Zubedah Mwinyi, a 39-year-old resident of Zowerani sub-location in Kilifi North sub-county, has given birth to eight children in the last 17 years, all of whom are alive. She is proud of her family, speaking of her children with the tone of a career overachiever, and justifiably so – she doesn’t remember a period when, as a wife, she wasn’t either carrying a baby in her womb or in her arms.
Sitting side by side are her religious and cultural beliefs that having many children is a blessing and the struggle her husband, a fisherman, has to endure without ever meeting their daily needs. For years, she has lived in the middle – between triumph and regret, tradition and reality.
“Life is hard but what can you do? If God has already blessed you with children, how then do you complain?” she says.
Their firstborn, a 17-year-old girl, sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam last month after being in and out of school due to the family’s financial hardships. Her other children have not been lucky either, with the much younger ones occasionally put down by illnesses related to malnutrition.
Zubedah and her husband know just too well that there’s little she can do to change the past. But even as they remain careful not to antagonise divine providence, they have resolved to be more involved in planning their future. Their one-year-old son will be their last, the reason she used a modern contraceptive for the first time two months ago. For three years, the implant will help them avoid another pregnancy after which they will seek a more permanent measure.
It was not the first time she was hearing of modern contraceptives. “I had wanted to have just four children but somehow I just found myself postponing using this family planning. That is how I have ended up where I am today,” she says.
Initially, I had heard from fellow women only of how modern contraceptives will harm me, especially that they cause cancer,” she recalls.
Like Zubedah, one in seven married women age 15-49 who need contraceptives to space or delay their next birth lack them, resulting in many unintended pregnancies, according to data from the Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020), which monitors family planning indicators in 11 counties in Kenya.
The reason given for non-use of birth control among all women seeking to delay the next birth two or more years are health-related concerns (26 percent), opposition to use (13 percent) and lack of access/knowledge (four percent).
A NationNewsplex review of family planning data shows that women in the lowest wealth quantile have the highest share of unmet needs of 20 percent, compared with their counterparts in the highest wealth quantile (12 percent), implying that equality and equity are some of the issues that still needs to be looked into.
“If you live in a good neighbourhood, chances are that you will go to a good hospital that offers high-quality family planning services. That is not the case for the poor,” says Dr Griffin Manguro, director and CEO at the International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya (ICRHK).