Rose Nderitu was not too alarmed when she had her first period at age 13 in 1995. She was a Class Seven pupil at Kihora Primary School in Nyeri.
She had curiously anticipated it for a year, since she had first learned about puberty and the physical changes that come with adolescence in Class Six.
What she didn’t expect was that hers would turn into a nightmare that would torment her from her teens to her married years.
“Once it started, my period wouldn’t stop. They kept getting intense, day after day,” says Rose. “Surviving school became a problem. I felt shamed.
There were times when my period would get so intense that blood would flow through my pad to the ground.” In her better cycles, Rose would always wrap a sweater round her waist to prevent blood stains from from showing.
“It was more devastating when boys would make fun of my leakage or when someone would publicly ask why I had stains on the back of my dress.”
Her parents enlisted the help of a private gynecologist to get her a cure, but things only got worse.
“I was taken to Consolata Mathari Hospital, which became my second home. I would either be admitted or have my hormone levels monitored.”
Many times, the loss of blood would render her unconscious. Whenever she was admitted at the hospital, a blood transfusion would be made to replace the blood she’d lost in her menses.
Rose joined Moi Equator Girls Secondary School in Nanyuki in 1998. She would occasionally be referred to Nanyuki General Hospital for examinations and tests but a cause was not found. “All the tests they performed came out negative,” she says. At some point, the doctors tried to see if she was suffering from leukemia but that too turned out negative. “Eventually they told my parents to check our family background. ‘Hii inakaa mambo ya kinyumbani,’ they told us,” she says.
This fresh recommendation turned out to be a wild goose chase and soon, a deficient Rose was back at Consolata Mathari. More tests were done up until 2005 when she was diagnosed with an 8.5 inch ovarian cyst in her left ovary.
The cyst was so big yet so undetectable that Rose says the doctors termed it a case study. Surgery removed the cyst… but left collateral damage.
A few months after the surgery, Rose met and fell in love with Alex. At that time, her village was rife with rumours that she couldn’t bear children because doctors had cut out her womb.
“I feared that Alex had heard this, and wondered if he would believe my side of the story,” she says. But a love-smitten Alex had already made up his mind. “‘I believe you and would still love you anyway’, that’s what he said. I’ll never forget,” she says. On November 7, 2006, the two were married.
In the following two years, Rose failed to conceive. Then in 2008, she conceived. “I was overjoyed. I caressed and checked how big my belly got daily.” She began to visit baby shops in Nyeri in anticipation. She couldn’t wait to hold her first born. Her joy and anticipation were brutally cut short in the fifth month of her pregnancy.
“At my clinic appointment, the doctors told me that my baby had died and began to decompose inside my uterus three days ago,” she says. She was put on an emergency surgery and her macerated foetus was removed.
Not one to give up, Rose conceived again in 2009. Just like her first pregnancy, things took a turn for the worse in her fifth month.
“I woke up one day and found blood stains on my panties. I rushed to the hospital where the doctors said that my cervix had opened and could no longer hold the baby,” she says. She was put on forced labour to extract the foetus. “It was a painful experience. I was in labour and yet I wouldn’t go home with a baby.”
When Rose had a third miscarriage in 2010, her gynecologist diagnosed her with cervical incompetence – the inability by the cervix to contain fetal weight. In late 2010, she conceived again. This time, her gynecologist installed a stitch performed to prevent it from opening prematurely – and put her on bed rest. She carried this pregnancy to term and gave birth to her son Samuel in August 2011.
“My son was born with clubfoot,” she says. “This was the beginning of a new journey that would cost us Sh10,000 weekly before we found out that corrective clubfoot therapy and surgeries are free at Kijabe AIC Cure International.” Today, her son is “healthy from head to feet and is very good at football,” she says .
Rose hopes for more children in years to come. “From my experience, I can never ask anyone why it’s taking them too long to have a baby or a second born. It’s never that easy for some of us.”