By Emelia Naa Ayeley Aryee/Freelance Journalist

You have been married for long. When are you waiting to have children? At least release just one [child],” Voices of friends.

We need grandchildren. When will you give us the first one,” Voices of In-laws.

They got married before they moved into this house. It’s almost two years and there’s no cry of a baby from their room. No sign of pregnancy. Is she a complete woman at all?” Voices of gossips in a compound house.

These were some of the unpleasant messages drummed into the ears and heart of Pricilla Kwakye when she got married and was yet to have a child.

And some were bold say it to her face. One can only imagine how many people, and the kind of unsavory comments passed at her back.

Like Pricilla Kwakye, many women have had to put up with infertility stigma much against their will.

What is infertility stigma?

In a layman’s term, infertility stigma against women is the trauma experienced by women who have failed to have children after a year of carefully planned unprotected sex. This stigma is associated with various psychological and social tensions, such as a feeling of shame and the urge to live in secrecy. The stigma emanates from society, and is more painful when it comes from close family and friends.

Priscilla boldly tells her story

It has not been an easy journey for Priscilla Kwakye even before she got married at age 26. Unlike some girls who start menstruating at age 13, Priscila saw her first period at age 15. That was not shocking to her than the events that followed after the first blood flow.

She recounts that she could live several months in the year without menstruating. At other times, she would bleed nonstop for more than a week. On the average, she saw her period three (3) months in a full year of 12 months.

With the knowledge she had about the reproductive health system in integrated science class, Priscilla knew all was not right with her, and this was very distressing to her. In an attempt to salvage the situation, she reported to a doctor who in turn referred her to a gynecologist. However, due to financial constraints, her visit to the gynecologist did not reach fruition. 

Diagnosed with PCOS

There was a glimpse of hope when Priscila got the opportunity to work with a health facility at the age of 21. Bent on getting explanations for her irregular menstruation, she embarked on a project to save money no matter how small to see the gynecologist.

It was at this time that she was told that she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is defined by the Johns Hopkins Medicines as a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts. In PCOS, numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) form in the ovaries.

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She was worried at the doctor’s announcement, but she stopped worrying for a reason – she was not married and was not contemplating marriage.  However, it was obvious Priscilla was living to fight another day as she got married 5 years later at age 26, and now had to tackle the very health issue she decided to pay less attention to 5 years earlier.

She was fortunate to have a caring and reasonable husband who allayed her fears regarding her health issues. What she had to deal with now is the concerns raised by in-laws, friends, and neighbours.

Priscilla told journalist Emelia in a conversation: “At age 26, on the 29th day of December 2012 I got married to one fine, caring and supportive man. Caring and supportive because I told him about my fertility problem before marriage but he told me not every woman was born to have babies. For me, because I had read about my situation I was never depressed initially. It became depressing when in-laws started asking when we were going to have children.”

She could tolerate in-laws for obvious reasons. But, what of the insinuations cast by friends and neighbours? How would she react to them?

A supportive husband

In counting her blessings on the journey, Priscilla names her husband, Mr. David Asante Kwakye, as the best that ever happened to her. Her husband always found the opportunity to console her. There was a time he even hinted that he did not want children, just to calm her fears and anxieties.

At one point, he had to face his own mother, Priscilla’s mother-in-law, when the family started mounting pressure on Priscilla to produce a grandchild.

My husband has always been there for me. One time, he told his mother that having children is our business, not her problem, and so she should not ask about that again,” Priscilla said with a wide smile, perhaps reminiscing that incident.

A pragmatic approach

Priscilla did not only rely on the medications the doctors filled her shelf with. She took some personal steps in a way of adjusting her lifestyle. What did she do?

Priscilla told the journalist in the conversation that she cut down on sugar, ate more vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, and increased her exercise time.

I also made a conscious effort to lose weight until I felt in my body that I had shed so much flesh. I was eating salad every day. Even if I had to eat kenkey, I ate it with salad” she disclosed.

To her PCOS in a way is linked to a woman’s weight and so to increase her chances of conceiving, she did not take any chances at all.

Watch excerpt from the interview with Priscilla Kwakye here:

More than a mother: What kept Priscilla going?

Priscilla engaged in other activities to keep her mind busy. After all, before anything else, she is a human, a woman, and must live her life with or without children. As a devout Jehovah’s Witness, Priscilla mostly spent her evening moving from house to house to share her faith with others.

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As a fun-loving person, Priscilla also made time for entertainment and enjoyment with her ‘correct’ friends who allowed her be without the nagging questions of when she was going to have a child.

And, yes, her job was very demanding and so it took her mind off her situation.

All the while, she was taking her drugs as prescribed by the doctor, eating well, and hoping for a turnaround.

A new dawn is here

In her second year of marriage, Priscilla made frequent visits to the gynecologist for what she described as “a try for a baby”. It so happened that in the fourth month of the year, she fell pregnant. She would not take chances.

Knowing my condition and the complication I could have with the pregnancy, I went to the hospital immediately after my discovery. I was referred to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital for my antenatal care and to have my baby there,” Priscilla narrated.

She did not have it easy on her pregnancy journey. She experienced other adverse health conditions, including high blood pressure.

In our 8th month I developed high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia then eclampsia. I went through cesarian section (CS) and came back with BP side effects. At a point, I went partially blind. However, through effective treatment and monitoring, mummy and baby were fine,” Priscilla revealed.  

Secondary infertility battle

Priscilla, her husband, and families were overjoyed that their story of infertility and the stigma it came with was now over. However, little did she know that a stronger storm – secondary infertility – was on its way.

Once again, tongues rose asking when she would have a second child. By this time, however, Priscilla said she had developed a tough skin and so she was not disconcerted by those comments and questions. The biggest blow, she disclosed, came from her son, who, at age four, had started demanding to have his own ‘baby brother to play with’.

That was the point she decided to ‘try’ for another baby for her son. Priscilla started living on medication. She admitted that she grew tired of taking too many drugs, and for some fears, she stopped taking them.

I started taking medications. I bought a lot of medication, some prescribed by doctors, others I bought myself over the counter. I took them until I got tired and scared of kidney problems so I stopped,” Priscilla said.

In all this, there were two times I had false positive pregnancy. That was when I got to know that there was something like false pregnancy (when you take a pregnancy test and you are pregnant but the scan shows that there is no fetus in the womb). Upon research I got to know that it could also be because of the medications I was taking. Now I stopped taking medications entirely,” she asserted.

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To her, the worst of all depressions associated with infertility is secondary infertility. She explained: “Secondary form of infertility is one depressing one because you feel that because you have had one [child] already it will be very easy to have another one but it wasn’t. Six years went by without having another.”

Sacrificing friends for peace

Tongues of friends kept wagging about her inability to have a second child. It also did not help that at a point they lived in a compound house and so she sometimes bumped into a small group gossiping about her not having a child after marriage.

During conversations, some friends would even tell you they are pregnant, and compare themselves with you. Some even asked why I had my first child before they did, but they have surpassed me to have a second, third, and even fourth child. It was all distressing to me,” She confessed teary-eyed.

The best and bold decision Priscilla took was to pass her list of friends through the strainer in order to filter out the ‘notorious’ ones who will not let her be. Yes, her peace of mind was paramount. Her mental health was at stake, so, she ended those friendships to have some peace. It was a good riddance for her, as she no longer heard their mockeries and pretentious goodwill messages.

It was after cutting those friends off that she gained some peace. Not long after, Priscilla took seed again and welcome another baby boy. She now has two boys. She attributed her success story to her God and medical intervention.

Ambassador of change

With her experience, Priscilla told journalist Emelia that she has taken it upon herself to encourage other women who share similar stories with her. While lifting their spirit, she also advises these women to focus on how they could make their lives better even in the absence of their much-desired expectation – children.

She also wishes that society would stop stigmatising women who are yet to have children, especially when they do not know exactly what issues are being faced by the woman. She believes infertility stigma is a wound that keeps growing every day so much so that some women have lost their lives because they could not bear the pressure. Such a woman is Hadiza Yahan, whose sad story was published by as documented by Emelia.

Priscilla also encouraged women with infertility issues to visit the hospitals for thorough checks and support.

She must be commended for not allowing the stigma from society to eat her up, but rather encouraged herself and focused on other areas of her life. Because, after all, she is a human first before a mother!

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