By Sophie Gitonga “Mama Pendo”
When you are trying to have a baby, it consumes your every waking moment. You imagine looks of solidarity, scorn or sympathy from every face you encounter. As if they already know that your womb is like a hollowed out gourd, dry and devoid of life.
Sex becomes less about making love with your mate and more about making a baby. It’s become a science. It’s about frequency, basal temperatures, cervical mucus, ovulation, sperm counts, hormone levels, stress levels, right amounts of lubrication, no lubrication, and the appropriate length of time to keep your legs raised at the right angle before you can get up.
When you are trying to have a baby, you find God at the peak of your ovulation. You make him promises, some you intend to keep. You devote your first child to him; if he just lets you have it. You give up smoking, drinking and gossiping. Because you believe quite strongly that sin is the reason your womb is silent. You make peace with your enemies and increase your tithe. And when your period shows up, like clockwork, with its unmistaken bright red flow, you lose God. You push him out your door like a guest who has overstayed his welcome. You say unkind things to him, that he is cruel and unfair. “Why me?” you ask him. But all you get is silence, the same silence that’s coming from your womb. And you ask him to leave you and to take your womb with him because it is of no use to you.
You begin to notice the women with protruding bellies they are everywhere, looking smug about their pregnancies. They are on the streets, in the bus, in the queue behind you at the supermarket, who makes you feel obliged to let her go in front of you because she looks so tired and worn out. You say congratulations to her half smiling, while you try to swallow the lump that’s now growing in your throat. You want to be as tired as she is from growing a human. You want it all, you convince yourself, the nausea, the swollen feet and even the puffed up nose. Why do the noses of pregnant women become so large by the way?
There’s another kid having a tantrum because his mother won’t buy him candy. He’s splaying himself on the floor now, whirling like a dervish. His mother gives him that look that says, ‘wait till we get home’. You want to give that look to your child. Every woman has that look, it’s like a factory setting that is downloaded the instant you become a mum. You see another mother using her saliva to wipe off something from her baby’s face. You wonder if you’ll ever get to experience the magical stain removing qualities of a mother’s saliva. But your baby remains elusive.
Your younger brother is sending you pictures of his daughter. She’s smiling in one of them, her big gummy smile. You gotta love how babies smile; the smile comes all the way up to their eyes. They have not yet learnt cynicism and disappointment and so when they smile it’s a genuine whole face smile. These pictures only serve to increase your longing. You reply with ‘how adorable’ and heart shaped emojis as the lump persistently bobs in your throat.
Ten, fifteen years ago, your priorities and desires were a lot different. Motherhood was not in your radar. You were busy with other things you told yourself. You needed to go to college and get into a career before being saddled with babies. You were looking for Mr Right but before he showed up, you were happy with Mr Right Now. You used contraceptives to make sure that Mr Right Now did not disorganise you. You waltzed through life unencumbered. You had time you said, besides your biological clock wasn’t ticking, you said. Then, Mr Right walked in and suddenly your loins were electrified like they had
never been before. He said he saw you as the mother of his children and your ovaries were jolted from their dormancy. You married each other and you debated how soon the babies should arrive, in what order and number. You fought over names, yes; you had already named your non-existent babies. You got the implant pulled out of your arm. Then you heard it, faint at first and then a crescendo. It was your biological clock, ticking so loudly you were sure the people around you could hear it. Yet the baby still didn’t come.
You scour the internet for answers and type the words “causes of infertility”. And you can scarcely believe it, that you are
typing those words. Because it’s an admission you see, that you are damaged. If you were an animal you would be sold off for your meat, that’s what you would be good for. Top of the list of causes of infertility is Satan – well not really but it seems right to place that at his hoofed feet. You read something about advanced maternal age and the declining quality of eggs and you realize you are past your ‘sell by date’. Shit, you were busy taking your eggs to university and getting them all educated when they should have been making a baby.
Your co-worker falls pregnant. ‘Falls’ here is the appropriate word because it was an accident, an unplanned pregnancy. You ask her how these accidents happen because you’d like to be a victim. She was drunk she says, a one-off event with a guy she had known for a while but wasn’t really into. You mull over the idea of trying this out with the husband. Maybe all the mechanical sex you’ve been having has gotten you too strung up to get pregnant. So you get high on a great bottle of wine and you make love that night the way you used to and you convince yourselves that this just might be it. You are pacing around the bathroom a few weeks later. Your period is late! Could it be? You pee on the pregnancy stick then you wait. The longest five minutes of your entire life. And when you walk up to it, silently so as not to surprise it and somehow mess up its chemistry, you notice the pregnancy line is blank…fucking blank. You’ve never been a thrower of things but today you go ape shit on everything in your line of sight. You don’t know who you are mad at but you are mad. That lump in your throat finally explodes and all its contents come through your eyes. The dam that has been holding back the tears finally breaks. And you cry.
You talk to your husband about adoption, “we should try it tomorrow” you say “let’s go to a children’s home and find our baby” you plead. But he’s not ready for that. He’s holding onto hope and his hope, to you, beggar’s belief. You consider In Vitro Fertilization but you’d have to sell your plot in Githurai to be able to afford it because your insurance doesn’t cover it. Maybe it’s time to see a doctor. The doctor, when you see him, is efficient and gets to the point quickly. He’s just come into his office having delivered a baby; the miracle of birth is routine for him. He asks about your last period and how long you’ve been trying. He orders tests, blood work for you and sperm analysis for him. In the waiting room, are other couples, men with little containers in their hands, waiting their turn to go into the sperm collection room. They should call this room something else, like masturbatorium, huh, because everyone knows that’s what’s happening in there. His results come back and he’s passed, he’s doing better than great. You are relieved on the one hand because he’s ok. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man to grapple with the possibility of his infertility. Traditionally, conception has been viewed as a woman’s responsibility and women have therefore had a lot of practise in coping with the failure to conceive. And so you are happy that he doesn’t have to shoulder the shame that comes with sterility.
If it’s not him then it must be you, and oh sweetheart it is you. Your hormones, the doctor reveals, are imbalanced as a result of a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome. Syndromes are not usually good, and this one is quite diabolical. There’s no quick fix for it, only management of symptoms. He prescribes something to regulate the hormones and to shrink the huge cyst that has been camping out in your ovaries. “Come back in a few weeks for review”, he says. That’s a lifetime away. You feel defeated as you ride silently in the car. You’ve been reading Chimamanda’s book ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’, where there’s a character in it just like you, a barren woman whose mother in law decides to intervene by getting her son so inebriated that he sleeps with the maid whom he instantly impregnates. She wants a grandchild you see, and will use any means to achieve that. Like what unholy hell is this?! You look over at your husband as he drives and wonder if he would dare. Nah! Your house help is older and not very attractive you console yourself.
The few weeks pass, you go back for your review. Finally some good news, the cyst is gone it’s time to start you on the next course of drugs. Something to jumpstart your ovulation and maximise your chances of conception. It’s a pill to be taken for five days at the same time every day if possible. He seems optimistic, your doc, he’s confident that your particular predicament is a run of the mill type of thing, totally fixable. As you walk out you notice his poster board filled with pictures of babies he’s delivered and you are hopeful for the first time in a long time.
It’s time to pee on the stick again. Your heart is about to leap out of your chest as you countdown with your timer. And when it goes off you dare not look but you do and there it is. You are pregnant! You want to call him right away and tell him the good news. You plan a surprise instead, while he’s in the shower that night, you tape the pregnancy test to the mirror and you go to bed feigning sleep. You hear him, he’s high-fiving himself, and he’s doing a victory dance. He’s beyond elated. That night you sleep arm in arm, both your hands on your belly and you know your lives will never be the same again. You apologise to God, for ending things the way you did.
Parenthood here you come…