My lecturer who is also a gynecologist told us a very gory story. There was a pregnant woman whom he had as a patient and upon examination of this woman a few months to her delivery date, discovered that she had a very small pubic angle.
Women are supposed to have within 70-90 degrees pubic angle, which is larger than that of the men to allow for childbirth but this particular woman did not fall within that range making it impossible for her to ever give birth naturally.
As her gynecologist, he told her this and advised that she delivers via a Cesarean section but the woman and her husband vehemently refused saying that they had faith that she was going to deliver like ‘An Hebrew woman’.
So the couple, when due, went to the church to get delivered by the mothers of the church. Turns out, the gynecologist was right and her pubic angle could only allow for the passage of the head of the new born baby. The inexperienced mothers continued to wiggle the head of the child and eventually pulled out the head of a lifeless baby. She was rushed to the hospital and the rest of the baby inside her body had to be surgically removed through a cesarean section.
If you are still wondering, the Hebrew Woman Syndrome is a strong conviction that women should deliver their babies quickly and with as little assistance as possible just like the Jewish women described in the bible.
This Hebrew Woman syndrome has eaten so deep into the minds of Nigerians that it is now a common prayer point in churches and homes of expecting mothers “May you deliver like an Hebrew woman”. Why not “May you have a safe delivery?” or “May you deliver a healthy baby?” Why put so much pressure on the woman to be like the Jews in the bible that is dated to thousands of years ago?
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about the Hebrew Woman Syndrome is that it causes expecting mothers to refuse medical assistance in the delivery of their babies and weaponizes shame as a tool to make them conform to this syndrome.
An expecting mother who has been told that good christian woman deliver like Hebrew Women would go great lengths to fit into the description of these women and that includes refusing to have a Cesarean section even when that is obviously best for her and the baby. In the event that she doesn’t conform, she is shamed for being “less christian” or worse, “less of a woman”.
Nigeria has an alarming infant mortality rate of 37 deaths per 1000 births making us the 11th highest on newborn deaths in the world according to UNICEF.
The Hebrew Woman Syndrome is a major contribution to that as expecting mothers, shying away from medically advised Cesarean section run to inexperienced and quack persons to deliver their child. Apart from contributing to the burden of child mortality, the Hebrew Woman syndrome also contributes to the burden of birth deformities such as Erb’s palsy and Cerebral palsy.
The day any scientist or religious leader can prove that the Hebrew Women delivered stronger and healthier babies than the rest of the world is the day we should begin to consider it as the only right way of delivery. But until then, we must fight against this syndrome that contributes negatively to the society.
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Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke is a physiotherapist, writer, public speaker and yogi. She is also a sexual health and reproductive rights advocate and volunteers for HandsOff Initiative.