Ms Lubov Achieng cannot get enough of moments when her son Feodor Kipkoech calls her “mummy” immediately he gets to their doorstep from school. To be called “mother” is a dream come true for her.
But the mother-son moment did not come easy. She narrates how she tried to have a baby for over eight years. Back then, she found it had to be happy for her friends who got pregnant. Their happiness reminded her about her own longing. She kept asking: “Why me?”
But, with the optimism of her husband, they were hopeful that they would one day become parents. But even hope was tested every month she would get her period.
“It took time for me to accept that I would not have a baby. I had given up and hated it when any of my friends got pregnant,” narrates Ms Achieng.
Desperate, the couple decided to see a doctor to establish who between them had a problem. The doctor said she had a problem – adenomyosis. This is a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus (the myometrium). As a result, she experienced pain during intercourse and heavier-than-usual menstrual bleeding. The condition makes the uterine walls grow thicker, hence the difficulty in getting a baby.
She was 39 when her condition was diagnosed. The bad news was that there was no treatment for the condition and the only way she could get a child was through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
IVF is the process where the fusing of the female egg and male sperm is done outside the body in a test tube. The embryos are produced in the laboratory and then placed in the womb.
“I had two options, either to remain without a child or to try the procedure. It took me two years to make up my mind because I was researching on the process and also factoring in my age,” says Achieng.
WARNING FROM DOCTOR
She was placed on androgen to shrink her uterus but with a warning from the doctor that it was not a solution to the problem.
She gave in and accepted to have the IVF process done.
“Though IVF is a lonely process, I was prepared for the emotional toll, but not the physical. My husband was with me throughout the process. He was my pillar,” she tells Lifestyle.
“IVF can drain you both physically, emotionally and financially,” she offers.
She was placed on hormone drugs for one month, placed back on contraceptive pills and then the IVF injection process started.
She was also placed on vitamins, folic acid and progesterone for six weeks.
Every day she would go for checkup and injections and to change her medication.
The injections, she says, were painful and every day brought new obstacles to overcome. She had no choice but to just face it head-on.
In June 2014, doctors from India performed the procedure.
“First, my ovums were harvested. I only had five ovums that were harvested and the doctor told me that one was bad. I was left with four and my chances of getting pregnant were minimal.”
She says the egg collection process was horrendous. The drug treatment left her feeling bloated while the operation left her tender and bruised.
Sperms were taken from her husband and tested. They were later placed together with the extracted ovum for fertilisation. Then fertilised ovum were transplanted into her uterus.
“I was very excited because I watched the whole procedure especially when they were transplanting the fertilised eggs into my uterus. I was watching it on the screen because I was not under anaesthesia.
Four fertilised eggs were inserted but three came out. Luckily enough, the strongest one remained,” she says.
After two weeks, she went for a blood test that confirmed that she was pregnant and eight months later, Feodor was born.
“My husband was extremely happy because he was on the verge of giving up and after an agonising eight-year wait, we were going to hold our bundle of joy,” she recalls.
The boy, Feodor (God’s Gift) Kipkoech, is now three-and-a-half years old.
“My husband and I love our little miracle boy with every fibre of our beings. He has brought us even closer. He amazes us every day,” says Ms Achieng.
The couple spent Sh250,000 for the procedure. The amount has since risen.
In Kenya, one single IVF procedure costs Sh300,000 if the egg and sperm are from a couple. Those who utilise donated eggs or sperm pay Sh390,000 for a single operation. Repeat procedures for failed attempts cost the same amount.
This means the service is out of reach for many Kenyans.
Many patients have to save money for the procedure to be done or even take loans from banks.
A woman in Nairobi, who sought anonymity due the stigma associated with barrenness, said she has an outstanding bank loan of over Sh1 million which she borrowed in her efforts to have a successful pregnancy.
“I had my first IVF in 2012 in which I used more than Sh300,000 but the process was not successful. I had to take another loan and sell some of my property for the second IVF which failed,” she said.
She went to a different doctor and was told that her chances of getting pregnant were nil because she had fibroids. She went for an operation and after six months took another loan for another IVF.
She got pregnant this time and had her baby at 45. She is still servicing her loan.
“I am not regretting that I took a loan to have my baby. It would have been painful if I did not conceive,” she says.
Today, many couples who are having difficulties conceiving are resorting to the laboratory to get a child and it is working for them, going by the number of treatments local fertility doctors are carrying out.
Dr Joshua Noreh is one of the experts championing IVF in the country. He says the success rate of the procedure, in the top margin, is at between 40 and 45 per cent.
Dr Noreh says the first thing to do when preparing for an IVF is to help the eggs grow by giving hormonal treatment though injection, which takes about 14 days for the eggs to grow and mature.
The eggs are then retrieved and fertilised and this is where a man comes in and produces the sperm.
The eggs and sperms are then fused in the laboratory.
“After fertilisation, we allow it to grow into an embryo which takes about five days to determine that it’s healthy and can make a baby then we take the embryo and put it in the womb,” says Dr Noreh.
He said for conception to take place, an embryo has to attach itself onto the womb. The attachment is unpredictable, it may take place or not. This is where most of the IVF failures occur.
“For couples on whom we have done the IVF, their chance of conceiving is about 40 per cent. If we treat 100 women and transferred 100 embryos, 60 will not get pregnant,” said Dr Noreh, who is the head of Nairobi IVF Centre.
The first IVF done at the clinic was in 2015 and the first baby was born last year.
The Nairobi IVF Clinic now offers a wide range of Assisted Reproductive Technologies including IVF intrauterine inseminations (IUI), ovulation induction, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), egg and sperm donation, gestational surrogacy, embryo and sperm cryopreservation.
Since 2015, Nairobi IVF Centre has conducted about 5,000 procedures, with more than 3,000 babies born. Most couples often return for their frozen embryos.
On a typical day, Dr Noreh performs between eight and 12 such procedures but sometimes the number goes up to 16.
Joyce Lay: Pain of motherhood
Ms Joyce Lay, the former Taita- Taveta Woman Representative, on the other hand, gave birth through surrogate motherhood which entails using another woman’s womb to get a baby.
She had a series of complications that compelled doctors to surgically remove her womb and, as a result, she was unable to give birth.
In an interview with Lifestyle, she narrates how getting the baby cost her about Sh1 million.
She and the woman whose womb was to be used had earlier entered into a legal agreement that the latter would hand over the baby, once born, to her. This did not, however, happen.
In Kenyan law, the woman who gives birth is strictly the one whose name appears on the birth certificate and this complicated the arrangement.
In the birth certificate, it is the surrogate mother’s name which appeared as the real mother and Ms Lay had to follow the adoption process to get the baby.
“Since we had an agreement which we had signed before a lawyer, the adoption process took longer because it was a unique case,” she recalled.
She took her child and changed her name in the certificate after four years.
The entire procedure and lengthy court process cost Ms Lay about Sh1 million.
“The cost was nothing compared to the excruciating four-year wait to legally have my son. It is a painful wait. You have a child, but legally, that child does not belong to you,” she explains.
She struggled with the In-Vitro Fertilisation Bill which never saw the light of day in the National Assembly.
“We hoped to get support in the National Assembly because surrogacy and IVF is happening in Kenya but we did not succeed,” she says.
She is contemplating going through the process again.
“Definitely. I want to do it again. Maybe a baby girl this time,” she says.