For the love of mothers – A personal story of Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu

Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu, a consultant paediatrician writes on how she got involved with the building a mothers’ room at Federal Medical Centre in Birni Kebbi, Kebbi State 

The three top causes of problems and thus hospital admission for newborns in Nigeria are prematurity, infections and asphyxia. I have two biological daughters and both are part of the newborn morbidity statistics in Nigeria.

My elder daughter was delivered normally by Dr. Yinka Gbajumo at term, but on day 2 she became jaundiced and we were whisked off to Lagos University Teaching Hospital. My second was slightly preterm at 32 weeks; she was, and still is the stronger of my two daughters. We didn’t move hospitals in her case, but we did stay longer than normal to allow her grow a bit more; that’s where her own story ended.

My first has a story that had more impact on me and left me quite emotional. As the jaundice deepened, she was admitted into a very efficient high tech neonatal (or special care baby) unit for further investigations and phototherapy. I was left homeless on the corridor in LUTH. I stayed with family friends- the Kusamotus- and went to the hospital four times a day. Mothers were not allowed inside the unit. The nurses would line us up and yell orders ‘wash your breast’ which we would all dutifully do. We would then sit on the most uncomfortable wooden benches on our sore stitches and express breast milk into labeled cups which we handed over to the nurse through a window, all in full view of each other. Woe betide you if your breasts weren’t gushing like the woman next to you.

Aside from the feeling of inadequacy, be sure you would feel another jab in your heart when the sister collects your cup and eyes you with disdain, “is that all you can express?” She won’t excuse the fact it’s your first, the hormones are still upside down in you and the feeling of loss you are dealing with whilst she has your baby. You couldn’t even clearly see through the windows let alone touch your child. Happily, both my daughters quickly healed and we were discharged.  I would soon “separate” from my elder one again. Although I am grateful none of them ended up as part of the data in the top three causes of death in Nigerian babies, I never forgot my scars from that first separation.

Years later, during my training in the U.K, I discovered that my experience in LUTH is not how it should be; it was the experience of a developing world mother. In the UK, mothers have an allocated comfortable room next to baby unit and are allowed into the intensive care areas as long as they are properly cleaned and covered. Researchers have also found a positive correlation between mothers touch and early bonding in healing sick babies on such units. As I gained experience, I realized that the strictness of neonatal nurses is global and that no unit can function without a good set. But I also came to realize their firmness is not coming from meanness. It comes from placing the wellbeing of the child first.

One of the first visitors I received after my husband was sworn in was Dr. Taslim Lawal, the only Consultant Paediatrician at the Federal Medical Centre, Birnin Kebbi. Understandably, he came to see me as a colleague, confidently armed with his wish list; top of which was the need for a mother’s room. He told me about his growing special care baby unit which sometimes had up to 18 babies spending anything from days to months on admission. Coincidentally the unit was set up by an old teacher and registrar of mine from Zaria, Dr. Audu. It was the same Dr. Audu who looked after my second baby when she was born preterm. There was no provision for the mothers with babies in the SCBU. They spent their days on the corridor, come rain, come shine. For me, it was an immediate Deja vu. I knew I had to do something to ease the plight of such mothers.

We drew up plans, costed and the hospital management allocated an ideal area for the building almost immediately. But we were slow and I was soon distracted by many other needs. In September 2017, I got the green light to host my colleagues for the 11th Annual Meeting of the Nigerian Society of Neonatal Medicine; this was my trigger and finally, we started building.

Last week, the mother’s room was commissioned at the Federal Medical Centre, Birnin Kebbi by His Excellency, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu. The scissors’ tray was held by a 4 year-old who spent 6 months in the unit whilst her mum slept mostly on the corridor. My colleagues at the commissioning commended the level of comfort. One said “you have gone all out” I had to. Physician was finally “healing thyself”.

The mothers room is a gift to encourage the doctors and nurses on the unit. It is a gift to make mothers more comfortable. It is a gift to let sick babies have the love and support of a mother nearby. It is a gift from my heart, to wipe out my scars. I pray that my gift will ease some of the trauma of separation our mothers face as well as heal our babies in Kebbi faster.

Thank you Dr. Taslim for making me give this therapeutic gift; thank you NISOMN for the final push to start the building; thank you, Your Excellency my better half for your unending support; most of all thank YOU God for all of Your blessings…none of which I can ever deny.

Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu is a Consultant Paediatrician and wife of Kebbi state governor

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