Amina Kazungu walks out of her grass-thatched house with a mound of steaming ugali and vegetables.
Her children, aged between two and eight, are in tow. Some of them hold on to her leso, desperately trying to reach for the food. She shoos them away, kicking at the ones who are too close.
“The food is hot. Step away,” she says, but her pleas are ignored. The children finally sit on the dusty ground and watch with dewy eyed enthusiasm as she serves them a meal they have waited for since morning.
It is slightly past midday at Mkombe village in Kilifi County, and the children are having their first meal of the day.
“They behave like this when food is scarce. If they delay, they know it will be over before they taste it,” she says.
She monitors as seven of her eleven children scramble to get a scoop of the little food before them. Her last one is comfortably tucked in her arms.
Amina does not intervene when the older kids try to block the younger ones from the hastily reducing food portion.
“I have other serious things to worry about,” she says.
Right leg was swollen
On her mind is her eight-month-old son Ushindi Mboro. He was born with only one leg. His left foot was infused to his right thigh when he was delivered. When nurses tried to separate his feet, they noticed one leg was nothing but a lump with a bone peeping through the skin. The right leg was swollen and twisted awkwardly to the opposite direction.
“Doctors attributed the deformity to giving birth in my advanced age,” Amina says, adding that a nurse later told her that she has given birth too many times, and her womb is “tired.”
The mother of 11 had never used contraceptives. Since she had her first child when she was 20, she ignored nurses' advice to start using contraceptives.
“When I was young, people said one of my neighbours died from using family planning. It felt easier to give birth even if my kids are suffering, than die trying to stop it,” she says.
To avoid persistent calls by medics to use contraceptives, she decided to seek services of traditional birth attendants.
“I was told there are doctors who will trick me and inject me without consent,” she says. She has never attended school, and does not remember anyone ever telling her about the benefits of family planning.
Dr Nelly Bosire, obstetrician /gynaecologist in Nairobi says there are many women who are not exposed to information about family planning. She adds that some who are aware about it deliberately ignore it.
“I have noticed that this is not just an issue with people in the lower social class. Some of the most-educated people are still hesitant in embracing family planning. They believe all sorts of talks on the negative effects of contraceptives,” she says.
In March, after Amina got over the shock of giving birth to a child with disability, she took a leap of faith and got her first shot of contraceptive. A decision she says she made avoid the possibility of having more birth complications.
“I was ready to die. Neighbours would tell me to hide my cursed baby and some even suggested that I throw him away. I did not want to have another child and go through all this over again,” she says.
She strongly believes having many children contributed to her son’s disability. Doctors, however, dispute this, saying while her age could have played a part, it has nothing to do with the number of children she has.
“It is a congenital disorder that could have been caused by many factors, including genetics and the environment,” says Dr Maureen Owiti, gynaecologist at Kenyatta National Hospital.
Amina laughs when she talks about baby Ushindi; and how he has become a darling of the other siblings despite being different. She however frowns and sighs when the talk shifts to her children’s education.
“They are too many, and I cannot afford to buy them uniforms or pay the exam fee needed in school,” she says.
None of her children has gone beyond Class Three. Her focus is on Ushindi, and how his only leg can be saved.
“The doctors told me that his other leg is rotting, and I need about Sh150,000 for it to be straightened so that he can walk even if with one leg when he grows up,” she says.
On whether she wants more children, she sits pensively, looks at her children playing in the compound after a hurried meal and says: “I am not the one controlling my womb. If they come, what can I do?”