Nigeria's Cultural Taboos: Redefining Childbirth Choices for a Safer Future

By Igboafu Chinemerem Emmanuella | Sep 22, 2023

"Children" they say is a "blessing." What then becomes the narrative when both the lives of mother and child are lost, a "blessing" or a "curse?" In the heart of Nigeria, a profound but often unspoken battle unfolds with each passing childbirth, the struggle for the lives of mothers and their precious infants. The very term "cesarean delivery" is often whispered or avoided altogether, a consequence of an age-old stigma that shrouds it in misconception and fear. A society as advanced as ours still considers cesarean delivery a taboo, or to clearly put, an abomination. Unbelievable! 

According to NDHS, Nigeria’s maternal mortality ratio was 512 deaths for 100,000 live births, cultural beliefs and traditions that have intensified the struggles of childbirth especially in rural communities. These beliefs and traditions have shaped the decisions of most families during these critical stages of their lives. 

A woman's ability to bear children is often equated to her strength as a woman and more beautifully, childbirth through the vagina. Cesarean section, on the other hand, opposes this notion as it is considered a taboo, a shame and a failing of womanhood. Even at dire moments, mothers still pledge to be faithful to their culture rather than to ensure the safety of their lives and babies. 


Why jeopardize two lives for culture?

Beyond the immediate health consequences, the refusal to consider cesarean delivery due to cultural stigma often sets off a devastating chain reaction. Families who decline medically necessary procedures in favor of adhering to tradition face the heart-wrenching aftermath of their decisions. 

According to Health Think, the cesarean section rate in Nigeria remains low at 2.7 per cent of births between 2013 to 2018 due to lack of education in the husband/partner. This shows there's a relationship between opting for cesarean sections and the educational qualification of the couples. The level of education a woman has attained plays a crucial role in shaping her perceptions and choices to childbirth. Much wonder we hear of such cases in rural areas. As the saying goes, knowledge is a source of empowerment.

Now more than ever, mothers need to arm themselves with essential information. Raising awareness holds significant potential in lowering Nigeria's maternal mortality ratio. By gaining insights into their own well-being, their health condition, and their baby's health, mothers can make informed decisions about childbirth options that are available to them. 

Misinformation spreads its roots deeply in communities where access to reliable health education is scarce. Rumors, myths, and misconceptions intertwine with cultural norms, further reinforcing the taboo around cesarean delivery. Another misinformation we face is the popular bible verse of the women of Israel, the “Hebrew Women”.

As recorded in the Bible, Pharaoh ordered midwives to kill every male child born by the Israelites because of the fear that these male children could one day revolt against him and his people. However, the midwives feared God and couldn't do so, when confronted by Pharaoh they clearly stated that ''Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." 

It doesn't state the means of delivery, in as much as it speaks of the strength and endurance of the woman. Not giving birth through the vagina doesn't make you less of an Hebrew woman. How about we say "When both mother and child are safe after birth, then truly they've delivered like Hebrew women." As these texts stand as a means of encouragement to mother's and not a dictator of which child birth delivery system to use. Stories abound of mothers losing their lives, leaving infants without mothers, families shattered, and voices silenced by the weight of societal norms. You need not become the next victim. Take a stand for what's just. As these voices grow stronger and echo, the barriers of silence weaken, creating a path toward a future where educated decisions and empowered women redefine the discourse around childbirth. 

C-section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions made in the mother's abdomen and uterus. It's an alternative to vaginal childbirth when a vaginal delivery might pose risks to the mother or the baby. It is not a taboo, not an abomination, and doesn't make you less of a woman or a mother. Healthcare givers also have an important role to play in challenging these taboos. Medical professionals could also champion change by engaging in one-on-one conversations with expectant mothers, offering clear explanations of medical recommendations and dispelling misconceptions. 

As we read and reflect upon these stories, we are faced with the urgency for change, an urgency that transcends culture, tradition, and societal norms. The memory of lives lost and families forever changed impels us to challenge the stigma surrounding cesarean delivery, to demand a reevaluation of cultural norms that have dire consequences, and to advocate for informed, empowered choices that prioritize the well-being of mothers and infants. Looking forward, the vision is clear. A Nigeria where childbirth choices are respected, where women are empowered to make decisions without fear of judgment, and where medical expertise and cultural heritage coexist harmoniously. This future requires the collective efforts of individuals, families, communities, and institutions, an ecosystem of support that values the health and well-being of mothers and infants above all else.

In the end, it's a call that resonates not just within Nigeria's borders but across cultures and generations, an invitation to join hands in the pursuit of a world where the last push signifies not only the birth of a child but also the birth of a new era. A future that honors mothers, empowers families, and embraces the power of informed choices. As readers, we are not just observers; we are agents of change.

By engaging in conversation, challenging stereotypes, and promoting informed choices, we can contribute to a Nigeria where childbirth is no longer overshadowed by fear, stigma, or unnecessary suffering. Let us honor the lives that have been affected by the taboo by working toward a future where mothers are empowered to make choices that safeguard their health and the health of their children.

Editor's Note: This essay emerges from the dynamic partnership between Document Women and Civic Hive's Student Leadership Programme, presenting distinctive viewpoints that highlight the potential voices of our upcoming leaders.

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