In Benin, a Francophone country in West Africa, maternity mortality has been estimated at between 473 and 990 deaths per 100,000 live births. Yet 92 per cent of women gave birth in either a public or private health centre, and almost all of them received antenatal care. This paper reports on an exploratory, qualitative study in 1995, among 19 women aged 20–40 who had recently given birth in a referral hospital, of their experiences of antenatal and emergency obstetric care, as part of a larger study on measuring the prevalence of severe maternal morbidity in the community. Thirteen of the women had had obstetric complications and 11 had had a caesarean section. Pregnancy was described as a period of great vulnerability, and feelings of insecurity and fear of death were omnipresent in the women's accounts. Their primary motivation for seeking antenatal care was the appearance of symptoms or events they perceived as abnormal. Although a minority were lucky enough to have a kind midwife, many complained about not being able to ask questions or get any explanations, being mistreated and humiliated by health personnel and described the anguish they felt in the face of medical procedures they did not understand, especially caesarean section, which they were told were necessary to save their lives. Access to emergency obstetric care is a priority in the battle against maternal mortality, but it cannot be at the expense of improvements in the quality of the interaction between women and health personnel. The inclusion of women's voices in the objectives of safe motherhood programmes is necessary to better serve women's needs.
Grossmann-Kendall, F.; Filippi, V.; De Koninck, M.; Kanhonou, L. Giving birth in maternity hospitals in Benin: Testimonies of women. Reproductive Health Matters (2001) 9 (18) 90-98.