While family planning has helped in the reduction of maternal and child deaths, many Nigerian women of reproductive age still avoid the child-spacing process. Martins Ifijeh chronicles the lives of those who have successfully embraced contraceptive use, and how it has benefitted them

Mrs. Kemi (surname withheld) is a 44-year-old Lagos housewife. She is a mother of two who claims to be satisfied with her marriage for more than 16 years.

As she recalls an understanding with her husband, who settled for two children irrespective of gender, Kemi disclosed that Family Planning was the reasons for the happy home as the methods were introduced to support the agreement.

Kemi was at the Family Planning Clinic of the Lagos Island Maternity with other mothers on the programme when she spoke to a team of officials and journalists from Pathfinder International on a field trip.

Kemi recalled having her first child, months after marriage in 2002. But with a new job and a promising career ahead, she, along with her husband decided to delay the coming of a second child.

She started the pill method of family planning, and was committed to it for five years. “It helped me stabilise as a worker with the Lagos State Government, and gave me room to nurse my only son at the time properly.”

Kemi said by the fifth year, she agreed with her husband to have their second child. “We kicked off the process, and I stopped taking the pill. With guidance from the Family Planning Service Provider, I became pregnant a few months later and had my second child, a boy.”

She said that they had two sons and continued with the family planning routine. Kemi had more time at home to study. She enrolled at Lagos State University on a Long-Distance Learning Programme.

According to her, she observed some hormonal changes as she adjusted to a new family planning routine. “This time, I decided to use the injectable, another form of birth control. But I suspected while it lasted that I was having some side effects from it. I gained weight while my menstrual flow became heavier than normal. This made me and my husband apprehensive. By the seventh year, I decided to stop this method of family planning,” She explained.

She returned to the hospital with the complaint and her doctor said it may be due to age because she was already 40 years. “I was then placed on Intra Uterine Contraceptive Device (IUCD), a long acting reversible contraception that goes into the uterus.”

Kemi is presently on this family planning method, and it has not only helped her give quality living to her two boys, it has given her room to advance her career as an official of the Lagos State Government.

Kemi is not only having the dream of her life. A close look at her could suggests she is 30 years old, but she is 44 years.

“I look this way not because of any special routine, but because of the peace of mind, and knowing that I have nothing to worry about my reproductive life. All these are possible because my husband supported this family planning process,” she said.

Mrs. Grace Shittu, 36 years old petty trader, is another woman who is happy for embracing family planning. She said the birth control method has helped her focus on taking care of the three children she has.

She married her husband at 22, and immediately kicked off childbearing. By her 26th birthday, Shittu already had three children. Neither she nor her husband believed in family planning at the time.

“But I knew the way I was making babies; I was going to end up having seven to eight children before I get to age 30. So a friend introduced me to family planning. I discussed it with my husband, and he bought into the idea,” said Shittu.

Shittu, who has been on IUCD since 2008, is currently a happy woman. She says the contraceptive method has not in any way affected sexual relationships in her home, and that her husband was also happy they made the decision.

“My first child is 14, and the last is 10. I and my husband spend our little resources on their education, feeding and clothing. I wonder if we had several children if we would have been able to take care of them,” she added.

Kemi and Shittu are just two amongst 1.44 million Nigerian women of reproductive age who have successfully used family planning.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), family planning allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attained their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births. This, WHO said, could be achieved through the use of contraceptive methods.

According to the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), Nigeria’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) stood at 5.5 per cent, which family planning experts said would undermine the growth of the nation if not urgently addressed by authorities concerned.

In Lagos State alone 48 out of every 100 women use at least one method of contraception. The state has done quite well with uptake of family planning commodities among married women. According to health experts, family planning offers unlimited benefits to every woman who adopts any of the methods so that mothers and babies will be healthier, and risky pregnancies avoided.

This fact was corroborated by Kemi who told the team, “Since I have been using family planning method, I have never been afraid to get pregnant.

“For example, for four years now that I have been on IUCD, my husband and I have always laughed over our initial fear that IUCD could be painful and may be a hindrance to conjugal relationship.“

Some of the methods available at the family planning unit of the Island Maternity, Lagos are pills, condoms, implants, injectables, lactation Amenorrhea, patch, ring, bead and the irreversible ones like vasectomy, and bilateral tubal ligation.

According to experts, about 220 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for modern contraception, with at least 300,000 women and three million children dying every year because of lack of family planning and related issues.

Nigeria’s grim picture

Reports also show that not less than 40,000 women die every year in Nigeria due to issues relating to pregnancy or childbirth.

On specifics, it means very day, about 111 women and girls in Nigeria die due to preventable pregnancy and child birth-related complications (that is five women die every hour in the country). Statistics also show that Nigeria accounts for one in nine maternal deaths worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Senior Programme Officer, Palladium Technical Support Unit, Dr. Moriam Olaide Jagun, said 30 per cent of such deaths can be prevented by increased access and uptake of family planning.

She said family planning has been proven as a tool to reducing maternal and child mortality by reducing abortions, averting unintended pregnancies and chances of complications, and by enabling birth spacing.

Benefits

The reproductive health expert who spoke with journalists at the three days Pathfinder International/Media Dialogue on Family Planning, said with family planning, mothers and babies become healthier, because risky pregnancies are avoided, adding that fewer children means more food for each child.

“Family planning can also help you and your partner enjoy sex more, because you are not afraid of unwanted pregnancy. Using contraception can help to avoid unwanted pregnancies and space births; protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and provide other health benefits.

“It decreases abortion, and advances individuals’ rights to decide their own family size. It also improves women’s opportunities for education, employment and full growth at the family, community and national levels, as well as mitigates the impact of population dynamics on natural resources and state stability,” she added.