, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 10 – “At 18 years of age l got married to the love of my life; or so l thought. I was young and blinded by love. Never had l though at one time will l contemplate suicide.”
Phylista Maina begins her story as she ushered me into a house in Donholm, Eastlands where she now works as a house help for the past six years. Donholm is a densely populated area approximately 10 kilometers from Nairobi’s Central Business District.
“You see, like any other young couple l looked forward to raising a happy family,” she says with a smile. “But that was not to be. The first five years of marriage were heavenly, peaceful l could go on and on,” she describes with nostalgia.
“We were both young and madly in love and thought nothing would come between us, but my marriage lasted only 11 years. You look shocked she teases.”
Trouble started six years into the marriage when she tried conceiving children in vain.
“Unfortunately in Africa, women who cannot bear children are often discriminated, shunned and stigmatized. That is my story.”
To save her marriage Phylista proposed medical attention to her husband since it affects both men and women but he flatly declined saying he has no reason to visit a fertility clinic.
Their relationship soured and turned from bad to worse, with her once loving in-laws ganging up against her. She recalls at one point she was asked if she had procured an unsafe abortion.
”It was demeaning to have people meant to be your family demean you and compete on shelling insults at you for what you have no control over.”
– Suicide –
Her once loving husband and family turned to be her worst nightmare. Phylista said her husband started flirting around with village girls and when she enquired he retorted “I want children.”
Phylista said she would withstand insults from her in-laws but from the love of her life, it was unimaginable. She was clouded with regret, unanswered questions, pain and suicide seemed like the remedy for what she was going through.
She explained that her parents would not allow her back home since dowry had already been paid.
However, as fate would have it Phylista met an old friend to whom she narrated her ordeal. The woman invited the 23-year-old then to her church where she found solace.
She went through several counselling sessions. It is while attending the sessions that she interacted with women undergoing the same predicament she was facing. The thought of suicide began to fade off, which is the reason she can now confidently narrate her story.
Years passed by and Phylista emerged out of her cocoon to face the world boldly.
One sunny afternoon as Phylista was attending to house chores when her husband informed her of a guest who will be joining them for lunch.
Being the dutiful wife, she prepared a good meal for the guest. Indeed, the guest arrived accompanied by her husband. “Meet your co-wife” her husband informed her.
She recalls the scenario and said, “had l not been a prayerful woman l would be in jail today for murder.”
That was her eleventh year in marriage and she resolved enough was enough. Phylista bowed out of the union.
She made a decision to start a new beginning far away from people who were familiar to her. Nairobi was her destination of choice. She stayed with a relative for a few days and landed a job as a house help where she is currently working.
She eventually visited a fertility clinic where her worst fears were confirmed, the only way she can have a child is either through In-Vitro Fertilization or adoption. IVF was not an option for her as the cost of this service is unattainable for the ordinary ‘Wanjiku’ as explained by Dr Joel Gondi head of fertility clinic at Kenyatta National Hospital.
At a past interview with Citizen Digital, former Taita Taveta Woman Representative Joyce Lay said: “That is the pain of a woman, you stay for years knowing that you are okay because you are not born barren, and then all of a sudden, because of complications you get devastating information that you can henceforth not conceive,”.
To help women like Phylista, Merck Foundation held the first training in Nairobi dubbed ”Merck more than a mother” designed to champion advocacy to rid of the stigma associated with infertility.
There is hope for those seeking children. Legislators like Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo introduced in-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) in Parliament to help couples who cannot conceive naturally to use scientific assisted procedure to carry their own.
Today Phylista plays a big role in her church where she mentors couples.
She reminds us infertility can strike at anyone’s door most importantly is to do away with myths, and misconception associated with it.