Desperate for motherhood at any cost

Date: November 6, 2009
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A Zimbabwean woman from the Zvimba area who recently “stoleÀ and disappeared with a friend’s one-month-old baby in an attempt to regain her estranged husband after several miscarriages was sentenced to two years imprisonment after pleading guilty to kidnapping charges. In mitigation the woman, Patience Muchena, said “all she wanted was to have a baby to look after…À
The desperation behind this criminal act is unmistakable. As a result of the circumstances she found herself in, Muchena felt she had no choice but to resort to such depths of desperation – to steal another woman’s baby and attempt to pass her as her own. The hoped for result? To reclaim her estranged husband’s affections and acceptance, and restore her crumbled marriage.
What desperation, you might think. What an unfortunate choice to make? But Muchena is not the first, neither will she be the last, woman to travel or consider travelling this road. She is just one of countless women in Zimbabwe and similar countries for whom a childless fate has lost them a place in their husband’s hearts and indeed the husband’s life. By extension their place in society has also been compromised.
Cultural expectations, myths, stereotypes and stigma have often placed women under immense pressure to the point of driving them to blind desperation. In typical African culture there are some age-old realities that most women find themselves pitted and measured against, including:
·                 by nine months or so after lobola has been paid for you, you must give birth to a child;
·                 for your own peace and favour, it would serve you better if the first child were a boy;
·                 one baby is not a happy family option;
·                 woe to you should your marriage not result in any offspring;
·                 In the event of childlessness, you, the woman are the cause of it
·                 you, as “the usual suspectÀ are barren otherwise there would be children in this marriage;
·                 oh, no, it is highly unlikely that the “faultÀ be the husband’s, he is after all a man À“ males are males À“ hardly at fault; and
·                 in many instances, why even bother going to the doctor for fertility consultations and tests. Why go, when “usual suspectÀ is known, and in most cases unable to exonerate herself.
One would think that these ages old notions belong in the dark ages, long before education, science and medicine had taken hold of most of our psyches. But oh no, that cases like Muchena happening as they do in this day and age are proof that such realities are here and not likely to completely disappear any time soon. Sure, these incidences may be less these days than before, but even one case occurring is one case too many.   This is worrying.
Schools of thought that place a woman at fault when there is no child in the marriage; that treat women as child bearing “machinesÀ distort the ideals of marriage as we know it these days. Emotional support, companionship, and love before whatever it is I can or cannot bear with my womb! Whatever happened to the vows: through thick and thin, for better or for worse À“ what could be worse than facing abandonment from a husband at you hour of most need À“ yet he leaves.
Are these vows only meant for men? Are they only referring to men as a beneficiary? That when a man is down, when he is at his worst that a woman should stick by him? But that when the fault is supposedly a woman’s – the man has the license to flee and dump.
Can you imagine the stigma the poor woman must have been going through before plunging to such depths of stealing another’s child?   Fingers must have been pointed and tongues wagging at the “woman whose husband left her because she couldn’t bear him a child.À Sympathy, pity, accusations, ridicule, disappointment, mockery must have come at hear from various corners in her existence.
How it must have been for her to walk in those shoes. And to hope and hope against hope that if somehow she could provide À“ by hook and by crook À“ a baby for her husband À“ a baby, just any baby – that maybe, just maybe, she could reclaim his love and restore her position in his life. That a child, any child, by her bosom could exonerate her from her plight.
Cultural reject À“ she must have felt she was. What depths of darkness, desperation, despair and hopelessness, she must have been in as she finally grabbed whatever supposed solution she could with the misplaced notion that the end would justify the means.
How wrong she was? How very wrong she was? Stealing a baby can never be condoned. What she did was wrong. She was at fault. But is she the only one and the only thing at fault? Does the blame start and end with her? Extenuating circumstances? Whatever happened to addressing not just the symptoms but the root cause? Where does one start? And end? Culture, I say, culture.
Maggie Mzumara is an international media and communication practitioner. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service which offers fresh news on every day news.

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