Waving a light to remember the loss of little lives
Just like many newly weds, Kate Okoye got married in 2010 and had high hopes of getting pregnant immediately as the society demands. In 2012, she got pregnant and after six weeks, she lost the pregnancy. The doctors termed it a ‘missed abortion’. Then in 2013, Okoye became pregnant again and was elated.
According to her, “on the fateful morning on April 9, 2013, I started feeling funny. I went to the toilet at work to pee, and behold, it was all blood. I took a cab to the hospital and the doctor tried all he could but it was a lost battle. That one too came down at 10 weeks. I was sad and cried endlessly, as I had to go through an excruciating evacuation again. Only God knew how I survived the trauma and pain.”
Another, Abimbola Oni lost her 28-week foetus five days to her 35th birthday. “I remember counting down to my Expected Date of Delivery (EDD) and this happened. At first it was termed ‘preemie’ and my baby was in the incubator for three days but died on the morning of the fourth day. This happened at a time when I was reassured she will survive after 48 hours. I could not sleep in the first few days as I sat up all night watching my baby fight for her life in the incubator and after being assured she was responding to treatment, I woke up to a corpse on the fourth day.
“I do not know how I have managed to survive this, moving on was more harder than I thought, but then three months gone, I am here holding on. Nigerians makes it more difficult; everyone who saw me pregnant asked about my child and I have tried not to be rude. I am alive and it is a testimony.”
These are two of hundreds of stories women have to tell on their journey to having their own kids, the pain they bear and sometimes shame while trying to move on from that low points of their lives.
Every year in October 9 – 15 has been set aside to remember families, couples and women most especially who have suffered any form of baby loss either through miscarriage, during birth, ectopic pregnancy or genetic disorder. The theme for this year is ‘Breaking the Silence’.
Known as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, October 15 is observed annually as a day of remembrance for pregnancy loss and infant death. The day is observed with remembrance ceremonies and candle-lighting vigils, concluding with the Lights of Love International Wave of Light, a worldwide lighting of candles that encompasses and spans the globe at 7:00p.m. (local time).
The World (International) Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is not currently declared nor is it legislated and recognized at the international level as a Day of Remembrance/Awareness. Despite this organizations around the world observe the day in remembrance of the babies who die too soon and the bereaved families who are left to grieve. Through the campaigns of individuals worldwide the day is becoming an international day of observation.
The International Wave of Light is a Bear Care Campaign initiative and the official Wave of light of October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The wave of light invites baby loss families, friends and loved ones from around the world to join in remembrance of their longed for babies on October 15 at 7:00p.m. in all time zones.
Lighting begins in the first time zone and remain lit a period of one hour, with the next time zone lighting respectively. The result is a continuous chain of light encompassing and spanning across the world and around the globe for a 24-hour period illuminating the night in love and light in remembrance of the day.
Dr. Oseyi Okaiwele is a Consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist at Faith City Hospital in Lagos. For him, a miscarriage (or abortion) is the loss of a pregnancy before the age of viability. This could be spontaneous or induced. Spontaneous miscarriages could be due to a number of reasons. There could be chromosomal anomalies which are genetic problems; maternal diseases like malaria, chicken pox and measles in pregnancy. Others are chronic medical conditions like diabetes mellitus, hypertension and thyroid disorders especially when these are not properly managed before onset of the pregnancy.
In addition, a lot of drugs are unsafe in pregnancy. Many drugs can cause miscarriages or abnormalities with the foetus when taken by a pregnant woman. In some cases however, the exact cause may not be readily identified.
Okaiwele noted that to some extent, miscarriages could be averted. The possible causative factors can be managed properly to reduce the risk of spontaneous miscarriages. There should be proper management of chronic disorders before embarking on a pregnancy. Pregnant women should sleep under insecticide treated nets and there should be prompt diagnosis and treatment of malaria in pregnancy by qualified health personnel.
Pregnant women should also avoid self-medication or treatment by unauthorised healthcare providers. They should also inform the doctors attending to them that they are pregnant especially in the very early stages where the pregnancy is not so obvious so that drugs that are unsafe in pregnancy are not prescribed.
“There is an increased risk of spontaneous miscarriages when the mothers are above the age of 35 years. This is due to increase in the incidence of chromosomal anomalies and chronic medical conditions in the mothers like diabetes mellitus, chronic hypertension etc. The quality of the eggs fertilised also reduces with advancing age.”
For neonatal death at the point of delivery, either by vaginal delivery or Caesarean section, Okaiwele stressed that prolonged labour, bleeding during labour, abnormal lie or presentation of the foetus or poor resuscitation techniques could contribute to early neonatal death. In our environment, aversion to Caesarean section due to poverty, ignorance or other reasons may delay the delivery and put the baby at risk.”
On the place of spiritual and medical help during delivery, the medical consultant said that both have come to stay and will only advise it is managed wisely. “Some priests, pastors, reverend sisters and Imams are practicing medical doctors, nurses or pharmacists. It would be unwise for a student that has an examination to fast and pray all night long without reading while expecting to pass. Reading and praying can go hand in hand. So also, a pastor or Imam can be praying while the doctor is doing the needful. What some people ignorantly do is to attribute all illnesses to ‘spiritual attacks’ and go to religious houses to pray until the situation is very bad before they finally present to the hospital when it may be too late. This is terribly wrong.”
A medical doctor and women’s health blogger, Rasheedah Ayandipo has had her fair share of miscarriages too and now has two children. While the first miscarriage happened too early, a few months afterwards in the same year, the second one happened.
“I found out I was pregnant one week with a very early pregnancy test and already called the doctor to schedule an initial appointment. The following week I started spotting and it gradually got heavier and heavier. Some would say this doesn’t even count as a miscarriage but perhaps a ‘chemical pregnancy’ where fertilisation occurs but the pregnancy never really took place. I remember wishing it was just a bit of spotting and that it would stop. Having a medical background I knew what this was an early miscarriage and just counted that bleed as a period. It was difficult but I moved on quickly, I knew how common miscarriages are and prayed for strength to move on and try again.
“I got pregnant about five months after and this time I was nervous, so I had two early scans for reassurance. The day just before my 12th week mark I felt odd and decided to go for a scan, sadly there was no heartbeat. Baby had stop growing two to three weeks prior but my body had not gone through the miscarriage process naturally. It was a ‘missed miscarriage’, it happens without a woman knowing, there is no bleeding or pain.
While commenting on ways to manage a miscarriage Ayandipo said that there are three ways; first by natural means where the doctor allows your body dispose the waste by itself, then the use of medicine to stimulate the process and finally surgical option which is evacuation. It is dangerous for a woman who has had a miscarriage and has not had the remnant of conception out of her body, this could cause infection and become life threatening.
On the recovery process after a miscarriage, she said that even though the physical recovery didn’t seem so bad, the mental recovery is usually more stressful. “You begin to ask yourself why me, what have I done wrong, does this mean I won’t have children again, because for you that child was already a part of you and knowing it’s no more can be very difficult. Support systems are key to recovery, my partner, family, friends were around me, I drew strength from them; they got me all I needed, have a chat and distracted me too and so it helped a lot.”
In Nigeria, the Beibei Haven foundation has been in the forefront of raising awareness on pregnancy and baby loss while also helping those with fertility issues. Tosin Sofowora a representative of the foundation, noted that although there are no statistics in Nigeria, one in every eight women have gone through one form of pregnancy loss or the other.
“There are so many couples that have gone though pregnancy-related losses either through ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, genetic disorder and you know how our society makes them feel guilty and they end up keeping to themselves. Most Nigerians do not have the etiquette on exactly how to react when you see a woman with a bulging tummy and the next day it is no more, you are not supposed to ask the obvious question. Being silent at such times is a way of supporting the woman, encourage, pray with her and if possible give her a shoulder to lean on if the she needs to cry and let out her emotions.
In the UK, over 60 charities come together to raise awareness about the key issues affecting those who have babies who have died during pregnancy or soon after birth and at infancy. This is the 16th year of commemoration and research into miscarriage has shown that one in four women experience miscarriage in their lifetime and one in 100 have three or more miscarriages in a row.
According to Tommy’s National Miscarriage Centre in the UK, research into why miscarriage happens is the only way to save lives and prevent future loss. Part of it’s recent achievement and research highlight include: testing fetal DNA to see if miscarriages happened for genetic reasons; they support the ‘conceive trial’ to see if differences in women’s heart and blood vessels before or early in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and an Early Pregnancy Observational Study (EPOS) looking at over 1, 100 women from five weeks of pregnancy through to delivery to understand why some women are more at risk of miscarriage than others.
In Nigeria, the Beibei Haven foundation has been in the fore front of the fight and raising awareness on pregnancy and baby loss while also helping those with fertility issues. Speaking to The Guardian, Tosin Sofowora a representative of the foundation, noted that although there are no statistics in Nigeria, but one in every eight women have gone through one form of pregnancy loss or the other.
“There are so many couples that have gone though pregnancy related losses either through ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, genetic disorder and you know how our society makes them feel guilty and they end up keeping to themselves. Most Nigerians do not have the etiquette on exactly how to react when you see a woman with a bulging tummy and the next day it is no more, you are not supposed to ask the obvious question. Being silent at such times is a way of supporting the woman, encourage, pray with her and if possible give her a shoulder to lean on if the she needs to cry and let out her emotions.
“So as a foundation, we give out necessary information, provide support groups and advise to people who are going through similar challenges. We have people send in their stories so that others can hear and get relieved. We have had a case where a woman was accused of eating her children, which should never be. We want women to speak up and know that they are not alone in this journey, they should open up because it could lead to depression if not handled properly.”
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