Kofi B. Kukubor
Ghana woke up to the news that a woman who was nine months pregnant was kidnapped at dawn during her morning walk/jog. As reported, she was later found in Axim, a town several kilometers from Takoradi but without the pregnancy or the baby. It was claimed that the baby had been delivered during the period that she was allegedly kidnapped.
According to earlier Police and Medical reports, as announced by Kwabena Okyere Darko-Mensah, the Chairman of the Western Region Security Council and Regional Minister, Josephine Panyin Mensah was never pregnant nor was there any evidence to prove that she was pregnant.
This announcement raised suspicion in some sections of the public and in some instances, reduced the announcement to partisan discussions and arguments. The purpose of this piece is not to engage in the partisan arguments but to determine the common sense approach to knowing when a woman has carried a baby for nine months in her womb.
The Common Sense Approach
When a woman is pregnant, there are visible physical changes that occur especially from the sixth month onwards. According to scientific study, pregnancy brings changes to many areas of the body, including the skin. Some skin changes indicate a problem, complication, or simply cosmetic, like linea nigra (pregnancy line). The pregnancy line becomes more noticeable from the sixth month.
Linea Nigra (Pregnancy Line)
According to study, every human has the linea alba (white line) which is usually not noticeable. “This line runs vertically from the breastbone to the pubic area and down the middle of the abdomen”.
During pregnancy, the white line darkens, causing a visible vertical line from the belly button to the pubic area, or sometimes the entire length of the abdomen. This is called the linea nigra (black line). This line often correlates with changes in pigmentation during pregnancy. Other areas such as the nipples and areola which have more pigmentation becomes darker.
According study, linea nigra is the most common pregnancy skin change. Hyper-pigmentation in pregnancy is caused by increased melanin production by the melanocyte skin cells, stimulated by pregnancy hormones, including higher levels of estrogen, and likely progesterone or a melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH).
Melanin (the pigment that darkens skin) already exists in greater quantities in some areas of the body. The increase in melanin production during pregnancy can cause these areas to darken. Most commonly, hype-pigmentation is noticed in nipples, areola, linea alba (leading to linea nigra), genital area, face (melasma or the mask of pregnancy), neck, existing scars, freckles, and birthmarks.
The intensity of the hype-pigmentation may be related to environmental factors such as exposure to sunlight, (which is very common in Africa), diet, medication (intake of some drugs), pre-existing conditions, and genetic pre-disposition.
These physical and visible conditions mentioned above, often take more than three months to start disappearing or return to normal after childbirth. Therefore, a perfunctory physical examination of the woman by the husband or any trained person would quickly ascertain the veracity of the ‘pregnancy’ story. The vagina can also be examined for signs of (if the story is true) cervical and vagina bruises and injuries as a result of pressure during vaginal delivery.
Independent Medical Opinion
It is welcoming to note that, the Police administration is seeking a second medical expert opinion from the European Hospital and if possible, a third from Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. It would be recommended that, the family of the woman in question is also given the opportunity to seek a guided and open independent medical expert opinion to put the matter to rest.
It is imperative that, the public have trust in the relevant institutions (the Police, Investigators, health institutions etc) and to avoid rumour peddling and partisan colouration of the issue.
However, any criminal discovery should be severely dealt with according to the law.