50.50: Opinion

Pregnant in Zimbabwe during COVID-19: I never want to travel this road again

Travel bans, closed clinics, lack of work, no money for antenatal checks – being pregnant during the pandemic has been a nightmare.

19 October 2020, 1.55pm
Regina Matadza at home in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 2020.
Photo courtesy of Regina Matadza.

They say a child is a blessing, but for me it is a heavy load, which I am failing to carry. My name is Regina Matadza. I’m 30 years old and expecting my second child. I live in Harare, Zimbabwe.

In January, when I discovered that I was pregnant, I could not sleep for days; I was worried about how I was going to manage. My husband works in Mount Pleasant, a Harare suburb, as a gardener earning ZW $2,500 (US $25) a month. Thank God we live on the property he gardens. Rent is not an issue, at least for now.

In the early days of my pregnancy, I begged my husband’s employer to hire me as a housemaid. They agreed, but only on a part-time basis. I’m paid ZW $1,500 (US $15) a month. This part-time work gave me time to move around, buying and selling various goods and looking for more work in the neighbourhood. I thought, if we both worked and saved a little, by the delivery day, all would be sorted for the baby.

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Then suddenly, in March, because of the coronavirus lockdown, we were banned from moving around. We had not even managed to save enough money for maternity fees or baby clothes. I struggled to pay for the cheapest ultrasound scan, at ZW $2,000 (US $20). And, because of the transport ban, I would need an ambulance to take me to wherever I was delivering the baby. The baby continues to grow inside me; with no plan and more problems. Inside our two-room home, I cry and pray for God's intervention.

By June, I had raised enough money to cover an antenatal visit, but the nearest clinic was closed due to COVID-19. The cheaper health facilities were all closed. The open ones were very expensive, charging in US dollars.

At some point in July, a friend told me of an affordable clinic that was still open. I woke up early the next morning to go to it. Although I found the clinic open and the charges were reasonable, a lady at the door told me the maternity ward was full and they were too understaffed to accommodate me. I begged and even cried, trying to change her mind. But they called security to chase me away.

Tired and hopeless, I sat outside the clinic until dark. If only they knew how hard I struggled to raise the money for maternity fees, and the number of clinics I had been to! But these people are just cold and rough. I had been eating sadza [thick porridge made out of ground maize] and cabbage every day, to save money, only to be chased away like a dog.

"My baby is due in two weeks and I’m still running around like a headless chicken"

I finally managed to find a hospital where I can deliver the baby: Domboshava Training Centre Hospital. It’s about 30 kilometres from where we live. My husband talked to a relative who has a car, but we will have to pay for the fuel.

According to the scan, I have two weeks left until the baby is due, but I am still running around like a headless chicken. My work as a part-time maid has become difficult. I am weaker and tire easily. Even cleaning my own small home leaves me weak. I vomit a lot. Though my husband has been advising me to take a break, saying I am putting my life and that of the child in danger, I continue to force myself to work. What else can I do?

I don't even want to think of complications during the delivery or needing surgery! I haven’t been able to afford to pay the transport costs for antenatal visits. The nurses at the hospital said antenatal care is important for blood tests, such as for HIV, to prevent mother to child transmission. I cannot walk the long distance to the hospital for the antenatal care and I don't have the money, so I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

With two weeks left, I have not bought much for the baby. A baby blanket costs US $20. A baby towel US $15-20. My problems never seem to end, even with all the hard work. I have been waking up at dawn and knocking at people’s doors, but for the past five months I have not found any other work beyond my job as a part-time maid.

My husband has been very understanding and caring, so at least I have someone by my side. He and our six-year-old have kept me going, but I never want to travel this road again.

As told to Sally Nyakanyanga

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