What you need to know:
- The value attached to children in many African communities cannot be gainsaid.
- But this places a gigantic burden on women who cannot bear children, or those who take longer to conceive.
- One of the societal expectations that many women without children are subjected to is the biological clock.
- It is expected that as a woman approaches her late twenties or during her early thirties, she must start to worry about her biological clock.
Popular gospel singer Kambua’s wedding was befittingly dubbed ‘the 2012 wedding of the year’. The colourful garden wedding held at the Windsor Golf Hotel was the talk of the town. Perhaps unknown to Kambua and her husband Jackson Mathu, the question about when they would be having their first child would also be the talk of the town.
After all, there’s a common expectation that a baby should follow soon after marriage. And over the next seven years after her wedding, Kambua was accosted with queries on why she was taking too long to become a mother. “When are you having kids?” people would camp on her social media channels to ask. Others flew off the handle and offered opinions and advice on why she ought to get pregnant. One of her Twitter followers by the name Musa asked: “When are you having kids? I am just trying to make you see the sense of having a family!” Musa was not the only one. While appearing on NTV’s show The Trend, Kambua narrated how people had developed opinions on why she was yet to become a mother years after her wedding. “People will have an opinion over everything, over children …. This guy commented on my Instagram saying ‘When are you going to get pregnant, you’re getting old!’” she said. “It angers me because people don’t even know what your journey is like. They don’t know what you’re struggling with. They don’t know if you even want to have children. They don’t know if you can have children and there are so many people, especially nowadays, who are struggling with infertility. It is so unfortunate that we have become such a culture of being so intrusive and putting people down.”
The tide turned on May 17 this year when the singer revealed she was expectant in a photo she posted on her Instagram. The post attracted tens of thousands of congratulatory messages. Among those who penned congratulatory messages to Kambua was fellow singer Joyce Omondi. Shortly after penning her message, Joyce started receiving comments urging her to also get pregnant. “Bado wewe!’ and ‘Baby dust to you!’ were some of the baby-jibes that people threw her way! Kambua and Joyce are not the only popular women who have been inundated with pregnancy questions. Take Emmy Kosgei, the musician behind the hit song Taunet Nelel. Five years into her marriage, Emmy felt that she had had enough of the When-are-you-having-kids nagging question! She told a local family magazine; “I did not get married just because I wanted to have kids. Relationships are about unions and destinies. If you are attached to the wrong person, it can affect your destiny permanently.”
Incidentally, one of the societal expectations that many women without children are subjected to is the biological clock. It is expected that as a woman approaches her late twenties or during her early thirties, she must start to worry about her biological clock.
The truth, though, is that not all women are hit by the baby bug. Grace Kariuki, a family therapist based in Nairobi, who had her children in her forties, does not recall getting the baby bug. “I did not get the baby bug at all. I do not remember worrying about the biological clock either. I think I really was content in whatever state I was in, and always felt that I was not ready for the rigours of marriage life. I wanted to really get independent before settling down. But I wanted to get married and longed for a meaningful marriage life. However, I didn't really focus on the baby part,” she says.
That Ms Kariuki did not get the baby bug was perhaps a precipitation of why she was not so keen on becoming a mother, and why she doubted if at all she could make a good mother. “I did not feel like I had motherly instincts. I am not the kind that is all over other people's kids. So, in a way I doubted my ability to be a nurturing mother. It was mainly a product of my own self-doubt not only as a mother but also as a person,” she says. She also reveals that having been parentified at an early age made her tired of taking care of others. “I just wanted to focus on growing myself,” she says.
Sometimes, well-meaning opinions and pointers to childless women end up sounding rude and unsympathetic. One of the most common pieces of advices that is thrown around is that if a woman does not want to settle down and have children, she can look for a sperm donor with whom she can have children with to avoid growing old alone and lonely. Ms Kariuki was accosted with this kind of advice multiple times. “I remember a couple of times when well-meaning women would tell me that ‘if I am not finding a husband, I can find someone to have a baby with so that I don’t end up alone’. This idea of being a single parent by choice never crossed my mind and it was definitely not a choice I was going to take no matter what. Marriage, in my mind, always came before the kids. I wasn't going to have it any other way,” she says.
And with more women finding their spots in the corporate world, many are opting to delay having children in favour of growing their earning power, advancing their careers or academic qualifications. There are also other women who out of choice prefer to adopt children. But there are also others whose failure to have children is due to medical conditions. Rose Nderitu, a mother of one, is one of those. She struggled to have a child for five years. “My struggle was preceded by a tough battle against prolonged, painful and intense menses from the age of 13 until 2005, when I was diagnosed with an 8.5 inch ovarian cyst. The cyst was located in my left ovary,” she says.
Rose says she first conceived in 2008 but lost her pregnancy at five months. “I went to a clinic and after examination, I was told that the baby had died and began to decompose inside my uterus. An emergency surgery was performed to remove the macerated foetus,” says Rose. She conceived again in 2009 but lost the pregnancy again at five months. “I woke up one day and found blood stains on my panties. I rushed to hospital, where I was informed that my cervix had opened. It could no longer hold the baby inside and I was put on forced labour to extract the foetus,” she says. In 2010, she conceived again. She had a MacDonald Cerclage — a stitch performed at the cervix to prevent it from opening prematurely within the course of a pregnancy — and was put on bed rest from her twelfth week until delivery. “I carried this pregnancy to term and gave birth to my son Samuel in August 2011,” says Rose. But the struggle is not yet over for her.
Although she would want to have another child, eight years down the line, Rose says she has not been successful yet. She says things sometimes get so bad for women struggling to have kids that they even miss out on family gatherings to avoid the baby questions. “Sometimes we find ourselves missing family gatherings because the questions will be too hard and painful. We get asked; ‘Ulikataa kuzaa tena (You refused to have more kids)? Mtoto amekua mkubwa unangoja nini tena (Your child is all grown, you should add another!)’ To make matters worse, Rose says there are times when she and other struggling mothers have been forced to keep off social media during Mother’s Day to avoid bruising their wounds any further. The topic of the day is painful for us. “Many people don’t attempt to understand the situation we are going through. They just jump into unfounded conclusions. It is very painful,” she says.
Then there are women who might not be into children but end up having them in order to fit in with other women or into the social narrative. Ms Kariuki says this pressure is especially high where a woman’s parents are aged. “It sometimes becomes too hard to deny a dying father or mother a grandchild,” she says. Nonetheless, Ms Kariuki says her parents never shared such wishes with her. “They seemed to believe that my choices were valid and well thought of maybe because I helped a lot with raising my siblings,” she says.