment and skilled professionals became increasingly evident, as processes like breastfeeding became trauma in themselves. One particularly vivid memory is of a nurse handing me a white bucket, and without explanation or warning, began vigorously pumping my breast in to it. The poor sanitation and lack of understanding of modern techniques that I witnessed in that hospital 26 years ago left me scarred, yet stirred something in me. It is this scarring that inspired me to strive for better experiences for mothers in Nigeria, and around the world.
I am blessed to have survived my experience, and to have Tosin - the surviving twin – with me today. Yet not everyone is as fortunate. Across Nigeria and the wider continent maternal and neonatal deaths continue to thwart development, and often slip through systems completely undocumented. Maternal and neonatal deaths cause unimaginable heartache to the families and loved ones of those excluded from the necessary care that all mothers and infants deserve. This is what motivates me to make a difference not just in maternal and childcare but in the healthcare space in general .
The Wellbeing Foundation Africa was set up off the back of my experience and my desire to save mothers and infants from enduring the same trauma that I did. Through the provision of antenatal classes and in training midwives on top notch quality care, the Wellbeing Foundation is making strides in shielding women and infants from the avoidable risks posed by childbirth. Today we remember those that we have lost, and pray for the mothers and infants of the future.