There are no words to explain complete and utter devastation a mother feels from having a stillborn child. The grief is intense and long-lasting. Compounding this pain is a lack of answers: How did this happen? Could it have been prevented? Was it my fault? What can be done to avoid it in the future? Dare I try to have another child?
One mother has set out to address these issues by calling for improvements in health education and access to primary healthcare.
Her Excellency Mrs. Toyin Saraki is the Founder and President of Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA). As the Newborn Champion for Save the Children Nigeria, a Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Conference of Midwives, the Grand Patron of White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, a Champion for White Ribbon Alliance Global, and the wife of the Nigeria’s Senate President, Mrs. Saraki works hard for many essential causes that impact the lives of women and children. The driving force was her own experience with the death of her baby, compelling her to work to end stillbirths.
Mrs. Saraki gave birth to twins, one who lived and one who was stillborn due to failures in the Nigerian public health care system. Speaking to BBC Focus Africa, she shared, “I was fighting for one life and bewildered how to mourn the other life … People did not know whether to congratulate or commiserate with me.”
Improvements in Prevention
A report called Stillbirths: Economic and Psychosocial Consequences was co-authored by Mrs. Saraki, and is part of a series in the Lancet (medical journal in the UK) called ‘Ending Preventable Stillbirths.’ Currently, Nigeria has the second-highest stillbirth rate (more than 300,000 in 2015), with more than half occurring during labor and birth. Improvements and interventions are being made through WBFA Personal Health Records (a documented record of women’s medical conditions, every stage in their pregnancy, and the life of their child for the first 5 years to help women gain access to the right care from properly informed health professionals). The Foundation’s emergency obstetric and newborn care training, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine will help enhance the quality of that healthcare.
We Have to Talk About It
Even with proper measures in place, stillbirths still occur. When they do, support is needed for grieving mothers and families, and that begins with awareness, education, and discussion about the stigma tied to stillbirth. Studies have shown 4% of care providers in low and middle-income countries attributed stillbirth to being the fault of the mother, and 12% agreed that parents should not talk about a stillborn baby. Only 19% of parents agreed that a death before birth is the same as a death of a child. This silencing of pain and grief inspired Mrs. Saraki to include counseling as part of what WBFA aims to provide for the wellbeing of mothers and families.
Work for Progress
In an interview on BBC Focus on Africa TV, Mrs. Saraki explained that at the current rate of progress it would be more than 160 years before a pregnant woman in parts of Africa has the same chance of her baby being born alive as a woman in a high-income country. “Stillbirths often go unrecorded, let alone lead to counseling. This is why I started the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, which works to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health across the continent.” Her aim is for the Wellbeing Foundation’s work to ensure that the lottery of where a baby will be born does not affect his or her chances of survival, no matter the country.
Take Action Challenge
Read more of Mrs. Saraki’s BBC World Impact interview with Philippa Thomas. Learn more about the world of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa on their website, welcome Mrs. Saraki to her new Instagram account by following her work around the world and follow @wellbeingafrica here.
Photos courtesy Wellbeing Foundation