Package 57, Script 10
My Body, Myself: A Bittersweet Choice
Lada and her husband Philip.
Alwell and his wife Eunice.
MUSIC (Program Theme ... run for 20-30 seconds then fade under headline).
Host: Coming Up: One womans struggle to take charge of her body...
MUSIC ...bring up Program Theme...
Introduction (Host): Every day we make important decisions about what happens to our bodies...what we eat and drink, where we go, how we dress.
But do you have control over other choices about your body? If you are a woman or girl, perhaps not. What happens if you have too many children too quickly? You may have health problems because your body is weakened by having your children close together. Your children may suffer from malnutrition..
How do you take control of your body when custom and tradition says that you have no right to do so? The following drama, Bittersweet Choice, shows how one woman found the courage to take control of her reproductive health and the consequences of her difficult decision.
[Note: The play begins with a brief narration by the main character, Lada, then moves to the sidewalk just outside a health clinic in a small, rural town.]
Lada: Today I have a heavy heart. Today is one of the most difficult days of my life. I made a choice. But it is a bittersweet choice.
MUSIC (A brief musical break about 10 seconds of instrumental/soft tones).
Lada: In some ways this story began more than a year ago when I was leaving the Well Baby Clinic in town. I had taken my baby there for a checkup. On my way out I met some friends from the next village. Eunice and her husband Alwell were about to enter the clinic. It was on that day the seed was planted.
MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS (Bring up background sound of street noises, then fade under dialogue...).
Lada : Hello Alwell. Hello Eunice.
Alwell & Eunice : (Speaking together) Hello. Hello Lada.
Alwell: How are you Lada? And how is the family?
Lada: Everyone is just fine, thank you. And you?
Alwell: Oh, we are all doing very well, too.
Eunice: Your baby is beautiful. How is she doing?
Lada: She is fine. She is sound asleep now that her appointment is over. She can even sleep through the noise of this traffic.
Eunice: Thank goodness that little Effi is such a good sleeper. You had such a difficult pregnancy and delivery. You could use some rest yourself.
Lada: Yes, but it is difficult with so many children. You are lucky. You just have two.
Eunice: Well, they can be a handful as well, but it isnt just luck, you know, that we only have two children.
Lada: It isnt?
Alwell: No. Its family planning.
Lada: Family planning?
Alwell: Yes, Eunice and I have decided that we want to plan how many children we have and when we have them. It is better for Eunice and for the children. Everyone will be much healthier. And that means life is better for me as well.
Lada: But since when does a man worry about such things? My husband and I never discuss these things.
Eunice: That is a pity. It might help, you know.
Lada: I know. The doctor says the same thing. But I cannot imagine Philip and I... I mean, how do you? Alwell, surely that is not your role?
Alwell: Perhaps not in the customary way of thinking, but these things are changing. I am a modern man. My wife and I, we discuss these things together, and then we make decisions based on what we both believe is best for the family. It is better for the family not to have too many children. I saw how my mother and father struggled to feed all of us growing up. I remember the hunger pains. We dont want to have too many children. We could not afford to feed them.
Eunice: Alwell, we must go. Otherwise we will be late for our appointment.
Alwell: Yes, we must go. Goodbye, Lada.
MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS (Fade out background sound).
[Lada narrates to begin next scene.]
Lada: That meeting made a big impression on me. Before that day I did not think that a husband and wife could plan their family together decide when and how many children to have. It was something I wanted to discuss with my own husband as well. I am a young woman, but already we have six children. My last pregnancy was the most difficult. I almost died during labour. So on the day that I met Eunice and Alwell I thought I would bring up the subject of family planning with my husband.
[The next scene moves to Lada and Philips family home where the two are in conversation.]
Lada: Philip, guess who I saw in town today.
Philip: You know I dont like guessing games. You could have seen anybody.
Lada: It was Eunice and her husband Alwell Jacobs.
Philip: Oh they were a long way from home. We havent seen them in quite a while. Why didnt you invite them to share our evening meals?
Lada: They were in such a hurry I didnt think of it. They were on their way into the clinic.
Philip: Oh? I hope that no one is seriously ill.
Lada: I dont think so. They said everyone was fine. They were going in to plan their family.
Philip: What do you mean?
Lada: There is a family planning clinic at the health centre each Thursday. Alwell and Eunice were on their way there. They told me they plan their family. That is why they have only two children now. They do not want their family to grow too quickly. Alwell says it is much healthier for Eunice and the children and its easier on the budget.
Philip: Alwell said this? I am surprised he and Eunice would discuss such personal matters with you.
Lada: Yes, they were very honest. But it got me thinking. Philip, perhaps we should plan our family as well. Maybe we should go to the clinic together.
Philip : I am a man. I do not go to family planning clinics. Besides, if we do not have a large family who will help you to tend the crops and the animals?
Philip (cont): When we have plenty of children it shows that we are healthy and prosperous.
Lada: But, Alwell is a man too and he...
Philip: Thats enough. I am not Alwell. If he wants to turn his back on tradition he will have to bear the consequences. We are not going to that clinic. Now, I dont want to hear anything further about the matter. Do you understand me?
[The drama begins again with Lada narrating.]
Lada: Philip is a man who does not like to be challenged so I did not dare to say anything more that night, but I was angry. And I was afraid about what would happen if I became pregnant again. For months I thought about what Eunice and Alwell had said. Our doctor had always encouraged me to visit the family planning clinic, but I was afraid to go without my husbands consent.
At the same time, I became more and more concerned about what would happen if I were to become pregnant again. I had come so close to death during my last pregnancy. If I die, who can take care of my six children as well as I can? Nobody. Eventually, I made up my mind that I would go to the family planning clinic on my own, but I would not tell Philip about it. I just wanted to hear what the doctor had to say. As it turns out, visiting the family planning clinic was not a secret I could keep forever.
[Scene three takes place in Lada and Philips family home following the evening meal.]
SOUND EFFECTS (Sound of cutlery clanking on dishes).
Philip: Ahh, Lada you have outdone yourself tonight. That was a fine meal.
Lada: Thank you, Philip.
Philip: Later tonight I will show you just how much I appreciate it.
Lada: You do not need to do that, Philip. I know you like it.
Philip: Oh yes, but I want to show you.
Lada: I have a headache. I think I am going to sleep early tonight.
Philip: You need your head examined. Ever since Effi was born you have an awful lot of headaches. What I have for you tonight will put your headache out of your mind.
Lada: Please, Philip, not tonight.
Philip: Now you are starting to give me heartburn. I am losing my patience with you, Lada. I could understand that you had to be careful when young Effi was first born, but she is not a newborn any longer, and you are my wife.
Lada: I do not want to get pregnant again right away Philip.
Philip: Is this what these so-called headaches are about?
Lada: Philip, we need to talk about how to prevent pregnancy. It is not healthy for me to have children one after the other like this. You know I nearly died with Effi.
Philip: That is because you did not take proper care of yourself. Now come here let me make up for lost time.
Lada: Philip, I dont want to. Not tonight. I want us to go to the clinic together first.
Philip: What? You dare defy me? Do you want me to beat you? Is that what you want?
Lada: Philip, please be quiet. You will wake the children.
SOUND EFFECTS (Sound of Lada being hit and crying out. Lada is sobbing as Philip speaks...).
Philip: You stupid cow. I am going out to find someone who knows how to treat a man.
SOUND EFFECTS (Sound of a baby crying and childrens voices calling Mama).
Philip: Now see what youve done.
SOUND EFFECTS (Philip is beating his wife...she is crying...the children are wailing... Run sound for 10 to 20 seconds then fade out).
Lada: Philip left the house and stayed out all night. I comforted the children and got them back to sleep. But as for myself, I did not sleep at all. This was not the first time that Philip had hit me, but that night I vowed that it would be the last. The next morning I did not send the children to school. I packed up our few clothes and left for my sister Akosuas house.
I knew if I went to my fathers house, my mother and father would tell me I had been a bad wife and order me to return home to my husband. Certainly his family would not support my actions. My sister Akosua was my only hope. She might not understand my choice to leave, but she would not turn me away and she would not force me to return to my husbands house.
Lada: It has been three days since I left my husband. So far he has not even bothered to look for me or the children. He is too busy with his new woman, I suppose. My physical bruises are starting to go away, but the pain in my heart will take longer to heal. Despite this pain and the fear I feel about what the future holds, there is also a part of me that feels more free and calm than I have in years!
Lada (cont): I care for my husband, but I also care about myself and I love my children more than anything. They need me. I must stay well in order to care for them. In order to stay well I have to take care of my own body. This includes having a say about when and how I have children. If my husband cannot understand this then it is better that I am on my own no matter how hard the struggle. I hope and pray that Philip will see some day that family planning can bring many benefits to us. Maybe Alwell can speak to him on my behalf.
But if Philip does not want to compromise, then I must make my own way for myself and for our children. I know I can do this. It know it will not be easy, but it can be done.
So, now do you understand why I say that today is a bittersweet day?
Host: Reproductive rights for women when women make decisions about their own bodies can be difficult for women and men to discuss together. What do you think of Ladas choice to take charge of her body and visit the health clinic? Please contact us here at [ ____________ ] and share your comments with us.
- END -
- Contributed by: Adiat Junaid, Researcher/Writer, Toronto, Canada.
- Reviewed by: Nancy Drost, Gender Specialist, CARE Canada, Ottawa, Canada.
- Womens Health and Development: A Global Challenge, Beverly McElmurry, Kathleen Norr, and Randy Spreen Parker, prepared for the World Health Organization, Jones and Bartlett Publishers (Boston), 1993.
- Pathfinder International
- Reproductive Health Outlook (RHO), the reproductive health website produced by the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
- The State of World Population 1989, Dr. Nafis Sadik, United Nations Population Fund, New York, NY 10017, USA.
- The Day of Six Billion and Womens Reproductive Rights, United Nations Radio Features, Feature Interview with Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director, UN Population Fund
- UN Radio Feature Programs, Weekly Program on Womens Issues
- World Health Organization
- A Study of the Childbirth Beliefs, Attitudes, and Practices of Ibibio Women and Their Families in South-East Nigeria (Final Report), Dr. R.L. Walley and M.K. Matthews, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, January 1997.
- Women Watch: United Nations