By Njaleruma Kigozi, White Ribbon Alliance Citizen Reporter, from Buikwe Region Uganda

Just over two weeks ago, on January 2nd, Nabasirye Shamimu gave birth to a baby boy who died as he was born.

Shamimu Nabasirye credits her traditional birth attendant with saving her life. 

Shamimu Nabasirye credits her traditional birth attendant with saving her life. 

Life has always been hard for Nabasirye:

"I was at home without help, doing many chores to sustain my three children from a failed marriage as well as my new husband, Isima, who is a casual worker in Jinja town. I had to wash clothes, fetch water and firewood from a distance of 5km, prepare food and also dig the fields. At the end of every day, I was extremely tired and yet I also had to satisfy the sexual needs of my partner," says Nabasirye.

She had attended antenatal clinics at the rural Namwezi (sub county) Health Centre, three times in nine months, where she was always advised to do less of her daily household chores and more rest. She knew this was not practically possible but she nodded her head in agreement to make the midwife happy.

Nabasirye first got pregnant at the age of 15. "I was at my parent's home in Bugerere and in a primary school," she says. Her parents forced her to marry the man who had impregnated her. When the marriage failed, she moved to a village near Njeru town in Buikwe District, 54km from the capital, Kampala, in search of work. There she found her new partner Isima.

On the night of the birth just over two weeks ago, Nabasirye’s labour pains began at about 11pm but she could not afford the transport costs to go back to Namwezi Health Center. She needed about £5 to hire a car to get there, about a week’s earnings for her husband – but he had not been paid his wages for November or December 2015. 

Isima was still at work when her labour pains started. When she couldn’t get hold of the money for a car, her neighbours advised her to seek help from the local traditional birth attendant who often helps women give birth even when they do not have cash, knowing they will come back to pay later.

"In fact this woman saved my life although she did not save my baby” says Nabasirye defensively, refusing to name or blame the traditional birth attendant. “The child died as he was born, in between my legs.” 

According to Ugandan custom the baby had to be buried in her husband’s village, Bugiri, which is 80 kilometers from where the couple currently live. It is not done to take a coffin on public transport, and yet the couple did not have the £40 need to hire a private vehicle to take them to Bugiri. 

Nabasirye and Isima put their baby son’s body into a suitcase and took it as luggage on the public minibus which carries about 14 passengers. 

“I felt so bad having to transport my baby that way,” she says, with tears rolling down her face. “We had to pack clothes on top on his body, lest people suspect we were transporting a dead body. Even if your child dies at birth,he should be buried well. No one escorted us from where we live although when we arrived in the village there were a few people in waiting for us to attend our son’s burial.”

Nabasirye says that people have accused her and her husband of not being prepared with enough cash for the birth of their child, but that sometimes such situations are unavoidable. “My husband hadn’t been paid for two months. He also feels bad that he lost his first born child, but people just blamed us. I feel bad too but God will help us get another child,” she says.

Saddam Longa, the local civil defence officer in the couple’s village says that stillbirths in his area “trouble many women and go unnoticed all the time.Women die and children die. It is the order of the day. Sometimes the medical personnel are blamed, sometimes it is women who miss antenatal and medical examination.” 

He revealed that sometimes health workers ask pregnant women for payment - which they may not have. Longo believes that the Ministry of Health must discipline these health workers, otherwise pregnant women and their babies will continue to die in and out of hospital.

Nabasirye says that next time she will be ready with cash when she gets pregnant again, because her experience has taught her a lot. 

But Faridah Luyiga from the citizen-led campaigning network White Ribbon Alliance Uganda, says ‘we are holding the government to account for the health services they have promised to the people. This can prevent the painful losses suffered so often in silence by mothers and fathers in my country.'

Sign the Call to Action to #EndStillbirths now and read The Lancet Ending Preventable Stillbirths Series.

This article was originally posted in The Guardian on 19 January 2016.