By Isaac Salima:
It was just an ordinary day way back in 1999 when Rhoda Delasoni left the warmth of her parents’ home to start a new life as Belason Wyson’s wife.
It did not escape her attention that family members and friends were hoping for a baby in the new couple. To them, dynamics of life do not usually matter.
However, for this couple, days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years and years into decades without the cry of a new-born baby in their troubled home. In fact, feeling dutybound, extended family members and friends took it upon themselves to become unpaid advisers to Rhoda and Belason.
They advised the couple to count on God’s time. It is now over 20 years and that time has not yet come.
Rhoda is now 47 while her husband has crossed his 50-year mile. The wait continues.
Ironically, around their house, in Abunu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mthiramanja in Mulanje District, the clamour by children is evident.
They are from neighbouring houses and they find the couple’s home an incredible haven of peace. Rhoda and her husband say, with sincerity written all over their faces, that they have decided to live normal lives regardless of their condition.
“I feel sorry for myself when I see fellow married women playing with their children. Just like many people, I also need my own child,” Rhoda says.
Such sentiments are echoed by Belason who has been with his wife through thick and thin. “We leave everything in the hands of God.
However, despite facing other problems, our married life has been good,” he says. From Abunu, our next destination is Khobiri Village. This is the place Robert Simon and Magret Ngamwani have always called home.
However, home can, sometimes, not be the sweet nest some people portray it.
Since their wedding day in 1993, Robert and Magret have been tormented by their being childlessness.
“It pains because, like anybody, I also need to have my own children but what else can I do than to accept our condition? When I see children around the house I feel sad, because mine is not among them,” Magret says, a distant look registering in her eyes.
Her husband chips in: “Some people have been calling us names but I do not worry because they are not God.”
Maybe Robert and Magret are happy to be each other’s pillar. It is a rather different story for Mariam Maulidi. She has been married, and childless, for 10 years. Then, without any warning, death claimed Mariam’s husband. This means she will never have a child with him—only memories.
She has decided that she will never marry again. “People have been making statements like ‘why should such a good-looking woman not have a child?’ but I don’t care because it was not my choice to be in this condition,” Maulidi says.
These cases are only a tip of the iceberg. Countless other couples bear the brunt of society’s unforgiving attitude towards those who do not have children.
And the tone and expression of all these people reflect pain and affliction that have become part of their daily lives.
Couples that cannot conceive are often subjected to ridicule, stigma and discrimination. Ironically, little is openly discussed about infertility.
The World Health Organisation defines infertility as a disease of the reproductive system characterised by failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex.
It further describes infertility as a public health condition that affects both men and women.
The UN agency indicates that infertility is caused by age, low sperm count in men, fibroids of the womb, extreme weight gain or loss and excessive alcohol consumption and physical or emotional stress, among others.
However, most couples do not seek professional medical help but opt for traditional doctors. A traditional healer from Mulanje District, Anthony Bindula, admits that he handles such cases on regular basis. “People come here seeking help to have a child and I do help them. I have assisted many couples,” Bindula says.
According to WHO, in its 2010 research report, it is estimated that 48.5 million couples worldwide were unable to have a child.
Health expert Mwai Chibwana says people who have problems in having children should always seek professional help.
“Infertility is in groups and some conditions can be addressed if couples seek professional medical help,” Chibwana says.
Health activist Maziko Matemba calls for more sensitisation campaigns on infertility.
“I think we need to improve on how we disseminate messages on infertility because there are so many myths associated with childlessness,” Matemba says.
It is becoming increasingly clear that infertility is less recognised as trauma that impacts heavily on relationships and families.
Recently, a woman was sentenced to six years imprisonment for stealing a baby at Mulanje District
Hospital. Such cases are common at medical facilities such as Kamuzu Central, Queen Elizabeth Central and Zomba Central hospitals.
Police reports indicate that last year, two cases of child stealing were reported while this year, two cases have already been recorded with one abandoned.
Psychologist Moses Muotcha says childlessness has disastrous psychological effects.
“There is frustration from both the wife and the husband. If it is the husband who is infertile, he tends to withdraw from friends and so too does the wife who does not easily come to terms with the reality of not having a child,” Muotcha says.
Whatever the case, although it has been decades characterized by ridicule, stigma and discrimination, couples such as the Wysons and the Simons as well as Mariam still wake up to face another day.
Coincidentally, they all profess belief in God, who they say gives generously, in his own time.