top of page

Mary Adi

Dr Mary Adi is a retired doctor from Nigeria. She began her training at the University College Hospital in ibadan, which was affiliated to the University College in London. She completed her training as a student nurse in ibadan across three and a half years before travelling to take the State Registered Nurse exam in England. Here in England she completed midwifery training in two parts - the first spell was in Bearsted Memorial Hospital, in London and the second was in Shrubbery Maternity Home, High Wycombe. For some time she worked as a midwife at City of London Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital. Dr Adi and her husband returned to Nigeria as intended, wanting to provide accessible healthcare to the citizens and build their own practice. Dr Adi went on to complete further studies, attending the University of Port Harcourt in 1981 to study Health Sciences and Medicine, obtaining  B.Med Sc(Hon) & MB, BS degrees in 1988. Followed by a post-graduate course in Public Health becoming a Member of West African College of Physicians (MWACP).

Health career & racism

I knew St Mary's Hospital (Paddington) is a teaching hospital. And when you have a teaching hospital, students are called to- first of all they'll watch deliveries before they actually deliver. When you are a medical student, you have to watch a number of deliveries. Watch before delivering first then you have to take the deliveries yourself, under supervision.

So, what happened is, immediately [as] a lady was about to deliver, we would ring a bell and medical students would rush out. I must say they were very smart. [They] will come out immediately either to watch or to take the delivery. So this was the case that night and as soon as this lady saw so many students and some of them were white, she appeared quite happy, she appeared quite happy and relieved seeing white people. Not knowing that they were students who were under us.

Anyway, as I told you we deliver this-- a healthy baby boy, but we noticed some a certain things, there are ways that we check with a baby healthy at [the] bath, the colour has to be red, you know, bright. And when I said to her, “this baby looks a bit dark,”. The girl looked [unintelligable].

So we couldn't understand what was happening. It was only later, that we noticed that this lady… the father of the child was a black, a black man. And the lady herself, that was her second pregnancy, her second pregnancy outside wedlock. So to think that the father was a black man and she was behaving towards us in a discriminatory manner was quite surprising to us because we think that there's somebody who behaves like that wouldn't have anything to do with a black man. So that was one experience I had. Not that I didn't like, it was unexpected. I will say it was unexpected but most of my experiences was very positive because I actually enjoyed midwifery, I actually enjoyed midwifery. Seeing mothers deliver healthy babies and helping them, it made me happy. It was a positive experience.

Medical racism & early life

And having my own too, I had my first baby there. Hammersmith Hospital, this was where I had my first baby but that was another [experience]- I would say negative.

I was given sedatives twice. When I was almost an hour--when I was in labour, almost ready to deliver.

and I was given sedative, then a doctor came and reassessed me. And I was given another sedative. I'm sure that that second sedative was uncalled for. Because I was almost ready to deliver.

So after I was the second sedative. Believe you me Alex, I didn't even know when I was wheeled into the labour room. Because I was off, I wasn't used to taking sedatives. I wasn't used to taking drugs, so when they were saying ""push"" in the labour room, it was as if I was in another world altogether.

Then I sort of heard, ""what a beautiful girl"".

Do you know that for five days, five full days-- because then, they used to live, after they delivered their first children, in hospital for 14 days. For the first five days, I didn't know where I was.

It was as if I was just [unintelligable] and sleeping all day you know. But later on, after that, effect of the sedative wore off.

And I saw [that] they have been on the ward, you know, to do whatever. I think I was, I was happy with the nurse and that allow me to go home early.  Mainly because knowing I was a midwife, I was a nurse and I was a midwife. They were sure I could look after my own baby at home, so they allowed me to go home earlier.

It was quite a positive experience for me.

Having my little girl in, in Hammersmith hospital, I enjoyed it."


But it wasn't bad but there was a [unintelligable] you could experience discrimination in those days, because what they--when they advertise for houses, some will say "no dogs",  some will say, not everybody. Some will tell you, "no dogs, no blacks, no Irish".

That was all we see.

Blacks because they are blacks, they think that blacks are monkeys, then Irish because they had a lot of children...

I had an experience and I had to laugh. I had to look after a patient who had finished he has seven children, an Irish woman, beautiful children, but because you know that many Irish Roman Catholics and they don't practice family planning. So this lady, were just having Children every year. Beautiful children she had but she didn't have enough room for them. They didn’t have enough accommodation. So when I went to look after a [unintelligible] family, living opposite. They lived in a three room flat and they didn't have any children but they had a dog. So the lady was telling me that they would sew, get a winter coat, a summer coat for this dog, get some food for his dog. And then when the man was going to work, the lady will carry the child and say, I mean the dog, and say, say bye bye to daddy. Meanwhile the municipal don't have enough accommodation.

The Irish people living opposite didn't have enough accommodation for the [unintelligible] enough. And that dog had one room.

So that was a... and that thing was quite palpable[?] there, where they didn't have the rules, even when they write no blacks, no dogs or no Irish, if you applied for accommodation and they had accommodation, there was an advertisement for accommodation, and they invited you for interview. You know when some people speak you know where they come from you and you believe that, we know where they're coming from whether they're black, white, whatever colour they are. So if you now went for an interview and they found that you are black they say, “Oh I'm sorry, all the managers been taken, I mean the flat has been taken yesterday or this morning,” they just tell you a lie because they don't want you to live in their houses.

So it was a common thing in those days and some people really felt it. We didn't get a discriminated against... Well, I mean in that way, but many blacks if they went to look for accomodation and they found that there were black people, there was no accommodation.

Health career

Yeah. That was the routine then. We did nursing, as I say you did midwifery, you did specialise in another aspect of nursing. Even when I, when I came back to Nigeria, I didn't practice practice midwifery again. I went back to general nursing. Before now, then I studied medicine. So, it was because of advice given to me by a friend who was more senior to me. Was to train in England, and maybe to go back to general nursing [?] because she told me I had better prospects, you know, rising if I went back to general nursing -that’s in Nigeria, when we came back to university, college hospital in Ibadan[?] I went back to general nursing and then much later on I went onto study medicine.

Early life & family, health career

Well my husband was a good doctor, he was very much liked.

In fact, my son that is in America, there was a time that I looked on the internet about it- You know, we had civil war in Nigeria, it was the time where we had a war in Nigeria and by then my husband was already [unintelligible], working, you know, under war situation. So the BBC interviewed him. So they brought out the interview after some time and his colleagues were quite impressed, to knew that his father took part.

And we used to go to the village every month, my husband and I, then some of our children, you know to help the people there, treat, to help them medically. We had [unintelligible’ sometimes free of charge, sometimes for a little money. So they were very excited to see that we did that features every month. The people wouldn't have time, wouldn't have the means to go to the hospital.. Every month we would go to the village. My husband and I, and kids who are in the medical field- to help.

Health career

You have to get a job first. Then as you were working you would get promoted, yes. But getting a job wasn't too difficult for me after I qualified. As I said, I didn’t live for too long in London, after I qualified, I stayed for some time. We were anxious to build up the teaching culture over here. So my husband decided to come back- we were actually offered a place in the US but he rejected it, he said he wanted to come and build up the place. So I think finding job there wasn’t very difficult, once you qualified.

I don’t think I found it too difficult to find a job, as a matter of fact, I was supposed to stay. My husband, his boss at the time was a professor, an authority, she wanted him to stay but he said he was going home. So it wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t too bad, it wasn't bad at all. Apart from the subtle, you had subtle discrimination. I must emphasis something, many students that travelled to England to study were quite good. For example, if you went for your postgraduate study, by then you had handled so much in Nigeria that they had more experience, when you go there you found you had more experience than many people. Because of the exposure you had back home. It wasn’t a bad addition at all. It wasn’t a bad at all.

Health career/ activism

[So your husband wanted to come back and work in the training hospitals [in Nigeria]?]

To train- to train medical students, so that we develop our own country. Yeah, he was offered a job in America, we had lived in America shortly after leaving England but he rejected it. So we were just travelling on short courses, but not to go live there for long.

Because Nigeria it was a very interesting place at that time. More than it is now. It was important to us to make sure that, since we worked well, it was important. So I think I said, now many people want to go out, but back then many people that studied abroad wanted to come back.

You understand? Now the trend is for many people to go and live outside. But then, we that studied abroad would get to come back and develop a country.

Health career/ activism

Yeah, I have an idea, because of the political situation. And health has since turned upside down in the country. So, that is the reason why. As I told you, because many times you won’t have lights, for one reason or another that is the problem now, before it wasn’t like that, things were better. That is why the opposite is the case.

[Are you part of anything political or community groups?]

No. I don’t want to join politics. I just do some work, like in our church, I’m in charge of sanitation, making sure that the place is kept clean. I’m on the committee of a Babies Home, part of my being busy lately was making sure that the Babies Home, we want to take in babies, it might be babies who lost their mother at birth, and so on. I have to make sure that it is up to date. And they are examined by the Ministry to make sure that we pass the mark, before we could take in babies.

That's what I'm interested in now. I'm not interested in politics at all.

No, we don't deliver them. The babies, we take them in, that is if a mother died at delivery and the father can’t cook, he can bring the baby to us, you understand, to look after for some time until he’s more stabilized to take over the child. If for one reason or another, a parent can’t take- for orphans, if parents can’t take care of the child for some time, you bring the child to us. That is what the Babies Home is all about.

We don’t deliver them, they are brought in. Maybe when they are a few months old, or even after birth when they baby is stabilized. That is why we employ a trained nurse, to make sure the babies are looked after, and there are doctors to examine the children to make sure they are okay. That’s what we are doing.

Yeah, you mean at home here [in Nigeria], I was. After I qualified as a doctor I specialised in Public Health and after my husband died, I took over his practice- but my children said to me, Mommy, Enough is enough. No more. No more serious work for you. So they came and closed down my practice. As a matter of fact, I asked somebody the other day to go to some health centres to find out what they require so that I can donate some of my hospital equipment to them.

bottom of page