Nothing breaks a parent’s heart than learning that their 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.
It is frustrating, especially when they remember the amount of money they have spent on her school fees.
Unfortunately, the reality is that teenage pregnancy is a fact of life, and rising alarmingly.
No doubt, more young people are engaging in sexual activity as they stay home due to Covid-19 pandemic.
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Pregnancies cannot be discussed without conversations of family planning, and this is often marred by myths and superstitions.
Family planning misconceptions
English Philosopher Francis Bacon once said there is superstition in avoiding superstition. In Kenya, misconceptions surrounding Family planning continue to make people avoid making important conversations surrounding the issue.
Few Kenyans admit to having used family planning methods outside of the confines of a doctor’s office, and only in hushed tones do they talk of their choices.
It has been 17 years since Diane Makoha became pregnant, and she still recalls the myths that surrounded her ways to avoid getting pregnant.
“As a 19-year-old at the time, I had heard some very peculiar stories on how to avoid getting pregnant. Looking back, I find that indeed it was just nonsense,” said Makoha, adding, “These myths included, putting a needle in her hair before intercourse to avoid pregnancy. Another myth often spread in many communities is when a girl visits a boy’s ‘simba’ (hut designated for a teenage boy) she should avoid sitting on his bed to avoid getting pregnant”.
Consuming four tablets of Quinine is a common treatment for malaria is also one of the myths that Makoha had believed as a teenager.
“There was also the misconception that if during intercourse a woman should be on top and avoid being missionary to avoid getting pregnant in an effort to use gravity to stop conception,” she recalled.
Elvis Baraza, a mental health specialist in Moi’s Bridge, Uasin Gichu said that another misconception he came across is that drinking concentrated or undiluted juice and strong black tea containing a high amount of tea leaves would help in avoiding pregnancy.
“I come across young girls who believe that having their first sexual encounter with an older married man with children will increase their fertility, which is not true. This misconception makes many girls keep away from their age mates,”Baraza said.
Josephine Muthoni, a Nyeri resident, recalled that as a teenager, she had been told that taking a shower immediately after sexual intercourse and wearing white petticoats would keep her safe from pregnancy.
“I had believed that lie until I got pregnant and now as a grown up I feel so silly for falling for such a lie,” she explained.
Having worked in closely in various health facilities in Uasin Gichu, Baraza says there are also a lot of misconceptions surrounding modern family planning methods.
“Women refuse to use contraceptives because they fear being accused of being promiscuous, which is a lie that leads to them being ostracized by the community,” he noted.
He noted when it comes to specific types of modern contraception such as Intra Uterine Devices IUD fears are that it can disappear into the uterus one implanted.
“Women fear hormonal contraception because of myths that it will lower their libido, and make them ‘cold.’ Others claim it causes cancer and leads to infertility,” Baraza explained.
Tina Vundi, a Counsellor with Shoulder to Shoulder Counselling Centre, noted that youth believe in myths that Hormonal contraceptive methods will lead too infertility in future.
“As youth, many are bombarded with a lot of information but they are not sure about which is accurate and which is fake so most opt to keep off family planning,” she said.
Vundi noted that youth have fear of seeking out any forms of family planning because of religious and cultural norms that discourage the same.
Population Reference Bureau senior technical adviser, Angeline Siparo, said misconceptions surrounding family planning have a devastating impact on the society.
Sapiro said women who seek out family planning are perceived as stubborn or promiscuous yet the decision to seek help is important.
“There is a misconception that family planning is against religious and cultural beliefs which is not the case because the language used to communicate the issue is the barrier towards the message,”Sapiro said.
She explained that while birth spacing and responsible parenting are concepts that are acceptable to religious and cultural cohorts, words such as contraception and women’s choices make people develop a mental bloc.
“It is important to look at family planning as a part of sexual reproductive health, not a moral one. Lack of information on the rights make it difficult for patients to know they have a right to access some of these services,” she explained.
She said a superstition is only reality if you do not know it is superstition.
“This is why I advise that women should make these decisions privately and debunk these myths for themselves through experience”.
Sapiro said as a proponent of family planning, it was important to not force people to accept the options outside their comfort zones, but to approach the same topic in a manner that adheres to what they already understand.
“If the resistance to family planning is due to religious reasons, find ways to discuss birth spacing within the context of marriage and pregnancy prevention for youth, develop programs that conform to what is acceptable to the cultural or religious beliefs,” she said.
She explained one of the myths that had caused many women to shy away from family planning is that women should not enjoy sexual pleasure or recreation.
All sex styles can lead to pregnancies- Doctor
Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Dr Naomi Sitati said the myth that the sexual style can prevent pregnancy was a lie as healthy sperm will swim regardless of gravity.
“It doesn’t matter if you are standing, on top, missionary if you have intercourse conception can occur,” she explained.
Dr Sitati also debunked the myth that IUDs can be lost within the blood stream or uterus noting that they can be retrieved if they are installed by a trained health professional.
“What happens is that sometimes the strings of the IUD may end up folding, because as a long term method of contraception some women forget to go in for check-ups. But this is a very rare complication,” Dr Sitati noted.
She refuted myths that the hormonal methods of contraception affect the temperature of the vagina were untrue.
Dr Sitati explained that while some hormonal methods may lower the libido, this was only in some individuals but not a common side effect from all users.
“It is important that women know they can switch from one method to another depending on their experience and side effects,” she noted.
Drinking tea leaves and concentrated juice was also not a form of contraception, Dr Sitati dismissed this as a myth.