A baby should follow soon after a couple gets married, at least from society’s point of view.
Sometimes, though, the baby takes a long time to come, and in some cases, the baby does not come at all.
In both these scenarios, the blame or the sympathy is often directed at the woman, but what many forget is that behind every struggle to conceive is an expectant man suffering in silence because men are expected to be stoic in the face of adversity.
This week, we have a chat with two men who lay bare their souls on what it is like to be a childless couple in Kenya, a society that equates marriage to children.
Stephen Musembi and Abigael Wambui have been married for 12 years; they are yet to get a child
“I am a pastor. Abigael and I met in church in Zimmerman, Nairobi, in 2004. At the time, I was a youth leader and a budding minister.
I still vividly remember the day she walked into that church. It was on a Saturday afternoon. I was cleaning up the church in preparation for the Sunday service.
She came in and saw me cleaning alone. “How are you, can I help you?” she asked. “Yes, please,” I said eagerly.
We hit it off immediately, and with time, we became close friends. The more I got to know her, the more I fell in love with her.
Her beauty, humility, dedication in church and politeness were irresistible.
In June 2005, a year after we met, I took her for lunch and asked her if she could be my girlfriend.
She said yes, and we officially started dating. Right from the word go, I knew that Abigael was the woman I wanted to marry and raise a family with.
But we did not get married right away. We dated for three years, during which we took time to know each other’s character and personality deeper, as well as prepare for the lifetime commitment of marriage and the responsibility that comes with it.
We got married in December 1, 2007. On that day, I stood at the altar and watched in awe and love as Abigael walked towards me.
As love songs played in the background, we said our vows, kissed and looked forward to a bright future of love, prosperity and a happy family.
While dating, we had discussed having children. Abigael wanted five. I wanted three.
We also agreed that we would have our firstborn within the first year of marriage, after all, didn’t all the couples we knew get married and have a baby within months?
Two months after our wedding, my wife missed her period. I was overjoyed. She had conceived.
“Yes! You’re pregnant!” I exclaimed in joy and touched her belly when she told me that she had missed her period.
“Here comes the first of our five babies!” she chuckled. We bought a pregnancy test kit just to be sure.
To our consternation, the test was negative. But Abigael had never missed her period before, and therefore the test must have been faulty.
I went out and bought different kits from different pharmacies in town. All the tests turned negative. She wasn’t pregnant.
Within our first year of marriage, we carried out multiple tests that all turned negative.
During that time, her periods would appear and disappear. We knew there was a problem.
We consulted a doctor who specialised in reproductive health to find out what was happening.
After examination, the doctor diagnosed her with acute hormonal imbalance and put her on medication to regulate her periods.
It is now 12 years since we got married. We have sought medical help from various hospitals and reproductive experts.
We have even tried the herbal route but all our efforts have been in vain.
The procedures my wife and I have been through have not only been emotionally draining, but have consumed a lot of our savings and income.
We have inquired about the in vitro fertilisation procedure (IVF) but have shied away from it due to the heavy cost associated with it.
Our only remaining resource is hope that one day God will answer our prayer and give us a child.
That I am a pastor, and therefore in the public eye, has made our childlessness more difficult to bear.
People look at me and think to themselves, ‘What is wrong with this man? Why can’t he have a child yet he is a pastor?’
Once, someone approached me and bluntly told me that the reason I would never be a father was that I had married a girl from Nairobi.
'Girls from Nairobi use too many contraceptives and abort all the time!' he said. I was furious, especially because Abigael and I had practised chastity.
But it has been even more painful when the mockery comes from relatives.
I have been in situations where my wife has been subjected to mockery when other women are talking about having children.
Sometimes I go to meetings where men with children introduce themselves as ‘Baba So-and-So’, but since I don’t have children, I introduce myself as ‘Musembi’, only for someone to ask, ‘You are baba who?’ or ‘how many children do you have?’
I have noticed that I am always asked when I got married the moment I say that I am not a dad yet.
But my lowest moment was when a very close friend who knew my struggle mocked me, wondering why I had been unable to impregnate my wife yet we had been together for five years.
I felt dejected. I felt desperate and helpless. I felt as if I was not man enough.
Despite all that my wife and I have gone through, I have never once thought of straying from my marriage.
I have come to understand that our marriage is complete with or without children.
It certainly would be the greatest day of our lives if we are blessed with a child, but even if we are not, we shall stick to the vows we took 12 years ago to love, to cherish, and to hold till death do us part.
It is my covenant to Abigael and I will protect it with my last breath. We have learned to pray for one another and to be each other’s pillar of strength.
Above all, we protect our trust and fidelity in each other as it is the fulcrum of our marriage.
We haven’t given up yet, we are saving money to make another try at having a baby through better procedures.
I know that not many men cope well with the struggle to conceive. But I have also seen couples who have been through the struggle emerge victorious.
Do not quit and do not give up. And no, do not abandon your wife if she’s the one with the challenge because there’s more to marriage than having children."
Alex Gathii and Rose Wamucii have been married for 13 years
“Rose and I got married on November 17, 2006.
When I married her, I knew that there was a possibility that we would struggle to have a child because she had a history of prolonged, intense and painful menses that began when she was 13.
My love for her was so deep, however, that I was ready to spend the rest of my life with her regardless of whether we would be blessed with children or not.
One year before we got married, Rose was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst.
The cyst was located on her left ovary but was removed through surgery. In 2008, two years after we got married, Rose conceived. I was excited.
I could not wait to be a dad. In the fifth month of her pregnancy, however, things took the wrong turn.
She had gone to hospital for her routine check-up. After examining her, the doctors told her that the baby had died.
She underwent emergency surgery at Karen Hospital to remove the foetus.
We were distraught; we were broken. We lost the strength; the joy and the air of anticipation left our home.
But as time passed, we consoled ourselves that if she had conceived and carried the pregnancy for five months, she could conceive again and carry it to term.
She did conceive again in 2009 but lost the pregnancy again at five months. We were at home that day.
She woke up and realised that she was bleeding. I rushed her to Nairobi Hospital, where we were informed that her cervix was open, a condition we later learned was known as cervical incompetence.
Her cervix could not hold the baby. She was induced to trigger labour to extract our baby.
As she went through the labour pains, I was in distress, knowing that even though she was in labour, we would be going home empty-handed.
It was a financial burden, too, due to the medical bills. In 2010, we tried to conceive again, this time consulting a fertility expert.
Thankfully, Rose conceived. Two months later, she started bleeding. By the time we arrived at the hospital, she had lost the pregnancy. Again.
BUNDLE OF JOY
I could see that my wife was breaking apart inside. She was in pain, and not just physical pain.
She felt as if she was not woman enough. After that incident, we decided that we would not try to conceive again until we found out what the problem was.
We went to hospital, where the doctors determined that Rose had cervical incompetence, which simply refers to the inability of the cervix to hold a pregnancy to term.
Towards the end of 2010, my wife conceived again. At 12 weeks of pregnancy, as advised by the doctor we were consulting, we went to the hospital, where Rose had the McDonald cerclage — a stitch that is performed at the upper part of the cervix to prevent it from opening prematurely within the course of pregnancy.
She was also put on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy.
On August 28, 2011, very close to my birthday, Rose gave birth to our firstborn son Samuel at Mater Hospital in South C Nairobi.
I cannot begin to explain how happy we were, and still are.
THERE IS STILL HOPE
But the struggle is not yet over for us. It is now eight years since we got our child. We would like to have another baby but we have not been successful yet.
Despite being parents, we constantly suffer social stress from people who believe that we are selfish for wanting just one child.
The assumption is that we chose to have only one child. Many times, we have stayed away from family gatherings to avoid insensitive comments — for instance, we have been accused of wanting to live like “white people” for not “wanting” to have another child.
We have also been asked what we are waiting for, after all, our son is big enough to warrant a brother or sister.
Those people who say such unkind things have no idea about the struggle we have been through.
Nonetheless, we are grateful to God that even though we have not been able to have another baby, he has blessed us with one.
Our son Samuel is a testimony that there is light at the end of the tunnel for us and every other couple struggling to get a baby. All hope is not lost, so hang in there.”