WOMAN OF PASSION: Supporting parents through child loss
What you need to know:
- After her miscarriage, she noticed the gaps that existed in the area of new-born deaths.
- People did not know how to be there for me and relatives spread rumours as to what must have caused the miscarriage
Wanjiru Kihusa's loss of two of her unborn babies birthed, 'Still A Mum', an organisation that supports parents who have experienced child loss. She shares her journey with Soni Kanake.
Wanjiru Kihusa, 30, was devastated when she lost her daughter at 20 weeks of pregnancy in 2013.
"After the loss, I noticed the gaps that existed in the area of new-born deaths. People did not know how to be there for me and relatives spread rumours as to what must have caused the miscarriage," explains Wanjiru.
She was mourning the loss of her child but says she felt nobody understood what she was going through. "Counsellors know in theory how to handle a bereaved person but none I encountered had walked with someone after the loss of a baby," says Wanjiru.
Armed with a Master’s degree in communications and PR and a Bachelor’s degree in IT, she was working at an IT firm as a client service manager at the time.
"I needed to understand and get healing from the pain I was going through so I quit my job and started researching," says Wanjiru.
"I started blogging about my experience and generally on child loss, and offered advice on how to support someone who has lost a baby. My blogs and social media posts led to many inbox messages and physical meeting with parents who had experienced child loss.
"I felt I needed to do more so I started Still A Mum, an organisation that supports parents who have gone through child loss. I researched online, which gave me insight. I added that information to what I already had acquired to start my organisation," explains Wanjiru.
Wanjiru and her husband suffered a second miscarriage in 2014. She was broken. In 2015 the couple received more bad news as Wanjiru was diagnosed with bilateral blocked fallopian tubes. This was devastating and drained her emotionally.
"We opted for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in January 2016, which unfortunately failed," explains Wanjiru. "Later that year, in October 2016, during our tree planting event to mark pregnancy and infant loss day, I discovered I was pregnant," says an excited Wanjiru.
However, she had a difficult pregnancy and was on complete bed rest during the last 10 weeks of her pregnancy. "Our son was born in June last year. It really was a miracle!" she exclaims.
The founder and CEO of Still A Mum is a maternal and newborn health champion. She is a huge believer in using social media for social change and as such she runs child loss awareness campaigns on radio, TV and Facebook.
"We are based in Nairobi but we have supported parents from all over Kenya and even other countries such as Cameroon, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria," says Wanjiru.
"We provide psychosocial support to mums and dads who have gone through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death," she explains. We also seek to reduce maternal and new-born deaths through our Mama Zawadi Initiative. We bring together pregnant women and their partners and teach them healthy pregnancy practices, safe delivery and new-born care,” she says.
The organisation also creates awareness on child loss. "There are a lot of myths surrounding the death of a baby and we provide factual information as well as teach society how to support bereaved parents."
In addition, they also mark the 'Pregnancy and Infant Loss Week' every year. "We are currently partnering with Kijabe Hospital and Nairobi Hospital to provide follow up counselling to parents after discharge, run in-house support groups, train counsellors on grief and bereavement associated with child loss and Respectful Bereavement Care Training – how to treat parents immediately after a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. We have recently launched our inaugural Still A Mum Awards. These are to celebrate phenomenal mums and dads and companies that make their life easier."
Two years ago, Wanjiru won the World Summit Youth Award for her work with SDG 3 (health and well-being).
"Still A Mum, which is the only African organisation that is a member of the International Stillbirth Alliance has been nominated twice for BAKE Awards (2016 and 2017). In 2017 we were nominated in two categories – Women empowerment and Blog of Year. We recently hit the 1,000 mark! This means we have supported 1,000 mums and dads who have gone through child loss. This is a huge milestone for me," explains Wanjiru.
Wanjiru experienced burn out running the organisation on her own and so she has now put a team together and dele-gates more. "I also have board members; this has enriched our work greatly.”
“There is the need to change the perception most people have on counselling and therapy. Reaching out to men is also challenging as many dads are grieving but they don’t think they need any help. We are exploring ways to engage the men. Funding is also a challenge as we haven't received any grants yet due to the stringent requirements. I'm looking into more sustainable options for our organisation,” she says.