Amid agony that comes with an ’empty womb’, there is hope

Amid agony that comes with an ’empty womb’, there is hope

By James Ratemo @KenyaCurrent, jratemo@gmail.com

Meet Anne, (not her real name) who was arrested and later admitted in a city hospital due to attempted suicide.

Anne’s story,  that led to her arrest is not only harrowing but heart wrenching. In her own words she says: “I was chased out of my matrimonial home like a dog. I was abused, denied food for days, forced to sleep on the cold floor and called a witch, a devil, a useless woman and a cursed one.” Her crime? Inability to bear children which, for the purpose of this story I will refer to as an empty or waiting womb.

When Anne, who ails from a village tucked in a town neighboring  Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, agreed to share her story, she begged us not to reveal her identity to avoid  backlash from her family members who are yet to overcome the shame, stigma and rejection that comes with an empty womb.

Anne is not alone in this quagmire.  Her woes echoes the cry of millions of women who are silently suffering not only from a fruitless womb but from the sneers of people who should offer a shoulder to lean on.

Many are the times when she was asked, hey girl, when are you going to make me a grand mother or when are you going to start a family?  Sometimes it was asked jokingly but at times it was a serious  reminder her that the biological clock was ticking fast and her age mates are already moters of two or three.

She kept her little secret of being an empty womb to herself and everytime someone prodded her, she felt like giving up. It was sad her husband rejected her too.

The many heart breaking stories I came across as I researched for this story made me conclude that sometimes being born a woman is a burden in itself but being born a woman with a fruitless womb is double the burden.

To many women, an empty womb is like a death sentence. You will be ostracized, hated, demeaned and pushed to the wall to the extent of wishing to kill yourself.

Elishiba Njoki

Elishiba Njoki

For Elishiba Njoki,  her dream for a happy life was cut short shortly after wedding her high school sweet heart. Three years into the wedding, her womb remained fruitless setting off a trail of agonising experiences with her in-laws. All this time, nobody ever thought her husband could be the source of the problem.

“When I decided to visit  Kijabe hospital in 2006  for a medical checkup, I was shocked to be told  I was OK and healthy. The doctor told me to come back with my husband…the doctor discover it was him who had a fertility problem,” says Elishiba in a file video below:

 

 

According to Elishiba, she believes her husband had decided to cheat on her because of her childlessness, a beahviour that saw him infect her with HIV.

“The doctor said that the infertility condition could be rectified, but my husband was reluctant, in addition he refused that we adopt a child… he continued sleeping around with women leading to his death from Aids.

Her woes did not end there, her husband’s relatives denied her inheritance of her husbands meager wealth because  she was childless.  She went through hell and at one she even contemplated suicide. She eventually left the home and married another man with hope  she would live happily and probably get children of her own.

Just like Ms Njoki, to the millions of women hit by the infertility bug,  tears that have soaked their pillows could make oceans.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) at least 25 per cent of couples in the productive age in Africa are infertile, with majority of the cases going untreated due to late diagnosis.

In Africa, says WHO, infertility is caused by infections in over 85 per cent of women compared to 33 per cent worldwide.

The statistics paint a grim picture. In 2010, among women 20-44 years of age that were exposed to the risk of pregnancy, 1.9 per cent were unable to attain a live birth (primary infertility).

Out of women who had had at least one live birth and were exposed to the risk of pregnancy, 10.5 per cent were unable to have another child (secondary infertility).

The WHO statistics (1990 to 2010) further indicate that infertility prevalence was highest in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa/Middle East, and Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

There is hope and strength in unity

Most of these women have now found solace in social groupings with other women with similar fate.

He remembers the barren

He remembers the barren

Take this prayer for instance on a facebook page called ‘waiting for baby bird’ to all the waiting wombs:

‘ Lord, her empty womb hurts.The deepest part of her ache. It gnaws at her worth. Her self-esteem. Her relationships. Her faith. And while every day is hard, today is harder… So Lord, help her to put her mind at rest from her overwhelming and anxious thoughts as You continue to work in order to do just that…to bring forth something new…and hopefully something new to her empty arms.”

Infertility is preventable and sometimes curable

The emotional pain and mental anguish of infertility is  not easy to handle due to the stigma, rejection and the negativity that comes with it.

Dr. Rasha Kelej

Dr. Rasha Kelej

According to Dr Rasha Kelej, President of Merck Foundation, thousands of women suffer from inability to bear children but not many are talking about it. She says infertility is preventable and there is hope for women and  men through medical intervention.

“Infertility is not a women only affair. It affects even men so society should wake up and support the affected women instead of puling them down,” says Dr. Kelej.

From a past interview , with  Everest Media Solutions, an affiliate of KenyaCurrent.com,  Dr Kelej,  a pharmacist,  says the main causes of infertility include untreated sexually transmitted infections, unsafe abortions and female genital mutilation. Other causes include poor nutrition, exposure to smoking and leaded petrol and other environmental pollutants. See video below:

However she is emphatic that the inability to bear children should not be a death sentence for women.

“Infertility affects men and women equally and therefore prevention is a collective responsibility,” said Dr. Kelej.

This is what led to the Merck More Than a Mother  project that seeks to assist infertile women in several African countries.

“A woman is more than a mother. Our aim is to lift up the women who have rejected and abused for failing to bear children… I am so happy to see smiles in place of tears whenever we empower the infertile women to be financially independent and forget their past pain,” says Dr. Kelej.

Dr. Michoma agrees with Dr Kelej that couples go for checkups together and that infertility awareness should also be integrated within HIV prevention, family planning and mother care programs.

“These programs should teach women about lifestyle factors associated with infertility and also about environmental pollution and contamination,” argues Dr. Kelej.

Also read: Merck Foundation CEO, Rasha Kelej on course to fight for ‘infertile’ women

According to Dr Peter Michoma, a gynecologist and obstetrician in Nairobi, in most Kenyan societies, the problem of infetility is often a women’s problem.

However, Dr. Michoma says, men are equally to blame and it is only a medical check up that can ascertain the cause of infertility.

“Most infertility problems can be sorted medically. An woman unable to conceive should seek medical check up and if possible should do so with her partner,” advises Dr. Michoma.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Infertility

Q. What is the clinical definition of infertility?

A. “Infertility is the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year. The male partner can be evaluated for infertility or subfertility using a variety of clinical interventions, and also from a laboratory evaluation of semen.” (Semen manual, 5th Edition3).

Q. What is infertility in a woman?

A. For a woman, infertility (or a state of subfertility) can manifest itself as either:

  • the inability to become pregnant
  • an inability to maintain a pregnancy
  • an inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth.

Q. Is there treatment for infertility?

A. When men and women attempt to have a child or to expand their family, the causes and the difficulties encountered can be complex. Many simple, as well as more complex medical interventions can be attempted to help a couple or an individual to reach a state of pregnancy or to be able to maintain a pregnancy which results in a live birth. {Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)}

Q. What is primary infertility?

A. When a woman is unable to ever bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth she would be classified as having primary infertility. Thus women whose pregnancy spontaneously miscarries, or whose pregnancy results in a still born child, without ever having had a live birth would present with primarily infertility. (Source: WHO).

Q. What is secondary infertility

When a woman is unable to bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth following either a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth, she would be classified as having secondary infertility. Thus those who repeatedly spontaneously miscarry or whose pregnancy results in a stillbirth, or following a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to do so, are then not unable to carry a pregnancy to a live birth would present with secondarily infertile. (Source: WHO).

How women are coping with infertility

After rejection and inhumane treatment they are subjected to, most women with empty or waiting wombs often find solace in company of ‘same feathers’ or ‘same mind’.

Empty womb

Empty womb

A quick check on facebook for instance shows the immense support the women give each other by sharing their tearful experiences. One such group is the the ‘Waiting Wombs’ and the members support each other through paryers and inspirational literature like this  poem from a blogger called Brandy

Here’s what I don’t know…..
I don’t know if you’re trying for your 1st child or your 4th. 
I don’t know if you’ve been trying 6 months or 6 years.
I don’t know if you’re holding to hope or have completely given up.
I don’t know if you have a support group or you’re going at it alone.
I don’t know if you talk about it or it’s your best kept secret.
I don’t know if you love Christ or want nothing to do with Him. 
I don’t know if you you will ever hold a(nother) child in your womb.
But……
I know that Christ wants you to run to Him.
I know that He cares about each tear that falls.
I know that it’s okay to break and cry and question.
I know that you are not forgotten and are not overlooked.
I know that you need Him more than you need a baby.
 
I know that He is hope.
I know that He is enough.
So in the waiting and the hurting know you’re not alone and you’re not abandoned. 
Know that you are prayed for and deeply loved. 
 
Know that though your heart is broken and your womb is empty, He loves you.
It’s something we all need to know.
the girl with a broken heart and an empty womb.

 

Below is a storified collection of what people say about empty wombs and other inspiring stories worth sharing

 

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