As many Nigerian women continue to embrace family planning as a way of enhancing their children’s quality of life, Martins Ifijeh examines the experiences of mothers who are using birth control methods to choose the number and timing of children born into their homes

Morenike Lawal had no inkling that her fourth pregnancy would result in complications. The 32-year-old mother of three and trader resident at the Ijesha area of Lagos State had taken it for granted that the seamless births that transpired during her previous pregnancies would play out again. Her earlier pregnancies were near perfect, as she never experienced any health challenges apart from the normal pregnancy blues.

But Lawal had issues throughout the fourth pregnancy. For medical practitioners, this was not really surprising. In five years, she had taken in four times. Expectedly, in this fourth conception, all the bottled ill health she had battled over the years due to back-to-back pregnancies that did not give her body time to heal properly before another pregnancy, surfaced.

Already, her first child was five years old; the second, three years and three months, while the third was almost two years. For this fourth pregnancy, her Expected Delivery Date (EDD) was in March this year.

Her reason for rushing the childbearing processes without proper spacing was so that she would “hang her boot” (a terminology sometimes used to depict a desire to quit the child bearing process). But that was same thing she said during the third delivery.

Lawal developed several complications and five months into the pregnancy, she was diagnosed with anaemia, which the doctors said could spell doom for her and the unborn baby if unchecked.

She said, “The doctor told me he wasn’t so sure why I am increasingly losing strength and becoming pale but that if not treated urgently, it could affect both me and the baby. He however said it may be due to my body not having enough time to build up my stores of crucial nutrients from previous pregnancies.”
Lawal eventually lost the baby due to anaemia and other complications.

She narrated, “Immediately I lost the pregnancy, I was advised to start a family planning method that would enable me get my body back, while I concentrate on giving my three little babies a good quality life and care. My husband agreed to this since we never planned for the fourth pregnancy after all. I am currently on Implant – a type of family planning, which they say would last five years.”

Lawal said since she started the birth control method, she, alongside her husband, had focused on providing quality care for their children, adding that they decided to stop having more babies.

She might have learnt the hard way, but she is now among the millions of Nigerian women who have embraced family planning as a child spacing method and a proven model for parents to give quality life to their children.

Another testimony to the gains of family planning is 32-year-old Kareem Balikisu, a happy mother from Ogun State, who is building her career while also caring for her well-spaced two children and husband. Balikisu, who spoke to journalists at the Mascara Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Agboyi-Ketu during a visit by the Family Planning Media Working and Advocacy Group (FPMWAG), learnt about family planning early in her marriage, and because of that, she was able to go to the university and graduate in Home Economics right in her husband’s house, while also operating a fashion designing shop at Ketu.

“Considering that it is more expensive to take care of children than adults, especially with the economic situation we find ourselves in this country, I and my husband decided from the beginning that we were going to have only two children,” she said.

Balikisu, who was not a university graduate at the time she got married, says she plans to train her two children up to university level, while ensuring that the family resources are well spent on the children and the home generally.

“If not for family planning, the time I am using to make some money for myself and improve my educational level would have been spent taking care of children, while I solely depend on my husband for money. But now, I have time for myself and everyone in the home,” the fashion designer noted.

She called on husbands to support their wives in making family planning choices, adding that many women have had to endure the pains of getting pregnant back-to-back because their husbands bluntly refused family planning methods.

Sharing her family planning story with journalists at the Ogudu Primary Health Centre in Kosofe Local Government Area of Lagos, also, Akerele Deborah Olubunmi, a 46-year-old mother of four said contrary to the myths and misconceptions raised by people about family planning, she had been using it for 14 years without any side effects. Olubunmi says she is presently reaping the several benefits of the decision to adopt the method.

“I gave birth to my first two children back to back. They were not spaced, but my third and fourth were spaced, and that is the saving grace I had because my first two children are in the university. Imagine having all four of them at about the same. How would I have been able to pay all their school fees at once,” she said.

Olubunmi advised parents who want to give quality life to their children to consider family planning.

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, reports state that 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.

Family planning methods include long-acting reversible contraception, such as the implant or intra uterine device (IUD); hormonal contraception, such the pill or the Depo Provera injection; barrier methods, such as condoms; emergency contraception; fertility awareness and permanent contraception, such as vasectomy and tubal ligation.

Reports also show that not less than 40,000 women die every year in Nigeria due to issues relating to pregnancy or childbirth. Specifically, it means every day, about 111 women and girls in Nigeria die due to preventable pregnancies 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.

In an interview with THISDAY, 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. Jagun said family planning had been proven as a tool for reducing maternal and child mortality by reducing abortions, averting unintended pregnancies and chances of complications, and enabling birth spacing.

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

She added, “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.”