Struggles of a mother with an intersex child

Intersex are individuals who “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. [iStockphoto]

Moments after giving birth in her rural home, Ivy Kawira*, a mother of one, faced a difficult choice: Deciding whether her baby would be a boy or a girl.

The child was born with ambiguous genitalia, displaying characteristics that are neither male nor female. 

Kawira wanted to act quickly so she asked the midwife how she was going to survive with such a child and how the community would view her and the newborn.

“Being a mother is all I have wanted and I was excited when the whole pregnancy period was a success and it was now time to bring my bundle of joy to the world,” narrates Kawira. 

“When the midwife put the child on my chest and asked me to confirm the gender, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks, but my mood changed when I saw that my baby had two genitalia. I asked her how I would reveal the gender to my family members and to the community,” remembers Kawira.

She was worried because she remembered that in some societies, children who are born with such features are killed or they are chased out of the community terming it a bad omen to the family and generation to come.

She narrates that the midwife told her not to worry because a child can be born with different chromosome arrangements and the condition can be corrected through surgery or the baby will have to decide the gender at 18 years based on which gender features were stronger than the other.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people are individuals who “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. They are born with any of several sex characteristics including chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals.

“A child is born with different chromosome arrangements that affect sexual development. For example, they might have just one X chromosome or a combination like XXY. Or some of their cells might have different sex chromosomes than others do,” Kawira narrates.

She adds that it is also possible for intersex people to have sex chromosomes typical of males or females, but to have body traits that aren’t typical for that sex,” narrates Kawira.

According to the 2019 Population and Housing Census by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, there are 1,524 intersex people in the country, with Nairobi and Kiambu counties among the top counties with the highest numbers of intersex persons having 245 and 135 intersex persons, respectively. 

Following her conversation with the midwife, Kawira decided that her baby would be a girl and named her Ryan*. To protect her, she had to dress her like a girl and even went ahead to plait her hair with fancy baby hairstyles.

She narrates that she thought it would be good to share the information about their baby’s condition rather than wait and let him find out later. 

“I thought it was wise for me to share with my husband so that we could know how would know how to handle it and for me to maintain our marriage,” she says.

However, Kawira says she regrets opening up to her husband because that was the downfall and miserable lifestyle.

She says that everything started changing from the good relationship she had with her husband and immediate family from her husband’s side.

“One evening, I was called to my father-in-law’s house. I was told to go along with my baby. I thought they were going to carry out a traditional ceremony to welcome the newborn in the community, little did I know that was my last evening in my husband’s home,” she narrates.

She says that, on arrival, she met a group of old men who were seated in the house waiting for her.

“When I entered the house, no one wanted to look at me. Due to respect, I said hello to them and proceeded to sit on a chair that was left unoccupied in the room,” she remembers.

Kawira says that she was given only two options - to kill the baby or go away with the child which they termed as removing a bad omen in the family.

“I looked at Ryan, the innocent beautiful face…. tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt helpless but the only option I had was to be strong for my baby’s survival. I was dumb folded, I walked out of the room without uttering a word,” says Kawira.

She says that before she could reach the door, she heard her husband saying, ‘The decision should be made now.’

As a mother, the love she had for her firstborn baby was unwavering so she had to make the decision that would ensure her baby’s survival.

“He came from the meeting and he was wild. He took our clothes and threw them outside. He said all these weird things about me and he pushed me out of his house in the dark. I begged him to spare us for that night but he did not listen to any of my pleas,” Kawira narrates.

She says that she had to stand up and be strong for the sake of her baby girl.

“Life was never the same, I had to come to Nairobi hoping to find something that would keep us moving. I used to sleep in the corridors at night and, during the day, I would walk from one street to another begging for help from pedestrians,” she narrates as tears fill her eyes.

She says that was her lifestyle until she met a man named RK*.

“For the first time, I met someone willing to listen to me. The guy was nice to me. I told myself that God had revealed himself through him. He took me to a hotel and bought us food as we conversed,” narrates Kawira.

She says that the man decided to rent a house for her, did some shopping for her and offered her a job in his church.

“Pastor RK has been my life changer. He caters for Ryan’s very expensive medication. He offered a roof for us and a job opportunity,” she says.

Kawira says that she can now take care of her five-year-old baby without much struggle and she vows to do anything that it could take for her baby’s wellbeing.

She says that having an intersex child is not easy, she is always moving around with her baby as she fears that if she leaves the child behind, she will be victimised by other children. 

“Soon Ryan is going to enroll for school, I don’t know the type of reception she will receive and going forward how things will work out for her but I hope that all will be well,” she says.

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