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The Age Gap debate

By SYLVIA WAKHISI | June 9th 2013


How far apart should children be spaced? There are different opinions and views, based on reasons such as companionship and sibling rivalry, coupled with the challenges of parenting children of similar or varying ages. SYLVIA WAKHISI spoke to parents who favour wide spacing.

The general recommendation among health experts is a gap of at least two to three years between siblings, for the sake of the mother’s and babies’ health

But some parents, out of choice or circumstances, stretch the gap far beyond three years.

Take Betty Mburu, whose children have a 17-year age difference.

The mother of three says she feels like she started her journey of motherhood all over again when she gave birth to twin boys, Phil Mwita and Jason Chacha seven months ago at the age of 42.

Her eldest child, Luizer Njoki, is in Form Four at Precious Blood Girls’ High School, Riruta.

“After having Luizer, for many years I did not feel ready to face the challenges that come with being a new mother again: The feeding, the sleepless nights, trying to decipher the baby’s cries, rushing home from work and so on.

“But when I realised that I was getting older and the craving for another child set in, I decided to take the plunge,” says Betty.

And how has it been becoming a mother again after all those years?

“It has not been easy getting back into ‘baby mode’, especially looking after twins. There are times when I have had to seek advice from relatives and friends on baby care because I have forgotten a lot of things,” she says, laughing.

“While in hospital, after giving birth, I was behaving like such an inexperienced mother that on some occasions, the nurses would come to my rescue, taking the boys to the nursery to give me a break.

“Though I experienced no complications with my eldest child, with the twins, I had to go for a caesarean section.”

Her daughter, Luizer, helps with the babies whenever she is at home. She is excited to be around them.

“When she was much younger, Luizer really wanted a brother or sister but as she grew older, the craving just died off and she was happy to be the centre of attention,” Betty recalls.

When I conceived the twins, I had to prepare her and make her understand that she was going to be a sister. She took the news very well and has been a great help.”

Becoming a mother again has called for some adjustments. Betty works from home as a consultant graphic designer, but she has had to put her career on hold for a while so that she can take care of the babies.

“For now, I am just a mother and a housewife. I have resigned myself to passive leisure. I loved reading books, but nowadays, I no longer have the time.

Changed Routine

“Unlike before when I used to wake up and just leave the house and come back at whatever time I wanted, I have had to change my routine. Taking care of my babies has become my full-time job and I can hardly leave the house, unless I’m taking them for their monthly check-ups,” she says.

With the twins demanding so much of her attention, this mother is grateful that her husband, Hezron Winani, has been supportive.

“One can easily sink into depression, but Hezron’s support has kept me sane. There are those days he goes to work looking dazed simply because when the twins are up at night, he has to wake up and help in feeding and taking care of them,” says Betty.

“It has been seven months since they were born, yet I feel I haven’t recovered fully. Babies, especially twins, are very demanding and I would suggest that women who deliver twins go for double maternity leave.”

Would she advise other parents to go for a gap like hers?

“Normal spacing like two or three years is okay, but those who have older children and would love to get another one should go for it,” she says.

Then there is Asha Mwaimuna, a proud mother of six, who had her fifth born when her fourth child was ten years old.

Excited to Conceive

She says: “I was very excited to conceive again. At that point, life was good and I did not struggle much in terms of getting money for the family’s upkeep, unlike during the previous pregnancies, since I had joined various investment groups. I even enrolled my fifth born in a private school, unlike the others who went to a public school due to financial difficulties.”

Six years later, she gave birth to her last-born.

Asha says that for a number of years, she had not been using any form of contraception due to the many side effects she had experienced.

“I decided not to use any family planning method and did not mind if another child came along, no matter after how long,” she says.

Despite the big gaps between her fourth and fifth child, as well as her fifth and sixth child, she says she never experienced any complications during pregnancy and delivery.

Her older children are all married with children, while her fifth child is in Form Two and the youngest is in Standard Four.

“My older children have had no problems with their youngest siblings. They view them as their own children and support them fully. We are a happy family,” says Asha.

“However, my grandchildren do not like referring to my last born as their aunt. She is around their age so they find it strange to call her ‘aunt’.”

Mama Trizah, Rose Njeri, on the other hand, is mother to three sons aged 35, 30, 28, and a 14-year-old girl.

She runs a hardware business and has taken care of her children single-handedly since her husband passed away.

“After I gave birth to my three sons, I felt content even though I had always wished to have a daughter. However, as they grew up and went to boarding school for their high school education and college, I started feeling lonely in the house; I felt I needed some company. Fourteen years after the birth of my third born son, I gave birth to my daughter — my angel — and felt happier,” she says.

Mama Trizah says her sons gladly welcomed their sister into the family and have always showered her with lots of love.

“They are very protective of her. When she was still in primary school, they would accompany her to school in the morning and wait for her at the school gate in the evening. Now that she is in a boarding secondary school, they make a point of going to see her every visiting day.”

Numerous couples have pondered the question of how many years’ spacing between children is ideal.

Dr Alfred Murage, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, says there is no scientifically defined perfect time to have another baby.

However, research suggests that long intervals between pregnancies also pose concerns for mothers and babies.

“A pregnancy five years or more after giving birth is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and excess protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Other risks include slow or difficult labour or delivery, preterm birth, low birth weight and small size for gestational age,” says Murage.

Personal Decision

“It is not clear why long pregnancy intervals are linked to health problems for mothers and babies. But it is possible that pregnancy improves uterine capacity to promote foetal growth and support, but over time these beneficial physiological changes disappear. Maternal age or unmeasured factors, such as maternal illnesses, may also play a role.”

To reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health problems, limited research suggests it is best to wait at least 18 to 24 months but no more than five years after a live birth before attempting another pregnancy.

But choosing when to have another baby is a personal decision.



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