To the childless woman on Mother’s Day
What you need to know:
- Mother’s Day is a celebration. But if you don’t have children (not by choice) it can be a painful reminder of loss.
- Women who were once ‘waiting wombs’ share a message of hope with others
Imagine this happening to you now. You open your email, and there are droves of marketing promotions reminding you to “May is for mums-Last call to order gift hamper!” You tune into the radio and the presenter is paying tributes to mothers.
On TV, someone is trying to get you to buy a “special gift for special mums’. You move over to social media, and it’s awash with love messages of people honouring mothers. Come the day, your Whatsapp groups fill up with memes and texts saluting all mothers for playing their part in society.
If you are a mom, Mother’s Day (Celebrated tomorrow, 14th May 2023) is great and fun.
But when you’re childless not by choice, Mother’s Day can be heartbreaking, and a painful reminder of profound loss. For some women it’s miscarriages, for others it’s infertility, and then there’s something called “circumstances”, a term with a complex set of sub-categories.
According to a fertility report released by WHO last month, more than 15 out of 100 people in Africa are suffering from infertility. In Kenya, data revealed that primary infertility, where pregnancy has never been achieved, is estimated to be two per cent of the 15-45-year-olds in unions with secondary infertility standing at 42 per cent.
To offer solace and hope, we asked women who have confronted the challenges of infertility to pour their hearts out to women who are ‘waiting wombs.’
Mary Mukami, 34, Communications Officer, mother of one, married for seven years
“There are just a few people who knew about my struggles to conceive. But they had to prod, buy me coffee and lunches so I could tell them what was going on in my life.
One of them is my eldest and closest sister and the other, is my boss now best friend. When I saw the call for this project, I knew that I wanted to get involved. Majorly because I have been in your shoes and walked in them …three years to be precise. I don’t know you in person, yet I have shared in your struggle so allow me to call you dear friend. With you, I will be truthful, without prodding. Without you asking.
I got married in 2016, and it wasn’t until two years later that we decided that we were ready to be parents. The waiting part was my husband’s idea. He said that we needed to first put our house in order—make savings, buy a small car, and build. In those two years, we had achieved these milestones and I brought up the idea to start our family. Allow me to share something else about me. I come from a big family; I have six siblings and 10s of nephews and nieces. As such, I always thought of motherhood as something that should unfold effortlessly. None of my siblings or members of my extended family struggled to conceive. Why would my journey be different? Yet, it was. I would describe it as a labyrinth, a maze of emotions and uncertainties.
In the first few months, I thought it was hormonal, so I started keeping tabs with my ovulation app. A fifth month into trying, two baby blankets bought while on a trip to Paris and a pregnant colleague, I realised that it wasn’t as straightforward as I had imagined.
I discussed my fears with my partner who thought that I was getting alarmed for nothing, and this marked our many doctor’s appointments and twice to a sex therapist. Maybe we were doing it wrong!
With time, intimacy became imbued with intention and hope. It stopped being for pleasure but as a vessel for my quest for a child.
I felt like my husband didn’t truly understand the pain, so I shed my tears in secret. As the calendar pages turned, so did my desire intensifies. I became irritable and my self-esteem dipped. People, including him, would ask, “What’s wrong with you?” God. I hated that question.
One day, I chanced upon a post in one of the many Facebook groups that I am in. There was a particular woman seeking advice because she couldn’t conceive. My heart pounded as I scrolled through the comment section with hopes for a solution.
Most commenters were marketing their doctors but there is one woman who advised her to let go. “Embrace the blessings around you and love yourself enough to enjoy what you have in the present moment.”
I don’t know why these words, cliché as they may sound, stirred something in me. Gradually, I stopped the chase and even signed up for a short course, a dream I had shelved in preparation for motherhood.
I was still taking supplements, occasionally booking appointments with my gynecologist, and scoring the Internet. Mine was unexplained infertility.
The day I discovered that I was pregnant, in May 2019, I had just transitioned from one job to another. My initial reaction was a cacophony of emotions; happy that I had finally got pregnant and confused because of the timing. Nonetheless, I still made the job move and worked virtually for the entire year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. My son is now three years old.
So, dear friend, I encourage you to find strength in surrender. Embrace the uncertainties and the unknowns, knowing that your journey is unique and filled with lessons meant for you. Allow yourself to grieve and heal, but also to dream and hope.
Evelyn Wanjiru Agundabweni, 34, gospel artist, mother of one, married for 11 years
“I have been publicly open about my waiting story. We waited for a decade to have our child. On this Mother’s Day weekend, I am releasing the pen of my heart to you, writing on the tablets of your life. I know your pain. I know the rejection you've faced, and I am well familiar with your troubles.
I started toying with the idea of becoming a mother after five years of marriage. I had chosen to first focus on my music career.
I had an irregular menstrual cycle, which would have been a red sign but I didn't give much thought to it until a medical diagnosis.
I saw a doctor who told me that I had a hormonal imbalance which made it impossible for my body to hold the seed of my husband and the doctor said I needed to be put on medication.
That process was draining and stressful. As I turned 30 I felt very nervous and worried. I was seeing some women get pregnant a few months into their marriages and here I was!
I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which made it difficult for me to conceive. The doctor advised me to take medications for six months with the hope that I'll get pregnant right after. It didn't happen. I almost gave up after four years of being on constant medication. In-vitro fertilisation was going to be my next and last option.
The day I got pregnant, I did my pregnancy tests thrice just to confirm it was real, it looked like it was untrue. It was true. After a 10-year wait, on 6th April 2022, we welcomed baby Mshindi Akweyu Agundabweni.
I am writing this letter to encourage your soul. You are a gem, a worth-it vessel. In due time, just as Hannah in the Bible carried a child in her arms, you too will wear a smile.
I too was spoken ill of and told all manner of things but see myself being made a mother and a pillar to a child that God has given me to raise.
Do not lose heart or hope.”
Evelyn Wanjiru Agundabweni
Carolle Mutindi, 41, school administrator, mother of two, married for 20 years
Dear mum in waiting.
“I will start by telling you, my story. I am from Machakos County and my husband, William, comes from Kisumu County. We met back in 2000 and moved in together after two years.
In 2003, it dawned on us that I was not getting pregnant, yet I was not using any family planning method. We downplayed this until 2005 when we decided to see a specialist.
Our journey to conceive was a winding road to doctor’s visits, fertility tests, and medical procedures that included the removal of cysts. They would tell me, “You are in your early 20s, you are still young.”
Then questions started trickling. “When are you getting a baby?” I was often the recipient. My in-laws also got concerned but I have to say that they were very supportive. But, the more they encouraged me, the more I felt like I was a disappointment. They would constantly remind us that we were a complete family, with or without a child.
Deep down, I needed a child. I used to pray, fast…all those things. I went to the extent of buying a baby blanket and praying while holding it. Occasionally, I would wash and rinse with a softener. In a way, that gave me hope.
At one point, we decided to see a herbalist who put me on drugs that cost Sh24,000 a week and I had to consume them for six months but we stopped at two months. I had multiple loans and almost all my earnings went to fertility clinics. My husband was extremely supportive and at one point even had to move from his workstation in Nakuru to be with me in Nairobi.
Fast forward, to 2018, I got pregnant, but I developed some complications at five months I had a miscarriage. It was beyond pain; I felt discouraged and questioned God.
In 2019, I conceived again, and I made the decision to resign so I can take total care of the pregnancy. Days before I made the submission, we were required to work from home because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On scan day, we discovered that we had twins, all girls! I gave birth at 39, contrary to some specialists who had told me that I would never give birth naturally. In reflection, I was prepared to raise twins.
Don’t give up. But don’t let your mind be fixated on this all the time. I hope that your story changes someday.”
Sicily Mulinge, 37, mother of one, project manager married for five years
“For two evenings, I kept typing and deleting my words because I wasn’t sure of what to say that may encourage you. When I was in the throes of trying to conceive, encouragement messages felt like soft jabs at my inability to have a child and I deemed some insulting. They didn’t understand what I was going through after two miscarriages, something they had not experienced, and I wondered what authority they had to say those words to me. Yet, they were only compassionate and encouraging. I had my first miscarriage at 27. We parted ways immediately after I broke the pregnancy news, so he wasn’t there when all this was happening. My strongest support system was my mother who told me that this had happened because I was under stress after the loss of the relationship. This was in 2011.
Two years later, I got married not very far from our home. Two years into the marriage and with no child, people started talking claiming that the miscarriage was a cover-up for abortion. This heightened the need for a child partly because I wanted to prove them wrong. Indeed, I got pregnant in 2016 but had another miscarriage that played a huge part in ending our marriage. The doctor attributed it to hormonal imbalance. To be honest, I almost slumped into depression were it not for my mother’s encouragement and frequent check-ins.
During that phase of singlehood, my doctor put me on medications to balance my hormones. I met someone in 2018 and six months into our relationship, I got pregnant and delivered a baby boy in July 2019. By the time I was getting pregnant, I had researched a lot about adoption, and I still feel compelled to adopt a girl so we can have a family of two. Although different medics say that I am out of danger, I don’t want to go through that experience again.
I would say, to be open-minded while on this journey. Explore other ways to motherhood and remain hopeful. Also, let your partner get checked too because sometimes it’s not our fault.”
Tips for Surviving Mother’s Day
This is what our interviewees say:
1. Take care of yourself
You can choose to pamper yourself on this day by scheduling a spa day, curling up with a good book, watching a movie, or taking a nap.
2. Make choices
If the entire family is getting together to celebrate your mother, you don't have to participate, if it will cause you more stress. However, if it makes you feel better to be around your family on such a day, show up.
3. Talk to someone
Let someone else know what you are going through on this day. It could be a relative, a friend, or an anonymous post on your Facebook groups.
4. Feel the emotions
You don't have to hide your emotions on such a day. Cry about it if you have to or put your thoughts in a journal. The most important thing is to let out the feelings you've been bottling up.
5. Stay away from social media
On such a day, you are likely to come across triggering posts. This is bad for your mental health.
6. Organise a meetup
If you are in a community of women struggling to conceive, this can be a perfect day to link up, encourage one another and do fun stuff together.