Dignity and Respect During Childbirth: It’s What Women Want — Mercyline Ongachi

As told to Sandra Mwarania, as part of the Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast

My name is Mercyline Ongachi, 21 years old. I come from Mukuru kwa Reuben. It’s a slum located in Embakasi South, in Nairobi, Kenya.

I am a survivor of maternal violence.

On Sunday, 25th August, 2019, at around 12 noon, I sought assistance from Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital for the delivery of my newborn twins.

Mercyline Ongachi. Photo credit: Lyra Aoko.

I was left unattended for a long period of time and unfortunately lost my two babies due to what I believe was medical negligence. I had initially sought help from Reuben Maternity Clinic in my locality after experiencing labor pains, but given my delicate condition, the health facility organized for my quick referral to Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital to access specialized care including access to incubators. Reuben Maternity Clinic offered an ambulance and a nurse to accompany me during the referral.

On arrival at Mama Lucy Kibaki, I was transferred to the labor ward where I waited for assistant from the health workers for far too long. In the process of waiting, the labor contractions became more painful and intense. I felt something coming out, prompting me to sit up and push; successfully delivering my first baby on my own. I placed him on the bed. Afraid for the second baby’s survival, I decided to continue to push as I waited for help.

All this while, one health worker was close by attending to another man. Eventually, he responded to my persistent cries of pain. He picked the first baby from the bed and told me that my baby was too young to survive, and then proceeded to remove the placenta mindful that there was another baby on the way.

The second baby was delivered alive. However, the health worker picked my baby again and told me, “You think this one too can survive? This one cannot survive. Even if you place him in an incubator, won’t stay for long.”

He threw my two babies into a cardboard box as I watched helplessly. He organized for the babies to be taken to the morgue, but did not make any attempt to save their lives.

I am sharing my story to inspire other mothers to fight for their — and their babies’ — human right to dignity and respect, and to ensure that other mothers never have to suffer through the same sort of terrible trauma.

Mercyline Ongachi. Photo credit: Lyra Aoko.

I want other mothers to know that they should never keep quiet whenever they’re assaulted in these hospitals. Whenever they receive such treatment, they should speak out. They should file a complaint. They should let people know what is happening inside the labor room. They should never keep quiet.

While Mercyline’s experience resulted in the suspension of the health worker who abused her and her babies, Mercyline has not been made aware if any additional action has been taken against the health worker or the health facility, so her battle for justice continues.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns

Article 4 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter:

4. Everyone is their own person from the moment of birth and has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

No one is allowed to humiliate, verbally abuse, speak about or touch you or your newborn in a degrading or disrespectful manner. You and your newborn baby must be cared for with respect and compassion.

Legal authority
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 17
Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990, Article 16, 23
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006, Article 17

Regional legal authority
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1998, Article 6
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990, Article 13
American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, 1Article 5, 11
Convention of Belem do Para, 1994, Article 4
European Convention on Human Rights, 1950, Article 8

Learn more about the universal rights of women and newborns at https://www.whiteribbonalliance.org/rmcresources

Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

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