Muireann taking photos in Uganda

 

Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool

 

B l o g

Bump, Baby, Breastfeed! Part 1

20 Aug 2009

First there was a bump or rather no bump at all. Some friendly advice from Irish health care professionals during my pregnancy leaves me thinking.

“You may wish to purchase a book about pregnancy. Any will do. I can’t recommend a particular title as they say more or less the same things. You’ll find one you like”, said my GP after I told him I was pregnant. Following a pause he added, “You might be better off going to the library, or better still just reading them in the shop.” I smiled at his idea. I later found myself tearful and overwhelmed by the literature in the bookshop and decided I’d be better off without any of the books.


“You will have check-ups with me every six weeks alternating between me and the hospital” my GP informed me.

“They’ve been doing research in the Rotunda” he remarked, “There are a large number of African women presenting at the hospital who did not go for antenatal checks yet have had normal deliveries.” The conclusion of the research, he noted, was that our over zealous system could have less check-ups for women with the exception of those with high risk factors or presenting with problems.


I wondered to myself about his comments remembering doctors’ frustrations at a Kampala hospital. It is common that women do not go to check-ups during their pregnancy or attend antenatal classes. Sadly some women have serious complications that could have been avoided had a proper history been known or telltale signs been identified earlier.


Even so, was there some truth in what he said? Maybe women didn’t need the physical monitoring of frequent check-ups but rather mental monitoring and someone to talk to. The VHi (healthcare insurance company in Rep of Ireland) appreciated this when they set up their free pregnancy helpline and calling service. Every few weeks a kind-spoken midwife talked me through the exciting body changes and developmental milestones of the foetus over the phone. I could ask her the silliest of hormone induced questions and talk about my fears if need be.

I signed up for the hospital antenatal classes which took place in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. At the last class the midwife mused that perhaps first time mothers were being bombarded with too much unnecessary biological detail about labour compared with women in the past. She asked, “Did it make women any better prepared?”


She continued in that train of thought for some time before reminding us that, “Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time”. This statement was echoed in an email from my Ugandan friend N, who had recently given birth. I found comfort in this and it helped me view the medical or science bits in a different way. It was nice to know the scientific parts but I didn’t need a degree to have a baby and one way or another I was now pregnant so it was going to all happen anyway.


Perhaps the question should have been: ‘Did the detail make us better informed?’ After all, the voice of medicine is quietened by the horror stories in society around us. In work place canteens and on sofas throughout the country women are regaling others with tales of impossible 24 hour labours and the battle of giving birth. My fifth cousin twice removed next door neighbour had all the painkillers known to man, the best consultant and still haemorrhaged…. Even if people in my class listened to the midwife when she said, ‘They never tell you the good stories’ they were probably more inclined to listen to the rabble-rousers than to the hard facts presented on the classroom wall.

Was the birth of my baby going to be the most horrendous experience of my life to date? Mental note to self: I survived having severe dysentery while on holiday in a remote part of a developing country. Keeping my wits about me as well as having a trusted friend got me through that.

I latched on to that pearl of wisdom from the midwife ‘stay positive’. She also recommended focusing on a point on the wall every time we felt a contraction. This sounded very zen or yoga-like so I decided to take it a step further and printed out a colour photo of my husband’s beautiful nieces to look at.

Despite not wanting to buy any book on pregnancy I did find myself with a lot of booklets and literature. Some of it was very helpful but mostly with information for after you’ve given birth like how to bathe a baby or how not to kill your husband when you are sleep deprived. It never described why you needed to pack what you pack for the hospital. What is an ‘onesie’ when it is at home and why do I need a box of tissues?

The booklets also talked about the elusive ‘birth-plan’ which I dutifully drew up with a list of statements such as “If the midwife can’t pronounce my Christen name she can call me MacCool” or “I’d rather not have an epidural but I’m open to taking advice about pain from the midwife at the time” It seemed to be the most bizarre thing for me to do, like writing a will or something. Labour was uncharted territory for me. How on earth is someone supposed to write a plan for how they would like the birth to go or how to deal with the pain? We really don’t know what’s coming!

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