Over the past five decades, the contraceptive debates have raged on like a house on fire with minimal ground being ceded. The introduction of contraceptives in Kenya was, and continues to be, touted as ‘Family Planning’, a terminology that may be quickly getting obsolete.
Contraceptives were introduced as options available to families, mostly used by the woman, to help plan for when to have children, and how many. Now, with more sex happening outsides the confines of marriage, this view has to change.
In the 1970s and ’80s, a lot of married women embraced long-term contraceptive methods and even had permanent sterilisation done, especially when they felt they had attained the desired family size.
Many women in my mother’s age group encouraged each other to have their tubes tied after having six to 10 children. These are women who had gotten married young and had delivered most of their babies in their 20s. By their mid-30s, they were done. The sheer effort of raising the children at a time when education was catching on as a priority was a driving force to embracing the BTL, as bilateral tubal ligation is popularly known.
These women were not without their fair share of critics. Religious sects came down on them hard, the most vocal being the Catholic Church. The women were castigated for committing what was tantamount to murder.
Then came the multi-party era, tribalism reared its ugly head, and politicians joined the fray, asking their voters to multiply to ensure that power remained within the community.
HAVING IT ALL
As all this happened, the feminist movement was quietly taking hold in Kenya. Women began to view contraceptive use as an empowerment tool. The young, independent woman who embraced her sexual and reproductive health rights counted control over her body as one of the feminist identifiers, and it was suddenly cool for the woman to carry the condoms, in step with the man.
A lot of these women are currently in my generation — ambitious over-achievers holding senior positions in the government and the corporate world, successful entrepreneurs controlling huge market shares, creatives who have carved a niche for themselves and become household names, leaders in the fashion industry who are jet-setting across the globe.
All these achievements come at a cost. Many of these women have had to shelve ambitions of starting their families. They have been so busy conquering the world that they have not had the time to be pregnant, breastfeed, change diapers and run after toddlers on tricycles.
Granted, some of their peers have done it, and done a splendid job at that, but many have not.
As the mid-30s approach, I begin to see a subtle shift in their attitudes. Aside from the high derived from scaling professional peaks, they begin to long for motherhood. They begin to spend more time with their nieces and nephews, spoiling them rotten with weekend holidays and family outings. They begin to convince themselves that they can actually handle motherhood.
Make no mistake, the competitive spirit in them is not mellowed one bit. Neither has their need to be in control of every aspect of the motherhood.
The subject of consultations at my office is beginning to take a subtle shift. This shift is purely driven by the technological advances that the world of science has come up with and continues to refine.
These women want to get pregnant in their own time, choose the gender of the baby, and even dictate multiple pregnancies.
Most commonly, they want drugs to assure them of ovulation at a predetermined time, so as to control conception. They will request for a planned birthday, hence the delivery of the baby must be executed within the said 24 hours. This way, they can plan for kindergarten enrolment before the baby is conceived, all the way to when they are able to take up their next job assignment in Canada or Malaysia.
Then there is another special group, who are not ready yet to start the family. Being highly intelligent people, they have appreciated how advancement of age is detrimental to their ability to bear children and even having quality eggs. These women choose to harvest their eggs and freeze them for future use.
For them, money is not a limitation, hence harvesting eggs at a cost of Sh400,000 to Sh500,000 and storing them at a cost of Sh15,000 to Sh30,000 per year is fairly affordable. They have five to 10 years to use these eggs, and even if nature failed them, they may be able to have a surrogate mother carry for them their offspring.
A whole enterprise has now been built around this scenario. The assisted reproductive techniques were initially focused on helping women desperately struggling with infertility, but now the market has expanded and new clients are on board.
As technology continues to spoil us with choices, doctors continue to invest in the necessary skills and knowledge, and banks are happy to provide loans to those setting up the expensive infrastructure, my prayer is that the legislation stays a step ahead to regulate what is essentially a good thing that can be easily abused.
My prayer to the legislators is that you will hasten the process of passing the Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill and the Reproductive Health Bill into law!