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Where is Daddy? Pain of families split up by virus

By Mercy Adhiambo | June 10th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Peterson Maasa has only seen his newborn once since he was born in March. Massa lives in Machakos while his wife and son are in Nairobi.

It had been four years of waiting. After many hospital visits that included a surgery on his wife to remove an overgrown fibroid, they got the news they had waited for. It happened last year in June.

“When we saw the two lines that showed she was pregnant, my wife broke down. We had waited for so long. I knew from that moment that I will not miss a single milestone of fatherhood,” says Peterson Maasa, who works in Machakos.

The pregnancy was marred with complications. Their doctor suggested that they schedule for birth in Nairobi. His wife moved in temporarily with his sister.

On March 26, a few hours before cessation of movement was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta, his wife Lucy Mwende went for an emergency Caesarean section. The cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi took effect on March 27. At the time a similar ban was slapped on Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties. The restrictions on Kwale and Kilifi have since been lifted.

“I only held my son once and I had to rush back to Machakos to take care of things at home. We have a business that I had to put in order. The borders closed a few hours later and I have never physically seen my son again,” says Masaa.

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Medical complications

Mwende says a few days after her delivery, she developed complications on her CS wound and had to be readmitted to hospital. She then started showing signs of post natal depression.

“My husband would call and I would do nothing, but cry. I really needed his support, but he could not be here. I was getting better but when 30 more days were added to the cessation of movement rule, I got anxiety attacks again,” says Mwende.  

It has been more than 70 days since families like that of Maasa were separated. For most of them, it has been a season of tears, anxiety and counting the days with hopes that things will normalise soon.

For Carolyne Lusweti, the biggest struggle has been trying to explain to her two children why their father who works as a banker in Nairobi no longer visits them in Kitale.

“Before coronavirus disrupted everything, we were all set to move to Nairobi in April. The children were excited. Now that has to wait and they do not understand. My three-year-old is so angry with his father,” says Lusweti.

The children have now become hesitant to pick their father’s calls because they think he has refused to go home to them.

“They keep saying they hate “coyona” as they call the virus, and they just want their father to come home,” she says.

Susan Gitau, psychologist and lecturer at the Africa Nazarene University, says that many children, especially the ones who have not quite understood the social impact of coronavirus, are battling anxiety when their parents are separated.

“Some may even be thinking that their parents are forever separated and they are getting stressed. The social impact of this disease on families is real,” she says.

Carol Ndinya, whose husband and two children are in Rwanda, says it has been a period marked with stress. Before the virus, she would visit her family every month, having moved back to Kenya from Rwanda a few years ago. When the international borders were closed, everything changed.

“When I call my children, the first thing they ask is when this thing will end, and when they will see me again. It saddens me when I tell them that I do not know. The uncertainty of it all is what worries me even more,” she says.

Mathew Ogolla, a casual labourer in Nairobi, used to visit his family in Kisumu every fortnight. He says the separation has made his wife paranoid.

“Anytime she calls me, she is always wondering if there is someone in the house with me. She was never like that. She once called me and my TV was on, she insisted it was another woman,” he says.

He feels like he is failing his wife by not being around her.

Gitau says that in times of uncertainty like now, couples are likely to have more differences because their mental health is also affected.

Physical exercises

She advises couples explore different communication options such as using video calls. She also says couples should use exercise as a form of release when they are feeling overwhelmed.

“They should be honest with each other on how they are feeling.  This pandemic has affected families and they should not be afraid of discussing their deepest emotions. If things get worse, they should reach out to professional counsellors,” she says. 

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