Nigerian Lives: 6 Women On The Awkwardness That Comes With Getting Contraceptives

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Access to contraceptive services is an important part of women’s reproductive health that affects their physical, social and economic well-being. History tells us that birth control is not a new concept and there are several studies on ancient indigenous contraceptive methods to prove it. However, very little progress has been made in improving the quality of and access to modern contraceptives in Nigeria, and as such, contraceptive use is still very low with many relying on traditional methods like periodic abstinence and withdrawal (popularly known as “pulling out”). On average, a Nigerian woman or man aged 15-49 knows about only 5 of all the methods of contraception. If all unmet needs for modern contraception in Nigeria were satisfied, unintended pregnancies would drop by 77%, from 2.5 million to 555,000 per year. 

In addition to many socio-cultural factors (such as how sex, women and childbearing are viewed in the society), the misinformation surrounding birth control and the low quality of healthcare available in the country, women in Nigeria, particularly the unmarried ones, tend to face all kinds of discrimination, stigmatisation and embarrassment while trying to access basic family planning tools. This limiting approach to family planning not only fuels unsustainable population growth but often leads to unwanted pregnancies which can lead to unsafe abortions, and lasting psychological effects for the women or children whose parents are unable to care for them. It prevents even married women from safely spacing out their pregnancies and puts the health of women and children at risk. In this week’s Nigerian lives, six women tell us what they go through to get modern contraceptives which include the pill, the intrauterine device (IUD), injectables, sterilization, condoms and the diaphragm.

NK, 29

I remember being in university and going to get the morning-after pill (emergency pill) at a pharmacy and the woman at the counter gave me one bad look. You know, that judgmental look like, “see small girl like you.” Then, when I was older, I made the mistake of going to a well known public hospital in my state to ask about getting the pill and when I got there, a nurse told me that I was destroying my womb and would find it difficult to conceive in the future. She really instilled so much fear in me!

Koko, 30

There was a time I thought about getting an IUD (intrauterine device) but after struggling to find any information and hearing other women’s experiences with hospitals in other parts of the country, omo, I killed the idea. They should educate all women more about contraception and where to find it so that we know what our options are. Not just to be telling us it’s either abstinence or babies. 

Juliet, 25

To be honest, I don’t even know much about contraceptives. I only have experience with buying condoms. Some people crack jokes or make weird comments about why I’m getting them or express shock if I buy more than one pack like, “wow so many.” If it’s like this with condoms, you can only imagine what it’s like when young women want to get tested for HIV or treat infections. Nigeria likes to uphold a “purity culture” but the reality is that people are having sex and shouldn’t be disgraced because of it.

Kemi, 36

My husband and I always said we only wanted two children so after I gave birth to our daughter in 2018, we agreed to explore contraceptives. When I got to the hospital, they told me that they needed my husband’s consent first. I was surprised and asked why, since I had already told them he was aware, but they gave no tangible reason, just that it was some sort of policy. My husband returned to the hospital with me another day before they reluctantly agreed. I’ve always felt somehow about that incident.

Dee, 23

Once, I went to buy a bunch of condoms and there were two men in the pharmacy. I don’t know if it was in my head but it just felt awkward. I guess the thing is that you already know you’ll be judged, so it breeds a lot of anxiety, fear and discomfort. I know a lot of Nigerian women who would rather buy any pills they can find over the counter than go to a general hospital. 

Nnedi, 23

I used to have really bad acne and our family doctor suggested that I get “the pill” to regulate my hormones. So I never really had any incidents while getting the contraceptives because they were prescribed. I would just harden my face, get my pills and leave.

If you’re thinking about  getting contraceptives or want to learn more about them without any awkwardness, here are some Nigerian service providers to consider:

Marie Stopes
DKT International
Honey And Banana
Lydia IUD 

*This article is based on real-life events. The names used are mere pseudonyms to protect the identities of the individuals mentioned in the article.

Nigerian Lives is a Culture Custodian weekly series where we hear from Nigerians who share tidbits about their experiences. It goes up every Monday.

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