The two college love birds tied the knot in 1998, but the wife began getting restless after not conceiving six years into the marriage.
“Our plan was to wait for two years then start a family,” says Oliver*. “My wife raised concerns after not getting pregnant despite not using any contraceptives.”
The gynaecologist told the wife she was fine after a battery of tests, and could she tag along Oliver in the next visit?
Oliver’s semen samples were analyzed and revealed “I had very little to no sperm.”
A second conclusive test – where testicular biopsy would be examined – was ordered by an urologist. Hormonal tests, however, turned okay.
“The test confirmed the lack of sperm. The doctor sat me down and told me that my chances of ever siring children were slim to none. The term he used was ‘Azoospermia,’” recalls Oliver adding “my mind went blank for three days. Nothing prepares a man for such a moment.”
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Dr Kireki Omanwa, the chief fertility expert at Frontline Medical Consultants in Nairobi, defines azoospermia as “lack of sperm in semen.”
He explains: “Semen is what a man ejaculates. We check if it has sperms, or if the sperm count is within normal range.”
It was not easy for Oliver and his wife but being people of faith with a healthy level of self-awareness, helped.
In Kenyan society, bearing children is a quintessential part of marriage and “after a couple gets married, society expects babies from the union sooner rather than later,” says Dr Karatu Kiemo, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi, adding that the importance is such that society addresses parents by their children’s names and “overnight, we stop calling you ‘Ruth’ or ‘John’.”
Roseline Kigen, a marriage and family therapist, says that for a man, news about infertility is hard-hitting as “impotence makes a man feel lesser of a man. Men generally have an ego. To be unable to sire children is very important for a man’s ego” and news of infertility is devastating for a man.
“We are still a patriarchal society. A man is expected to lead. And part of that leadership is material provision and physical security,” explains Kigen. “A man is not expected to fail or to show weakness. Being infertile is interpreted as ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly’.
Kigen reckons fear of being found to be infertile “is why most men shun fertility tests or vasectomy as a mode of birth control. The ability to sire children is near sacred. A man who has been proven to be infertile is bound to experience depression.”
Kigen adds that men get away with blame over fertility leaving women to carry the burden since “for a woman, pregnancy is visible, but for a man, there is nothing physical to prove that they are fertile.”
Societal pressure aside, Dr Omanwa explains that a man is not able to control their ability to sire children as “this is biology. No one is able to control their fertility. And it really has nothing to do with manliness or womanliness. It is 100 per cent a function of nature and biology.”
Dr Omanwa, also the president of Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (KOGS), says studies show that “about 40 percent of infertility is attributable to men. Women account for about 30 percent. About 15 percent involves both man and woman while it is not clear where the problem for the remaining five percent.”
Oliver chose to look beyond the diagnosis and focus on God’s purpose for his life which today, involves counseling couples experiencing the challenges he faced.
Oliver’s family friend, Grace Wanunda, is the founder of Adoption is Beautiful CBO – which creates awareness on adoption in Kenya.
“If a couple are certain they have the calling to be parents and biologically are not able to, they should consider adoption. It is the surest way of becoming a parent, says Wanunda.
Oliver and his wife now in their 50s adopted three children and “we are likely to get a fourth one soon. I love my children. There is nothing I would have given my biological children that I haven’t given them.”