The catalogue of agony that expectant mothers go through in labour wards and delivery rooms is quite lengthy. Apart from the drama some women pull during labour, there is also the nasty element of doctors and nurses who mistreat such women.
Last year, the Ministry of Health, National Nurses Association of Kenya, the Federation of Women Lawyers and the American NGO Population Council published data showing one in five women giving birth in local hospitals is humiliated, abused or asked for a bribe.
Some medics, especially in public hospitals, slap and pinch the expectant mothers, not forgetting the foul language some of them use. Needless to mention neglect and abandonment during labour or even childbirth, especially for women who are giving birth for the second, third or fourth time, is real.
A woman named Maureen, for instance, recalls a nasty nurse in the labour ward slapping her for asking for drinking water.
“She even threatened me that after delivery she would write me a referral letter to a mental hospital, just because at some point I felt like I was not breathing properly and asked her if she could put me on oxygen,” says Maureen.
As for a certain Anne, the nurse mistreated her while stitching her episiotomy (an emergency surgical cut — at times done without the woman given anesthesia for lack of time — in the muscular area between the vagina and the anus. It’s made just before delivery to enlarge a woman’s vaginal opening). She says the stitching was so painful and the medic kept slapping and pinching her thighs for flinching at the pain.
“At some point, using very vulgar language, she threatened to abandon me to writhe in pain and only to call her to continue once I was done. All the while, her colleagues only giggled without giving words of assurance,” Grace laments.
Tales, too, are told of how doctors and nurses abuse expectant mothers and neglect those they assume are ‘troublesome’. At some of the labour ward or delivery rooms, medics use phrases like, “Nani alikutuma kwa huyo mwanaume (who sent you to the man who impregnated you)?” “Si hiyo siku ulikuwa unaskia raha tu, sisi tulikua? (when you were having a good time, were we there)?” “Unalilia nani hapa na ulipeana mwenyewe (Why are you crying now, yet you consented to what led to this)?”
What we have, however, discovered through comparative analysis of various reports on this kind of mistreatment is that some care-givers have misconceptions about what is acceptable behavior or not hence the continued rampant maltreatment.
In one of the studies, the researchers highlighted how some health-care providers considered different forms of abuse as “normal” and “acceptable”. Interesting, in yet another study, some women also accepted some forms of mistreatment. “Midwives and doctors may use abusive techniques to get women to cooperate, and paradoxically some women accept such mistreatment if they believe it will benefit their health or their baby’s health,” reads one of the reports.
Tribalism was also found to play a role in how women are treated while giving birth. If you come from a different tribe from the health provider, you are most likely ignored or asked to pay a bigger bribe. Tales have been told of women who skip the nearest medical facility if they are sure people from the tribe that hates hers are in plenty. All this continues to happen, even after the government in October 2013 launched a Patients’ Rights Charter, which is supposed to protect patients against abuse.