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The despair of a woman caught up in a culture intolerant of childless women

By Nina Steele 

Recently, I have been in email conversations with a woman from Kenya, who has been trying to conceive for the past 15 years, unsuccessfully. She is educated, with a good job, yet she is deeply unhappy because in her early 40s, she is still not a mother.

It is fair to say that her misery stems in great part from the fact that she is from a culture which is highly intolerant of childless women (they are wrongly always assumed to be the ones with the fertility issues). Predictably, the men in her life have been totally unsupportive. Her first marriage broke down after just two years, while she is estranged from her second husband, who went on to marry another woman.

It seems she has exhausted all possible avenues. In one of her emails she says: “I have undergone medical tests right from HSG. It was later found that I had hormonal imbalance, for which I was put on drugs all in vain. I again tried other fertility drugs all in vain”. She goes on: ‘‘right now it’s like I have resigned myself to my fate. Seeing my agemates and colleagues’ kids, make me bleed from within. Always praying to the Good Lord not to forsake me. I fear adopting a kid I don’t know”.

Adoption is another highly contentious subject in African culture. With an estimated ‘58 million children on the continent who have been orphaned by war, famine and disease’, you would think that most people would be open to the idea. Unfortunately, it is still the case that in the eyes of the majority, you are either a mother through having given birth or you are not. If you choose to adopt, some people will use it against you at every chance they get. You will for ever be reminded that you are not a mother in the ‘purest form’.

My advice to her was that after trying to conceive naturally for 15 years, and since she herself has admitted having exhausted all avenues, she either stops trying and starts living her life as a childless woman, or she gives adoption a go. Either choice would mean facing a hostile culture head on.

Of course it is a frightening prospect and my heart goes out to her, but she cannot run away from her life’s purpose forever. At least, unlike many other women in her situation, she is educated and has a good job. Her plight could have been far worse had she been a poor, uneducated woman living in a village.

This being Africa, faith is never far away. There is an overriding belief that children are a gift from God. Never mind that this woman is healthy by the sound of it, has a good job and unlike millions of people around the world, is able to feed herself. It seems, none of that matters, as long as she is childless.

I had to remind her that blessings come in many forms and that, children were but one of those blessings. Whether she believes me and heeds my advice will depend on whether or not, she believes that there is something inherently wrong with her culture, which I believe there is. More importantly however, it will depend on whether she has the appetite and the courage to go against that culture.

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