Mother’s Day is a day set aside to honour motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence a mother has in society.
But for Joyce Kago, it is no unique day as she goes about her normal activities.
At 40, she has ventured into marriage unsuccessfully and now spends most of her time cooking at a rehabilitation Centre in Thika, Kiambu County. She has no one to celebrate her on this day.
Joyce has been married and separated from her partner three different times, all of which she has been sent away for not being able to conceive.
“I have been chased from my matrimonial homes for not being ‘beneficial’ to them because I could not get children of my own,” Joyce said.
She explains to Voice of America, how her last marriage ended four years ago after her spouse started mistreating her.
According to her, the husband would come home late in the night, drunk, hurling insults and at times beat her up, asking why she still couldn’t sire a child.
This is what prompted her to walk out and focus on giving back to society.
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Joyce argues the world has placed a lot of pressure on women to conceive, those unable to bear the brunt of having to answer why their households don’t have children, even with the man around.
Elsewhere, in Kangemi, Nairobi County, 38-year old Anne Wageke’s script is no different.
For her, were it not for a series of miscarriages, today would have been her first time celebrating Mother’s Day.
“Although I have a wonderful relationship with my mother, there is a space, that would be filled with a child of my own,” she says, holding back tears.
Wageke has been pregnant three times but miscarried due to underlying health issues. She has since divorced after a five-year-long union after doctors confirmed she would not be able to carry a child.
To her, each passing Mother’s Day celebration comes with a painful reminder of her loss, grief and struggles in her fruitless efforts to bear a child.
She adds that a woman is only respected when she has children and earns the prefix ‘mama’ that comes before their children’s name.
“Women are identified by the name of their child,” she added.
Dr Kireki Omanwa, a fertility doctor in Nairobi blames society for setting misleading standards that define women by the number of children they have.
He narrates to Standard Digital the pain and torture he has seen patients battling infertility go through as a result of the treatment they get from people around them.
“I once did a caesarian section to a 53-year old woman who delivered twins, and what she told me afterwards was that she could now talk where other women are talking and be heard,” Dr Kireki said.
He adds that children give social value, leaving those unable to bear them stigmatised and discriminated against.
According to Dr Kireki, the leading cause of infertility in Kenya today is fibroids (growth in the uterus) which account for 40-60 per cent of infertility cases.
“Fibroids in black women are bigger and more in number than in Caucasian women,” Dr Kireki explained.
Other factors that cause infertility in Kenya according to Dr Kireki are blocked tubes, Sexually Transmitted Infections (Chlamydia), chronic diseases, lifestyle, lack of intimacy and age as most women opt for career and education.
Assisted Reproduction Technology Bill
In September 2019, Suba North Member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo opened up on her inability to conceive and the challenges she had to overcome and before becoming influential.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God, that is why I feel complete with or without a child,” Millie said.
She is among the few prominent women in Kenya to speak publicly on their infertility journeys and the challenges that come with it.
Ms Odhiambo said that she has been a victim of social stigma just like other women and has received insults from people for not being able to conceive.
“In my community, people even have names for people who cannot have babies. Some people call me “Lur”, which means a barren woman,” said Odhiambo.
The lawmaker said that she had been greatly moved by the emotional stories of women battling infertility, which prompted her to table the Assisted Reproduction Technology Bill and the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) debate in Parliament.
The Bill was aimed at making provisions concerning children born of assisted reproductive technology processes in terms of policies and regulations.
But on March 11, 2021, Parliament’s Committee on Health approved the Bill for tabling with a few recommendations.
The committee concluded that the Ministry of Health had structured regulations that could only be strengthened without establishing a new regulatory body.
Therefore, as the world marks Mother’s Day, it is wise to celebrate grieving mothers, those in waiting, those to be and anybody else who the society views as a mother figure without discrimination.