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I have immense respect for the few African men who remain loyal to their wives when faced with infertility

By Nina Steele 

Childless African couplesRecently, I was invited by BBC Africa to take part in a series of discussions they were having on the stigma attached to being a childless woman in Africa. Predictably, the views from the majority of people who took part were very strong, particularly on social media. One woman commented: “It is better to be in hell fire than to be in Africa without a child”. Another contributor wrote: “in Africa having a child is an achievement and more important than academic achievements”. A few months earlier, in response to an article I had written on the issue, another woman commented that because she was unable to conceive, rumours were flying around that she was actually a man pretending to be a woman. It is often the in-laws who spread such rumours. That gives you an idea of the kind of stigma childless women often face in Africa. To call it extreme just about sums it up.

Usually, after a couple gets married, the pressure to conceive begins and after a few years it becomes unbearable. Most of the pressure usually comes from the man’s family. If the wife is lucky enough to be loved by her mother in law as if she were her own daughter, then the marriage has a chance of surviving. Unfortunately, these instances are rare and often the mother in law is the one putting the most pressure and encouraging her son to marry a second wife or divorce is wife all together.

Which is why, I have immense respect for any man who chooses to take the high road and stand by his wife, regardless of the pressure put on him. Unfortunately, these men are rare.

The BBC interviewed such a couple for the series and it is heart-warming to hear their story. Even though they ended up having two children after 20 years of marriage, the fact that their marriage remained strong throughout, should serve as an example to men across the continent.

The couple who are from Uganda, got married in 1992 and as usual, they assumed that children would follow soon after. As it turned out, they had difficulty conceiving and ended up pursuing the usual fertility treatment routes. Predictably, the man was put under pressure to seek alternative ways to have children, but he chose to stand by his wife. Eventually, they decided to accept their fate and live happily as a childless couple. They started saving so they could start travelling and see more of the world. South Africa was going to be their first stop. However, as fate would have it, that year was when the wife became pregnant. As mentioned previously, by then, they had been married for 20 years.

When asked what advice they would give other African couples who are unable to conceive, the wife replied that ‘If God has given you a spouse but no children, he has his reasons for doing so. Love that spouse with everything you’ve got’. I thought that was an amazing thing to say and so true.

As I keep reminding those people in Africa who because of their religious beliefs, wrongly assume that not having children is some kind of punishment from God, no it’s not. Because blessings come in many shapes and forms. Having a loving and caring spouse should never be taken for granted. So many marriages with children fail or are deeply unhappy. Having children is not the panacea that so many people think it is. In fact the strain of raising children is often what causes marriages to fail.

If you are married to a good woman, cherish her and be grateful for having her in your life, regardless of whether you have children or not.

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