Why I’m determined to live life on my own terms

Carrie Ndoka teaching her two sons gardening on their kitchen garden in Nairobi. The family grow their own food.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Carrie, a development consultant, has delivered two children at home and prefers the homebirth experience as it was familiar territory, with much-needed privacy.
  • Carrie is also a keen artist and craft person. She has trained her boys to paint, knit, crochet and work on assorted crafts projects.

In 2012, Carrie Ndoka had her first homebirth. Hours of labour ended with her delivering her second-born son in a mobile birth pool in her bedroom. This was probably not the first time Carrie was doing something extraordinary, but it indeed defined her doing life on her terms.

"I have always strived to live a purposeful life; always questioning the "norm" by assessing the situations, researching and making my mind on what works best," she says from her cosy home in the outskirts of Nairobi.

"I realised true happiness comes from doing life the way you know best, and comparing yourself with others is a moving target and steals all of your joy away."

When she describes the home birth experience, much as it was a shocker to her friends and family, it was not an experience that was new to her.

She was familiar with home births as her mother, a seasoned midwife, was often called when there was an emergency in the estate to assist someone who was in labour and could not make it to the hospital.

Her mother would ask her to come along and help keep the children of that particular homestead busy and away from the birthing process.

"I may not have witnessed the birth, but I was in an environment where it was often happening, and the process was smooth most of the time," she says, adding that, "mum also often told us how she would meet women she had assisted give birth and they were always thrilled to see her."

Carrie Ndoka's children painting during their free time. The family is keen on physical activities and less use of electronics to play.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Integrated into family life

Also, having worked with the pastoralist communities for years, Carrie witnessed how childbirth is well integrated into family life.

"As long as there are no complications during pregnancy, childbirth to me was a happy and positive experience."

When she got pregnant with her first baby, she knew she would go the home birth way. The births were more comfortable because she was very active and had no complications during her pregnancy, and would walk at least seven kilometres daily to and from her workplace.

Carrie, a development consultant, has delivered two children at home and prefers the homebirth experience as it was familiar territory, with much-needed privacy.

"I could cook, walk freely and hang out with my family as labour progressed; we even played music and danced."

Keen on what she eats

Carrie is also intentional about her diet. On the day of the interview, she had made a vegetarian diet of pigeon pea, potatoes and wheat taken with steamed mixed vegetables. It must have been yummy as all her four boys asked for more helpings.

"I do a lot of grains and pulses. I don't eat red meat as much. I feel it is not the best. Unless I can control where it comes from, we try to minimise that," she explains.

Her meat diet is, therefore, mostly fish which she gets from a neighbour and free-range chicken from her kitchen garden. 

"We get our eggs, herbs and vegetables from our kitchen garden too." 

The first meal for her family is usually brunch, served at 10am. Their diet has little or no bread at all. They mostly eat homemade granola that consists of oats, desiccated coconut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, assorted nuts with a drip of honey.

Steamed green bananas, sweet potatoes, maise, cassava, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, are also popular.

In between, the children can have fruits, homemade yoghurt, and porridge if they are hungry. Supper is served at 6pm.

"I found that their afternoons were slow if they ate lunch at around 1pm. This is because all the energy would be used to digest food, but now once they ate in mid-morning, by late afternoon they were still active," she explains.

Rarely unwell

Aware of all the health dangers of excessive cooking oil, salt, sugar, and processed food, Carrie's household takes porridge and cocoa without sugar. 

"Sugar is an acquired taste, and you can train children not to need sugar. My children don't take sodas, and when they get soda let's say at a friend's place, they ask for it to be diluted with water because they are not used to the high sugar concentration."

Her children also rarely get unwell, and when they do, it is mostly common flu which they manage with the dawa concoction of ginger, lemon, turmeric and honey. 

They are also physically active with football, swimming, music, art, craft and gardening.

"I remember when the youngest got diarrhoea for the first time at the age of three, I was really concerned and the doctor wondered why I was shocked since children get diarrhoea all the time. I told him, our children had never gotten diarrhoea since birth," her husband, Maseeti Maina, who has joined the interview, says.

Carrie Ndoka next to her fine-art-decorated door which she painted using acrylic paints.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Creativity and charity

The family embraces creative activities like painting, outdoor playing, crocheting and joining their father in the workshop. In case they have to gift someone, say, for a birthday, they give something that they have created like cards, crafts and paintings.

So good is the painting that their eldest child, Taj, has some paintings for sale at a gallery in Karen.

And when they sell the painting, there is a percentage they save, while another goes to supporting the family's charity work.

"This is because, at the end of every month, we buy foodstuff like flour and distribute it to households that are struggling within our community. So whatever my sons sell from their crafts, a percentage goes towards that."

If they need toys, Carrie asks them to sell some of their art and craft works, and then they top up the rest of the money.

"That way, the children get to know the concept of having to work to earn money early in life. Unfortunately, many people start to interact with money as adults, and this has its disadvantages."

"The children also get to know that selling is not easy, they have to learn how to pitch, know why someone should buy from them and not from another person, and at a price, they have quoted. That way, even when they get Sh200, they appreciate it. I believe it's one way of addressing the feeling of entitlement," she explains.

Limited electronic gadgets

Carrie also controls the number of gadgets to which the children are exposed.

"There are times they will ask for a tablet after seeing a friend with one, so we usually have discussions to understand why they need it because maybe they have a perception of what owning a tablet is about."

Carrie is also a keen artist and craft person. She has trained her boys to paint, knit, crochet and work on assorted crafts projects. She also gets several neighbours and friends asking her if she can engage their children and involve them in the craft activities. She obliges to do so whenever she can. 

Carrie believes the transfer of skills by parents to children is a culture that should spread through all spheres of our lives. Some of the skills she transfers to her kids were taught to her by her mum. 

From the interaction with the children, she can quickly tell a child who spends most of their time on gadgets.

"Their attention span is usually minimal, and it is like their brains are numbed, they also get frustrated when things they are building don't work as they want."

"And because when children sit in front of the TV for long periods their brain get used to just receiving loads of stimulation, they do not have time to develop their social skills, like expressing themselves to others. So, when they get frustrated, they cry, throw tantrums for their parents to come running and rescue them."

Carrie says the danger of a parent intervening all the time like a fire brigade, is that the child will not learn essential skills like negotiating with their peers and may lead to poor social interaction.

Carrie's observations have been supported by a 2020 study by Murdoch Children's Research Institute that established that Grade Three pupils who watch more than two hours of television daily or spend more than one hour a day on a computer drop in academic results two years later. Lots of TV leads to slowed academic progress.

Murdoch Children's Research Institute said the findings carried implications for parents, teachers and clinicians to consider the type and timing of television and computer exposure in developing media plans for children.

Carrie's family is not connected to cable TV. Watching video is usually on purpose, especially when the children ask questions on how something is made.

"YouTube has several child-friendly videos, so when my children ask me something like how chocolate is made, we go to YouTube and search for that. We watch, discuss and learn together. YouTube has handy documentaries that explain how things are done."

Over the years, she has built an impressive children's library for her kids. Most of the books are second hand, sourced from car boot sales, vendors in Nairobi CBD, friends and family. Ever since they were babies, Carrie created a tradition of reading storybooks for them during bedtime. They also listen to audiobooks sourced from the internet. 

Her children have adopted a culture of reading and are always excited to get new books of different genres, including comics like Tin Tin and Asterix. The children also learn through field trips. Her choices all align with her intention of living a purposeful life.

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