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Lessons on childlessness from the novel Coming to Birth

By Daniel Many | Oct 23rd 2018 | 3 min read
By Daniel Many | October 23rd 2018

I came across a sad story published in The Standard on Friday 19th October 2018, titled, "In-laws kick out childless widow after husband dies."

The story narrates the plight of Josephine Achieng, a widow, whose house was demolished by her in-laws for allegedly failing to bear a child.

Achieng, as the story goes, had only stayed with her husband for three years before he died.

In those three years, they had not gotten a child but they were not worried as they believed children come from God and they would be blessed with one in God's own time.

Despite the strides we have made in the field of science, literature (feminism) and religion, childlessness still remains a thorny issue.

It becomes worse in a society like ours that still puts a heavy burden on women who are taking too long to bear children.

The consequences of this pressure to bear children range from suicide, depression to infidelity and such cases of women being disowned by their relatives like that one of Achieng.

While reading the story of Achieng, I could not help but think of Paulina Akeyo, the protagonist character in the novel, "Coming to Birth" by Marjorie Oludhe McGoye.

Paulina was only sixteen years old when she got married to Martin Were who was twenty-three. The two got married in 1956.

The same year, Paulina becomes pregnant. She would later suffer a miscarriage after relocating to Nairobi with Martin.

Paulina suffered many miscarriages and whenever she travelled home, her in-laws were greatly disappointing in her.

This state of childlessness caused a lot of trouble in Martin's family.

The in-laws put a lot of pressure on them. This drove Paulina to move away from home and Martin to start seeing another woman.

One day, Paulina visited Martin and found him with Fatima (the woman he was seeing).

When Paulina introduced herself, Fatima asked her," And you are the mother of who?" This infuriated Paulina.

In 1961, five years later, Paulina was still childless. Martin's sisters even suggested she gets pregnant with another man but she was reluctant.

While Martin went as far as removing his wedding ring, Paulina never thought of cheating.

In fact, she preoccupied herself with studies at the homecraft school.

In 1965, nine years into her childless marriage, Paulina succumbed to temptation and cheated on Martin with a man named Simon.

She got a son and named him Martin. During a protest in Kisumu against President Kenyatta, Martin died from a gunshot wound.

This loss awakened Paulina's senses and she travelled back to Nairobi to reunite with Martin.

The story of Martin Were and Paulina Akeyo ends on a positive note when Paulina notices that she is pregnant.

This novel teaches us a lot of important lessons on childlessness.

One lesson we can learn is that the night may be long and dark but joy comes in the morning.

It might take five, ten or even twenty years but in the end, a child or even children may come.

Another lesson we can learn is that infidelity is not the solution to childlessness.

Martin cheated on Paulina with Fatima and Fatima's younger sister Fauzia but both did not give him a child. The son that Paulina got out of wedlock died.

The third lesson we can learn from this novel is that we can choose to make the most out of an ugly situation.

Paulina took advantage of her childlessness to go to school and improve her craft.

She became self-reliant when she started her own business.

She also learnt some English and even became a team leader who taught other women in the village.

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