In 2020 Ami Jasho, 38, a mother, wife, gender activist, feminist and storyteller with 15 years of experience in strategic communications and sustainable development, founded the digital platform “Unmothering the Woman.”
Imagine a platform where women can speak openly about topics that have always been taboo topics that revolve around “motherhood” or “womanhood”. Topics women have in the past not been allowed to utter openly lest they are branded “bad”.
A platform where women can openly talk about everything from regretting motherhood, to adoption, to sharing their struggles with conception, to the choice to be childless. Talk about mothering from prison, mothering and mental health, motherhood and divorce, to sharing about toxic motherhood.
What was Ami’s inspiration? “There was a story last year about a lady who gave outside Pumwani hospital. I was so affected by this story and planned to do a documentary on the law and policy around healthcare around maternity.
Then Covid-19 happened and everything stopped, but I had already done some research and discovered so many different stories, things that women had gone through or were going through, that no one was openly talking about.
I knew I had to create a safe space for women to openly talk about in order to dismantle the stereotypes society has built around womanhood and maternity. To create a safe space for women to share the stories of their journey through mothering differently.”
Some of these so-called taboo topics include stories like that of Jeri Muchura, 38. She is a mother of three and an award-winning photographer who passionately believes that mothers and women should be allowed to be multifaceted.
“When it comes to motherhood, women are often put on pedestals as if they come pre-installed with a chip or software called motherhood. Society seemingly believes that just because a woman has given birth, she automatically feels complete and experiences never-ending happiness. The worst thing she can do is mention any other emotions like being upset, unprepared, regret or even overwhelmed,” says Jeri.
“I, for example, took all precautions not to get pregnant. However, my doctor did not ask whether I was on birth control when he prescribed me certain antibiotics. Both medicines counteracted and neutralised each other and I got pregnant at 26. Society declares that when you get pregnant, you have no right to be upset, especially when it is unexpected. Although men are allowed to be upset when they get a lady pregnant, the same grace is not extended to women.”
Jeri believes that women should be allowed to be open about the length and breadth of motherhood.
“Mothers, for example, should be allowed to acknowledge that while you may love your child or children, they may have come too early and interrupted your education or career trajectory. When it comes to motherhood, women are only allowed to feel two emotions; pride and happiness. Feeling other emotions like regret over the loss of a career means something is wrong with you, yet it just shows that women are human and not these ‘long-suffering demigods’ society imagines them to be.”
Jeri adds that this need to suppress women’s emotions is what prevents women from speaking up when they have postpartum depression.
“Even women, who have more than one child, often have different emotions with each birth. With the first, it could be butterflies and happiness, but with the second it could be a struggle to even bond. This is why some mothers suffer silently or keep their feelings hidden if they are not in line with societies standards,” she says.
“When I became a mother, my career suffered. I had to take a back seat as I watched the careers of others progress and to be honest, mothering set me back almost seven years. At the time I was on radio, doing TV production work, and was on my way to becoming a TV presenter, but after taking a break I could not catch up.”
Jeri states that she had to sit down with herself and acknowledge how she felt, and allow herself to heal.
“Acknowledging the feeling of regretting the timing of motherhood allowed me to heal, love my children more, and even get into a new career. It does not mean that something is wrong with you, but that you are just human. If necessary, go to therapy. Allow yourself to acknowledge the emotion so that you can let it go, or you can end up hurting the people you love the most,” she adds.
“My healing journey led me to take up photography and this is what literally saved my life. I have photographed for top companies in the country, travelled all over the continent and even bagged a couple of international photography awards for my work. Now I work with an amazing organisation called Photo Start Foundation as their Country Programme Coordinator and Lead Educator training up the next generation of photographers and storytellers.”
Then there are other stories like that of Christine Muthoni, which delves into one of these so-called taboo topics: the divorcee mother. Christine, 39, a family law lawyer says that when it comes to women, society has these preconceived ideas or standards of who a ‘good’ woman should look like.
“A lot of times these standards end up imprisoning women in situations they have no business being in because they believe that they do not have other choices. Yet there are a variety of choices, and though different are okay. I am a mother of two and in the process of divorce.”
Christine got married in 2011 because it was the next expected natural step for her to take as an upstanding and respectable member of society.
“I knew that at a certain age I was required to be married and to start a family, and because I had a religious background, I had no business co-habiting. I got married and expected the happy ever after I had been conditioned to expect. I was not really prepared for what it meant to be a wife or mother. All I knew was that I was expected to have a big wedding that would impress society and earn me the title ‘Mrs,’” she says.
Christine says that a few months into her marriage she quickly realised that it was not what she expected. “At this stage, the butterflies and excitement are over, and you begin to see your partner and yourself for who you truly both are, and quickly realise that maybe you are not compatible. Maybe you are not designed to be a wife or homemaker. Maybe there is more to life.”
Further, she adds that society does not offer much help when a marriage is in trouble.
“If you seek redress in church you are told to fast and pray for your marriage. Persevere because it rains everywhere, attend church more and join marriage enrichment groups,” says Christine.
“I believe that marriage should be enjoyable, fulfilling, wholesome and a peaceful experience. After all, that is going to be your experience for the rest of your life. If at any one point it ceases being that, then one should be at liberty to make a different choice for themselves and know that it is okay.”
Ten years gone and two children later, it become evident to Christine that she and her ex were done. “I accepted that it was okay to change my mind and to take a different path. I did not have to be a prisoner of a decision I made in my youth.
I was unhappy and miserable and it was not good for both of us or our children. Our divorce is not finalised yet, but I am grateful that it has not been acrimonious thus far. I am hopeful that my ex-husband and I will be able to maintain a cordial relationship in future. I have nothing against marriage, I do not believe it is for everyone. People should know they have a choice.”
Christine is currently writing a book about Conscious Uncoupling. The book seeks to change the narrative around uncoupling and the antagonistic nature of divorce. In it, she shares her own experience and seeks to offer a foothold on the legal process of divorce as well as a guide on healing and finding yourself again through the process.
Another example is Mwenda Mbaabu, 39, mother of a 16-year-old girl, and a published author, spiritual teacher and transformational coach, whose choice is not to get married.
“The idea of marriage where both parties promise each other forever does not make sense to me. I mean, no one commits to work in a job forever or be friends with someone forever. Yet somehow with romantic relationships there this obsession with forever even when you no longer like the person, or want to be married,” says Mwenda.
Mwenda says that this obsession with forever is what results in people having mistresses rather than just ending these relationships.
“Romantic relationships are partnerships and not ownership. It is a decision by two adults to come together to partner in life and offer companionship, love, and intimate support to one another. I have never felt the need to hurry to get into relationships as there is a time for everything,” she says.
“I do want to be in a long-term relationship with someone who shares similar values. I desire to be with someone who sees me as a partner and human being, and not just a woman. I am a human being with dreams, plans, desires, and ideas. I cannot be with someone who sees the world from a conservative, black and white traditional mindset or who wants a ‘wife material’ and is obsessed with gender roles,” she adds.
So, what does the coach teach her daughter about marriage: “To live her life as authentically as possible, following her heart. She wants to get married and have children. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone should be true to themselves.”