Posted May 8, 2013 from Nigeria

This piece is dedicated to my mother for her relentless marital struggles, resilience and courage in the face of rejection and hopelessness.

Many a times while I was growing up, I used to wander why my mother got separated from my father. I had been bold to ask her to tell me why she had to leave my father but she never bothered to answer me until the day she decided to open up.

According to her the chief reason why she left my father was his insensitivity to her condition during pregnancy. My father neither cared nor showed her love during pregnancy. My mother often has threatened abortion during pregnancy that leads to severe bleeding. At those times my father is not often around, it was neighbors that usually come to her aid. When eventually my father was informed that she is in the hospital it may take him about 3 days before showing up at the hospital and this is only for few minutes before he sets off again to God knows where. My mother lost about 3 pregnancies before giving birth to me and on those occasions my father was not around to give her the love, care and support that will help her overcome the trauma of miscarriage instead he always complain about the money he will pay at the hospital.

She said the breaking point was when she gave birth to me and she had complications which almost took her life after child birth. Rather than my father to focus on how the doctors will help her to survive he was busy questioning my paternity. This was because I was “very dark” in complexion and my father is very fair in complexion, so he could not understand why his so called child should be “very dark” in complexion. The only reason why my father accepted me as his own child was because I had a sixth finger on my left hand which he too had when he was born.

My mother’s story was a nightmare for me; I kept wondering why my father was displaying such gross irresponsibility at a time when she needed him most. I thought my father was the most wicked man on earth until my mother tried having another husband. The man was very nice to me and my sister in those days and was very kind. This kindness lasted until my mother got pregnant. That was the last we saw of the man. The man never showed up again until my mother gave birth to my younger sister. He was at the naming ceremony briefly and that was all. The man never took any responsibility in taking care of my sister. My mother single handedly raised my sister without any contribution from this wicked man.

As if this was not enough, my mother tried the third time at having another husband but this time it was a big tragedy. The man took off after impregnating my mother and to make matters worse the man had a wife who got to know that my mother was pregnant for her husband. The man’s wife landed in our house one morning and created a big scene that attracted all our neighbors. She called my mother a husband snatcher and actually wanted to beat my mother if not for the quick intervention of neighbours. For weeks this woman continued to haunt my mother all over town abusing and disgracing her in public.

My mother eventually gave birth to my brother and his father never for one day cared to visit him or know how he is doing until when he was 10years old in 1989. The man managed to visit my brother and gave him N10.00. (An amount less than 25cents) My mother was so annoyed that she asked the man whether the N10.00 gift represented the value of the care she gave to my brother for 10years. In our house in those days we often jokingly refer to my brother’s father as “ten years, ten Naira ”. My brother is about 34years old now and lives with my mother in New York but he does not know his father and his father cannot recognize him when he sees him on the street. Recently, my brother’s father was able to connect my brother on the face book and his father is now calling him and wanting to be a father to him from Nigeria. The man is so wretched now that it is my brother that sends money for his upkeep in Nigeria.

The men in my mother’s life represent one category of men who does not value women and their child bearing roles in our society. As much as I have been opportune to witness my mother’s sufferings and agonies in the hands of these uncaring men, I have also been privileged to work with another category of men who value and care for women. In the last one year, I have been working with Partnership for Transforming Health Systems (PATHS2) as a local Technical Assistant (LTA) to train and mentor community members in Lagos state to take responsibility in monitoring health facility performance for improved health care service delivery. This entails working with facility staff, community members and government stakeholders at the grassroots to enlist communities’ social capital to reduce the high incidence of maternal mortality and challenges in Nigeria.

The experience of Mr. Okoro and Ade (not their real names) marked a turning point in my mentoring work with PATH 2. These two men are members of Ward Health committees (WHCs) in Alapere and Odogun communities of Agboyi Ketu Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos state respectively. Both of them were elected by their communities to represent them in the Ward Health committees. The Ward Health committee is a committee established under the Lagos state Health reform Law of 2006. The committee is set up in all wards in all the local governments in Lagos state to work with Primary Health Care Centres (PHCs) staff to promote improvement in health care services and client satisfaction. The WHC has created the space for Mr Okoro and Ade to engage maternal care issues. More importantly their individual experiences with their loved ones has sparked a new wave of activism in them that is making communities participation in health care service delivery one of the best practices in addressing maternal health challenges in Nigeria.

Mr. Okoro ‘s daughter died while giving birth and rather than be dejected he became more committed Mr. Okoro said “The death of my daughter while giving birth is very painful but this will not deter me from doing my best as a member of the Ward health committee (WHC) to ensure safe deliveries for women in our Primary Health Care Centre”(PHC). Mr, Okoro after her daughter’s death donated the cable wire to connect electricity to the PHC in his community. The testimonies of Mr Ade was even more compelling “watching my wife suffer the pains of child birth and losing our baby is a painful memory that awaken my consciousness to the importance of my work as a member of the WHC in my community . My only consolation now is that my wife is still alive and I have another opportunity to make a difference in ensuring quality maternal care for women in my community”. Mr. Ade who until his wife’s experience was not very active in the WHC is now leading the initiative to raise funds to improve the PHC in his community.

These are the testimonies ground truthing the agonies and realities of the impact of maternal mortality challenges and the role that men could play in addressing them in Nigeria. These men are remarkably different to the men in my mother’s life. They have love and are able to feel the pains that women experience during pregnancy and child birth. Their unique experiences are helping them to be an agent of change in changing the negative face of maternal mortality in Nigeria.

All over Nigeria, community participation in health care service delivery has been yielding positives results. Several initiatives have been pioneered by PATHS 2 in Nigeria in this regard. These initiatives have been successful in part by the partnership and active participation of men in health care service delivery, particularly in addressing maternal mortality and care challenges. . For instance in Kano and Kaduna state members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) who are all men are involved in the Emergency Transport Scheme (ETS). This scheme was established to provide emergency transportation to pregnant women in labour or with complications to health facilities. This scheme has helped save the lives of many women who otherwise might have died as a result of pregnancy complications or during labor. The men as a result of their involvement in this scheme are increasingly appreciating the value women in child bearing and the importance of their own supportive roles. They will likely not treat their pregnant wives the way the men in my mother’s life treated her.

The lessons from my mother’s experiences and my work as LTA mentoring WHC is that men’s active participation in caring for their wives, girl friends or concubines during pregnancies holds the ace in finding solution to maternal mortality challenges in Nigeria. Many a times, the lack of care and love exhibited by men towards their pregnant wives, girl friends and or concubines makes child bearing a traumatic and a risky venture for women.

The kind of love, affection and care that led to the pregnancy in the first place is equally needed during pregnancy, at child birth and beyond. Men and women are equal stakeholders in ensuring that the life of the mother and child is secured during and after pregnancy. Men should be mandated to attended ante – natal clinics with their wives and if possible be around during child birth. No matter how well equipped our hospitals may be if the care , love and support of men who impregnate the women is missing efforts at reducing maternal death will continue to be a mirage.

Today, I celebrate my mother for her resilience and bravery. I learnt how to be resilient and hope even in the face of hopelessness from her. My mother is my shero, my mentor and my companion. May God bless and keep my mother alive to celebrate the joy of motherhood with me when I have my own child.

My mother currently lives in New York where she works as a counselor and case manager to the homeless and drug addicts in America. She also prays for barren and pregnant women in her church in addition to facilitating naming cerimonies to the Nigerian community in New York.

eMagazine: Maternal Health

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