My body had grown cold during the two hours light-skinned in blue jeans and an Arsenal jersey, had been cleaning the little aquarium since my arrival. I tried to wander with my eyes the whole time to prevent my mind from wandering. The clinic at that moment felt like the only link between me and my aspirations. It was a quiet, serene busy place and the staff walked around with reassuring smiles plastered on their faces. They treated the other patients with such grace and poise, and it calmed me down, their composure.
An abortion clinic is somewhere I never imagined finding myself, especially after meeting the love of my life, Paul whom we later got married, in that unconventional Kenyan style“come we stay”. Also, after learning that my best friend, Alice had procured an abortion I gave her hell for it. At first, I hesitated to call her because I didn’t know whether to start with an apology or go right ahead and address the Elephant in the room. When her voice came on, I felt my throat dry up, and from a distance, I could bet she still sounded a little more like me. The sound of her voice was like a ray of light, coming through a very dark cloud.
“I guess it’s a wrong number; I can’t hear the caller,” she said.
“You sure, babe?” somebody in the background asked. I could recognize the voice; it was Jones. Wow! I was surprised.
“Hello!” I said, fear lurking in my voice.
“Heee…yyyy! Hello?” Alice asked.
“Alice, it’s Nancy,” I paused, remaining silent as if expecting her to say something. In those seconds that felt like forever, I wanted her to say something to even out the falling out we had and lessen the burden of what I was about to ask her.
“Hey Nancy! How are you? I’m so glad you called. How are you, and how is the baby?” Alice queried ecstasy in her voice. I was not surprised that she cared for my baby and my well-being. I knew for certain that she still loved me, despite the way I ended our friendship. I knew in my heart that I had made the right call.
“Buba is fine. We call him Buba. He’s walking now and can say a few words. Still gives me hell at night though,” a soft laugh escaped me. I was pleased by how I was giving full answers, even to unasked questions.
“Was that Jones I heard in the background?” I asked, for two reasons: to avoid an awkward silence and to know if they were still together, but also if she could step aside for a conversation.
“Yes, that’s him. He’s making us some chicken biryani for dinner,” Alice replied happily. I could feel her smile through the phone, the way her cheeks lit up with a burning shine when she was happy about something. I didn’t think Jones would have made her happy all this time, not after what they went through. But just like Jones, I tend to be wrong about so many things.
“What’s the occasion?” I posed.
“Occasion? What do you mean?” Alice answered quickly.
“Yeah. Why is he cooking for you on a Wednesday? Shouldn’t he be going to work tomorrow? And you?” I asked.
“Oops! Ooh, you don’t know yet; we moved in together about a year ago,” she said lightly. Her voice was not laced with doubt or resentment. She said it like it was sober, proper, right even. I couldn’t read any sort of uncertainty in her voice, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Surprised because when she told me that Jones had supported her choice to have an abortion, I was certain it was because he didn’t have long-term plans with her. Everyone I had told about Alice’s secret had reason to believe that Jones would never marry her, let alone live with her as man and wife. If a man truly loves you, shouldn’t they make merry on the news of his woman’s pregnancy? I was convinced Jones only wanted her to get the abortion and then dump her right after. To my surprise, he was quite supportive, so much so that he even made the bold step to move in with her. Usually, most men only marry women because they are expectant with their children, it’s the only valid reason for making such a bold step. Jones’s support for Alice surprised me that for a moment I wished I was Alice.
“What happened? I thought you weren’t ready for that?” I asked. I tasted the salt in the question after pouting my lips, and I almost regretted posing it, but it was too late.
“Well, things happen, and we are here now,” she said with a chuckle. Knowing Alice very well, there was much more she wanted to say, but she was probably unable to say it in the environment she was in.
“By the way, did you switch numbers, or whose phone number is this?” Alice asked, snapping me back to reality.
“Do you think you can step aside for a quick conversation?” I asked, feeling the alarm in my voice.
Alice, sensing it, moved away quickly as she whispered, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine now, but I need your help,” I answered.
“What do you need, Nancy?” She asked.
“I need you to help me get a doctor; I’m in a situation,” I said, choosing words carefully, avoiding implicating language.
“I’m listening, Nancy,” she said, using such incomplete sentences to push me to add whatever information I had omitted since high school, and I knew she needed to hear the words.
“I’m pregnant,” there was a candid silence before I added, “again.” Alice was quiet, and I imagined the look in her eyes, that blank stare that sets your mind on a rampage, wondering what she’s about to say.
“Congratulations, my love. I hope you didn’t call to ask me for name options because you didn’t use any of the options I gave you for your other two children. I know you mean well, but I won’t compete with Paul all over again. He will obviously trump me, like always!” She added with finality and a soft laughter.
It felt to me that she resigned, resigned that I had opted to be a wife and a mother at the expense of our dreams. When I had my daughter Jaicy, she was elated, checked up on me severally, and even visited her a couple of times against Paul’s will. When I called again to tell her that Paul had slapped me when I was six months pregnant with Buba she almost lost her mind.
The morning I had called, Paul and I argued about the baby. He complained that I let Jaicy cry for too long at night, interfering with his sleep while he had to be at work the next day. The argument escalated quickly, and the next thing, a slap landed on my face. Paul apologized immediately but insisted that I had enraged him.
Alice asked that I report the matter to a police station and leave my house, going to my mother’s place, or hers if I preferred. What she didn’t know was that my mother had been my first call, and she had categorically stated that I should stay in my husband’s house. To support her decision, she reminded me of the countless times my father beat her up and she stayed. She finished her call with her usual dramatic tone, “Anyone that tells you to leave your husband’s house is jealous of you. Given a chance, they would jump right in to replace you. Be wise and be strong; that’s marriage, baby!”
My mother’s words lingered in my ears, and for every word Alice said, I overanalyzed it, trying to see how jealous she was of me. Of course, I believed my mother. What would a feminist who has had an abortion for a guy she had known for two months advise me on? Certainly not marriage!
So, when Alice called later that evening after Paul had flowers, a pack of chocolate, and a novel delivered to me during the day, I lashed out at Alice. I had been mean, to say the least. I must have reminded her that before the Lord’s eyes, I was a Proverbs 31 woman, and I wouldn’t let a murderer advise me about my home. I had taken things a notch higher and pleaded with her to repent.
I heard footsteps approaching the door, and I remembered I was still on a call with Alice. “Alice, I might never finish my degree; Paul won’t let me. I need to go, please don’t call this number, I will contact you when the coast is clear. Bye now!” I hung up.
I placed Mercy’s phone, our domestic manager on top of the fridge and carried my cup of tea to my bedroom quietly. I knew I couldn’t trust Mercy because she had been brought by my mother-in-law to monitor me and I could tell by how she questioned my decisions. As I sipped on my tea, I couldn’t help but worry about my decision. Calling Alice was significant, and my mind was truly made up. I had tried to find it in me to think otherwise, to reconsider my decision but everything in me had practically given in. I needed to do it.
I had good reasons too, or so I thought. I feared, that if Paul and his family found out, they would likely accuse me of infidelity. Because how else would I, a married woman, explain that I was terminating my husband’s child, because I was not ready to have another child, at least not now? My mother-in-law was pleasantly happy with me because I had sired them a son, Buba and she had said that another boy should seal the deal. When I mentioned that another child might have to wait a couple of years, she reminded me that giving birth young was the best thing for me, so I should do it, as quickly as possible and close that chapter.
I guess, this is the same advice she gave Paul. When we first met, Paul shared my dreams and ambitions, in fact, he vouched to support me the best way he could. My life’s dream was to build and own a Public Relations Firm and when I met Paul, he often gushed over my intellect, always mentioning how he adored my self-drive and determination. He would so often finish our conversations about the future by saying ‘ hashtag Power Couple’. It was cheesy, but I loved it. A year into our relationship, he subtly talked about having children because he was of age and had the financial capacity to cater to them. I didn’t take it seriously because I was practically in my fourth year at university. Paul showered me with gifts and at every chance, mentioned how great of a mother I would be to our children. Somehow, I found this ‘child-talk’ cute and shared it with Alice, who wasn’t too comfortable with it and reminded me to be careful.
I had told Alice about how often Paul forgot to use protection and how he would nag every time I asked him to use protection. For all the times he didn’t use protection, I had to use emergency contraceptives. It happened so many times that one afternoon as I told Alice I needed to buy emergency pills, she convinced me to go to a clinic and get on birth control.
I got on Depo-Provera, the 3-month injectable contraception on the upper arm as she advised me on how unhealthy constantly popping emergency pills was. Everything seemed to work out fine until Paul raised eyebrows about why I wasn’t asking for cash to get contraception, yet we had been having unprotected sex.
“Does it mean you are ready now?” Paul asked.
“Ready for what? I asked.
“A child! You don’t take emergency pills anymore. Should we do a test?” He seemed to be so happy that for a moment there, I wished it was possible.
“No need for a test babe, I got on birth control,” I answered with a soft smile, somehow, I expected he would be happy that I had taken responsibility and opted for family planning.
“You did what, Nancy?” His voice was high-pitched, and he threw my hand away from his belly as he rose from the bed.
“What is…wrong?” I stammered, pulling the duvet to cover my bare breasts.
“You are leading me on, and you are asking what’s wrong?” he said as he planted a fist into the purple wall of our bedroom.
“What do you mean leading you on? How? I don’t understand?” I asked, genuinely concerned. It had been two months and a week since I got on family planning. For the whole time, I had stayed loyal to Paul. His outrage was a big surprise.
“I already introduced you to my parents Nancy. I want to marry you and then you go ahead and use family planning without telling me? If you don’t want to have my children, you should have just told me, not pretend!” he bellowed.
There was a long silence. I tried to piece everything together because I didn’t understand his point of view. He seemed visibly upset but didn’t he remember the conversations we had about having children when I was ready when we first started dating?
“Listen darling, we talked about this. I’m not ready to have children and popping emergency pills every other time wasn’t a healthy option, so Alice advised that I get on a more sustainable contraceptive option as I contemplate what I want. There are more birth control options…,” Paul interjected.
“More what? More what Nancy? I knew this wasn’t your idea. It had to be Alice. That wayward woman you call a friend. She can’t keep a man, and you are taking her advice? Don’t you see it?”, he asked, taking a seat beside me on the bed.
“See what?” I asked fidgeting.
In a soft tone, since that outburst had begun, he said, “She wants you to be like her.”
I sat there and listened to Paul call my friend names, and I laughed with him. I took in the lies he said about her, resentfully and I quietly took it in. At no point did I try to speak up for my friend. I just wanted him to lash out, so that he would calm down. Somehow, I had always known that saying Alice influenced me to do something always got me out of trouble because he would burden everything awful about me to Alice. However, that day, he asked me to choose.
“Babe, I’m giving you an ultimatum, you have one week to choose between me and Alice,” he said with finality. Of course, I didn’t think it was serious until he called me midweek. I told him I was having lunch with Alice, and he asked, “It’s your goodbye lunch? You acted so fast!” He sounded very happy.
Somewhere in my heart, I know I should have instantly responded with a ‘no’, but the thought of losing Paul shattered me. I loved that man. I had enough love to give both him and my best friend Alice. Why did I have to choose? Regardless, I did. I wrote Alice a long message on WhatsApp, weaving together a web of misunderstandings we had since we became friends seven years ago, and expressly said, “This friendship doesn’t serve me anymore, I just want it to end. I hope you will be okay”. I clicked send and that was it.
When Alice responded to the text two weeks later, she sounded hurt, confused, and full of grief. She asked if Paul had, by any chance, influenced my decision. My heart sank. She wished me well and reminded me that she loved me and would always be there for me. It was such a tough moment for her, and I could tell.
In the months that followed, Paul and I enjoyed love and all it had to offer. Most times, when I reminded Paul to use protection, he would tell me that he was capable and ready for a child. On several occasions, he mentioned that he was ready to pay for a master’s degree if I gave him a child. Paul would often not use protection during sex, and I would pretend I hadn’t noticed. The idea of having a child had started to grow on me, even though I knew I wasn’t ready.
The pregnancy test we did was just a formality we did to confirm the obvious reason why I had missed my period. We named her Jaicy. I was happy because Paul was happy, he would read Jaicy stories on weekends and he pampered me too. We were happy for the first few months of our daughter’s life. I was happy to post and share photos of my small family all over social media. However, there were moments that I wished Alice was present because these were milestones that we had talked about achieving together.
My first pregnancy was smooth. I never experienced any complications, and I was eager and happy to have the child. Paul was more doting and everything was flowing, just like I had imagined. It felt like my forever after had come sooner than expected. I enjoyed motherhood, and my small family ignited my passion to go back to school and finish my degree. With a baby in my arms and a supportive husband, it felt like I was ready to conquer the world.
Having given birth, the plan was to go back to school and finish up my degree or so I thought. Paul all the while was keen on reminding me to focus on raising our baby as he prepared to undertake my schooling responsibilities. He had even allowed Alice to come to see our daughter, and I felt a glimmer of hope in my heart.
Alice brought me a beautiful bouquet of white roses, a novel, and a journal. How thoughtful? We spent the whole day at home, talking about life and filling each other on the paths our lives had taken. She had recently started seeing Jones, a handsome, neat gentleman and she seemed so smitten by him.
When we started talking about our partners, Alice talked about how their relationship proceeded after having an abortion a few months into their relationship. It was rather shocking that Alice would, of all people, get pregnant yet she was the family planning advocate. However, I wasn’t so surprised that she decided to terminate the pregnancy, what surprised me, was the fact that Jones supported her decision to do it .
“He doesn’t love you, Alice!” I said in astonishment.
“What do you mean he doesn’t love me?” She asked, her eyes flickering.
“If he did, he would never let you have an abortion. He’s using you! Can’t you see that?” I added.
“No. Not really. Neither of us was ready for a child, Jones was hesitant at first, but I got him to see things from my point of view and we made a choice that was best for us then” she replied.
“Don’t tell me you don’t regret it. You aren’t guilty? What if you had died? Huh?” I asked, visibly alarmed.
“Relax Nancy, it was safe. He supported me all through, emotionally, financially, and in every way he could. He was with me every step of the way,” she said. I stared at my friend in disgust, wondering how she couldn’t see that Jones didn’t see a future with her and that’s why he had her terminate the pregnancy.
“I don’t know why you refuse to see it, but my Paul could never…” I paused. “By the way, I’m four months pregnant. It was unexpected, but we are excited to have our baby!” I said, hoping that my announcement would enliven the moment. Instead, Alice looked at me, surprised, and asked, “What about your degree?”
I made a mental note to myself that my mother was right. Alice was jealous of me. This lie I told myself helped me steer away from the truth. The actual truth. The fact that my family planning pills would conveniently disappear, never to be found again. The fact that whenever I asked Paul, he would become so defensive but would always smile at the mention of the possibility of another pregnancy.
The night after Alice visited, I shared Alice’s secret with my husband. You can imagine what Paul had to say. He didn’t stop at calling her names, instead, he went on to congratulate himself on ‘saving’ me from the jaws of death by forcing me to end my friendship with Alice. That little secret was the nail in the coffin. Paul declared Alice a persona non grata and warned me never to contact her again. He made sure we cut ties, and that I deleted her phone number, even though I knew it by heart.
When Buba was born, I developed a complication: vaginal prolapse, or a ‘hanging vagina’. Buba was not an easy child like Jaicy. He cried so often that I could barely sleep. My second pregnancy was such a nightmare, and I knew for sure, I was done having children. At least, I was ready to go back to school and focus on childbearing in later years. After having two children, all I wanted was to go back to school and pursue my academic and professional dreams. But Paul had grown cold every time I mentioned school. What irked me, was the fact that he was financially capable of helping me enrol back in school, but he would categorically stay silent on school matters. Sometimes, he even pretended to be asleep. He started to feel more like a stranger, not the man who was eager to see me accomplish my dreams, certainly not the one who gushed over us being a power couple.
My plans to go back to school were threatened when I realized I had missed my period again. The horror of the previous after-birth complications sickened me, but the thought of staying at home to mother three toddlers riled me up. In four years, three children with an incomplete degree? Would I ever finish the degree now?
I had gone for corrective surgery the last time I gave birth, and I wasn’t about to start another healing journey. Staring down at the pregnancy test on my left thigh seated on my bedroom’s toilet seat, I knew the person to call, Alice.
Two days after I called Alice, she was seated beside me at the clinic. Occasionally pressing my hands and whispering, “You will be okay”. I knew in my heart that I would only be okay, once I was sure that I would be going back home in one piece.
The boy in the Arsenal Jersey was assembling all the parts of the aquarium when a short, chocolate-skinned nurse donned in a white robe ushered me to go through the brown door. My feet felt heavy when I rose, but I knew it was too late to go back, I needed to do something for myself even though it felt radical. I knew that if I didn’t do it, I would probably lose my mind.
There were three more women in the room, all dressed in similar attire, and talking, the other two were even smiling. The nurse gave me a similar attire and two pills with some water. She led me to a separate room to change and then back to where the other women were. The oldest lady looked at me and asked, “Is it your first time?”
I nodded then whispered, “Yes”.
“You will be all right. You seem shaken. Don’t worry, everything will be okay”, she said. I was shocked and I looked at her in disbelief. I was wondering what a woman her age would be doing in an abortion clinic. Wasn’t she too old for that?
“Are you a doctor?” I asked, pretending that I couldn’t comprehend she was also there for the same services.
“No. I’m here for the same reasons as you. We have five children already; my husband is a drunk and doesn’t help with raising our children in any way. When I leave here, I need to rush back home and prepare a meal for our children. I have taken out a loan for this procedure. If I don’t proceed today, I will not be able to work for the next twelve months or so and that will mean hell for our children. I’m the breadwinner in the family”. Her words stung, and I could feel the pain they rolled out with. Before I could say a word, she asked, “Why are you here?”
My tongue felt heavy, and I looked at the strangers I was sharing the room with. There was a sense of vulnerability hovering around us, a pain too, and I breathed heavily before I said, “My husband. He keeps on sabotaging my family planning pills. I think it’s because he doesn’t want me to go back to school. He’s kind of controlling, and I just want to do something for myself. Something that is mine, that no one can take away from me. I want to finish my degree, and it has to be done now!”
“You will. You chose for yourself, you are okay. You will be okay,” the lady in brown knotless braids said before she left with the nurse.
The three of us stayed back, pouring out our hearts to each other. The youngest lady, a nineteen-year-old campus student had been raped. Her uncle who was also her guardian brought her to the clinic. She feared for her life, from all the horror abortion stories she had heard. But her uncle, a community health worker, had assured her that everything would be okay, as long as she was attended to by a trained health professional. The man was so supportive that he brought her to the clinic and was waiting for her at the reception. I hugged her because we shared the same fears, and I didn’t have any words to express my feelings. I just wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone.
Vivian, as I came to learn, was the older woman’s name who kept on assuring us that we would be okay. She and I talked endlessly about how demanding children are and how no one is ever prepared for motherhood till the nurse called me in.
Hours later, I came back to bid the ladies goodbye and they both rose to hug me. I was in tears when I walked out of the brown door and met Alice seated there, patiently waiting for me. I collapsed into her embrace and whispered “Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for holding fast to my dreams for me. Thank you”.
“Always,” she answered. Everything felt lighter and it felt like the world was opening its arms to me all over again. I knew I had to think of a lie to tell Paul but the relief I had knowing that I had successfully terminated that pregnancy was all the assurance I needed to know that everything would be okay. The doctors had recommended several birth control options and I settled for a five-year option. Five years would allow me to advance my life, beyond my imagination, and my babies will be grown too! I felt like a bird let out of a cage, eager to fly.
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