Teen pregnancies have continued to stifle girl-child empowerment despite robust initiatives to address the crisis. A few weeks ago, the Nation reported about a 16-year-old girl who was rescued from a forced marriage in Kathangacini location in Tharaka North Sub-County.
The stigma associated with becoming a teen mom worsens the crisis as families choose to keep the ‘embarrassing’ issue hush-hush. The girls who become pregnant are vulnerable to mental anguish from self-blame and isolation from those who matter the most — family and peers.
It goes without saying that a child shouldn’t become pregnant. But life is not ideal and sometimes, what shouldn’t happen happens. And when it does, teen moms can get through the pregnancy, deliver their children and go ahead to lead successful lives. After all, a baby doesn’t mark the death of a woman’s dreams.
Two women, who can attest to this, narrate their experiences as teen moms who beat the odds to become successful.
Pregnant at 15
Njeri Migwi was 15 and in form three when she met a dashing 19-year-old boy during the August holidays. Their friendship had barely taken root before she had to go back to school for third term. Time flew by and she was back home for December holidays.
Excited to be reunited with her boyfriend, one thing led to another and sex happened. It was one time, but sometimes that is all it takes. A few days later, Njeri began feeling unwell and when she was taken to hospital , it was revealed that she was pregnant.
She had been accompanied by her father and he was right there when she received the life-altering news.
“I was confused and afraid. I knew my dad would kill me. The silence as we went back home was deafening. When we got home, he told me to go to bed and we would talk the next day. I cried my eyes out alone. I was waiting for a thorough beating.”
Surprisingly, the dad remained calm the following day. He asked her to bring the man responsible for the pregnancy .
“I agreed to bring him and fled to their home. That is how I got married.”
He still lived with his parents. They were not exactly thrilled to see Njeri but they welcomed her. He was from a well-to-do family so catering for Njeri’s needs was not an issue.
“My dad came to look for me. I wasn’t going to leave so he told me that I had to go back to school after I got the baby.”
When Njeri gave birth, she named the child after her dad’s side.
“When my mother-in-law came and found out that I did not name my child from their side, she left. Days later, a nurse concerned about my welfare contacted my dad who came for me and I was discharged.”
Back in her father’s home, the reality of being a mom slapped Njeri hard. You see, she had been raised by her father from the age of two. She knew nothing about motherly roles let alone latching or bathing a new-born.
Njeri’s dad was supportive and even hired a nanny to help take care of the baby. Although he saw to it that she went back to school, life was not the same for Njeri who was now 16.
“I was not allowed to be a child. If I did something childish, I would be reprimanded harshly and reminded that I was a mom.”
Typically, she became a warning to other girls of her age. Her vibrant demeanour was masked with shame and guilt.
“I did not accord myself grace and neither did anyone else around me.”
Perhaps loneliness played a part in drawing Njeri back to the man who had impregnated her. They had an on-and-off relationship that was toxic but she couldn’t break it off. Sometimes she would sneak off to be with him and after a few days’ return home bruised because he had beaten her up.
Njeri finished college and landed a job. They decided to find a place and start living together away from their parents.
” I wanted to prove to the world that just because I came from brokenness doesn’t mean I cannot build a home. My dad constantly told me that I was too young for marriage but I could hear none of that.”
Sadly, her boyfriend, now husband, didn’t change. The abuse escalated both physically and verbally.
“He made sure I knew how ugly I was and that he was living with me as a favour. I believed him and my self-esteem was dented.”
He had great business skills and began making very good money . Materially, Njeri had more than she needed but she didn’t have peace.
” I was not allowed friends. His family were my friends. I was not even seeing my dad that often. It was either, church, work, or home. I had a driver and a bodyguard.”
Then he started asking for a second child. Njeri did her best to prevent that from happening but one day she got home from work to find a committee called by her ex-husband to discuss why she was not siring another child.
“It took me 10 years before I conceived again. Still, I was being physically abused and even lost two pregnancies as a result. When I was seven months into my third pregnancy, he beat me mercilessly and left thinking I was dead.”
That was the final straw that ended 14 years of abuse. Today, Njeri, who is in her early 40s, is a human rights defender and the co-founder of Usikimye, a platform that offers refuge for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The platform runs safe houses spread across Thika, Kiambu and Nairobi.
Njeri’s activism has won her many accolades including the Human Rights Defender of the Year award in 2021, Equality Champion feted at Usawa awards by the National Gender and Equality Commission and an award from Swedish Embassy Forum CIV for using social media for social change.
I hid my pregnancy for eight months
Janice Njoroge, 42 discovered she was pregnant at the age of 18. She was still in school and it terrified her to imagine how her strict parents would respond to the news. She kept the pregnancy hidden for eight months.
“Growing up, it was taboo to talk about sex. I knew that my pregnancy would bring shame to my family, so I chose not to utter a word about it for as long as I could.”
In retrospect, Janice attributes the relationship that led to her becoming a parent to a phase of rebellion due to her parents’ strictness. As a firstborn, she felt pressured to be the perfect daughter and a role model to her younger sister.
Additionally, and unknown to her family, Janice had been a victim of bullying back in primary school.
“I told my friend I had a crush on a boy in our class and she spread the news to everyone. I was teased and made fun of which really affected my self-esteem.”
Children can be mean, they teased Janice making fun of her skin tone and the ‘crush story’. She felt inadequate but buried these feelings deep inside as she grew older.
By the time her rebellion was blossoming shortly after clearing high school, a 25-year-old man who was their neighbour began showing interest in her. Those feelings of invalidation that had tormented Janice for years since the bullying were silenced by this young man who seemed to think she was all that and a cherry on top.
“My parents noticed the relationship and one time my mum even warned me saying, you know you could get pregnant. But I denied everything. Three months into the relationship, I got pregnant.”
Janice was in a daze during the entire pregnancy.
“Sometimes I thought that I would one day wake up and not be pregnant.”
When Janice discovered she was pregnant, she told her boyfriend who proposed they get married. However, he had no job so Janice declined the offer and ended the relationship.
“I had joined college by the time the pregnancy was progressing so it was easy to keep it hidden because I would go home only on some weekends and holidays. To avoid gaining weight, I would eat then induce vomiting.”
One day, when Janice was eight months pregnant an incident occurred that prompted her to disclose her condition. A student went into labour while in school and got expelled.
“I knew that would be me if I did not tell anyone what had happened. So that weekend when I went home, I told my mom and she told my dad.”
It broke Janice’s heart to see the disappointment on her parents’ faces.
“My dad told me three things: We will help you raise this child until you are in a position to do so yourself. Secondly, because you are here sitting by yourself telling us that you are pregnant, that man does not care about you. And the fact that he is not here means we do not recognise him. Lastly, once you are done giving birth, you must go back to school.”
Janice attended her first prenatal clinic at eight months pregnant. All was well and the obstetrician/gynaecologist scheduled another appointment two weeks later. The baby came before the two weeks were up.
“I was admitted on a Saturday, laboured all night and my baby was born on Sunday.”
Janice got a baby girl and her parents helped her adjust to motherhood.
“She would cry at night and I did not know what to do. My breasts would be in pain and sometimes she did not want to feed.”
When the baby turned three months old, Janice resumed her studies and her parents hired a nanny to mind the baby.
“I had to commute daily from Mombasa Road to Uthiru to breastfeed the baby and that was strenuous. My parents were not affectionate to the baby, but my younger sister loved her. My dad did not hold her until she was six months old, and that broke me.”
The shame and ridicule Janice faced when society knew of her pregnancy made her vow to not get pregnant ever again. Some even said she wouldn’t amount to anything much in life.
“I got my first job shortly after graduating from the university. With money in my pocket, I started partying and we clashed with my parents. I moved out but they refused to let me leave with my baby. I regret this because I missed out on my baby’s formative years. I got her back after I became responsible but she was already nine years old.”
Today, Janice is a high-flying strategic communication consultant and is in the process of establishing her firm.
“Things turned out well and the best part is that my dad and daughter are now best of friends.”