My confession: The pain of not having children

Saturday October 13 2018

Sylvia at her home in Mwanza city where she

Sylvia at her home in Mwanza city where she operates a small business.PHOTO | JONATHAN MUSA 

By Jonathan Musa

No pain is comparable to that of not being able to have the desirable number of children according to 42-year-old Sylvia Chacha. As she sits down today, she can’t help but regret some of the decisions she made in the past.

Slyvia was desperate to have a proper family, but in that period she forgot to follow the doctor’s orders after she was put on contraception.

Her story is that of a humble mother who made what she now believes to have been an unwise decision when it came to the whole matter of family planning.

When she got married to a farmer in Geita region in 1998, she was only 22-years-old and had just finished form four. At that time, knowledge of family planning schemes was embedded in her head and therefore, she and her husband were cautious to start a family, considering the tough financial situation.

“I was certain that using family planning method was the only way I could have a well-set married life,” she says.

In 2000, Sylvia conceived at the age of 24 and gave birth to a baby girl whom she named Gift (Zawadi). Since her financial situation was grim, she had to opt for family planning at a local dispensary. This was a new life for her.

Norplant was inserted in her left hand. A week after the insertion she started feeling uncomfortable, dizzy and had all sorts of irritations. Her doctor reassured her that these were normal reactions and that all would be well eventually.

Sylvia was alarmed when later she started gaining excessive weight, something which is known to be a common reaction of using certain family planning methods. The once slender figure she had was now a thing of the past.

“I noticed that I started gaining weight, my doctor reassured me that it’s just a normal reaction so my worries were at bay for a while,” she explains.

Her family planning was a five year scheduled pattern. This means that Gift would get another sibling after she turned five.

Unfortunately for Sylvia, those five years wouldn’t sail on smoothly. During that period, many things changed, not just her body, but also her husband’s behavior towards her.

“My husband didn’t like the extra weight I had put on, I had become less attractive to him, something which made me feel very embarrassed as a wife,” she reveals.

2005 came and it was time for Sylvia to remove the implanted Norplant. Unfortunately for her, the operation had to be done by another doctor due to the absence of the one who initially implanted the device.

What was supposed to be a minor operation proved to be harder than anticipated, as such, the initial surgical procedure was unsuccessful. The ‘match-stick like substance’ was no longer there, instead what was visible was a long vein-resembling mark that signaled the presence of the device.

It is from here that Sylvia’s worries were cemented. Many things started running through her mind; her duration in marriage, the age of her firstborn, the behavioral traits from her husband and the society as a whole.

“I was upset but it was too early to make a decision. I had to think of trying to remove the device at other hospitals. I had a lot of questions crossing my mind; where would the stick have disappeared to and why?” she recollects.

However, she later remembered that she was informed to make monthly visits to the health facility after the implant was inserted, but she only made two visits and quit.

The whole of 2006 was a hectic year for her. She tried almost every method to remove the Norplant but nothing worked.

She visited several hospitals in Geita and Mwanza region looking for ways to remove the device in her body but all efforts failed. She underwent screening and all professional medical analysis, this never yielded anything.

The rumor mills had also began churning, that there was something wrong with Sylvia. By then, even her marriage was beginning to show the cracks.

“My in-laws then decided they had had enough of me. I was thus sent packing to my parents’ home,” she says.

In 2010, her husband decided to end the marriage and demanded for an official divorce. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to have only a single child, a girl.

After the divorce Sylvia continued with life. Years later, in 2014, and while still getting her life back in order, Sylvia met and fell in love with a businessman who would later become her second husband.

“My second husband assured me that he didn’t have any issue with me not being able to have any more babies. He didn’t care. It was me he loved,” she says.

Sylvia didn’t immediately disclose to her second husband the reason behind her inability to conceive. But after living together for a year, her husband became curious, that is when Sylvia had to come clean.

Her husband then took her to some of the biggest hospitals in order to try and resolve the problem.

Sylvia’s nightmare continued; Joseph, even though he had initially intimated that he is content with her situation of not being able to conceive anymore, suddenly had a change of heart.

“He claimed that in most marriages couples are more attached to children as a uniting factor,” she speaks.

Living in regret, Sylvia over the next years was involved in numerous relationships, none of which worked out because of her condition. “It is not good to talk about past relationships that ended badly, but I just want to show the depth of my plight,” she explains.

Resigned to her fate

Sylvia, a mother of one, says no man desires to stay with a lady whom, under normal circumstances is supposed to be able to give birth, but can’t.

Her firstborn, Gift, who is now 18, remained with her father in Geita and is now in campus at University of Dar es Salaam pursing a degree.

“My only daughter normally pays me a visit during holidays. She is now a grown up so I explained to her the whole situation that caused my separation from her father,” she reveals.

Gift now has three brothers and a sister from her father’s side.

Sylvia, now an entrepreneur says she chose the kind of family planning method in order to secure a better future for herself and her family.

Health experts

According to Vailet Petro, a health officer (nurse) at Nyamagana district hospital, Mwanza, complications arise only when the person conducting the procedure fails to connect with the targeted vein. She informs that it is very rare for such cases to occur, though they are there.

“A health personnel in charge of inserting or injecting the Norplant should be very careful when carrying out the procedure because complications can arise,” she acknowledges.

Dr. Tumaini Kaila, a gynecologist at Nyamagana district hospital, Mwanza, further informs that complications can arise from such a procedure.

“A complication can occur if the victim is subjected to heavy tasks like carrying heavy loads, this can make the device move but can easily be detected through x-ray,” she explains.

“Because our bodies react differently, one has to be close to health experts for regular checkups,” she advises.

Cecilia Protas, a doctor at Bugando Medical Centre (BMC) explains that Norplant is a hormonal implant used for birth control. It is effective for up to five years. Norplant uses hormone-carrying rods about the size and shape of matchsticks inserted under the skin, normally in the upper arm.

“A trained doctor or nurse places Norplant implants under the skin of the upper arm by making a very small cut. The capsules may remain on the arm for up to five years and they have to be removed at the end of five years or even before that time reaches,” elaborates Dr Cecilia.

Fatuma Maimuna, a mother of four and a teacher, says Norplant can be tricky if one is not cautious enough. “The responsibilities performed particularly at home can make the device move towards the dermis from the epidermis,” she says.