Nige­ri­ans opt to give birth in church

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LA­GOS — Twenty-seven-year-old Ran­som Li­nus Martin, four months into her first preg­nancy, has come to the Land of Prom­ise church near the city of Cal­abar for prayers, but it is also where she will be giv­ing birth.

She is not alone in her choice, but cam­paign­ers are try­ing to end the prac­tice which is wide­spread in south­ern Nigeria.

The stocky woman, wear­ing a knee-length lace dress and a deep yel­low beret is blunt about why she, and other women, opt for a church birth with a tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dant rather than go­ing to a ma­ter­nity clinic.

“They do fast­ing and prayer here, and if you are preg­nant you need to go to the place where there is God and there is daily fast­ing and prayers.

“At the hos­pi­tal there is noth­ing like prayer. They don’t pray. They only give you in­jec­tions. But as you pray at the church, you get closer to God.

“On the day of your de­liv­ery, God will help you and you will de­liver suc­cess­fully,” she says.

Martin be­lieves that the church and God will of­fer more pro­tec­tion than mod­ern health fa­cil­i­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, there are re­ports of many women dy­ing while giv­ing birth in the fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided by a church.

Dr Linda Ayade, the state gover­nor’s wife, is so con­cerned about the pos­si­ble dan­gers of a church birth that she is cam­paign­ing to ban the prac­tice, and is en­cour­ag­ing women to in­stead go to health cen­tres to de­liver their ba­bies.

She has been go­ing from vil­lage to vil­lage across the state, try­ing to per­suade ex­pec­tant moth­ers.

At a meet­ing in Uwanse vil­lage she speaks with pas­sion in a lo­cal lan­guage, Efik, and the women are at­ten­tive, ex­cited at be­ing vis­ited by a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial.

Later, she ex­plains her mo­ti­va­tion: “I have worked in hos­pi­tals in Nigeria and I have first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of preg­nant women be­ing rushed in at crit­i­cal times when they can no longer be helped.

“Some are even con­firmed dead on ar­rival, and it hap­pens quite of­ten. I have taken it as an obli­ga­tion to save lives and re­duce in­ci­dences of ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity re­lat­ing to child birth and de­liv­ery, know­ing what it means for a mother to die and leav­ing chil­dren be­hind.”

It may, how­ever, take some time be­fore every­one is won over, as child de­liv­ery is as­so­ci­ated with deep-seated tra­di­tional be­liefs.

Dr Ayade’s sta­tus does at­tract a crowd to her meet­ings, but prayer ses­sions are also packed out.

At the Land of Prom­ise church, a con­gre­ga­tion of mostly preg­nant women sings and prays, ask­ing God to in­ter­vene and de­liver their ba­bies at the ap­pointed time.

At­tached to the prayer hall is the room where the women will give birth - it is small and dirty and lit by a paraf­fin lamp.

Sis­ter In­doreyin Samb­hor is the pas­tor and the church’s tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dant. The short, mid­dle-aged woman says de­liv­er­ing ba­bies is a tra­di­tion in her fam­ily handed down from mother to daugh­ter.

“This is the work that God gave me to do. From my youth, I helped my mother to de- liver ba­bies. God has been help­ing me, and God will not al­low any­thing dan­ger­ous or evil to hap­pen.

“I pray with the moth­ers and my fol­low­ers can tes­tify about my skills... Ev­ery preg­nant woman that has come to me has de­liv­ered safely and gone home with their chil­dren.”

“God has been help­ing us so I don’t even be­lieve that there can be com­pli­ca­tions in chil­dren de­liv­ery.”

Twenty-six-year-old Mercy Martin Ud­ofia, in her eighth month of preg­nancy, is a fol­lower of Sis­ter In­doreyin.

Wear­ing a tight-fit­ting dress that shows her bulging tummy, she says she gave birth to her first child in this church, and she will come back for a sec­ond time.

“As a child of God, you do not stay idle, you have to be closer to God. So that as a preg­nant woman, when it comes to the time of de- liv­ery, ev­ery­thing will be easy for you.”

But things are not al­ways so rosy. A woman re­cently died while giv­ing birth to twins at a church in the Bur­row Pit sub­urb of Cal­abar.

A rel­a­tive of the de­ceased said she passed away fol­low­ing com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing from a re­tained pla­centa which the tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dant could not deal with. The twins sur­vived and are cur­rently be­ing treated at a hos­pi­tal in Cal­abar.

The au­thor­i­ties are tak­ing ac­tion to deal with the is­sue.

Head of the state pri­mary health agency Betta Edu says the state gov­ern­ment will soon be pass­ing a law aimed at stop­ping preg­nant women giv­ing birth in churches and see­ing tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dants.

She thinks that many tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dants tell women that hos­pi­tals and health cen­tres only carry out cae­sare­ans, and some of them could die as a re­sult of heavy bleed­ing.

With such fears at the back of their minds, they see the birth at­ten­dants as the best choice, as they are both closer to God and have the tra­di­tional skills to help them de­liver safely.

But Dr Edu ar­gues that the prac­tice will die out with a change in the law and the build­ing of new health cen­tres in ev­ery com­mu­nity.

All those in­volved in try­ing to change at­ti­tudes recog­nise that a lot of work still needs to be done.

“Our peo­ple are deeply re­li­gious, and some of them are so deep in the tra­di­tional prac­tise that it’s usu­ally very dif­fi­cult to shrug them off,” Dr Ayade says.

“We need to ed­u­cate them, en­cour­age them and even en­tice them.”

— BBC

Many preg­nant women come to see Sis­ter In­doreyin Samb­hor (stand­ing), a birth at­ten­dant and pas­tor at the Land of Prom­ise church

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