PLIGHT OF WOMEN IN MUKURU- JACKLINE SHARES HER EXPERIENCE-
- Published: Tuesday, 30 January 2018 14:19
Delivery is one of the creepiest stages in a woman’s life. It is the dream of every African Woman to hold the fruit of their womb in their arms. However, the process of taking care of a pregnancy from conception to antenatal care, to labor delivery and finally post-natal care is never a walk in the park for most women. The ministry of health advocates for safe delivery in a health facility with the Government making efforts to make maternity services free in all government hospitals for mothers to access free maternity services.
Nevertheless, most women in the slums of Mukuru, opt for various reasons, ( not for this article ) to do either home-based deliveries or those with the ability to seek out medical practitioners find themselves at the doors of illegal pharmacies often run by quacks and most often not well equipped to handle any emergencies that could occur during child bearing process.
As 30-year-old Jackline Achieng mother of five, narrates her story on plight of many women in Mukuru, Her experience sounds more of a fiction movie than reality. Jackline first came to the slums of Mukuru in 2011 in search of greener pastures, made green by work, to help support her wee child . She believed that life would become better after finding a job to support herself and her daughter. Shortly after her arrival she met a man who promised to marry her and also take care of her daughter. Little did she know that it was the beginning of a long traumatizing, and harrowing journey.
All was well until she discovered that she was pregnant with her newly found husband to be. Jackline says, (like most African women) getting married is her deep down desire. Things turned sour when she lost her job and had to move in with the man. However, “the marriage” was not to last for so long as it soon became apparent that the man was already married with a family in the rural home when his first wife traced him. This was followed by family wrangles and Jackline had to step aside to allow the first family to sort out their issues. End of one dream!
Now pregnant again Jackline had no one to support herself, her daughter and the unborn child. When time came to have a baby she had no choice but to become her own midwife in her ten-by-ten house since she could not support her maternity expenses. MY next question when listening was, ‘How do you help yourself deliver alone, take care of the newborn all by yourself, clean up and cook for yourself?’
Jackline explains with a steady voice of how she was brought up in a culture where women delivered in homes with the help of midwives and so she has never forgotten the lessons given to her from her late mother, “A pregnant woman should always keep a razor blade and a string everywhere she goes because the baby could come anytime.” Scary, right?
“When I start experiencing labour pains, I am always very strong because I cannot manage to cater for hospital bills. My technique is to lie on the flour and push the baby by myself. The baby comes out and I cut the umbilical cord with a razor blade and then tie it using a thread. I wait a bit and the placenta and all the waste come out. At this point the pain has reduced and I can stand up, wash the newborn in cold water and dress the baby. I clear the mess and prepare a meal to help me recover the strength.” Jackline’s description, her words and actions, leave me stunned.
Jobless Jackline tells of how hard it was now bringing baby Sandra up. “Two children is no joke,” she says. She was forced to take her one-week-old baby to a baby day care in the neighborhood to allow her to look for casual work to at least put food on the table. The baby’s health started deteriorating, as she was not being breastfed exclusively as the mum was always away and this meant Sandra soon had severe malnutrition.
Jackline was introduced to Ruben Centre by a Community Health Volunteer(CHV) and the baby was put in the nutrition program where she received supplements and food. After some time her condition improved thankfully. Despite the distress she went through with her two kids, Jackline still had a desire to get married. She then got engaged to a married man who had again reportedly separated from the family. The relationship did not last as the first family of this new man came looking for him and for a second time Jackline was left literally holding the babies.
Adding to the drama, Jackline was soon aware that she was already again pregnant from the now gone man and thus she was looking at raising three children as a jobless single mother. When asked why she was not using any form of family planning or protection, she explained that she was using the three months’ jab but somehow still got pregnant. Apparently she did not keep track of dates.
She gave birth to number three; a bouncing baby boy Ishmael her third born again through home delivery.
As her story continued to unfold for me, I could not proceed without knowing more about this woman giving birth totally alone. I was so keen to understand why she would choose to go through all the hasle while she could access a birthing unit for safe delivery. It came out strongly that she could not finance delivery in the hospital due to financial challenges. Secondly she believes there is nothing much a doctor does i.e. in most health facilities, women do all the work of birth while the nurses only come at the last stages of labour to help receive the baby. She also believes that if she goes to deliver in a health facility she will be taken through Caesarian Section, which in her culture is not allowed. Horror stories of other women about their experiences in health units including healthy babies being replaced with dead ones also impacted on her. Put simply, after taking into account all factors she prefers to self deliver at home.
After some time and struggling with her three children and without a stable income in the slums, she decided to go back to her rural home in Butere in the Western parts of Kenya to raise her children. End of another dream!
Going back home, she re-united with her first lover the father of her first daughter who was already a family man. She decided to get married as a second wife to the man just to fulfill her dream of being married. All was well for a year as she was using pills for family planning. Nevertheless, till this time, Jackline did not have an understanding of family planning methods and thus using pills was not a very effective method for her. After a year, the extended family of the man was not happy with her being an intruder in the marriage of their son and they sent her out of the family. However not before She was already pregnant with her fourth born.
Jacky believes she is cursed because every time she gets engaged to a man, it never lasts and at all times leaving her pregnant with a plus burden to carry on her own. She later came back to Nairobi and is now a mother of four. Again the fourth born was delivered in the house just as its siblings. She later got her fifth born after a one-day encounter with a man who was a neighbour. Through the suffering, she has become an expert of home deliveries and thank God she has never developed any complications during this risky ordeal.
Now at Ruben Centre she was able to get help through the Social Department’s work for cash program. She feels supported, earns weekly wages as well as getting medical support for her two children in the nutrition department who were/ are still suffering from mild malnutrition. With the last baby, the clinic management offered to help her through the antenatal care of which she was started on her clinic at 8 months. They offered to support her deliver her last born in a medical facility after she came with labour pains but she was very reluctant. She prefers being her own midwife and the fear of delivering in a medical facility is a giant that forever stands before her.
“Would you consider getting long-term family planning methods to prevent any more unwanted pregnancies in future?” I asked while still trying to digest the weight of her experience and was relieved to know that she would not mind a permanent family planning intervention or a long-term method to allow her to take care of her family. When asked what her most pressing need was, the answer was precise, a job to fend for my children”. The getting married dream fading fast. Africa wins again !
Note: Jackline has given written consent to Ruben Centre to share her story and to use photos of her and the children.
Public Relations Officer