MINAYO: They called me a witch because I was infertile

My husband wanted to hear a baby cry in our home, but that was not happening. I could not give him children. I was barren and that was too hard for him to bear.

Nine years in marriage was all bliss, until he found out that I was infertile.

My in-laws called me a witch, they became disrespectful, mistreated me and ambushed me out of my matrimonial home.

I was young and naïve in marriage and I thought the rejection was normal.

If only I persevered for another year, perhaps I would make my husband happy. I would give him the child he so much wanted.

There was a time I was almost sure that I was pregnant. I had missed my monthly periods. I knew at long last I would give him a baby, but my periods returned heavily.

In hospital, I was told the good news first I had conceived, but on the flipside I had an ectopic pregnancy where fertilisation occurred in the fallopian tubes.

It was a matter of life and death so they operated on me and removed the fallopian tube plus the whole uterus.

I vividly remember a question I asked my husband after the mistreatment that I felt I could just take my own life and end the cup of suffering.

“For how long was I going to live in such misery?” I am now 57 years old.

Bitter-sweet pill

“When you were undergoing the operation, was it to bear me a child?” he asked.

He continued: “Why are you refusing to leave my house? If your parents are dead, go to their graves, call out their names, and let their graves open up so that you can join them too.” Some insults he hurled at me I cannot write down neither can I utter them even if I tried.

I was hurt. Very hurt. I had no idea that I was infertile.

When I tell this story sometimes I feel faint, I feel like I am breathing my last.

Divorcing my husband was a bitter-sweet pill for me to swallow. And in 1981, I did it and decided to move out.

I later moved into Nairobi’s Kibera slums, because with my joblessness I could not afford anywhere else. That was in 1989.

I prayed that God would keep my ex-husband alive so that he would witness when the Almighty uplifts me, but unfortunately he passed on. In 1997 he had a road accident but later died of typhoid.

In 2004, I underwent yet another operation. The previous night I was vomiting endlessly and at the same time bleeding, the doctors told me it was appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix caused by bacteria).

At that point I knew my life was in danger. It could not get worse than this, so I thought.

I had developed diabetes and hypertension and thought this was the best time to commit suicide. What was there to live for? I had no children and no family to worry about me. But I didn’t.

In my endeavours as a casual labourer, a Somali lady I worked for in Nairobi West mentioned something to do with throwing away an infant born against their culture.

She told me about her young niece who sought refuge in Kenya from Somalia because of an unwanted pregnancy — a taboo in their culture whose result was to feed the baby to wild animals in the jungle and also get the mother killed.

Due to my endless search of a child, I begged for the family to give me the baby instead so that I could look after it as my own. And they did. That was in 1988.

I took the boy in, struggled so that he did not miss food on the table, and school uniform. I schooled him single-handedly up to when he completed his Form Four in 2007.

The worst came to pass when the boy disappeared from our Kibera home that year and started sending me threatening messages, baying for my blood.

I don’t know who brainwashed him but in his text messages, he would ask me to take him to his parents or he would kill me and torch down my shanty.

This went on for months and I have since reported the matter to Kilimani Police Station but the boy is yet to be found.

I later came across another woman in western Kenya who conceived a baby with his paternal cousin.

No love

In Luhya culture, that is forbidden. And the repercussion is “simple” — death to child.

This moved me and I could not stand such fate for an innocent baby. In 2000, I went back to the village and begged my mother to take care of the child since I assumed that in Kibera, where I stay, the ground is cursed.

I could not imagine taking in another baby only to be bitterly rejected in the long run.

I longed for a child to call me mother, and so my mother accepted and she took him in. He is doing well and just sat for his KCPE. I pray that he goes through secondary school. Perhaps he would help me when he grows up.

I still ask myself though if this world is for me. Is this is the life I was meant to live? There is no one to love me again as a wife.

When I go back to the village in Bokoli, western Kenya, my brothers’ wives cannot stop hurling insults at me, they have no respect for a barren woman.

I know in African culture barrenness is a curse and no one wants to be associated with the cursed. I can’t blame anyone because I believe this is God’s doing, perhaps to create awareness.

For my resilience to wade through the trying times and not giving up in life, I have since met a mentor, James Ndichu, my only encouragement in life.

Ndichu connected me to a company that helped me tell my story today in this newspaper to give hope to another woman. I was even given some money for diabetes drugs.

Just the other day, Monday, I was recognised by Merck, a Germany-headquartered pharmaceutical and chemical firm with a ‘More Than A Mother’ campaign award. They say it is for my courage in sharing my experience and contributing to the end of social stigmatisation due to infertility in Africa.

I would have explored other fertility options if I had the knowledge I have today.

Young couples should visit hospitals regularly and seek fertility solutions. I know men can be stubborn at times very stubborn indeed for I have been there and experienced all that.

Infertility does not just affect women, men too can be affected (but they will never be the first partners to accept).

If I was brave enough then I would have sought treatment to better my life but now I am too old and I have a baby whom my mother is taking care of for me. And he calls me mother. That is all I wanted to hear for years.

Compiled by Stellar Murumba