Last Saturday, I met Jane Mghambi Otieno, mother to a seven-year old daughter Miriam Adhiambo. Jane had her daughter when she was a form three student at Bura Girls High School in Coast Province. Infact, by the time she was discovering she was expecting, she was already five months pregnant!
I had a chat with her about how it all happened, and what she learnt from her experience as a teenage mother. I have originally published this article in today’s Nation.
Growing up, Jane was that kind of child that was the envy of many. She stood out among her peers, often being given leadership roles. She was a class prefect throughout primary school from class one to class eight, and when she joined secondary school, she was made prefect in the first week.
“I noticed that whenever I made a suggestion, most people seemed to be in agreement with me, and whenever I championed a cause, a majority would rally behind me,” she says, adding that everybody paid attention when she spoke.
Leadership seemed to come naturally for this second born in a family of four children. Jane was not only a role model in school, but in her neighbourhood and church as well. She was a disciplined and obedient girl who was admired for her warm and charming personality.
Her father was a senior pastor while her mother was very active in church. As you can imagine, theirs was considered a model family.
In her early teens, Jane grew close to a young man, a neighbour, also in his teens. He was Muslim, but they were in love, and their religious differences did not bother them at the time.
Two years later however, her boyfriend asked her to convert to Islam, but it was a big step, one she was unwilling to take.
“That was out of question because I was grounded in my faith and I told him as much,” she says.
But with no compromise in sight from either side, they decided to part ways. That was in December 2006 – Jane was 16 years old and in Form Two. The following year, she went back to school determined to solely focus on her studies. All was well that term, apart from a brief period when she was had vomiting spells. When she went to hospital, she was told that she had malaria and given medication.
However, one day, over the April holidays, her mother asked her to accompany her to hospital. She wondered why, yet she was not feeling unwell. But she obeyed her mother anyway. On the way there, her mother surprised her by asking her if she was pregnant.
“I was shocked, wondering why on earth my mother would suspect pregnancy. Besides, I was sure I was not pregnant because I had long broken up with my boyfriend. It had been over four months since I last had sex, so it was impossible,” she remembers.
Even though Jane and her boyfriend had not been using any contraceptives for the two years they were sexually active, she never once thought she would fall pregnant.
“My boyfriend had told me not to worry about contraceptives because I was too young to get pregnant. When I did not conceive for months despite regular unprotected sex with him, I concluded he was right.”
So for her mother to insinuate pregnancy was completely out of order, she reckoned.
At the hospital, her urine sample was taken, with the results being shared only with her mother. Once out of the doctor’s room, her mother asked Jane to accompany her to a nearby hotel for a meal.
It was while enjoying the meal that her mother dropped the bombshell. She bluntly asked Jane: “who is the father?”
Despite her not having received her periods for four months, Jane had not been alarmed for she thought they were just irregular. And besides, she had always believed her boyfriend’s words – that she was too young to get pregnant. But she knew there was no way her mother could be bluffing.
“I could not believe it. How could I be pregnant? How had it happened? My mother had given me the ‘sex talk’ many times. We had also been taught sex education in school, in church and in the numerous youth camps I had attended. I had all the information I needed, yet I had disregarded it, and went on to have unprotected sex – I was disappointed in myself.”
Jane was in for further shock when she was informed that her pregnancy was already five months old. How, yet her physique had not changed much and she still easily fitted into her clothes? Turns out that the malaria diagnosis she had been given after the vomiting spells had actually been morning sickness!
But Jane thanks God for her mother and how she handled the pregnancy news.
“My mom expressed her disappointment in me, but she told me that since it had happened, we needed to accept it and move forward. I could see the hurt in her eyes, but she did not raise her voice, she was calm. This comforted me, knowing that I had her support despite the obvious disappointment.”
Though her mother had assured her that she would stand by her, the thought of how her father would react drove her to tears.
“My father was a very strict man, a disciplinarian, and a respected leader in the community. A senior pastor. He had sacrificed so much to ensure we got a good education, yet here I was, pregnant. I had failed him, and I was certain he would never forgive me.”
For a week, Jane avoided her father, staying locked up in her bedroom whenever he was around. At one point, she even contemplated suicide, rather than face him. Were it not for her mother’s constant care and reassurance, she says she would have done it.
“The shame, embarrassment and pain I had caused him was too much for me to handle. I wanted to die.”
One morning, her father summoned her. The first words he said crushed the faint hope that she would one day get her father’s forgiveness. He said: “You have chosen to shame me?”
“I cried as I apologized, saying how sorry I was, assuring him that it would never happen again, that I could still make him a proud father someday,” she remembers.
Her father listened to her intently, but said nothing, instead walking away. Jane was left feeling horrible.
After that incident, Jane wrote a letter to her boyfriend, informing him of the pregnancy. He did not deny responsibility, and a few weeks later, arrived at her parents’ house accompanied by several relatives.
“He admitted to being responsible for my pregnancy and said he was ready to marry me. His family was very well known to us since we were neighbours and had been friends for years.
Our families had respectful discussions about the matter, but my father made it clear that I was not going to get married at that young age, since he wanted me to go back to school after having my baby.”
By then, news of her pregnancy had spread fast in her school, neighbourhood and church. The pastor’s daughter, the disciplined, obedient girl, the role model and leader was now the joke of the neighbourhood. Wherever she went, she would notice the judgemental stares and whispers.
Some of her friends urged her to have an abortion and in fact, one even generously offered her Sh10,000 to get it done, telling her that she was too young to be a mother, too bright to be a school dropout.
“It was not a loan, but a ‘helpful’ gesture from someone who believed in my promising future, but I did not take the money – I just could not consider having an abortion.”
But the most humiliating moment for her was when she had to adhere to the requirements of her church, the stipulated penalty for ‘sexual sin’. Guilty congregants had to publicly confess and seek apology from church members for their sin, and that is exactly what she did.
She remembers that day vividly.
“It was at the main service on a Sunday. Word had gone round that I would be making a public apology that day, so the church was full to capacity. In the middle of the service, the pastor called me to “say something.” As I walked to the front of the church, my head bowed in shame, my stomach now visibly protruding, I felt like dying. I took the microphone, and with the little courage I had left, I apologized to the church for sinning, apologized for letting them down and asked for their forgiveness.”
But it is what happened next that took her by complete surprise.
“I was supposed to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and then return to my seat, but just after I finished talking, my father rose from his seat, walked over to me and embraced me. As he hugged me, he told me that he had forgiven me, and that everything was going to be fine. He told me that he loved me, and that he was going to take care of me and my child. Tears streamed down my face as he said those words to me, as he held me close. I cannot describe the relief I felt, knowing that my father had forgiven me. Nothing else mattered after that,” Jane says.
As he led her back to a seat next to him, she held her head high, no longer ashamed. Her father’s assurance of his love had given her a new lease of life.
Jane started her antenatal clinics at six months pregnant, with her mother accompanying her that first visit.
“Mother took good care of me during the pregnancy, ensuring that I ate well and even regularly taking me for brisk walks, telling me that this mild exercise would ease my delivery.”
In August 2007, Jane delivered a healthy baby girl, weighing 3kg. Her parents were present at the hospital to receive the baby, who they proudly showed off to visitors.
Three months after the birth, Jane’s father began searching for a school for her. By then, the family had moved from Voi, Taita Taveta County, where she grew up, to Nairobi. He managed to secure an interview for her at a day school not far from where they lived. Jane passed the interview, and the following year, joined the school as a Form Three student.
“I was a student by day and a mother by night. Each evening after school, I would bath my daughter, wash her clothes and prepare her food for the following day. My mother took care of her during the day.”
To ease her parent’s financial burden of taking care of both she and her daughter, Jane would buy groundnuts and mabuyu at a wholesale price from her aunt in Voi, which she would then sell at a retail price to her friends in school. In a day, she would make a profit of about Sh 200.
“I used this money to buy diapers, milk and clothes for my daughter,” she says.
Later that year, during third term, Jane’s classmates and teachers urged her to vie for the headgirl’s position. She took up the challenge, sent an application letter stating her interest in the position, and after a vetting process by the election board, she began her campaign.
“I got 99 per cent of the votes to become headgirl, a position I held until I completed Form Four.”
She performed well in her final exams and was invited to join Kenyatta University, where she studied Economics and Finance. Here, she was a class representative from her first to fourth year. Today, Jane works at a leadership institute in Nairobi.
Besides this, she also regularly visits schools where she shares her experience with the students, hoping that it will encourage them to make more informed choices. She also encourages parents to have the kind of relationship with their children where their children can feel free to come to them with any issue at all, including when they have made mistakes.
“Some young girls end up procuring backstreet abortions many of which either kill them or leave them physically and emotionally damaged. Some children even prefer to commit suicide rather than face their parents when they have failed in something. I encourage parents to have an open-door policy with their children, to let them know that no matter what, they will still support them,” she says.
Jane is not in contact with her daughter’s father, but she is at peace with this, since, as she explains, they had already broken up before she discovered she was pregnant.
She has found love a second time, and is engaged and looking forward to getting married soon. Currently she lives with her parents, who dot over their granddaughter, Miriam.
“I think my dad loves my daughter much more than I do,” she jokes.