By: Julie Achieng’
She took a gamble a few years ago when she revealed she was epileptic. It was an unexpected declaration from a young and vibrant model — who once held the Miss University of Nairobi crown.
But Bernice Mugambi had decided to be an ambassador for those like her that face stigma for living with a difficult condition characterised by seizures.
The last nine months have, however, marked a new, and unpredictable, phase in her life, as a pregnant epileptic woman.
“Well, you see, the pregnancy was not planned so when I found out, I was a bit nervous,” she said.
She was not the only nervous party. Her husband, Stephens Okurut, and her doctors were anxious too. But Bernice was determined to pull through and keep her unborn baby from harm, considering that she could experience seizures without warning.
Besides, a seizure could increase chances of a miscarriage or stillbirth. Then there were the drugs she was sometimes required to take, which she was warned could harm the foetus.
Bernice, therefore, had to constantly contact her doctors and other epileptic women who had successfully given birth to get tips on handling the situation.
She found hope in epileptic parents who had delivered more than one healthy baby, deriving strength from such families and looking forward to a perfect family of her own.
“God has been good to me and these have been the happiest months of my life. I have not suffered a single episode of seizure and I am off any epilepsy medication,” said Bernice.
The concerns were genuine because epileptics are usually required to take medication to keep seizures in check, but the drugs sometimes affect the development of the foetus. In some instances, epileptic women are told not to get pregnant.
However, medical reviews show that a big percentage of pregnant women with epilepsy deliver healthy babies.
Apparently, Bernice did not want to hear any bad news so when she realised she was pregnant, she booked an appointment with her doctor, who she said was supportive.
She said: “You can live a normal life if you kick away self-pity. You know there is stigma, and then there is self-stigma, which is even worse.
You have to tell yourself that you are just like everyone else, because everyone has something they are battling, it doesn’t have to be medical.”
Bernice said the doctors who had been monitoring her also noted that some mothers experienced a decrease in seizure frequency after delivery.
She said that being an ambassador for the National Epilepsy Coordination Committee had emboldened her to face even the toughest situations.
She has also founded the Hatua Afrika Foundation that she hopes will help persons with epilepsy, especially women, equip themselves economically and socially.
Her organisation is involved in inspirational speaking around schools and management of support groups for members to share experiences.
The former model was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago during a baby shower party her friends had organised in Nairobi’s Upper Hill after she learnt she had won Sh50,000 worth of shopping from OLX, an online marketplace.
Her friends had secretly nominated her for the ZawadikaNaOLX competition.
Ms Grace Mutanu, one of her friends, said she had never seen Bernice as happy as she has been in the course of her pregnancy.
During the interview with Lifestyle, Bernice said she was amused her story had attracted media attention yet “I am just a girl in love who is about to bring forth the fruit of that love”.
A few days after her interview with Lifestyle two weeks ago, Bernice marked a milestone after giving birth to a healthy baby girl. She says the baby has given a new meaning to her life and she is thankful to God as she looks forward to the fresh challenge as a mother battling to manage epilepsy.