What else can teargas do you, other than the usual irritation to the eyes and skin? Well, if you are pregnant, you might miscarry, and one woman has learnt this the hard way.
Susan Onyango lost her baby at week 39 after inhaling the irritating gas in Kisumu during demonstrations against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission on October 9.
The social worker currently interning at Monica Town Clinic in Kibuye says she only stepped out to see what the commotion was all about, only to be engulfed by a cloud of teargas. She fainted for three hours.
Her colleagues performed first aid on her and helped her get to her house. She went to bed that evening feeling her baby’s movement, but in the middle of the night she started feeling pain in her lower belly and her back. She thought she was in labour since she was one week shy of her due date — October 16, 2017.
In the morning she was still feeling unwell, her sister rushed her to Nightingale Hospital. “No heartbeat,” the nurse told her. “No movement.”
She was instructed to go for an ultrasound as fast as possible, and at St Jairus Hospital the doctor broke the terrible news. The baby was dead.
“A part of me died in that hospital room upon hearing the news,” she says.
Doctors induced labour, and within two hours she pushed out her son’s corpse.
Maxwell, born still, was buried on October 11 at Mamboleo Cemetery in Kisumu. Doctors believe he would have survived were it not for the teargas, which caused difficulty in breathing and cut the supply of oxygen to the womb. The condition is referred to as intrauterine hypoxia in medical terms. If left managed, it may lead to death.
Kisumu-based gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr Paul Mitie, says teargas, being an irritant, affects the respiratory tract, causing swelling and mucus production. Because of that, one chokes as one struggles to breathe.
Recent research shows that the chemicals used today in manufacturing teargas are not just aerosolised itching powder, but actually nerve agents.
“The loss of consciousness or fainting of the mother cut the supply of oxygen to the foetus, hence death,” says Dr Mitie.
“Should any expectant woman find herself in such situation, she should rush to the nearest health facility.”
Forensic psychologist Oscar Githua says women who go through such loss, especially first-time mothers, should seek help from experts to overcome the trauma.
Studies have shown that a woman who loses a child through miscarriage or stillbirth is at risk of depression and anxiety symptoms in subsequent years. And, even after having a healthy child later, women who have miscarried have a higher risk of post-partum depression.