Friday, 29 March 2013

Grandma Abigail: A Picture of a Ghanaian Midwife by Stephanie Duval

Part of what makes Ghanaian culture rich and unique is the value placed on friendship and respect.  From the very first day I arrived in Accra, I have had the pleasure of meeting some remarkable individuals, including professionals and patients at 37 Military Hospital, new friends at the International Student Hostel (ISH), and extraordinary characters that are part of my daily experiences.   I am delighted to have the opportunity to blog about one of the most influential individuals I have met in my clinical practice to date.  I am hoping that the following will enable the reader to imagine this “larger than life” personality and do our Grandma Abigail the justice she deserves. 

Annabella Ablah Anderson-Agbolosoo (a.k.a. Grandma Abigail), was born on May 3rd, 1955, in the small rural community of Damongo in northern Ghana.  She is the 7th child of ten (three boys and seven girls) born to Class I Warrant Officer Charles Ackummey Anderson-Agbolosoo and Patience Adzo Afatsawoo.  Her father was a well-respected military man who retired after his service in the Gold Coast Regiment.  Her mother was an influential “Jill-of-all-trades” who worked primarily as an independent wholesale vendor with some of Ghana’s largest companies (GB Olivant).  Grandma Abigail describes her upbringing as “lovely” and “normal” albeit strict.  Her parents raised their children to value the importance of formal education as the gateway to bigger, brighter futures.  During her infancy, Grandma Abigail moved to Tamale with her family where she completed her schooling.  Her father eventually joined the civil service and transferred to the Volta region into the ministry of health – a decision that later influenced four of the Agbolosoo girls.    


The hard work and emphasis on education in the Agbolosoo household ultimately proved a major advantage.  Four of the ten children (all girls) moved on to post-secondary education and became successful registered nurses—nurses of extremely high-standing I might add!  However, nursing was not always in the cards for Grandma Abigail.  Her original career plan was to become an air stewardess.   “Unfortunately for me, my father was strongly against it, and forced me to go to nursing school (Midwifery)” Grandma Abigail writes, “His reason was that, compared to being an air stewardess where I ran the risk of dying in an air crash, nursing (Midwifery) was a very respectable and important job which would place me among the top hierarchy of important people in the district.”  Grandma Abigail explains that the conflict that ensued with her father created a very “unpleasant period.”  Both parties adhered to a stonewall silence and avoidance in hopes that the other would concede.  Grandma Abigail’s determination and will was so strong that in order to get her to nursing school, her uncle had to forcibly pack her into a car, in tears, and coax her to stay. 

Admittedly, she fell in love with the nursing profession as she advanced in her training.  “I discovered that I loved being involved in the entire process of caring for others and nursing them to good health.  Most importantly I was and still am fascinated by the miracle of childbirth.  I derive a whole lot of satisfaction and happiness from helping women and their families as a whole… and preparing them for that special moment – when the mother and baby see each other for the first time.” 

The road to becoming a registered nurse and midwife was not without its challenges.  It was a delight to listen to a nurse with 35 years’ experience regale me with her stories as a nursing student.  Need I tell you that despite the cultural differences, Ghanaian and Canadian nursing students have a lot in common from sisterly love and camaraderie, minor tiffs with tutors and work colleagues, and at least one really good embarrassing story. 

Here’s Grandma Abigail’s embarrassing moment:  During her first observation of a live birth, Grandma Abigail and two of her nursing colleagues collapsed and missed the entire process!  To make matters worse, the three fainters spent the rest of the day crying in fear that they would be dismissed from the nursing program.  The house mother had to console them all night.  Grandma Abigail pinpoints this moment as the one in which she finally embraced nursing as her true vocation. She hasn’t looked back since and is a proud Officer of Midwifery today (graduated in 1978).   

A glimpse of Grandma Abigail, beauty pagent contestant, mother, professional nurse and more.

Aside from her professional accomplishments, Grandma Abigail’s personal life and struggle is also extremely noteworthy.  She married a young military officer (retired a Major) in 1980 and together they produced three beautiful children (Rosetta, Patricia-Lois, and Mona-Lisa).  Grandma Abigail describes her marriage as unstable and unsupportive.   The union was severed in 1986 when Grandma Abigail received permission from her mother and uncle to divorce.  Her tenacity and determination was then channeled into raising and educating her three lovely daughters  (she later conceived a fourth daughter with her 2nd husband whom currently lives in the United States).  

Grandma Abigail states that her uniqueness stems from having to combine the busy schedule of a midwife and single-handedly raising four beautiful, highly responsible and inspiring women.  “I have had to play the part of both a father and a mother simultaneously, overcoming many great obstacles along the way and enduring many frustrations and harrassment from family, society, and working colleagues for being a single parent.  Most times in tears.”  The financial stress of raising four children on a single income often proved overwhelming.  As a result of “God’s grace,” hardwork, and several selfless individuals, Grandma Abigail was able to overcome the financial strain and pay private education fees and post secondary studies for all four girls.  “May I also give special thanks to my mother (who is 93 years old).  My mother is an angel.”    

To this day, Grandma Abigail continues to be a source of encouragement and inspiration to other single mothers who have been victims of ridicule and discrimination.  Her message to these woman is to never give up–empowerment is key.  This informs her nursing philosophy that women derive a source of power from their natural ability to carry and bear children.  The choice to maintain a healthy pregnancy, in large part, is up to the mother.  Grandma Abigail’s role is to uphold this belief and provide expectant mothers with the education and support required.  In turn, unnecessary medical interventions and maternal mortality will be reduced. 

Daily obstacles in the life of a Ghanain nurse are many.  Poor and unsanitary working conditions and restricted access to essential equipment are at the top of the list.  Regardless, Grandma Abigail takes extraordinary pride in her profession and feels that society recognizes the special role midwifes play in the lives of women.  “Nursing above all is a progressive calling.  Nursing is a calling to honour humanity.  Nursing is a noble profession.”  Funnily enough, Grandma Abigail inadvertently quotes one of my ultimate favorite bands.  “All you need is love” she tells me.  Well that’s exactly what I have for Grandma Abigail despite the fact that she threatened to cane me for touching her radio…jokingly I might add!  Thank you Grandma Abigail for sharing a part of your story with me.  God bless.  


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