I had my last child, Abdallah, on the 3rd of March 2008 and his pregnancy was probably my most energetic one at the beginning, so when I suddenly started spotting in the early part of my 3rd trimester, I was a bit worried (having had a very difficult pregnancy and childbirth through CS two years earlier due to a serious condition known as Placenta Previa ) and just to slow down my racing heart, I went to see my doctor. My heart stopped when he told me that I had again developed the condition on a more serious level and would need to have my baby delivered by Caesarian Section (AGAIN!).
Things steadily went downhill from there and I was placed on strict bed rest to stop my condition from deteriorating. Now, what Placenta Previa does is to detach the placenta mid pregnancy and allow it to float down and settle down over the cervical opening, partially or completely blocking the cervical passage through which the baby would pass out into the world. Doctors usually categorise its seriousness in degrees with 1 being bad and 4 being disastrous. I had a 4.
With my record of a previous episode, doctors became very worried and transferred all the worry to me psychologically. To make matters worse, I have a very rare blood type , O- negative. This means that my blood carries the Rhesus negative factor (which I would let the doctors reading this give us a small lecture about) and being a confirmed case for a CS operation, I was going to need some blood transfusion in addition to all the complications that usually plagued women in my blood group in pregnancy. Unfortunately for me, only about 13% of the world’s population are burdened by the rhesus – (negative) factor (some sources quote 7% and others say it is 15%, but you do get the picture right?) and while rhesus negative people can give blood to rhesus positive people, they can only receive from their small club of the 13%. It was a grim picture for me.
With such gloomy prospects staring me in the face, my family made the decision to let me have my baby in the UK. It turned out that was the best gift my family has ever given me in my life. They gave me the gift of life!
As soon as I arrived in the UK, I went to see the doctor a good friend had helped me book with and as soon as the doctor examined me, she sent me straight to the bigger government hospital where I was promptly admitted and kept on strict bed rest. I knew my condition was bad but in the UK I found out just how bad it was. From the moment I entered that hospital room, I didn’t step out for the next 3 months. I was poked with needles, poked with hands, punctured with tubes, inserted into MRI machines, smeared with scanning gel and generally made hysterical. I was made to sign all sorts of forms with the most painful one being asked to categorically state in writing whom between me and my baby the doctors were allowed to save if their choice became that grim and narrow on the operation table. A kind psychologist sat with me for almost an hour trying to make me weight my options: On one hand is a new life about to be born with his future bright as the sun who deserved to be allowed to fulfill his destiny and on the other hand were 3 other young children aged 7, 3 & 2 who desperately needed a mother in their formative lives, a husband who would be left alone to care for them and parents who would suddenly find themselves without their first born child. It was the hardest choice I have ever been faced with and the hardest decision I have ever had to make. But I made my choice and prayed to Allah to accept it as my best. From then on, depression set in, I would call my husband up in the dead of night and cry. I would call my parents up at 3am and cry. I would call my friend Amina, who was a doctor and also pregnant and on bed rest in another part of the UK and cry for hours. I would refuse to eat the food my sweet kid sister painstakingly made for me and eat one bar of chocolate for a week when she insisted I eat something. I was placed on Codeine to help me sleep at night.
The day I had my baby, I was taken into the theatre at 9:45 am with the doctors hoping to be finished by 11 am. We were all in there until 6. 20 pm. At some point my sister in law whom I had requested to be my birth partner was asked to leave the room as things had become very complicated. After those many hours and loosing 5 litres of blood continuously (according to one of my doctors later on, I was running like a tap despite their best efforts to infuse me non stop) , doctors were able to save both me and my baby. He was a beautiful healthy 3.8kg at birth and I remember feeling awed by his beauty just before I became unconscious.
I still have the pictures to show for the battle I fought that day. I had like a million tubes going in and out of me, including two in my upper thighs put in to block the major veins in there that carried blood through the body. I had an oxygen tube in my nose for 3 days and I wasn’t conscious enough to feed my baby for nearly two days. I didn’t see him for a day and a half. I was placed on anti depressants for several weeks although, by the sheer force of my mother’s love, I stopped taking the pills earlier and concentrated on healing my spirit with the prayer she recommended. It worked. My husband came and took on 80% of the weight I felt in my head and in my chest off my shoulders. He took over caring for the baby to allow me sleep all day. He helped to speed my recovery and I cant ever love him enough or thank him enough for that.
I eventually pulled through that ordeal but I will carry the physical and psychological scars forever. The first day my father saw me, after I returned to Nigeria, he wept. He told me how he fervently prayed to God to not let him have to tell my children that their mother had died.
I remembered my father’s words yesterday when I watched that AIT documentary. I remembered how haunted his eyes looked as he told me about his greatest fear. The fear of losing a young daughter at childbirth. The fear of having to hold her little orphaned baby in his hands and the fear of having to answer difficult questions from her little children, too young to comprehend his answers. My heart constricted in my chest as I imagined what the late Zulai Buhari’s father must have felt watching that despicable depiction of his daughter and the insinuation that he was so evil as to have lost a daughter in the labour room. My head filled up with anger as I remembered my battle with childbirth. I felt my heartbeat increase as I imagined what she must have gone through in her final hour on a cold Nigerian hospital bed with less than a tenth of the care, facilities and expertise I had in the UK (despite which, I still remember my ordeal with deep sorrow). I imagined what many like me and Zulai Buhari, those who survived and those who lost the battle, must have felt in that moment when her story complete with a picture was added to that shameful documentary by Raymond Dokpesi’s AIT. I imagined how husbands like ours who have gone through the ordeal of waiting to be told whether their wives had lived or died in the theatre must have felt. I imagined what fathers, especially Muhammadu Buhari, who have gone through what our fathers have gone through , must have felt like seeing her story being told in such a horrible manner.
This is not about the smear campaign being vigorously pursued by the PDP. This is about decency. This is about humanity. This is about the inability to feel the pains of others. This is about the unwillingness to rise above certain behaviours. This is about the incapability to say “ENOUGH!’ This is about the millions of mothers who continue to die in Nigerian labour rooms annually. This is about the millions of children that become orphaned by the deaths of these mothers. This is about fathers who lose their young daughters in the labour room but who are unable to properly cry because they are expected to be “men” even in the face of such heavy tragedy. This is about husbands whose lives suddenly get turned upside down with such tragedies. This is about mothers, whose hearts break into a million pieces never to be properly mended in these tragedies.
This is about the maternal mortality rate in Nigeria that seems to keep climbing the ladder of resistance every year. This is about all the women battling different types of pregnancy induced complications fighting to birth new lives into the world. This is about their unseen and unappreciated struggles. This is about hospitals that seem to have lost all hope in this battle. This is about a healthcare system that has been brought to its knees by corrupt officials.
This is about a shameful party that finds a reason to use such tragedy to score cheap campaign points . This is about a tragic country that sees nothing wrong in airing such a sad sad sad programme on its national cable station without having the decency to clip off that part and this is about the unfortunate citizens of that country who had to watch that programme.
So, although I did not die bringing my child into the world, I know how Zulai Buhari felt when she was carrying her baby in her womb. A baby she was not sure she would live to see. I know because I have been there.