Not many people are fortunate enough to be able to tick off three items – let alone three big items – from their bucket list in one short year. But for Wanjiru Kihusa, the gods seemed to be smiling on her in 2012 as she was able to complete her IT Bachelor’s degree in April, get married in June and get a job, all at the tender age of 24.
Oh, and it was not any old job she got –while many people struggle with unemployment for months or even years after completing college,
Wanjiru got herself a managerial job. She was a customer service manager at an IT firm.
Everything was going well so in June 2013, Wanjiru and her husband Andrew tried for a baby and she conceived in a month. But dark clouds started to appear when after six weeks of pregnancy, she had a threatened miscarriage.
She experienced some spotting and her gynaecologist prescribed some hormones to sustain the pregnancy.
Although Wanjiru says the hormones made her feel like she was “pregnant times four” – the nausea worsened – they helped stabilise her and she was off medication by the twelfth week. But when she was 16 weeks along, she began to feel sick again.
Wanjiru got an infection which doctors could not diagnose and this caused her to get severe cold episodes and cramps.
Early November, Wanjiru and her husband visited their former college JKUAT - which is where they met – for a Christian Union seminar. She was five months pregnant.
Despite the heat, Wanjiru felt very cold and even had to go back to the car for a while and switch on the heating. She had painful cramps but as she says: “I was used to enduring pain from an early age. My dad died when I was just 10 years old and my mum had to struggle to raise us. She would always tell us that perseverance is part of life.”
So Wanjiru tried not to pay too much attention to the cramps. Later on that night, Wanjiru and Andrew for the first time discussed the plans they had for their daughter in detail.
“Sometimes when you get pregnant, you don’t really think of plans for your baby until you get to an advanced stage,” she confesses.
After the exciting conversation, they went to sleep but not for too long because at about 2am, Wanjiru felt excruciating cramps (she was later to find out that the ‘cramps’ were actually labour pains). Putting aside what her mother had told her about persevering when in pain, she quickly woke her husband up they went to hospital.
When she reached hospital, although the baby’s heartbeat was feint, it was still alive. She was admitted. Wanjiru was in stable condition but a few hours later, she started bleeding.
“I knew something was wrong. I am not a doctor but I know cramping plus bleeding are not good signs,” she says.
Wanjiru was put on medication to stop premature labour but it did not work and her gynaecologist said the baby could not be saved so she went through the labour and she delivered her baby. The doctor let her see the baby’s body before it was taken away.When a post-mortem was done, it was discovered that listeria, a bacterial infection, had aggressively attacked the baby’s lungs and caused them to collapse. Listeria is caused by eating contaminated food. The bacteria had attacked the placenta and quickly spread to the foetus.
Giving it another shot
While there are some women who do not want to try and get pregnant again for some time after a miscarriage, Wanjiru wanted to give motherhood another shot so after a three-month resting period, they gave it another shot and sure enough, they had no problem conceiving. But their joy was even short lived this time – she miscarried at seven weeks.
Though she had a Christian upbringing, Wanjiru says she found herself questioning her faith. “Is there really a God after all? If so, how could he let this happen to me?” Wanjiru stopped going to church for three months and became bitter.
But after some soul searching, she came to this conclusion: “If it takes just a miscarriage to question God’s goodness and existence, then what kind of Christian am I really?”
Wanjiru made references to the Good Book – the parable about the sower and how she had planted her faith on rocky ground that was shaken after affliction. Wanjiru says everybody needs to get to that point where their faith is tested and they need to pass the test by coming out saying: “Although bad things can happen, God is still good.”
What not to say to a woman who has had a miscarriage
Wanjiru says many friends and relatives of women who have miscarried do not know how to comfort them.
There is a group that gives Biblical clichés. Those who will say: “All things are working out for your good”. Wanjiru has this to say to these people: “Shut up!” A woman who has had a miscarriage already knows that all things happen for a reason but it is not the right time to make such statements when a woman is grieving.
Wanjiru says sometimes the best thing someone can do is to just be there – visit and help out in the house without necessarily talking.
“One of the nicest things one of our close couple friends who didn’t have a car did, was that they travelled all the way from the other side of the city and brought us food. You know a grieving woman is in no mood to cook or host guests, so such small gestures mean a lot,” she says.
Wanjiru says the worst kind of people are the superstitious folk who make careless remarks behind grieving women’s backs, saying a woman who has had miscarriages, especially multiple ones, is bewitched. She says one of the mean things she was told was that she probably had miscarriages because “maybe your husband did not finish paying your dowry”.
Why is no one talking about miscarriages?
After Wanjiru started to heal from the pain of loss, she did what we all do these days – she turned to doctor Google to find research and statistics on miscarriages and what she found was shocking – up to 25 per cent of pregnant women have a miscarriage in the US.
She thought to herself – if the numbers are so high, how come no one is talking about it? And if the numbers are so high abroad where healthcare is much better, what are the numbers in Kenya?
When Wanjiru resigned from her job during her first pregnancy due to the complications, she started blogging primarily on marriage topics. But after the miscarriages, she shifted gears to blogging about miscarriages.
The first time Wanjiru shared her story about her miscarriage on her blog, she got overwhelming response from other women who had gone through it too. That was to be the beginning of what would become the ‘Still a Mum’ movement.
Finding her purpose
Wanjiru decided to dedicate her time to her ‘Still a Mum’ blog and formed an organisation under the same name. During the week leading up to Mother’s Day, she ran a campaign under the hashtag #stillamum which trended.
The organisation celebrated all mums in their different shades – mums who have miscarried, single mums, IVF mums, step-mums, mums who have had Caesarean sections and adoptive mums.
‘Still a Mum’ was officially registered on October 15 last year. The date coincides with the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The organisation focuses on offering support to women who have had miscarriages as well as creating awareness on miscarriages. It runs a five-session programme similar to an ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ setup.
In the programme, women are not told what to do or what not to do to avoid miscarriages in the future.
The forum is a safe place for women to just let it all out – the pain, anger and tears. In subsequent sessions, women talk about how to get unstuck. The programme challenges women to pick one thing to focus on that will excite them and keep their mind off falling into depression. Wanjiru says many women choose to commit to losing weight.
If your dreams don’t scare you...
Wanjiru has big plans for her organisation. She refers to Richard Branson’s quote: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” The plan for 2016 is to open offices in at least two counties – Meru and Thika and one other country in East Africa as well as form partnerships.
As for whether she is trying to become a mother again, Wanjiru has this to say: “I already am a mother of two children; they are just not here physically.” And although she says it is no one’s business whether she is trying to have another baby in the future, especially if “you do not know me like that”, if you must know, the answer is yes.