My pregnancy story

In Sierra Leone, 1 in 17 mothers face a lifetime risk of dying in childbirth. With Covid-19 and the arrival of the rainy season affecting access to healthcare, our community reporters have been sending in many powerful stories of pregnant mothers all over the country battling to keep themselves and their babies safe.
The following is my own experience.

I was pregnant with my first child in 2012 who is now 8 years old. This was a month after my moms’ death in December 2011. It was a sad and emotional moment for me because I didn’t have my mom to share the pregnancy news with and get some mother to daughter advice and caution about the journey I was about to embark on.

I didn’t have a clue on what to do next because the pregnancy was my first. Being a mainstream journalist at that time with African Young Voices (AYV) I knew what it was like to give birth in Sierra Leone, so I refused to attend ANC at any government facility because I didn’t trust the service at all. I decided to ask other women who had given birth for recommendations on good health service providers and I was pointed to Marie Stopes.

I started to attend ANC at Marie Stopes 2 months into my pregnancy because I knew about the dangers of being pregnant and giving birth in Sierra Leone. I was asked to wait until 4 months when I started feeling the baby’s heartbeat. At that time Marie Stopes were among the top private services with quality antenatal and postnatal services. 

The nurses were friendly and professional so I didn’t have issues with them. But throughout my first pregnancy I kept thinking about issues like; what if I have trouble during delivery, will I get the care I need to save me and my baby? If my baby is born with any disorder or deficiencies will they be able to address it in Sierra Leone?

I had pre-contraction pain on the 15th of October 2012, by then I was still in the office writing news for the evening bulletin at AYV. I had to call my boyfriend at the time who is my ex-husband now. He hired a taxi to take me from Siaka Steven Street to Ahmed drive at Aberdeen road where Marie Stopes headquarters is situated. It was a long journey considering the pain and condition I was in, there was heavy traffic that day so the taxi driver tried to use his emergency light and blew his horn to get past.

It was a long journey but we arrived and I was taken to the waiting ward where I wallowed in pain until 11:45 when I gave birth to a healthy baby boy weighing 2.8kg.

That was the happiest day of my life, because being able to deliver safely in Sierra Leone is a miracle.

Postnatal and other services were also done at Marie Stopes because I was scared to take my baby to any government health facility. I spent a huge sum of money just to be safe.

Two (2) months after my son was born, I moved to the eastern part of Freetown to stay with my ex-husbands family who was really helpful with taking care of the baby so I could go back to work. Because the distance from where I was staying to Marie Stopes was really far, I decided to access the Cline town clinic for the remaining vaccination, and I hated the way the nurses behaved. 

There were a couple of times when they told me to buy drugs outside because the free government drugs under the free health care initiative were out of stock. One question I always asked myself was what if I couldn’t afford it? The situation in the capital city for most women is not too different from what most women in remote communities face. 

I was pregnant again with my second child in 2017, a year after Ebola ended in Sierra Leone. Even with the free health system for pregnant women, suckling mothers and children under 5, I was still not convinced to access government clinics. The fear that most of the health caregivers were not executing their jobs professionally and the fragile health system could not allow me to attend. 

But by that time Marie Stopes had already closed down their antenatal and postnatal unit because according to them, they were running at a loss. I had to start seeing a gynaecologist who was working as a consultant doctor at Choithrams hospital and luckily for me it was closer to where I was living. It was really easy for me to walk to the hospital for ANC. 

I was supposed to travel to the US for a fellowship while I was 23 to 25 weeks pregnant but the fellowship was deferred to the next year. But before it was deferred I was tempted to lie that I wasn’t pregnant, just so I could travel and have my baby in the US. I wouldn’t have thought about lying if I trusted the health system in my country.

Twelve days after the mudslide in Sierra Leone I gave birth to my second child, a girl. It was a sad period in the history of Sierra Leone, so many government health facilities were filled with victims from the incident, so I wondered what would have happened if I had to deliver my baby at a government facility. Even without any incidents like Ebola, the mudslide or COVID- 19 it is still scary and dangerous to be have a baby.

The pregnancy and delivery went on well without any complications but even with my medical health insurance I incurred up to 3 million leones ($300) excess that was deducted from my salary for months. It wasn’t pretty fun for a middle-class mother like me to pay expensive medical bills just to give my kids the best medical care. 

After the delivery I took my daughter to a small government clinic that was close by for vaccination because only government facilities offer such services. It was the same experience I had taking my son to the clinic at Cline town. The nurses force you to be generous to them in order to be attended to in a timely manner.

Sometimes you end up spending half of the day just for your child to be given one vaccine. In those clinics everything is manual, there are no lights at night when women are delivering. They treat your child for malaria blindly because most of the time they have run out of reagents/test kits before the next supply is due.

Marian Tina Conteh, a close friend who has given birth and has a niece who just gave birth explained to me what it means to be pregnant during this Covid-19 period. According to her niece she was more worried about the Covid-19 situation than happy about the new life growing inside her womb. At some point she even stopped attending the clinic, and this was after Sierra Leone recorded its first case in April this year. 

Even when she started going for ANC she was more scared when she saw how the nurses and doctors were dressed. Her blood pressure went up really bad to the point that they wanted to do a caesarean section on her. Up until the day she delivered, she had this fear that if there were any complications during her pregnancy, she would either lose her life or that of the baby. It created so much panic for her that she even felt like that could have affected the baby in her womb at some point.

Having a baby is considered a miracle in Sierra Leone. That’s why when someone delivers, people will always come and say thanks “tenki tenki” because they know how worrisome and stressful the journey can be for women and their relatives. Whenever I am pregnant, I get so scared about the baby in my womb, because I know that the health system is weak.