Nine months into marriage, Lucy missed her period.
It was an exciting time for all of us. At her wedding, there was this old lady from her husband’s village who believed that a woman who had gone through university without getting pregnant had a problem.
She believed that such a woman would never conceive. “She has swallowed all the pills and done all the abortions,” she would say sarcastically. “Her womb is rotten.”
You see, a number of girls get pregnant and drop out of school so often that this abnormality has become the norm in some communities.
Others conceive while in college, such that by the time they finish their courses, they have a certificate and a baby – a kind of double achievement.
However, Lucy had always wanted to finish college; get a job and wed only thereafter. She believed that the baby should follow the wedding.
She chose to follow this tortuous road. She finished her course at the university and started the difficult road of job hunting.
She got a job two years later, after a series of attachments and volunteering in a number of organisations. It was only thereafter that she accepted to discuss wedding plans.
She had dated Erick for over seven years and had made him understand her desire to live a systematic life. She felt lucky that he was such an understanding man. By the time the wedding came, she was 29.
“I hope you trust me and know that I am not part of the agenda of those relatives of mine peddling myths against you,” Erick would reassure her.
But as it happens, when people describe you in a certain way, over time it sticks in the heart and mind and you begin to believe them.
You actually begin to question yourself and it falsely occurs to you that the majority cannot be wrong. This is the pedagogy of the oppressed.
“When I failed to conceive in the first, second, third and even fourth month, I got anxious and began to believe that there was a problem with me,” Lucy said. “If anything, over three-quarters of my cohorts had children.”
It was in the fourth month that Lucy decided to seek medical help. In taking her medical history, I found no health problem that could have caused infertility.
I examined her and found all her body systems to be normal. I concluded that she was healthy and advised her to have sex two to three times a week and wait for eight more months for the conception.
Conventionally, the definition of infertility is failure to conceive in 12 months despite having unprotected sex two to three times a week.
Two months after reviewing Lucy, I got a call from a colleague. Lucy was in his office seeking treatment for infertility again.
“She is anxious and requesting for fertility pills,” the doctor said. “She is threatening that if we cannot help her, she will travel to India to seek help.”
“My once-jolly wife is no longer at ease,” Erick reported in one his many phone calls to me. “She is skipping meals and her weight has gone down. She breaks down and cries easily at anything.”
Lucy dragged through the eighth month. I counselled and reassured here several times. She would just pop into the clinic and sometimes break down and cry.
“The gods have conspired against me. Maybe I should have conceived in primary school like some of my classmates did,” she lamented.
I began to wonder whether Lucy had a point. Was one year actually too long to wait for a pregnancy?
I wondered whether we needed to break the rules of medicine and just diagnose her with infertility. I kept my fingers crossed every day, hoping that the pregnancy would occur.
I was becoming part of Lucy’s anxiety and feeling pressured to do something. “I will not break the rules; I will stick to the guidelines. Yes, it will be fine,” I found myself mumbling as I walked to the office one morning, not sure that I believed my own words.
It was the beginning of Lucy’s ninth month in marriage and the pressure was building from all quarters.
I feared that the 12 months would soon be over and Lucy would remind me that she knew better, and that we had not listened to her.
And so it was a great relief to me, and to everybody, when the pregnancy test turned positive that Monday morning.
“So you have proved that science is right and we should follow it,” Lucy reminded me. “It happened within the 12-month window!”
“Even if you are busy, we just must have lunch together today,” added Erick. “We can carry it to your office if that is what works for you.”
As we enjoyed the three-course lunch, I remember the words of my professor in medical school: that as much as one act of sex can lead to pregnancy, many acts of sex can miss to cause pregnancy for a whole year, and that pregnancy happens when it happens, and when it is least expected.
In fact, the professor had said, many of us came as accidents when our mothers least expected it.