BIRTH ATTENDANT FROM HEAVEN
One common experience of all mothers is birth pain. There is no second version of the pains and agony mothers go through before a new human being is added to the human population. Even ancient records like the Bible gave due deference to the unequalled agony and incomparable pains that attend delivery.
The experience is like human being passing through fire to effect the perpetuation of the species. Many who have gone through that tell you it is like passing through death back into life. It peaks at a point the mother literally loses consciousness only to be woken to the news that she has produced a new human being.
Yet, not minding the excruciating birth pains, there is this unique set of human beings that have cultivated a tradition in their family of mastering the pains of delivery to the extent of handling labour and the delivery of their babies themselves fully conscious to observe the little and huge details of the encounter. This is heroism of sorts and the family has managed and mastered it so well that 17 children have been added to the family by mother and her child through the same process. Her mother took delivery of her unaided.
She was one of the 10. In order to keep it in the family, she grew up to adopt and imbibe the style that worked so well for her mum. Today, she has to her profile, seven children that have passed through her womb and dexterous hands at delivery.
She learned the ropes of traditional midwifery from her mother and plies the trade dutifully. Because she has been in the art for a long time and helped deliver many babies for other mothers, she had to extend it to herself. Whenever the signs of labour call on her, she instinctively or artfully knows what to do, and the formula never failed her. You may not try that experiment until you go through her tutelage to know what she knows in order not to plunge into heroism bad waters you might not swim out of.
The 60-year-old artful trado midwife, Mrs. Comfort Ikudehinbu has also delivered five of her grandchildren and regaled: 'Yes, it came that easy for me because we are gifted in that. My own mother delivered herself of 10 children.'
When the amniotic sac ruptures, an expectant mother is supposed to hurry to the nearest hospital or clinic for the ultimate showdown because labour has started. Normally, a woman in labour lies down and receives medical attention and all the pampering from people around her. That is not so with Ikudehinbu. She would rather be busy cooking, washing and be cleaning her environment while her packed bag has taken the right position.
Mama Monday, as she is called, will be labouring and smiling patiently in her house. Her neighboumentrs would see her but would never smell an inkling that she was going through pains. Her deliveries remain a mystery because it is done in such an easy manner in the comfort of her living room. You then ask her, does it mean you do not go through labour? 'I went through it. When it hooks me, I would put my hands on my head, shake it out fast, and when the pains subside, I would go back to whatever I was doing.'
According to her, she might be sighted around the bus stop and within a twinkle of the eye, news of her delivery would filter out in her environment. This is an art the Ilaje woman learnt from her husband's aunt in addition to what she got from her mother. This particular gift is commonly found among the women who come from the Ilaje riverine locations.
Ikudehinbu had been gainfully employed over 35 years in this trade with the mother still assisting with great experience at her old age before she died some years back. She agrees that it is a special gift from God. You ask her to share one of her experiences delivering seven children without assistance. She paints a touchy picture of uncommon bravery especially of her last delivery 27 years ago. 'My elder sister came back from London and sent for me. When I got there, I opted to wash some of her dirty clothes. While washing, I realized the membrane had ruptured. Labour started immediately. I knew it was the 'real thing' but I chose to ignore it. Meanwhile, the next building to my sister's house was a hospital, but I preferred going to my house to deliver my baby.
After washing, as I made my way home, the pains increased. The moment I got home, examined myself and noticed I am fully dilated. I brought out my bag that contained all that I needed and spread some mat on the floor. The pain was at the peak, I knelt down, rested my hand and chest on a low stool and opened my legs. The stool served as my support. I took that position because I had no assistance. The baby was fully engaged and was ready to make it to the world. I timed myself. As soon as the baby's head engaged further, I felt it. I knew when to push and I pushed him out and laid down straight on my back. I pressed my lower abdomen with strength, the placenta popped out and that was it. I sat up and cut the placenta, cleaned my baby and myself'. Her type of placenta does not delay to drop. It falls off immediately after the baby. What actually gives her the strength and confidence to go through pregnancies without ante-natal clinic? 'I depend on prayers. If I do not feel strong, Water will be blessed for me to drink and I will be okay.'
The entire labour and delivery story she narrated happened within one hour. What happens if there should be any complications? Mama Monday says: 'By the grace of God, nothing happened to me in my procreation years, and has not happened to any of my patients.' When the good news was broken to her sister who she left not quite long ago in a hurry to be sure that it was not bad news, she wore two different clothes thinking not knowing how she was dressed.
The brave woman trained as seamstress, but her natural art of providing safe hands for delivery has taken over her tailoring business. With these deliveries, she tells you she has lost count of other deliveries she took. 'All my five grandchildren were delivered by me.'
Mama Monday while speaking with Saturday Sun boasted: 'Women from the riverine areas like Ilaje and Ijaw are gifted in this art. They are like two sides of a coin.'
With her magic fingers, not only does she take deliveries, she is known for her natural mastery in dispensing herbal medications that aid pregnancies. She massages the body to loosen stiff tissues and organs and proper positioning of the bent womb and foetus. Breech babies are also positioned to engage well before delivery. Her job does not stop at that. Setting bones and treating low sperm count are also in her kitty, as she vaunted.
However, not all her siblings are caught in the web of the family tradition. Of the 10, only four survived. Her elder sister is a teacher while her two brothers run their private businesses. Her own children and grandchildren took after her. She informs that her first daughter grabbed the safe-hands gene and operates her birth-tending outfit. Pointing at Maria, her granddaughter who is just two, she tells you that when she is taking deliveries, little Maria would sit comfortably and watch. 'That is how to know a gifted child, she is not afraid.'
Ikudehinbu is a certified member of the Ifelodun Toluwalashe Agbebi Medical Herbalist Association of Nigeria, Ijora Branch in Lagos, and proudly brandishes two certificates issued to her by the General Hospital, Apapa after attending courses on 'Traditional Birth Attendant on Bleeding Complication in Pregnancy 'and 'Prevention of Infection in Obstetrics and Gynecology' duly signed by Dr. E O. Oduwole, and Dr. A Idowu, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecologist. She explains that her association is affiliated to General Hospital, Apapa. 'Our association is an ally of a big hospital. We are not into sharp practices, but real traditional medicine.'
Being in the business for decades now, she readily wants to share some of the personal beliefs that motivate her into action. One of them is her religion. The family denomination where she was christened has been a backbone and source of strength. 'I seek the face of God before embarking on any type of work'. She does not know it all and admits so. 'If I pray and did not get the signal to work, I will not work. I would rather take the patient to the hospital, but when the Lord asks me to go ahead, I will swing into action immediately. This signal comes through vision.'
Because she has not recorded any death in her profession, her ministry grew fast. With a swell clientele and great patronage, though her charges are not exorbitant, the Ondo-born woman has bought a piece of land where she put up a structure that served as her consulting place until the Lagos State government demolished houses around the area. She quickly erected a horrible makeshift shack she uses now. 'I am not in a hurry to leave here because I lost a good number of customers when our building was demolished by the Lagos State government.'
Ikudehinbu still expects so many years of service ahead and believes that the turn of events will make her smile again in a new abode she would build for her business.