Last week, I met a young mom called Selina Odongo Ojwang’. Selina is mother to a seven-month old daughter called Nina Natania. Nina means ‘God’s grace’ while Natania means ‘God’s gift’. Quite interesting names which have a deep meaning to Nina’s parents.
As I chatted Selina and watched her play with and cuddle her daughter, she mentioned to me that it is still yet to dawn on her that she is actually a mother. This is because the road to motherhood for this 30-year-old insurance sales agent has not been an easy one.
It all began two years ago when she fell pregnant with her first child. Excited at the thought of becoming a mother, Selina focused on a healthy lifestyle which included eating right and engaging in mild exercise. She also dutifully attended her antenatal clinics.
But one day, at 16 weeks pregnant, Selina felt a sudden gush of warm liquid surge through her legs. She immediately rushed to hospital where she was informed that her waters were breaking prematurely. Unfortunately, she lost the baby.
“It was a handsome little boy,” she remembers.
Still hopeful about becoming a mother, Selina conceived again three months later. This time round though, she found herself extremely paranoid about the pregnancy.
“I worried alot and feared I would lose the baby. I became very cautious in everything I did, careful not to put myself in harm’s way,” she remembers.
To ensure all would go well, Selina opted to see one of the best consultant gynaecologists in town for her antenatal visits.
After learning about her previous miscarriage, which he suspected was likely caused by a weak cervix, the doctor suggested the option of a cervical cerclage, which involves closing the cervix with a stitch. With the cervical stitch in place, it would reduce the likelihood of her cervix opening up prematurely due to pressure from the growing foetus.
However, after taking her through a series of tests during her 16th week of pregnancy, the doctor informed her that she did not need to have the cervical stitch after all.
“The tests established that my cervix was competent enough to carry the pregnancy to full term,” she remembers.
Relieved at the news of a complication-free pregnancy, Selina relaxed and began shopping for her baby.
However, this joy was not to last for long as three weeks later, on Christmas day 2012, she felt the all familiar gush of a warm liquid spurt through her legs.
“I could not believe it. There was no way I could be losing my baby again. How, yet the doctor assured me all was well?” she cried as she dashed to the hospital. Unfortunately, her gynaecologist was out of town as it was the festive season so she settled for the nearest hospital.
At the hospital, an ultrasound on her 19-week pregnancy was done, which revealed that the baby had a regular heartbeat, though the amniotic fluid was less than usual. But it was the doctor’s words that shocked her most.
“Just get rid of that thing,” he announced, referring to her foetus.
Selina was taken aback by his attitude.
“The doctor showed no sympathy or concern for me. His words pierced me deeply,” she remembers.
Despite the doctor’s suggestion, Selina and her husband would hear none of it.
“We were not going to kill our baby. The ultrasound showed the baby’s heartbeat was existent. I could feel the baby playing and kicking inside me, so how could I terminate the pregnancy?” she wondered.
For the next few days, Selina remained in hospital hoping for a medical miracle. But each time the doctor came to review her, he would scold her, asking her why she was taking long to ‘get that thing removed’.
“Those were the most heartless words I have ever heard. I will never forget that doctor for as long as I live,” she says.
Sadly, as the hours passed, the baby’s heartbeat and the kicks gradually became faint. By the third day, the medics could not trace a foetal heartbeat and the movements in her belly were no more. Labour had to be induced for her to deliver the now-dead foetus.
“The hospital nurses wrapped the baby in a shawl and handed the baby over to me. It was another baby boy. I took a few photographs of him before they took him away,” she remembers.
Her sorrow was made worse by people’s talk.
“When I went to church, I was turned away from the choir which I had faithfully served in for many years. I later discovered word was that I was a great sinner and God was punishing me for several abortions apparently procured before I got married. Some church members said I was bewitched and therefore did not belong in their fellowship. To date, I have never returned to that church,” she says.
But the church was not the only place she would face rejection.
“Friends stopped inviting me to baby showers as they believed I carried an evil spirit that killed unborn babies. Whenever I visited new mothers, I noticed they would not allow me to hold their newborns as they believed my hands carried death.”
Distressed by the happenings in her life, Selina decided to bury herself in her work. She also put on hold trying for another baby as she did not feel ready to cope with another disappointment.
However, nine months after her second miscarriage, Selina began feeling nauseous. Familiar with the symptoms, she took a pregnancy test. The results were positive.
“I was disappointed. I was on the birth control pill and was unprepared for another pregnancy. I was not emotionally and physically ready to deal with the rigours of losing another baby,” she remembers.
Certain of another miscarriage, Selina decided not to seek any antenatal care but instead wait for nature to take its course.
“I was already familiar with the routine. My waters would break in my fourth month, I would rush to hospital, I would be induced and then give birth to a dead foetus.”
This time round though, Selina insisted on a cervical stitch. The first gynaecologist she went to declined to give her the stitch, instead giving her alternative medication.
“While I took the drugs, I decided to search for another doctor who would give me the stitch. I was not going to rest until I had the stitch. If I lost the baby, it was going to be because of something else but not because of a weakened cervix,” she remembers insisting.
Finally, after a wide search, she found a doctor who understood her concerns. When she saw him at 14 weeks pregnant, he ran some tests on her. The results showed that her cervix was already opening up.
“In a few days time, I was going to suffer another miscarriage. He booked me for the surgical procedure the following week. But I never made it to the appointed day as three days to the date, I began having pains in my belly and after rushing to hospital, I was told my cervix was dilating. The doctor gave me an emergency cervical stitch — the McDonald Stitch.”
The rest of the pregnancy was delicate, where Selina remained indoors for most of the time following strict instructions from her doctor.
“They were very agonising months as every passing hour, I kept dreading that my waters would break anytime. There entire pregnancy was spent in great fear of me losing my baby,” she remembers.
But the pregnancy progressed well without any major incident.
However, Selina faced another pregnancy scare at 36 weeks when she began developing preeclampsia, another pregnancy complication that could be fatal. Her blood pressure was alarmingly high, she was nose bleeding and her face, feet and hands were extremely swollen.
This condition necessitated the doctor to remove the McDonald stitch and the following week, Selina gave birth to a healthy baby girl through normal delivery.
Today, her daughter is a healthy, bubbly seven-month-old who has never suffered any ill-health.
Does Selina plan to have more children?
“Yes, but I will always insist on a cervical stitch. That is a must, something I will never compromise on,” she vows.
Selina also urges other women who have suffered miscarriages to read widely about cervical stitches, and have a discussion with their doctor about it as a possible solution to their miscarriages.
“No woman should have a miscarriage that can be avoided,” she said, as we concluded the interview.
And that is why the couple named their daughter Nina Natania. Indeed, she is God’s gracious gift.
What is a Cervical Stitch?
– A cervical cerclage (stitch) is given in the case of a weak cervix (cervical incompetence). The stitch is placed in the cervix as a precautionary measure to keep it closed and prevent it from opening up prematurely during pregnancy.
– The stitch is usually inserted between 10-16 weeks, though in some cases it can be inserted a few weeks after that.
– The stitch is usually removed at around 37-38 weeks of pregnancy.
*I first published this article in The Star