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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Brown

Lockdown pregnancy on the road - Lisa's Story

Lisa blogs about her and her families lives and ministry. She has kindly allowed me to share the post about Jethro, her son's birth. To check out her site, click this link.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” - Proverbs 16:9

This verse characterises my second pregnancy through and through. We fell pregnant in Uganda in February 2020. We thought we would be living there long term, taking up a work opportunity and making a new home in East Africa. We reached Uganda after 5 months of overland travel from our passport country, South Africa. However, the Lord had other plans for us. We were in lock down in East Uganda for two months due to Covid-19 and the work opportunity fell through. Faced with no potential income in a foreign country during a pandemic and being told by our South African Embassy that a birth certificate and passport for our baby would take 12-18 months from birth, we felt lead to see if we could return to South Africa via overland repatriation for the birth in order to get all the paperwork quicker and then return to another African country to start a business we feel called to.

Prior to Africa Calling, this Word has always overlanded with us over the years, including on our mobile coffee trailer and business, Trailblazer Trailer.

I had my 12 week scan in a small simple clinic in East Uganda. The screen was not facing me, so I did not get to see my baby which was a stark contrast to my first pregnancy in South Africa where there was a screen showing me everything. This was hard for me, as I felt that first sight connection was not granted to me, but I made peace with myself regarding it as the main thing was that all was well with my baby.

Kicking a ball around while waiting for the appointment for our baby’s first scan, Mbale, Uganda.

At the beginning of May 2020, our Embassy started researching an unprecedented overland repatriation with permissions needed from 5 countries, all of whose borders were closed. Relatively, it is easy to get repatriated with a flight, but overland in our vehicle and all our possessions was completely unprecedented. Uncertainty and patience. Learning to live in this tension was hard, and only possible with the Lord’s help and comfort.

A month later we were granted permission to leave Uganda and given 18 hours to depart. Quickly packing up and heading to the border was stressful. We still did not know if we would be granted access through all of the countries that we needed to go through to get to South Africa, but we were advised to take the opportunity we had been granted. After Uganda we travelled through Tanzania in 5 days over some of the most remote and bumpy dirt roads we had experienced in all of our overlanding thus far. Looking back, I am glad we did this early in my pregnancy as being heavily pregnant would have been tough.

Crossing the Equator line in Uganda did not only feel like the accomplishment of crossing the finish line of a long race, but a reminder how far we had driven and how far we were away from South Africa.

Next, we had a 7 hour border crossing ordeal to get into Zambia. I felt vulnerable and my privacy invaded when we had to show my 12 week scan to the medical personnel at the border to prove pregnancy and a reason to be granted entry into the country. The medical personnel even told Joseph at one point that Josiah and I would be well looked after in quarantine, implying that Joseph and I would be separated. Thankfully the Lord spared us that and we were able to self-isolate together as a family for 14 days.

Early morning departure for a 12 hour non-stop traverse linking two of the biggest African Great Lakes of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. (Link: )

Our Embassy had arranged transit through Namibia and we were due to transit Namibia two days after our quarantine ended in convoy with others who wished to return to South Africa. However, the day before we were due to depart we were told that the permission had been cancelled and we were no longer allowed to enter Namibia. Now we were stuck in Zambia and none of our neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana or Zimbabwe were open to allow us to transit through to South Africa. We were so close, but stuck. Joseph then suggested to our Embassy to try obtain permission to transit Mozambique - we had come this far, we just had to wait, be patient, be ‘settled’ but ready to leave at any moment. In the meantime, as we were residing in Livingstone, we decided to attempt a transit on our own without Embassy paperwork both at Kazungula border post with Botswana and Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe on the same day. After much deliberation by Joseph with immigration and health officials of both countries, with many documents and scans being shown and used as collateral, permission was denied. The disappointment and trauma were gut wrenching as was the associated pain and felt hopelessness.

Truck land: with normal border crossings prohibited, the wheels of international commerce kept moving during the pandemic, albeit slower than normal. Katimo Molilo border with Namibia after being denied transiting on our own.

I had my 18 week scan at a family clinic in Lusaka, Zambia and was advised to take a prophylaxis for malaria as Joseph had just had a second bout of malaria soon after quarantine. Although against taking any medication during pregnancy, the risk was just too high and the consequences too great for me to decline. Other than the two scans, I did not have any official medical checks until 30 weeks. The intense level of stress and uncertainty as to whether or not we would make it to South Africa in time for the birth took its toll on our family and marriage and also distracted me from the pregnancy as I often went along without being consciously aware that I was pregnant. I felt so sad and guilty about this.

Josiah enjoying the bumps on his bike on the Zambian side of the Chanida border post with Mozambique, background.

There were times during my pregnancy where I experienced some worrying symptoms. It was hard and lonely and I felt scared because during some of these times we were in the middle of nowhere with no medical help. I just had to trust the Lord, be secure in Him in the times of uncertainty, fear and unknown. It was not always easy to do, but I found comfort in Him. The first time I experienced these symptoms the Lord put a missionary midwife across my path the very next day. She offered to assess me and put my mind at ease that everything was well with my baby. The Lord always provides for our needs! I could not have planned for this unexpected encounter, but the Lord directed my steps and brought this midwife across my path in a way I could never have orchestrated myself and at just the right time. It is amazing how the Lord always provides a safety net of people around you when you are in a foreign country.

We had a deadline to get to the South African Komatipoort border post upon entering Mozambique. We made it with more than 24 hours to spare.

After being in Zambia for 6 weeks instead of the two we had planned for, we were starting to lose hope of being able to return to South Africa with our vehicle. We began investigating flights when I was 22 weeks pregnant and would have to decide within 2 weeks if we would fly or not. Within a few days, we were notified that Mozambique had granted access through to South Africa! We had 36 hours to get to the border and we were 1 000 km’s away! So, another rushed, unexpected pack up, but we were so grateful that the Lord had opened the door for us. We joined 18 others to transit through Mozambique in convoy - 2 000 km’s in 46 hours, starting with a 10 hour border crossing. We only stopped for fuel and we were only allowed to sleep in our cars which was one hour the first night and three hours the second night. We finally reached the South African border on 26 July 2020 after travelling around 8 000 km’s since leaving Uganda. The following day our Embassy in Lusaka informed us that they were no longer assisting with permissions needed for overland repatriations due to the complexity of arranging such missions, and that any documentation required such as birth certificates and passports would now take even longer to process than usual. We were grateful that we had made it into South Africa just in time.

The Lord knew exactly what we needed and what we are used to as a family for the 14 day quarantine when we arrived in South Africa – open space and not limited to being stuck indoors and more.

As I write, it is difficult emotionally to reflect on the last part of this story leading up to the birth. While it is comforting to know that the Lord directs our steps, in reality it is not always easy to live through it as He adjusts our paths towards His steps. We finally settled into a place where I could ‘nest’ a little before our baby was born 5 weeks later, however we just did not feel like it was ‘home’ and were also feeling a longing to be back north in Africa. I had been in contact with two midwives in South Africa while we were still in Uganda. The one midwife I had known from our first child’s birth, but she lived 2.5 hours away from where we were living and was not able to come to our home for the natural home birth I desired, but did have a birthing facility at her home which we could use. The other was a little closer to where we were living and was willing to come to our home. While I initially decided to birth with the midwife closer to home so that I could have the birth at home, I soon realised we were not a good match and this would not be helpful for me in my time of need. So, I gave up the desire to birth at home (which did not feel like home anyway) and embraced the fact that the natural home birth I desired would look a little different to what I had originally envisaged and chose to trust the Lord as he directed our steps down a different path.

Be it during a pandemic and also while pregnant, overlanding Africa is always beautifully wild. 28 weeks pregnant, Indian Ocean, remote Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Since we had to travel to my midwife’s home birth facility, we needed to know for certain that I was in labour before we set out on the 2.5 hour journey. Labouring in the car, although a bit uncomfortable, was not impossible with a little preparation. All the time spent in the car, and especially through Mozambique was good preparation for this as our car had been our home for so long during our travels in Africa that it seemed quite fitting to go through some of the labour in it. The birth was particularly challenging this time around because my emotional state was weak from all the stress and uncertainty we had gone through leading up to it and so, I did not feel emotionally prepared or ready for the birth. I am grateful for the love and care of Joseph and my midwife who helped bring our second son, Jethro into this world on 13 November 2020. He weighed 2.16 kg’s at birth (38 weeks) and was smaller than we expected. We are not sure why, but it could have been from the circumstances we endured during my pregnancy.

Jethro's name means abundance. As I reflect on our journey to his birth (and beyond) God's faithfulness is abundantly evident throughout the story and He made a way where none seemed possible to our own eyes.

Soli Deo gloria!


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