How Ebola Has Affected Pregnant Women
As the year comes to a close, it almost seems like we have forgotten what felt like the biggest health scare of the world just a few months ago: Ebola.
I admit that I was fully entrenched in the hysteria. Already a bit of a hypochondriac from my identity as a nurse and a writer whose profession demands that I research the worst-case scenarios, I saw the potential for Ebola to wipe out humanity as we know it.
But after the media portrayed breaking, second-by-second updates on Ebola for a week straight and then, shockingly, it didn't spread like wildfire — it was quickly controlled in the U.S., and the worry seemed to die down. For those of us in the United States, Ebola has stopped living as a forefront worry on our minds.
But worldwide, Ebola has had a much different effect on pregnant women and their babies.
In countries still fighting the war against Ebola, the brave healthcare workers putting their own lives on the line are facing a reality that has left orphans scattered like grains of sand in the wind and children forced into adulthood much before their time.
Not only is the disease especially dangerous for pregnant women, as it is almost always fatal to both mother and her baby, but the deadly virus has had an unprecedented effect of also making maternity care even more difficult to obtain. Ebola is killing off the doctors that are willing to care for pregnant women in highly affected areas like West Africa, leaving them alone and even more susceptible.
The lack of providers, coupled with the patients' fear of contracting Ebola by coming to the hospital, has led to a significant drop in the number of attended deliveries and c-sections.
“We're expecting maternal mortality to skyrocket,” said Lina Moses, a researcher with Tulane University who works on Lassa Fever in Sierra Leone, in an article for Scientific American. Even though exposure to an Ebola patient's blood is not necessarily going to pass on the disease, it's been a significant struggle to get medical workers that are willing to help — they're scared of contracting Ebola themselves.
Doctors and hospitals are actually turning away women for fear of contracting and spreading Ebola, and because of that, some women aren't even seeking care at all, making the situation hard for healthcare workers and pregnant women alike.
The reality of Ebola is that in some parts of the world is that it is some mothers' realities. On her experience as a nurse in Liberia, one woman wrote,
“Dear Family and Friends,
“Another week has come and gone here in West Africa. … Christine was one patient that we didn't expect to survive. There were nights when she was close enough to touch death, but somehow, [she] held on. A few days ago, I went into her room to see how she was doing. As I started walking out, she stood up on her bed, started crying, and [yelled] at me not to leave.
“I went back and sat at the end of her bed and started talking to her. She didn't respond, but instead, crawled onto my lap and put her arms around my waist. My heart melted all the way down into my boots and stayed there, pooling with my electrolytes and fluid volume.”
This brave nurse talks about the effect that Ebola has left on women and their babies, describing the experience of delivering a 26-week-old baby who died only 12 hours after his birth.
I am learning what it means to love — and how to communicate that love — more deeply and in ways I didn't even know were possible,” she said.
“I am learning what it means to love — and how to communicate that love — more deeply and in ways I didn't even know were possible,” she said. “I am learning that I have placed too much value on external demonstrations of compassion when what really matters is what is happening internally.
“A heart that truly loves has no trouble conveying love and compassion no matter the circumstances because that type of love and compassion resonates from the very deepest corners of the soul and becomes an almost physically compelling force experienced by all those around.”
And for those of us here outside the immediate threat, let us hope we can make that love and compassion force a reality.
To donate to help fight Ebola through UNICEF, click here.