Wamuyu* kept the secret to herself. She had vowed never to disclose this information to anybody. No type of psychological counselling would console her; she had lost the organ many African women would protect with their lives. Wamuyu’s uterus was surgically removed at the age of only 22 years while doing her third year in a university within Nairobi following an unsafe abortion. From this moment on she has lived with the knowledge she will never have her own children.
When Wamuyu got pregnant it was the last thing she had expected. She claims to have used the morning-after pill the morning after the night she had unprotected sex. What happened remains a mystery to her because she had used this pill many other times and was successful. She shared the shocking news to her then boyfriend who was two years her junior in the same university and the two young minds resolved to terminate the pregnancy.
This action, they justified, was to protect Wamuyu’s career that would have otherwise been at stake. She had to choose between the devil and the sea – one of the two had to be terminated – the pregnancy or her education. She chose the latter, a decision whose memories make her cry 12 years later. After graduation, she landed a prominent job but misery remained painted on her face for a long time with ‘the secret’, as she calls it, threatening to burst her heart open. And although she eventually somehow managed to share her secret with someone who encouraged her and is now a happily married step-mother of three, today she can’t help shedding tears as she narrated her ordeal to me.
“This is a permanent situation, I will never enjoy pregnancy or child-birth,” she says.
Dr. Dan Okoro, a Kenya-based gynaecologist, says that many people are not aware of the safe abortion guidelines stipulated by World Health Organisation (WHO). As a result, infections that prompt the surgical removal of the uterus usually occur. Dr. Okoro encourages people to read and understand the contents of the guidelines before resorting to an unsafe abortion. He points out that while there is counseling prior to such an operation, some come in as emergencies and others may not look like they will end up in surgery.
The WHO guidelines (2003) require that any person going for a pregnancy should be educated in a simple, clear language on what abortion entails. In Kenya, medical termination of a pregnancy is mostly recommended when the life of the pregnant mother is compromised or permanent damage of her body is threatening.
Under-18-year-olds who want to terminate a pregnancy should have the consent of their parents as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of Child. But sadly, most of the abortions that younger females experience are done behind the parents’ backs for fear of intimidation and rebuke. A student in Maseno University in Kenya reveals how many girls opt to terminate pregnancies because parents threaten to stop paying their school fees and others bully the girl to disclose who the father of the unborn child is. “It may have been a one night business and there was no commitment in the sexual relationship!” the student said.
Wamuyu’s unsafe abortion could have been avoided if only she and her boyfriend had adequate knowledge on the subject of sexual and reproductive health (SRH). But many African countries still consider it a contradiction of culture to speak on sex to their growing children.
There is urgent need for more education to enable young women to understand the dangers and consequences of unsafe abortions. SRH is vital to any girl who is at their puberty age to decrease the number of HIV/STI infections, unintended pregnancies and subsequent unsafe abortions.
Another Nairobi student, Edward M. Mwenda expresses the importance of open discussions between parents and their children, saying that the media misleads children in the absence of their parents’ guidance. “Soap operas can be very misleading to an ignorant child,” notes Mwenda. He says that parents should discuss SRH with their children the same way they help the juniors with their home-work.
The 23 year old law-student further said that unsafe abortion and repercussions such as the one Wamuyu experienced will not end unless parents, the government and other stakeholders intensify SRH education among the youth.
*The name of Wamuyu has been changed to protect the identity of the woman involved