By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha
PAT Okafor, 30, had just been delivered of her second child in one of the private hospitals in Lagos State but fell suddenly ill with severe fever, head and body ache.
These symptoms, for Okafor, aren’t different from what she felt in the first trimester of her two pregnancies. But of course, she and her husband were not prepared for a third baby; at least not now. Suddenly, the fear of being pregnant again compounded her headache, making her feel faint.
By the next morning, she was back in hospital but all efforts to have her doctor carry out a pregnancy test proved futile as he kept insisting she be screened by the laboratory scientist for only malaria.
When her doctor suddenly realised how frightened the mother of two was about becoming pregnant again, the following conversation ensued:-
Doctor: Aren’t you on family planning?
Okafor: No, sir.
Okafor: I am just too scared because I’ve heard a lot of tragic stories concerning it from those who have tried it. Many of them have become sterile and have continued to hope they will one day get pregnant again as they still need children. Some said they became strangely very ill after trying it although I don’t know the methods they used. I also know someone whose only child is 16 years old now and who told me he and his wife have been unable to have more children because she had done family planning after delivering their baby just because they needed to delay conception for only three years.
I don’t know the type your friends did, but I assure you, these same people will be the first to mock you if you suddenly become pregnant again. They will laugh at you, trust me. Family planning is the best for every married woman. I can assure you of the one called Copper T. We will insert it inside your body and sperm will no longer be able to gain access to your body to get you pregnant. This one is safe and in fact, you can become pregnant in less than three weeks after removing it. The process of inserting and removing it does not take more than 10 minutes.
Okafor: Okay, I will think about it and come for it later sir, maybe when my monthly period has returned and stabilised. Frankly, though, I also know of someone who has been on family planning for years, has had all her children at will, and is today still hale and hearty.
Obviously, the fear of becoming sterile or strangely ill, to women like Mrs Okafor, far outweighs the fear of becoming pregnant or having an abortion.
World population explosion has caused world leaders to look upon birth control projects as vital. Also, support for regulation of individual fertility has been evident in many cultures, and at all times, even in those societies in which social and religious rules have favoured the abundant production of children. Together, these have resulted in the encouragement of women to go on family planning.
Also known as birth control, family planning is the practice of controlling the number of children one has and the intervals between their birth, particularly by means of contraception or voluntary sterilization.
Though it allows parents, particularly mothers, to plan their lives without being overly subject to sexual and social imperatives, family planning is not seen by all as a humane or necessary intervention and has thus aroused so much controversy.
Beyond that, the thought of distorting a woman’s natural body system to hinder conception, has attracted more questions than answers, particularly regarding the long-term safety of women who have tried its various methods, except for the natural method which only involves calculation of a woman’s ovulation period. Strangely, nobody appears to be echoing the various risks or side effects the same way its usage has been encouraged by government and healthcare professionals in the private and public sector.
In a chat with Woman’s Own, a medical practitioner, Dr.Osita Ibenegbu of Ostard Specialist Hospital in Lagos, said different types of family planning exist for different purposes.
“There are so many types of family planning. One involves oral contraceptive therapy for everyday use. Another involves taking injection every two or three-month space, while another method is the planting of a contraceptive under the skin,” he explained.
Dismissing claims that many women have become involuntarily permanently sterile due to family planning, Ibenegbu said the wise thing to do is to first determine, through the help of a healthcare professional, the method, under the various types, that best suits a woman.
“Each of these methods varies from one another. You have to adopt one and get used to it. Picking and adapting to one however depends on the health condition of the woman. All of them are good in actual fact, but a woman should apply the one her body system adopts. This involves the doctor having checked the age, medical condition and other things. The doctor will eventually determine what suits her in terms of body condition.
“This is important because some women react differently to some drugs. Hypertensive women are given the method that is compatible and best for their health while those with peculiar ailments like asthma are given methods that suit their condition,” he expounded.
Ibenegbu was however plain enough to admit that the various family planning methods come with various side effects.
“Every method of family planning has its own pros and cons. Even ordinary Paracetamol we take every day to relieve pain, also has its own side effects in the long run.
”For example, for a woman taking oral contraception, High Blood Pressure could be one of the side effects. Her BP might shoot up while she is on the therapy. When such happens, the woman might decide to go back to the doctor who may now recommend another method with a more manageable side effect. The doctor might decide to apply the coil method. For a woman who has completely had all her children, the doctor might decide to recommend another favourable method. I must say that a woman should not say that because one method gave her or a friend some problem, then for that she is abandoning family planning or resorting to abortion which in itself is very dangerous. There must be one method every woman should be able to adapt to.
Ibenegbu however cautioned that to curtail the side effects, women should ensure their doctors are fully involved in choosing and applying each method.
Woman’s Own also gathered that the side effects for birth control methods and types depend upon the method, for example, birth control pills and injections may cause side effects such as nausea, headache, weight gain, mood changes, fluid retention, breakthrough bleeding, missed periods, acne, depression and more.
Religious adherents vary widely in their views on birth control. This can be true even between different branches of one faith. Some religious believers find that their own opinions of the use of birth control differ from the beliefs espoused by the leaders of their faith, and many grapple with the ethical dilemma of what is conceived as “correct action” according to their faith, versus personal circumstance, reason, and choice.
Reeling out the religious perspective from the Biblical point-of-view, Evangelist (Mrs.) Elishama Ideh, President/Founder of Christ The Ever-present Ministry, CTEM, Lagos, said: “The name of the Lord we serve is also wisdom and that same wisdom has been given to all of His creation. He expects us to use our heads when it comes to certain issues. For instance, wisdom should tell you that if you just had a child this year, then you should space the next one for the sake of your health, financial responsibility, environment and upbringing.
Family planning has nothing to do with being Biblical or not. It’s only wisdom that will tell you to do what is right as a family. The Bible says that wisdom is profitable to direct. So, that word alone answers a lot of issues of life that are not even written in the Bible.
As a man, when you decide to have numerous children, are you taking into consideration your income, your wife’s health, the social implication, as well as the economy of the country? But by applying wisdom, you’ll be able to plan your life. So, you cannot say it is not Bible-based.
Even if God says ‘go and multiply’ does it mean you should not use wisdom when multiplying? Wisdom produced Adam and Eve and the whole creation made everything we are seeing today such as aircraft, furniture and structures among others. People that are into family planning have not committed any sin. Everything about life is planning and even God planned when He was creating man. He didn’t create everything in a day.
Prof. Dawud O. S. Noibi, Executive Secretary/CEO Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), in his explanation of Islam’s view on family planning, said: “Family planning is permissible in Islam but it depends on what you understand as family planning. Islam teaches that Muslims should have as many children as possible because of the need to have more people who would live their lives in accordance with the directives of God on earth. So that they would be more than those who reject the guidance from God, when we are all gathered on resurrection day.
However, it also guides us not to undertake anything that is beyond our ability to see through. As a Muslim, when you have growing male and female children, you should separate their sleeping arrangement. They should not sleep in the same room, but if they must do so, then you are still expected to separate them. In other words, they should sleep separately.
If a person does not have the means to provide that kind of facility for his children, he is likely to breed people that will live in a manner contrary to what God decrees, which is not good for them. It is for this reason that Islam directs that we should space the ages of your children. For example, you can only have a child after weaning the first one. The mother is urged to breastfeed her child for two years (Qur’an 2:233). If that is the case and the husband has only one wife, certainly they would want to enjoy sexual relationship during this period. In order for the family to enjoy this God-given pleasure whilst at the same time carrying out the divine directive suitable to their children during this two-year period, when the woman is not expected to have another conception, then both husband and wife are allowed to have means of preventing another pregnancy, while this child is yet to be weaned.
However, there are good and safe ways of preventing pregnancy. Family planning should not be done in such a way that either husband or wife gets harmed. It should also not be a permanent kind of prevention.
For example, the method whereby the woman or man is made permanently sterile is prohibited.
The truth is: The gospel of family planning has been overly propagated, almost making it seem it is being forced down the throat of women and their families. Strangely, while the different methods are loaded with a myriad of consequences, both health and socio-economic, government and healthcare professionals have not been open enough to enlighten women about these consequences. Instead, they have been left to figure them out for themselves.
The more transparent the campaign for family planning is, the better. Anyone advised to consider a method should be briefed about its consequences or side effects so they be ready to deal with them.
In conclusion, it is obvious that a wide range of family planning options are however available with their potential benefits plus side effects. The onus therefore lies on every woman to consult her healthcare giver who can help her make the best choice tailored towards meeting her own unique needs; and also help cushion possible side effects.