Tana River woman swims across deadly river to give birth in hospital

Sadia Mahamud with her baby Mohammed Bilal in their tent in Baraka village, Tana River County on November 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor | Nation Media Group

A pregnant woman swam through a river from her village to a hospital in Tana River County, where she gave birth to a baby boy.

The newborn named Mohammed Bilal is four days old today (Monday). 

Camera-shy but brave enough to face the forces of nature to deliver her bundle of joy safely in a hospital, Sadia Mahamud is a story of bravery in the face of disaster. 

"I still had a week to go, according to my clinic check-up, so I knew I had time to prepare. But on Friday morning I suddenly started to feel unwell, but I ignored it, thinking it was normal," she said.

Sadia went to the camp's traditional masseuse for a massage, which made her feel better.

She went about her daily chores until later in the evening when the rain started to fall again.

"I was just sitting in the tent with my aunt, telling stories and laughing, when I had a sharp cramp that brought me to my feet. I don't know how I got out of the tent, but I knew it was time I got serious medical attention," she said.

Sadia picked up a pace between walking and running, she was fast, braving the heavy downpour towards the flooded Galole. 

She no longer felt the torrents. By the time her aunt and friend caught up with her, she was crossing the dangerous seasonal river that had claimed two lives in less than two weeks.

"I was almost halfway across when a man on the other side of the river saw me and jumped into the water to help me cross. The water was chest high and had started to get rough," she said.

Her aunt and two other women joined her and they held hands to cross the fast-moving river, wiggling their feet underwater.

For a moment she felt some relief in the water and just as she was about to leave the water, the pain returned and she ran back into the water.

"The pain was too much and the water seemed to be a relief, so I thought it would be better to stay inside until it went away, but that was not going to work with the women who were accompanying me," she said.

They quickly got to her with the help of the men. She was sitting in the shallow part of the water with only her neck sticking out.

The men lifted her out of the water as she screamed.

Eshah Ismail, a traditional midwife, said they walked several kilometres to get to the hospital because there were no vehicles or motorcyles on the road.

They safely arrived at Madogo Health Centre where Sadia gave birth.

"She didn't take long to deliver the baby boy when she arrived, but she was too tired to go home the same day, so we waited," Ismail said.

According to Ismail, the mother and child are lucky to be alive because death was staring them in the face during the journey to the hosptial.

She says it's not easy to cross the flooded river and that it was a huge risk for the heavily pregnant woman to withstand the force of the water.

"This place has a history of death, men, women and children have been washed away. I guess God was with us that day," she said.

They hope that one day the government will build a bridge so that people can travel to and from Baraka village with ease.

Following heavy rains across the country, many people are going through a difficult time in Tana River villages which are currently stranded by the floods.

Tana River County Red Cross coordinator Jerald Bombe says eight villages are only accessible by air.

"They need to be evacuated and if we have to give them any assistance, it can only be by air and we are hopeful that we will be able to help them soon," he said.

More than 20,000 people have been affected by the floods in the county.