World Contraceptive Day: A Visit to Rural Zambia
In the summer of 2021, I traveled to Western Province, Lukulu District, Zambia after being in Covid lockdown for over a year. The purpose of my visit was to find out how people were reacting to the messaging in Sinalamba, the USAID Community Radio Program project being implemented by PMC-Zambia
While on the road, I met many people willing to share their feedback on the issues areas in the radio show. One of the most significant topics being brought up was family planning and modern contraceptives.
One story that stood out to me was from an older woman in her late 50s or early 60s. For the purpose of this story, we will call her Monde.
Monde is a widow who has lived in Lukulu District since she was born. She lived with her parents until she got married and then had kids of her own. Monde has five children and four grandchildren who all live in her small compound. She explained to me how she required assistance finding something to do to keep her busy and earn money, as she couldn’t stand being home all day watching her three older children struggle to take care of ten people – including herself.
During our conversation, I asked how she ended up in the position she was in and if anyone within her household had ever considered modern family planning methods to anticipate the size of their family and match it to their economic realities. Her answer was that in the past, she only believed in natural family planning methods (like the rhythm method) because that’s what she had been taught growing up by the elders in her community, and she went on to teach her children the same. But after listening to the Sinalamba, especially the content on family planning, she wished she had more information long before for herself and even more for her children.
“Maybe our lives would have turned out different,” Monde shared.
This conversation with Monde got me thinking about how many Zambians perceive family planning.
Unfortunately, Monde is not the only one that believed in the “God given right” to procreate. This is a common response amongst many Zambians in both rural and urban areas. Another common one, especially among men is the following: If you keep your wife pregnant, she will be less attractive to other men, and she will also have less time to focus on “extracurricular” activities, as she will be busy raising the children.
These are just a few of the myths and misconceptions standing in the way of modern contraceptive use.
Outside the common negative impacts of not using modern forms of family planning, such as financial strain, health repercussions on women who do not space their pregnancies, negative health impact on children who are born without spacing, and so many more, I feel the psychological negative effects have not yet been given real consideration. A few include:
- Parents who are overworked trying to support children they could not realistically afford. The stress of trying to provide for your children and yourselves as parents cause a strain that affects both your mental and physical health, further reducing the life expectancy of the household providers who are usually men.
- Parents become overwhelmed by the number of children they have and are therefore unable to adequately nurture them. This is a common reason for many youths and adults that are currently dealing with childhood trauma. This point could possibly be chapter two of this blog all on its own.
- Postpartum depression is common amongst women in Zambia, but as you may or may not know, it is very uncommon to discuss psychological health in many African countries as it is not considered a real concern. As an African, you are not allowed to feel your feelings when you should be worrying about where your next meal will come from or keeping a roof over your head. Women are therefore unable to deal with their postpartum depression on their own and just power through it. And unfortunately, not utilizing modern forms of family planning can lead to women, who are already struggling, unexpectedly having more children and navigating all that comes with that.
It’s advisable that organizations working on family planning should always consider social behavioral change communication as part of their strategy. Having worked with PMC-Zambia for the past five years, I have seen the difference it makes in the lives of people like Monde in more ways than education. The methodology used in these communications can change the mindsets of even those who tend to be stuck in their ways. The opportunity to tackle even the negative psychological effects of not utilizing modern methods of family planning exists. This would definitely enable a larger part of many populations to provide a nurturing family dynamic, which will in turn help parents raise more psychologically aware future generations.