By Maryanne W. Waweru
Belinda Adhiambo is a 27-year-old mother of one. Her son is eight months old. Born and raised in Kibera, she works as a Communication and Advocacy Officer. Belinda is a woman with a physical disability. She wasn’t born this way though. At the age of three years, Belinda was involved in a road accident that damaged one of her legs, leading to its amputation.
I talked to Belinda about her pregnancy and childbirth experience as a woman with disability, more so, an amputee. This is her story, as she narrated it to me.
*If you have a pregnancy or childbirth experience you’d like to share, email me at email@example.com
“From as far back as I can remember, I always wanted a baby. Unfortunately, the journey to becoming a mom has not been easy. When I was ready to have a child, I became devastated as I suffered one miscarriage after another – four in total. I would lose my pregnancies at between 8 – 12 weeks.
The doctors would attribute the miscarriages to my disability. But I never lost hope of becoming a mom someday because I know of women with disability who have successfully carried pregnancies.
The next time I found out I was pregnant, I went to a health facility I’d never been to before and there, I found a doctor who took time to understand my concerns. After examination, he informed me that I had a weak uterus, which was the reason for the miscarriages. It was the first time I was hearing of this. He wondered why the doctors who had seen me before had never informed me about this.
Why do you want to be pregnant, yet you are disabled?
The doctor went on to tell me that I needed to have a McDonald stitch, which would help stop the miscarriages. A McDonald stitch involves sewing the cervix closed and is done if the doctor suspects miscarriage because of a weak cervix, or if it is suspected that the baby might arrive too early.
The doctor referred me to a larger hospital where I got the stitch at eight weeks pregnant. Interestingly, the healthworkers I found there did not hide their misgivings about my desire to have a baby.
“Why do you want to get pregnant, yet you are a disabled woman? How do you think you’ll carry a pregnancy as an amputee?” they would ask.
After getting the stich, I went back to the doctor who had given me the diagnosis as I felt he understood me and was not judgmental. I chose to have my antenatal clinics with him.
Severe back pain
I use an artificial (prosthetic) leg which is heavy and puts a lot of pressure on my back. I tie a belt across my waist to support my back, but as I gained weight and as the pregnancy grew, my back would hurt so bad.
I had the alternative of using crutches to help ease the pressure as well as give me better walking balance, but I chose not to. This is because I did not want to get used to the crutches to the point of becoming dependent on them. You see, I already walk with an artificial limb, and using crutches would mean I would have to walk with two assistive devices. I didn’t want this.
Thankfully, the doctor would tell me to pass by his clinic daily after work just to check on me, monitor my progress and ensure that I was okay despite the challenges I was experiencing. His clinic is a few meters away from my house, so it was convenient for me. He would give me medication as necessary.
Preparing for childbirth
At seven months pregnant, one of the nurses at the clinic talked to me about preparing for childbirth. She talked to me about what to expect in the remaining months, the items I needed to buy for the baby, if I had saved enough money for the birth, how to tell if baby had ‘descended’ and how to identify labor signs. She put to rest any worries I had and inspired lots of confidence in me that I would have a successful delivery.
Choosing a hospital
A few weeks to my due date, the nurse wrote me a referral letter to take to the hospital once labor kicked in. When it came to identifying a hospital where I would deliver my baby, I felt that in case of any complications, I would be better off in a hospital that was well-equipped with resources and personnel. I chose Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
The day I started experiencing labor pains, I was at home. Since the nurse had prepared me well enough to know when it was time to go to hospital, I hired a taxi to take me to KNH. I’m grateful for the taxi driver who took me, as he helped me carry my items. He drove very slowly to the hospital, careful not to cause me any discomfort. At the hospital, he handed me over to the guards who immediately put me on a wheelchair. The taxi driver only left once he was sure I was okay.
Why would you consider a vaginal delivery, yet you have a disability?
I was then taken to the maternity ward and when one of the nurses who was taking my details asked me to stand up from the wheelchair and sit elsewhere, she was taken aback when she noted my movement.
She asked me to stop and immediately pulled me aside, asking me why I was limping. I explained to her that I’m an amputee. We then chatted more as she took my history and got to understand my pregnancy journey as a woman with disability.
When I told her that I wanted to have a natural vaginal delivery, she asked me why, considering the delicate nature of my body. I however told her that I felt strong and confident of my body’s ability to deliver naturally.
I also did not want to have a caesarean section (CS) delivery because I use my waist to walk. Considering that a CS cut is made near the waist, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to walk again, or that I would have to be confined to wheelchair for a long time after childbirth.
The vaginal examination procedure
The nurse led me to a separate room where she asked me to climb onto the examination bed. I had to first take off my artificial limb and put it away before doing so. She then requested if she could conduct a vaginal exam on me, detailing the process and explaining why it was necessary. I felt good that she at least had the courtesy to ask. I’ve heard many mothers say the nurses just insert their fingers in the vagina without any warning, and without the pregnant woman understanding what’s going on. They find it rude and intrusive.
Later, a doctor came to examine me and assured me that my body was able to deliver my baby naturally. He told me he would ensure there was a team to support me all through. He only asked that I be relaxed and cooperate with the medical team and follow all their instructions to the letter. He also asked that I pay close attention to my body and speak out in case I felt that something was amiss.
Delivering my baby
Later in the day, as I lay in my bed, I felt something hot gush out of my vagina. I called for the nurse, who told me that my waters had broken. I was only 6cm dilated. She told me that it was not yet time.
The nurses kept checking on me with each passing hour and finally, after what felt like an eternity, I felt the urge to go for a long call. I called out for the nurse as I needed her to give me my prosthetic leg so that I could walk to the toilet. When she came, she told me not to move. I asked her why, yet I needed to urgently pass stool. By this time, I was yelling, begging for my leg. As I was doing so, I felt the nurses shift me to a different bed, before wheeling me to a room where I found a medical team waiting – I counted about seven people.
Bouncing baby boy!
In just a few minutes, while keenly following the instructions of the nurses, I delivered my healthy, adorable son. It was such a relief to see and hold him. The medics then assisted me to deliver the placenta and they cleaned me up as they congratulated me. I did not have any complications at all, and my son recorded a good Apgar score. My health is okay to date, as my body continues to recover from pregnancy, just like any other mother.
This was my own personal experience, and I understand that it may not be the same for other women with disability who may have delivered in the same hospital or in a different one.
There are a few issues that led to my positive experience.
- During pregnancy, I was attended to by a doctor and his team of nurses who understood me and my body well.
- During labor and childbirth at KNH, I was attended to by nurses and doctors who also handled me well. I was also in a fully equipped health facility that made me feel at ease.
- Lastly, I believed in my body and my ability to successfully carry a pregnancy to term and deliver naturally. I always listened to the instructions of the nurses and doctors, and never hesitated to clarify issues with them when I felt the need to.
It is my hope that every woman with disability can enjoy a successful pregnancy outcome just like I did.
Want to share your thoughts about Belinda’s experience? Comment down below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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