NOT READY TO BE A MOTHER

Painful relief: When girls resort to abortion

Broke, campus-age girls with reluctant boyfriends and oblivious parents shop for pills and quacks to 'clean' their wombs. What often follows is a nightmare that tortures and lingers beyond recovery

In Summary

• The hours before an abortion can be nerve-racking, confusing, sad and depressing

• The aftermath is often characterised by trauma. Some vow to never have sex again

Abortion
Abortion

Unprotected sex. Unwanted pregnancy. Unbearable consequences. "Story of my life," girls who've walked this lonely road would say. Desperate times, desperate measures. 

Akinyi* (not her real name), 23, had first opted to visit Marie Stopes Clinic to confirm her pregnancy and see if she could have the procedure done there. 

She found out she was pregnant on her boyfriend's birthday last year and had the abortion just two days later. 

 
 
 

"They were charging Sh5,500 for the abortion service and I did not have that much money at the time. Neither did my boyfriend," she says. 

She had been suspecting she was pregnant and even joked with her boyfriend about it. The couple had been having sex without protection since they met the preceding year. 

"I had decided it was okay if we did not use protection. We had gotten a pregnancy scare once and I remember none of us even knew how to take a pregnancy test," she says, adding that they used 'alternative' means that sometimes included contraception. 

The day she found out she was pregnant, Akinyi was coming back from a job interview when she came across a chemist. 

"My suspicions were growing because I had begun to feel tired all the time and it's not the normal kind of tired; I felt like I had been working the mines for hours on end," she says. "It was different, extreme, I just knew."

 
 
 

Akinyi got home and took the test, which came back positive. Not believing what she saw, she used the other two strips she had bought. 

"The panic attack began when the third one came back positive. I had actually been laughing after the first one tested positive but suddenly couldn't breathe after the third strip showed two lines," she says. 

"I was shaking, my chest was heavy and I couldn't talk. I was alone because my boyfriend had left town for a work assignment and I had not told any of my friends yet. "

After getting through the panic attack, she began to cry because she knew she had to abort the pregnancy. 

"My father had warned me. He had told me straight to my face that if I ever let myself get pregnant, his home is not one of the places I should go," she says. 

Devastated, alone and confused, Akinyi decided to call her boyfriend and tell him what had happened. 

"I had contemplated not telling him that day because it was his birthday but the longer I kept it, the worse I felt. I called him a few hours later and told him. His first question was whether I was going to abort," she says. 

Akinyi understood where he was coming from because he had made it clear he was not ready to have children. Raising the child on her own was not an option for Akinyi. 

Asked why, she said, "I had seen my friends keep theirs and I was not that strong. I was not ready."

When the first jab of pain hit me, it was like the medicine was tearing through my uterus, the pain intensifying when it was time to pass a clot. It hurt. Badly
Akinyi* after abortion 

THREE PILLS, ONE EMERGENCY 

The instructions were simple: three pills — one in the mouth, one in the genitalia and the third was, 'just in case.'

"I got the pills from my boyfriend's sister's friend. My boyfriend paid Sh2,000 for them. I bought fruits on my way home because I was not planning on leaving my house at all that weekend," she says. 

She describes the hours before the abortion as nerve-racking, confusing, sad and extremely depressing. 

"There is something my mind has completely blocked from that day. Sections of that night that I don't let myself remember," she says. 

She took the pills, as instructed, at 9pm that Saturday and began to wait. At first, she thought she had done something wrong because nothing was happening.  

"When the first jab of pain hit me, it was like the medicine was tearing through my uterus, the pain intensifying when it was time to pass a clot. It hurt. Badly," she said.

At one point, she began to feel movement in her uterus, and this was the most painful part yet. 

"It was so much, for like half an hour, all I could do was cry and try not to scream because it was now around midnight. Sometimes I had to go the washroom and just sit there and bleed because of how intense it got," she says. 

When the 'movement' was over, Akinyi passed her biggest clot yet before the pain subsided. 

"After I couldn't sleep or eat, and I smoked marijuana and ate fruits for a week straight. I think I was traumatised because all I did was remember the pain and cry," she says. 

"I drastically lost weight and it was very noticeable, so I told people the stress of graduation had gotten to me."

Akinyi and her boyfriend never talked about what happened because she says he will never understand what she went through. 

"I was about a month along and I only talk to my best friend about it because she has gone through something similar," she said.  

For Angela*, also 23, a few minutes after taking the second batch of pills, she was experiencing diarrhoea, vomiting, sweating and shivering.

She was sitting in her studio apartment, staring at the wall with pregnancy test in hand, and swearing. 

"I made a pact with myself that I would never have sex again. I was done with the male species," Angela said. 

Even before she took the test, Angela knew she was pregnant. 

"I was not scared, I was not crying. I was sure I was pregnant and I was sure I wanted out. But the one thing that got me scared was the fact that I was alone," she said. 

"I had been having unprotected sex and decided I did not want to have children, at least not until I was ready mentally, financially and emotionally."

However, she did not have the finances needed to procure a safe abortion, and the man she had gotten pregnant by had expressed interest in fathering a child. 

"I had to ask the guy for money, something I didn't want to do because I feared his reaction. He wanted to have a child but to be honest, I had already made my decision," she said. 

After a week of ignoring the situation, Angela says he finally gave her the money she needed for the abortion. 

"I went to the nearest Marie Stopes I could find, and after the tests were done. I was given a pill there and carried four others I was to take the next day," she said. 

A few minutes after taking the second batch, the 'horror' started. 

"Then the bleeding started and I will never forget the amount of pain I was in. I thought I was going to die. Sleep was out of the question that night. I just lay there feeling the life coming out of my body," she said. 

She finally drifted off to sleep at around 4am and was up by 7am the next morning. 

"I still had to cook, shower, put makeup on and go to work, acting like everything was fine. And life continued from there," Angela said. 

The right information is not available for those who need it. That is why most end up in the hands of quacks, who are not trained and are operating in unlicensed facilities
Legal adviser Martin Onyango

QUICK AND PAINLESS 

Joan*, 24, had it easy. "I barely felt anything after the process had been completed, and it was not even that expensive," she said.  

This was the second time she was procuring an abortion, and she had found a doctor who made the process easy. 

"For Sh4,500, they will inject you with a drug that puts you to sleep. And then you wake up when the whole process is complete," she said. "I am yet to experience any side-effects from the process, and I would highly recommend it."

However, for Emily*, also 24, the process would have consequences that haunt her to date. 

She found out she was pregnant two years ago by a man who not only rejected the pregnancy but also abandoned her thereafter. 

"He broke up with me and blocked me on his phone after I told him I was pregnant," she said. 

Emily, a campus student, could not keep the baby because she was not ready and did not have the finances to manage. 

"My parents have worked really hard to get me to this level of education, and I just did not want to let them down like that," she said. 

Frustrated and desperate for a solution, Emily found a 'doctor' at Githurai who was willing to help. 

When she finally raised the Sh1,800 he asked for, they set up an appointment and headed to the facility. 

"It was 10 minutes of excruciating pain, I could not believe it. They inserted something into my genitalia and started the process," Emily said. 

The doctor offered her some medication that would help with the pain before starting to 'clean' her womb with some surgical tools. 

"Afterwards I had the worst cramps and could barely walk, but I was lucky because my cousin was with me and she took me home," she said. 

A month later during her period, Emily started having back pains and cramps that would leave her bedridden.

"I consulted a different doctor, who told me that in the process of 'cleaning' my womb, one of my kidneys had been moved hence the pain," she said. 

"I cannot tell my mother the problem because I am not ready for her to find out. So to manage the pain, I use painkillers."

SEEK RIGHT INFO

Centre for Reproductive Rights senior legal adviser Martin Onyango says young women and girls fail to seek the right services. 

"The right information is not available for those who need it. That is why most end up in the hands of quacks, who are not trained and are operating in unlicensed facilities," he said. 

Onyango said post-abortion care is constitutional and available in all health services. 

He added women and girls need to be equipped with the information on who else, apart from public health facilities, is qualified to offer the services. 

Last month, a five-judge bench declined to give a blanket ruling making abortion legal in Kenya. However, the constitution allows a window for abortion.

Article 26 (4) of the Constitution states, "Abortion is permitted if, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is a need for emergency treatment or the life or health of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law."

Edited by Tom Jalio