It is a Thursday morning and business is normal at Ruli trading centre in Gakenke District near Ruli Hospital. But locked behind the walls of one of the hospital’s rooms are officials in an emergency meeting.
Inside the hospital and in the vicinity, what is on many a people’s lips is talk of a midwife suspected of stealing a newborn.
Beatha Bukensenge, the midwife, is said to have faked pregnancy for months leading everyone in the area, including her workmates, into believing she was expecting.
“We were expecting her to deliver soon,” said Marie Aimée, one of the residents.
Dr Déogratias Kaneza, the acting hospital director, said they were all convinced that Bukensenge was pregnant.
But the midwife only had plans to have a baby without actually bearing it.
On a Monday afternoon, Brigitte Nzamwitakuze, who had been at the hospital for three weeks following a referral from a local health centre due to pregnancy complications, gave birth to a baby boy through caesarean section.
Nzamwitakuze awoke from the anaesthesia, smiled at her baby and nursed the bouncing baby boy. And then she was approached Bukensenge as part of routine follow-up check on mother and son.
Baby goes missing
As the follow-up process to ensure mother and baby are healthy, Bukensenge told the happy nursing mother that the newborn had got some ailment and took him away for ‘treatment.’
“I stole the baby and told the parents that it was dead, I gave them a doll covered in a box but this was discovered during burial. I have been trying to get a baby for two years and miscarried twice, I have been pretending to be pregnant for over seven months,” said Bukensenge speaking from a Police station where she is being held.
“I took the baby and thought I would raise him as mine, I apologise to the family, to my husband and the public, I also apologise for breaking the law and professional ethics,” she added.
In the mother’s own words
“I was brought to the hospital on August 1 after an emergency referral. I have been here for three weeks, I gave birth after caesarian operation and the doctor brought the baby. He was well, the doctor said. I breastfed the baby that night and the next day (Tuesday), the midwife came to see how we were, and said the baby had a rush and asked us to take him for treatment.
“She took him and later came back, saying the baby had fever and asking how I had a baby in critical conditions but I could not know. I told her the baby looked fine and that he was breastfeeding well.
“My husband came later but when he went to see the nurse, she told him that the baby was in critical condition and she asked him to wait for 15 to 20 minutes. The nurse later came in and called my husband to inform him that our baby had passed on.
“My husband was heartbroken, he took the baby’s clothes to the midwife to dress the body. The midwife brought us a box that supposedly contained the body so we went home and the family started burial arrangements, but when the ritual were about to end, they became suspicious and wanted to see where to put the head, they opened the casket only to find a toy.
“They called us to a bizarre spectacle. We alerted Police and hospital officials who started following up the case and that is how they traced my baby. I am thankful to the Police, and the hospital administration because they did their best to return by baby.
Dr Kaneza said the midwife had faked pregnancy for months and everybody believed it, only to be alerted by Police of the missing baby.
“We immediately launched investigations and found out that one of our midwives told the family that the baby was ill and took her for medical tests, and that she later told them that the baby was dead,” said Kaneza.
“We worked with the Police but the midwife first claimed that she had also delivered so we were forced to run tests that confirmed that the baby she was holding was not born on the same night.”
With her back against the wall, Bukensenge confessed to her crime.
Melanie Nyirasafari, a caretaker and sister-in-law of Nzamwitakuze, said the midwife first took the baby’s temperature and claimed that it was reading 38° (degrees) – abnormally high.
With this lie, Bukensenge sent Nyirasafari to buy medicine from a pharmacy.
“I was given a variety of medicines, including drips and others. When I came back, I saw the baby crying and asked the midwife if I could give him milk and she agreed, we gave her milk and she asked me to get out and asked me to tell the father to see her instead,” Nyirasafari said.
The cunning midwife had another trick up her sleeve. This time she sent the father and sister-in-law to buy more clothes from a nearby shop for the baby, but when they returned, the midwife said the baby was almost breathless and after a short period, she called the father and told him the baby was dead,” Nyirasafari said.
After the midwife handed the box containing the doll to the parents, she told them to ensure immediate burial “to avoid extra charges,” the sister-in-law said.
Phantom pregnancy is A phantom, or false pregnancy, is a condition in which a non-pregnant woman exhibits all the classic symptoms of pregnancy and is firmly convinced that she is pregnant even when clear medical evidence shows that she is not. The medical term for this condition is pseudocyesis.
What does Police say?
Police in Northern Province confirmed the arrest of Bukensenge, saying investigations are ongoing.
Innocent Gasasira, the Northern Province regional Police spokesperson, said they suspect Bukensenge connived with other people to steal the baby, adding that they are working with the hospital officials and the family to get to the root of the matter.
The midwife was arrested along with her husband and Dr Victor Sangwa, who allegedly ‘confirmed’ that the baby was dead.
“It is clear that the midwife stole the baby and lied to the hospital,” said Gasasira.
According to Malik Kayumba, the head of the health communication division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, the matter is a personal issue and has nothing to do with the hospital.
“They (hospital officials) have collaborated with the Police to find the baby and ensured the baby was in good health before they handed him over to the mother, they are still collaborating with Police in the investigations,” said Kayumba.