Motherhood as a choice: To be or not be a mother

There are african women from different countries who do not long for children. I once asked a male friend what he thought of this and his reply was ” that is selfish, sinful, strange and outright evil. Unless she is infertile or terribly sick that is unacceptable! And above all, i would never ever marry a woman who doesn’t want kids yet biologically, her womb is functional. How would i live on? How would my name be remembered? That kind of lady needs laying of hands by a pastor to chase that demon out!”

This type of view towards women who don’t want children despite being capable of getting pregnant is shared widely among Kenyan men. There is the societal pressure of having biological children for both men and women since children have had a colossal importance in the Traditional African Society (TAS) in the pre-colonial era until now, the 21st century.

In the TAS Children were considered a source of wealth (bride price, workforce), a form of continuity for the dead (through passing on of names) and an old age insurance (they were expected to invest in their parents’ welbeing after getting families of their own.)

Modern African women with no desire to have children go through a lot of discrimination due to their choice to remain childless.

It may be due to career obligations or lack of motherly interest to raise kids. Some are extreme feminists who dislike men and what comes from them (sperms) and others are afraid to get old as a result of post pregnancy fat or lose men’s attention by getting babies.

However another case is barrenness. The inability to bear children. This does not only affect women but men too. African men have a psychological problem when it comes to accepting that they may be the cause of childlessness in the marriage.

In the Traditional African Society, women were majorly blamed for marital problems; if the husband cheats it’s the woman who didn’t do enough to keep her man happy and satisfied, if the children misbehave it’s the woman’s fault as she did not raise them right. This is also the case with child bearing. The blame lies on the woman even if she is perfectly able to get pregnant.

In such occasions when the husband could not sire children, a close relative (e.g brother or cousin) was asked to sire kids on his behalf with the wife and the whole thing would be kept a secret. Only the wife, relative, parents and village elders knew what happened. The children sired by the relatives were named after the husband in order to keep his lineage alive. All these practices helped to turn a blind eye to the fact that men too are not perfect.

In the case where the woman is barren, some tribes of TAS allowed the woman to take in a second wife for the husband so that the children sired will belong to the barren wife. Crazy, right? In other Kenyan tribes, the woman was divorced and returned to her family where she lived her life alone, taking care of her siblings, nephews and nieces. Modern generation is very lucky since there are available medical procedures that deals with childlessness like

  • Surrogacy
  • In-vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Surgery
  • Intra-uterine-insemination (IUI)
  • GIFT (Gamete intrafallopian Transfer)
  • ZIFT ( Zygote intrafallopian Transfer)
  • Fertility drugs
  • Hormone treatments

Adoption is also a great option which is greatly underlooked by African couples. Having biological children is pressed upon by couples and relatives in the name of propagating the family genes. The truth is, family is not about blood it is more of loyalty. An adopted child is as good as a biological child. Husbands of barren women are at times forced by society to look for a second wife or divorce the first wife just to sire a child. More often than not, many husbands give in to the pressure to find someone else to sire their children.

Why hide the fact that African marriages are built on children and not love?

Others result to frustrating their wives until they decide to leave on their own. They beat them up, call them names and declare how cursed they are no wonder they can not bear any children. An easy and cowardly way to chase away the ones they pledged to love.

For women with children, it boils down to whether you are married or not and if they are all girls and no boys.

Single women are looked at through the African Traditional lens as wayward women with loose morals who slept around with men before getting married and were unlucky enough to get away with it. By getting a child out of wedlock, the woman is doomed to single motherhood unless by choice. Many single African mothers are as a result of botched university relationships with their peers who skipped town when he found out she got “bumped” yet he put on a condom that night or she took that morning pill he bought from the pharmacy in the market the day before they hooked up.

African single mothers also arise from sugadaddies aka blessers (Slang from South Africa) or Sponsors (Kenyan slang word). These men are married and woe to the young girls who think they will leave their children and wives to put a ring on the finger of a girl as young as his last born daughter. What a shame!

On the other hand, women legally married with kids are not safe at all from criticism. If you got only girls, where are the boys? And if they are only boys, where is the bride price coming from? Some men complain, siring boys only is a headache since paying for their marriage gift, the bride price, is a bank account robber, and the hardest of all is inheritance since all have a right to claim it. For the girls-only-family, a boy is sought after dearly. The boy is ‘needed’ to keep the lineage alive by carrying the family name. The boy is ‘needed’ to take over the family wealth. Its all about the boy! Girls, what about us? Are we not worthy to carry on the family name or take over the family property?

In conclusion, to be or not be a mother should be entirely a right of the woman if she is single. If she does not want kids, forever hold your silence as a man and move on. To the married couples, sit down and discuss the way forward. Do not let societal pressure direct your decision because at the end of it all, the burden will be yours to bear. The gender of the child does not matter, a child is a child. Adoption is great, you are saving a child’s life from struggles that come with being an orphan. There is still hope for the barren to get children.

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