TOUGH TIMES FOR MOMS

Covid-19 puts the brakes on childbearing plans

Burden of care on women has increased as kids stay home and more people fall sick.

In Summary
  • Data from UN Women shows that in Kenya, women spend 11.1 hours on care work compared to 2.9 hours by men
  • Balancing between taking care of the children, household errands and work has always been a challenge, coronavirus has made everything more difficult.
Mothers and children at a clinic.
Mothers and children at a clinic.
Image: FILE
My man is very capable of taking care of me and our baby if we got pregnant, but I did not want to be dependent on him after I lost my job
Jacinta

She had planned to get pregnant by December, but that has been put on hold indefinitely.

"I was going to get married earlier in the year and we were planning to be pregnant by December," Jacinta says.

The 25-year-old Nairobi accountant and her boyfriend had everything figured out. 

 

"Before everything went down, my man and I were in the process of making plans to visit my mother so the marriage process could start," she says. 

The couple, who have been together for more than two years, had even settled on the house they would move into. 

However, their plans were ruined the minute the government announced measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

"When the President announced the cessation of movement, a lot of things changed for us. For example, I lost my job," she says. 

Jacinta is also pursuing further studies. Her exams were pushed from earlier in the year to July then to September.

She did not want her pregnancy to interfere with her studies. 

Her boyfriend, whose business operates internationally, can no longer travel in and out of the country.

According to a survey done by motherhood and lifestyle brand Motherly, 74 per cent of US mothers say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began.

VISION 2020

The couple have been forced to reschedule their plan to start a family.

"My man is very capable of taking care of me and our baby if we got pregnant, but I did not want to be dependent on him after I lost my job," Jacinta says.

"I want to be financially independent in case anything happens between us. I still need to be able to take care of my kid(s)."

She has not, however, given up on her dream of starting a family. "I don't have a specific timeline but as soon as I get my house in order, I want the kids. The Covid-19 situation has made me want kids even more," she says

"The situation has helped me realise motherhood is a lifetime job that requires time, effort and a lot of love and sacrifice.

"For now, however, I am using implants because the conditions are not conducive for us to bring a baby to the world."

Not so for Janice*. She never wants to have children. 

The 27-year-old communications officer in Nairobi says her experience with babysitting in quarantine has opened her eyes to the realities of motherhood. 

"I know it is not the same but if babysitting was that difficult, I tried to picture motherhood and I realised it just does not fit into my life plan," she says. 

Janice had offered to babysit her uncle's child for some time because both parents needed to work and she was working from home.

Some people are able to do it with a family but I cannot. The idea of motherhood in this society also contributed to my decision. There is too much responsibility placed on women and not enough on men
Janice

She found most of her time and attention were directed towards the baby and taking care of its needs. 

"The pandemic has brought to light so many issues that mothers are facing such as threats to their jobs because children are demanding more and more of their time in lockdown," she says.

"I could not wait for the mother to pick up the baby. It was too much."

Despite the stigma attached to women who do not have children, the writer feels a child would stand in the way of her dreams. 

"I have had a discussion with my partner. We were not planning on having children. We actually had never talked about it but I needed him to know how I felt," Janice says.

"I was always on the fence about the issue. I somehow felt the whole idea of motherhood was not for me but this experience and what I am reading online have helped me to make up my mind. I don't want children."

Whether her partner agrees with her decision or not is not relevant.

"I am the one who will have to be pregnant for nine months, not him. He can have an opinion but the final decision is mine," she says. 

Janice wants to pursue her studies to doctorate level, start and manage her own firm, and travel the world. 

"Some people are able to do it with a family but I cannot. The idea of motherhood in this society also contributed to my decision. There is too much responsibility placed on women and not enough on men," she says.

"It is as if just being known as a father in the sense that you have a child somewhere is enough. Most of them do not raise their children, they are just around and all the responsibility is channelled to the mother. It's unfair." 

MORE BURDEN

In April, UN Women started a campaign encouraging men to take up roles such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children to ease the burden on women during Covid-19. 

The campaign started by UN Women's HeforShe movement invited men to share how they are helping at home. 

"The impacts of Covid-19 are profoundly gendered. In response, we are launching the HeForSheAtHome campaign, which aims at highlighting the unfair burden on women and encourage men to do their equal share," wrote UN Women in a tweet.

As the formal and informal supply of childcare declines, the demand for unpaid childcare provision is falling more heavily on women, not only because of the existing structure of the workforce but also because of social norms
Unesco brief

A World Health Organization report on addressing sex and gender during epidemics states women may be at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

It found that gender influences the patterns of exposure to infectious agents and the treatment.

 "Typical gender roles can influence where men and women spend their time, and the infectious agents they come into contact with, as well as the nature of exposure, its frequency and its intensity," the report says. 

Having to balance between taking care of the children, household errands and work has always been a challenge and for a lot of women, coronavirus has made everything more difficult.

The report added the burden of unpaid care work for women such as cooking, cleaning, going to the market or taking care of the sick may increase their risk of contracting coronavirus.

Data from UN Women shows that in Kenya, women spend 11.1 hours on care work compared to 2.9 hours by men.

With the closure of schools, children are spending all their days at home, increasing the burden of care on women. 

According to Unesco, 1.52 billion students (87 per cent) and more than 60 million teachers are at home.

"As the formal and informal supply of childcare declines, the demand for unpaid childcare provision is falling more heavily on women, not only because of the existing structure of the workforce but also because of social norms," reads the brief. 

"This will constrain their ability to work, particularly when jobs cannot be carried out remotely. The lack of childcare support is particularly problematic for essential workers who have care responsibilities."

UN Women adds, "It's more likely that as infection rates rise, most cases will have to be managed at home increasing women's burden of care and vulnerability to infection."

According to a survey done by motherhood and lifestyle brand Motherly, 74 per cent of US mothers say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began. 

The report, which gathered responses from more than 3,000 millennial mothers between March 9 and April 23, found that 97 per cent of mums between the ages of 24 and 39 say they feel burnt out at least some of the time, with the pandemic only making things worse. 

Thirty per cent of full-time working mothers say their primary cause of stress is child care, followed by worries around the mental health and well-being of family members. 

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya