Giving birth in a refugee camp in Bangladesh: Maimuna's story

Maimuna and her infant daughter are refugees from Myanmar living in a makeshift shelter in a settlement in Bangladesh.

Miamuna is 18 years-old. She is living in a makeshift shelter in Gumdum informal settlement in Bangladesh with her baby daughter and her husband, Mohammed. Her mother, Khatiza is also living with them, as well as her siblings, Ali, aged 16-years-old, and Fatema, aged 13-years-old.

Maimuna gave birth in the settlement three days before CARE staff spoke with her. It was her first baby, and there was no trained birth attendant present. She had the help of a fellow refugee “midwife”.

In Maimuna's culture, a new mother would sit by a fire for a number of days after a birth. This gives her time to recover and a place to heat water for washing and cleansing, as well as having spiritual meaning. Maimuna was unable to light a fire as there was not enough firewood.

The Gumdum settlement has since been cleared and all refugees have moved to other camps.

Here is Maimuna’s story in her own words:

“The baby was born here. Another refugee lady in the camp came to help me.

This is my first baby. It was a long labour, and the pain was so very intense. We have not named the baby yet.

My husband has gone to get some aid. He has a disability with his legs, so he walks with a limp.

I cannot feed the baby at the moment. I am not producing milk. I have not eaten enough. We have been hungry for days. My husband will bring me and my mother something to eat. Since we arrived here three days ago, all we have had is a little boiled rice each day.

It took us a long time to get here, so long. My feet were blistered when we arrived.

As we got here, I could feel the contractions starting. We walked into the camp and had nothing and nowhere to go, it was awful.

The baby is hungry. She is just crying. But what can I do?”

Maimuna's mother, Khatiza, told us about the village the family fled from:

“It was a Thursday night, and we heard some firing in the village. But we didn’t think much more about it, and went to sleep. Then in the morning they came and started burning down all our houses. We only just escaped with our lives. People that couldn't leave their homes were burned alive. I don’t even know how many people died, so, so many.

We had no time to grab anything. We just had to run.

On the way here we just slept under the open sky. Sometimes we were able to take shelter in the empty homes that had been deserted.

The journey was very difficult. It took us twenty days. Maimuna was full term in her pregnancy, and her husband is disabled and cannot walk very well.

I tried to keep everyone going, I knew the baby was coming soon and I wanted us to be here and have a place before she arrived.

When we finally crossed, the labour started. Maimuna was crying out in pain, and a man heard her. He was so kind. He gave up his shelter here, where we still stay, so she had a place to give birth. It was just a plastic sheet on sticks, but it was all he had, and we were so grateful.

The labour was 18 hours long. It was very bad. She was screaming. But the baby finally arrived, and she is alright.

There is no firewood here, so I cannot even light the fire for Maimuna. We can’t heat any water to cleanse her.

She is so young, too young to be a mother. But we have no family planning. She will have many babies, and yet, we have nothing. What life will they have? This baby girl has been born into this suffering.”

CARE is on the ground in Bangladesh providing life-saving support to refugees from Myanmar. Learn more >>