Displaced by conflict, Pascaline gives birth in the bush

conflict and pregnancy

Pascaline gave birth on a bale of straw in the depths of the forest (Photo: UNICEF DRC Longa)

In the Province of Tanganyika, inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the regular army and the militias have resulted in the displacement of 717.000 persons. Among them was 18-year old Pascaline, who could not have imagined the circumstances in which she would give birth to her first child.

“My mother-in-law became my improvised midwife”

In June 2016, Pascaline, her husband and her mother-in-law decided to leave the village of Milambwe, located 50 kilometres from the town of Kalemie, and hide in the forest. Two months later Pascaline realises she has not had her period and tells her husband. Initially he thought it was down to the trauma Pascaline had suffered before they fled.

“Three weeks later, I still hadn’t had my period…. I was worried and asked my mother-in-law who told me that I could be pregnant. I was scared and could not consult a health care worker to confirm my pregnancy… Each week, I noticed that my belly was getting harder… I really was pregnant! I was anxious and very worried. We lived in unsanitary conditions, which put my baby and me at great risk. Fortunately, my mother-in-law was giving me advice to help with my pregnancy: what tasks and foods to avoid, herbal teas for back pain, etc. I was following my mother-in-law’s advice, who had become become my improvised midwife, without really knowing how my pregnancy was going.”

At only 17, Pascaline could not have imagined under what conditions she would give birth to her first child.

“In March 2017, I started to feel slight pain in my lower abdomen. Then the contractions started. With each contraction came a harrowing cry that I could not hold back. This lasted for 3 days! It was unbearable. The contractions hit their peak on the fourth day. After a few pushes, out popped baby Simonie! The cord was cut with the aid of a sharp knife, whose cleanliness left much to be desired… God only knows how the child and I have not caught any infections.”

Over four days, Pascaline dealt with terrible pain while in the forest. The girl who dreamed of a first pregnancy surrounded by qualified health care personnel gave birth on a bale of straw in the depths of the forest.

Every child alive

Although the DRC has made considerable progress in terms of reducing the infant and child mortality rate, which fell from 148 per thousand live births in 2007 to 104 in 2017, the number of newborn deaths remains high. The situation is aggravated by conflicts and crises ,amongst other things, which prevent pregnant women from receiving appropriate health care during childbirth.

In Tanganyika, inter-ethnic conflicts have a dramatic impact on the health of mothers and children. The destruction of 30 health centres has reduced access to health care for the people affected by the violence.

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Translated from French by Atholl Simpson

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Basile Lange

Basile Lange est licencié en planification et organisation sociale de l’ISDR de Bukavu. Après 10 ans passés en tant qu'animateur communautaire dans la zone de santé urbaine de Lemba, ville province de Kinshasa, il est aujourd’hui Administrateur à la communication pour le développement au sous Bureau Unicef Kalemie.

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