Thanks to science, it is now possible for women to conceive after menopause or postpone their childbearing to a later date.
The story of 52-year-old Jemimah Okutu, a secretary, is one of great sacrifice and love. She dedicated her life to raising her siblings on a meagre salary after the death of their parents. Nothing, not even a man or marriage would distract Jemimah's love for her siblings.
By the time she was done, Jemimah’s biological clock was ticking away. Who would care for her in old age? She badly wanted a child of her own. With no man in sight and advanced in age, she went against African norms and opted for a sperm donor.
Through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), Jemimah is now a proud mother of beautiful twin girls who are four months old. She says God answered her prayers and despite not getting married, she is now a very happy mother.
She narrates her experience to health writer Beldeen Waliaula.
“When I turned 47, getting a child became difficult. At 48, menopause kicked in and I couldn’t get my periods. I didn’t give up. I started visiting doctors and one told me with technology, I could get pregnant. I was 51. I told him I had reached menopause, and he said that was not an issue.
I did some tests and was told to return after two weeks and I found a packed lobby. People struggling to get babies like me - young women, couples, even women older than me. This gave me hope. I was not alone in this journey.
The doctor gave me more medication to last until my second round of periods. I kept going for check-ups as the doctor monitored my eggs to see if they were ready for fertilisation.
Picking my sperm donor
The doctor asked me if I had a man. Or a donor. I said no.
I was then shown photos of different men. I chose one with the complexion I like.
The doctor then informed the sperm donor I had chosen that his sperm was being used. My eggs were then fertilised from outside and the embryo was preserved until my uterus was ready.
After two weeks, I went for a check-up where blood samples were taken.
It was shortly after I left the hospital, the doctor called. “Jemimah how are you? Congratulations! Your results are positive and it is a double blessing!”
My place of work is crowded so I moved to the lobby and asked him to repeat what he had just said.
I wanted to scream, cry but had to contain myself. I can't express the joy I felt. I disconnected the call and went to the washrooms. I didn't mind how dirty they were. I just knelt and prayed. The whole day I was thinking about baby stuff.
Family shocked I was pregnant
I went home early but couldn’t sleep. I was just shopping in my mind. When I started getting heavy, the doctor told my boss to give me lighter duties and allow me to work from home, occasionally.
My sisters and brothers couldn’t believe I was pregnant. Everyone kept asking how that was possible.
The pregnancy had its complications; pain, fatigue and sickness but I didn’t mind. One day I went for a check-up and my blood pressure was so high that the doctor warned it will affect the babies. I had to give birth before the expected time.
I was taken straight to Nairobi Hospital where the doctor had scheduled the surgery as it was near his clinic. I thought the nurses were rushing to pick someone else with an emergency, but it was me.
My body was swollen and my skin had turned black. They rushed me to the emergency room where my pressure levels were stabilised.
Giving birth through a Caesarean Section
I was hospitalised but didn’t even call anyone. When my pressure came down I was taken to the theatre for a caesarean section. I was put under anaesthesia and a veil was thrown over my face. I felt the doctors doing something then I heard a baby's cry.
After a few minutes, I was shown the first baby. The second baby took a bit of time before I heard another cry.
After stitching, I was wheeled to the ward and the infants to the nursery. I saw them the next morning and just marvelled at God’s creation. They looked so beautiful. Though I was in pain, I was filled with joy.
I have no regrets
In retrospect, I have no regrets about giving birth in my 50s. Looking at how occupied I am right now, I don’t regret the missed opportunity when I was younger. God had eventually remembered me.
I am the fourth born in a family of eight. My parents were poor and educating us was an uphill task. My mother was a small-scale trader and my father, a manual labourer.
I attended a day school and was lucky to join the National Youth Service (NYS) for secretarial training and was later posted to the Ministry of Finance in 1991.
The salary was very little. I had just worked for five months when my parents died. That meant taking in my siblings of whom, four were jobless and the others were struggling with their marriages. I was the only one working.
I educated my siblings and most times, I had to negotaiate with school principals explaining to them that I was an orphan and they should allow me to slowly pay the fees-no matter how cash-strapped I was.
My siblings and I lived in those small houses in Muthurwa. I sacrificed a lot to ensure we had eaten. It was also cost-effective living in a small house together. I didn’t incur any transport costs since my siblings walked to colleges in town. I am glad they all got an education and some are employed now.
Marriage was not an option for me
All along, marriage did not cross my mind.
I had seen my elder sister's marriages fail so I avoided any relationship. I often wondered if I got married, would a man accept me with the luggage of my siblings? Would he help me pay school fees?
I loved my siblings so much that I couldn’t eat and let them sleep hungry.
While living in Muthurwa, I was not even dating, I hated it. I feared it. My friend's marriages were also on the rocks. Most were shortly back to the streets looking old and miserable.
That men act friendly when wooing you but end up mistreating you in marriage did not sit well with me. I was frank with the men that approached me. I told them I had siblings and if they would help me care for them. That was my condition. Most men took off. Several others came, but the condition was the same.
Even after my siblings left, I housed other relatives. I am that person who gets touched when I see people suffering. I continued with this life until my 40s when dating meant meeting in hotels, but with my conditions, most men still disappeared.
Pressure to have babies but no man in sight
Pressure from relatives kicked in. One aunt invited me to her place. I found her house full of men. I noticed how they were served food and treated and I knew my aunty was upto something mischievous. Immediately I finished my food, I stepped out and disappeared.
That was the end of my visit to my aunt’s house.
When I was between 41 and 43 years old, having a boyfriend crossed my mind, but most were married. Others asked whether I could be their second or third wife – which was not an option.
By 45, the space of a man was dwindling in my mind. I decided to get a baby. I was fearing for my future. It looked bleak. No child. No husband. Just loneliness.
The only thing I was proud of was an education despite my poor background: A Bachelor's and Master's degrees that I had paid from my small salary.
Fear of dying alone
I wanted a child so as not to feel alone. I was figured out that one day I might die alone and without a child to even notify the neighbours.
I thought it would be automatic that after I am done taking care of my siblings, I would get married and do a wedding. But my family occupied me so much I couldn’t even think of myself. I didn’t get time to be myself or even have a holiday.
I will advise women to put themselves out there, treat themselves, socialize. If I had socialised enough then I could have met somebody who could accept my conditions, but for now, being called Mama Gloria and Angela is enough!”
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