I always wondered why my mother separated from my father. It took years for her to tell me why she had to leave. According to her, my father neither cared for her nor showed her love while she was pregnant. My mother lost three pregnancies before giving birth to me, and on those occasions my father was not around to give her the love, care, and support she needed to overcome the trauma of miscarriage. Instead, he always complained about the money he had to pay at the hospital.
She said the breaking point was when she gave birth to me, and she had complications that almost took her life after childbirth. Rather than focusing on how the doctors could 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.
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 kind until my mother got pregnant. That was the last we saw of him.
As if this was not enough, my mother tried a third time at having a husband, which led to more tragedy. After impregnating my mom, the man took off again and my mother was left to raise all of us children alone.
The men in my mother’s life represent one category of men who do not value women and their childbearing roles in our society—but they are not representative of all men. I have been privileged to work with many male allies who value and care for women. They are remarkably different to the men in my mother’s life. They have love in their hearts and are able to feel the pains that women experience during pregnancy and childbirth.
All over Nigeria, the work of our male allies is making a difference for women. In Kano and Kaduna States, male members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers provide emergency transportation to health facilities for women in labor. This project has helped save the lives of many women who otherwise would have died as a result of pregnancy-related complications. The men who are involved in these activities have reported that they are increasingly more appreciative of the value of childbearing 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.
Men’s active participation in caring for their wives, girlfriends, or mistresses during pregnancies is key to finding solutions to maternal mortality challenges in Nigeria. Men can and should play a role in addressing maternal mortality in Nigeria. Many a time, the lack of care and love exhibited by men towards the pregnant women in their lives makes childbearing a traumatic and risky venture for women.
No matter how well equipped our hospitals may be, if the care, love, and support of men is missing, efforts at reducing maternal death will continue to be a mirage.
Today, I celebrate my mother for her resilience and bravery, and I celebrate all women who labor to bring the next generation into the world. Moreover, I celebrate the men who stand with women to put an end to the deplorable conditions pregnant women face.
Titilope | Nigeria