“I HAVE THE STRENGTH” — A mother of 15 children discovers she has a choice about pregnancy
Mbuyi must hurry. It’s five PM, and she is determined to feed all her children before the sun sets. Deep in the rural countryside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), there is no electricity. Before long, darkness will force Mbuyi and her 15 children into their one-room, grass-thatched hut to sleep on a single mattress. Most will use the floor.
“We don’t have a good place to sleep,” Mbuyi says, stirring a pot of cornmeal mash over a fire. Smoke billows off the burning wood and into her face. “We eat one meal a day.”
Raising 15 children would be difficult under the best of circumstances. Mbuyi and her husband, Kebwe, a security guard for a Congolese national railway company, support their family of 17 on roughly $2 a day.
Mbuyi and the older children often forgo food so her littlest ones get enough. She sacrifices everything for her children, even when it puts her life at risk.
Pregnancies, One After Another
While Mbuyi’s large family is remarkable, it’s not uncommon for women in her village to have ten or eleven children. The DRC has the highest fertility rate in the world.
“I had twins,” says Mbuyi. “Then with my next pregnancy — twins again.”
With no access to modern medical equipment like an ultrasound, Mbuyi didn’t know how many babies she was having until she had them. (During her pregnancies, a midwife pressed a traditional listening device hard against Mbuyi’s abdomen. Only once did she detect multiple heartbeats).
In all, Mbuyi has given birth to four single babies, four sets of twins, and finally triplets.
Risking death with each new pregnancy, Mbuyi worried how her children would survive if she didn’t. She was desperate to protect her family, but what could she do? She had no knowledge of contraception.
Her Health, Her Rights
For nearly 60 years, one belief has remained at the heart of Pathfinder International’s work in developing countries: every person should have the right and opportunity to decide whether and when to have children.
And we are closer than ever to making it happen…
Together with governments and local partners, we strengthened health systems and engaged community and religious leaders around the globe to break down harmful myths and increase support for contraception.
Creating a New Path Forward
Pathfinder is passionate about reaching women like Mbuyi because we know how much is at stake — for her health, her family’s future, and the future of her country.
Right now in the DRC, people struggling to survive are about to face an unprecedented challenge. In just 34 years, by 2050, the country’s population is expected to increase by 165% — from 73 to 194 million people.
Sustainable development for DRC, one of Africa’s largest countries and Mbuyi’s home, depends on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of its citizens. They need the power to make free and informed decisions about contraception.
“I learned about family planning”
It’s morning. In a cyclone of activity, 15 small children rise and funnel out the door. The oldest girls get ready for school. Others will follow Mbuyi to the field, harvesting cassava, often yielding little.
A baby in each arm, Mbuyi recalls the day she met Felicien, a community health worker who changed her life. “We learned about the benefits of family planning, about each method.”
Trained and supported by Pathfinder and our partners, Felicien counseled Mbuyi and her husband on contraception and made sure they knew how
to get it.
Mbuyi chose a contraceptive implant — a hormonal rod the size of a matchstick inserted into her arm that prevents pregnancy for up to five years. “With other methods, you have to go back to the health center a lot,” says Mbuyi. “I could forget. But with the implant, there’s no problem.”
Mbuyi is happy about her choice and wants people to know it.
“I am in good health. I have the strength to work and find food for my children now. And I have not gotten pregnant. My friends asked me how I did that. I told them it’s because I’m using family planning.”
Laughing, six little ones hold hands and jump around in a circle. Mbuyi, resilient but weary, watches them affectionately.
“I need to feed my children and keep them healthy. I want them all to be educated, so they can have a good life.”
That’s why she is grateful for contraception.
“My husband and I feel good about family planning. We already have a lot of children. Now we are figuring out how to raise them.”
Pathfinder International’s Evidence to Action (E2A) Project implements this USAID Mission-supported Community-Based Family Planning Project in DRC
BANGLADESH Chocolight/Quamrul Abedin
BURUNDI Sala Lewis
DRC Felix Masi
HAITI Frederick Alexis
INDIA Simon deTrey White
MOZAMBIQUE Sala Lewis & Maren Vespia