Growing up in the dusty countryside of Kenya was fun and typical for girls of my age in the early 1990s. Life was blissful. Sometimes I wish I could rewind and stop the time, just to savor the innocence of those days.
My family had settled about 10 miles from the famous home of Obama’s grandmother in Kogelo. The village was close-knit, and neighbors were often relatives or friends. Children could eat anywhere, and likewise, any child could be punished by any other adult and his or her parents would not go up in arms.
My sister and I had all the attention of our parents. I was the stronger one, but we made a great team. We would fetch firewood with our friends or swim in a river nearby. Mother would go to the farm and return with large yams to prepare a delicious meal. Life was simple but beautiful.
A normal farm routine, however, turned tragic and changed the course of our lives forever. One day, my father went farming and while clearing the farmland for cultivation, he experienced a sharp sudden pain in his left leg. Things took an agonizing turn when my father’s condition worsened. He complained that the pain was spreading up to his thigh, and he could not move. I did not understand much then, but I watched my mother nurse him for four good months before he succumbed to the disease with half of his body completely paralyzed. Shortly after that, he died.
Mother was left a widow without a job but with two mouths to feed. She took father’s death hard, and she mourned for what felt like forever. She was unable to care for us on her own. One of our distant relatives took my elder sister away with them, and after a while, my mother and I left for my maternal grandparents’ home. My father’s relatives disinherited my mother of our farmland and the little property my parents had earned together. We were left in nothing but misery. We were forced to move into my mother’s parents’ house.
Life was different here. There were too many mouths to feed in the house. It was rare to enjoy a decent meal. Both my grandparents had no stable jobs, and with 12 children to feed, the race to survive became real. I learnt to adapt. I was glad my sister was not here. She wouldn’t have survived the feeding competition.
I attended a local primary school and struggled. After spending a year out of school due to lack of money to pay my tuition fees, I was glad to get an opportunity to sit for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. It was during the time after I took my exams that I roamed the village. With the absence of a father in my life, I was seeking attention from a man, and I found it in Gilbert. Before I knew it, I was pregnant. I was beside myself with worry, anger and shame.
It is funny how opportunities open when you are on the wrong lane of life. It seemed I could never cross the road and get my footing right. My mother made sure I enrolled in secondary school. She was strict and very serious about education. I planned to finish the enrollment silently and then have an abortion. What I didn’t know was that after registration all girls were subjected to a pregnancy test. I felt like life was snuffed out of my lungs. I could not face my mother. I knew the sacrifice she has made for us.
The school called and informed her that I was pregnant and could not remain at school. I knew her heart broke to a million pieces. I probably made her feel like a failure. I realized my situation was beyond repair and braced myself for motherhood. I did odd jobs and helped around the house. I knew it could never make up for what I had done, but crying over spilt milk wouldn’t help, either.
I welcomed my son in December of 2011, the same year my elder sister was graduating from college. A relative took me back to school and paid all the initial expenses. My mother and sister stepped in to help with my son and saw me through the rest of high school. I scored an aggregate of C+. It was not great, but I was happy about my efforts. My sister had moved to Kisumu and invited me to stay with her. My mother offered to care for my son while I continued to better my life. My sister enrolled me to a community foundation college where I studied hospitality.
Once I was done with my internship, she got me my first job. I worked for a while, but due to my different opinions with the manager, I left. I then got a job as a shelf attendant within the town, and while the pay was low, it was secure.
It was during my time with my sister that I met Derrick and we fell in love, or so I thought. We had a baby and we named him Damon. While this time I had not wasted anybody’s tuition payments, I still found it difficult to inform my family, especially my mother. I was working to be independent enough to care for my first son when I got pregnant with Damon. Since I didn’t fulfill my promises of becoming independent, I was afraid to tell my mother that I was pregnant again. I wish I did though. It’s one of the biggest life regrets I hold to date. She never got to get to know him.
I loved Damon more than life itself. He was cute, with adorable eyes and a big smile. He was born normally in December 2016, without any complications. I had cruised through pregnancy without any discomforts. In fact, I was so busy with life that I missed a few of the antenatal clinic appointments that pregnant women normally attend.
Soon after birth, Damon developed a swollen forehead. I thought it would go away after a few days, but it did not. It kept building up. By the time I was able to get referred to the relevant doctor, Damon’s head had grown huge, and he started crying a lot. The forehead was soft to touch, and always hot. The doctors asked for a deposit of $120 to get the treatment underway.
I called my sister and she loaned me the money from her work. She sent the full amount to me. With the money, the hospital released an ambulance to take me to Kisumu for a CT scan. Damon had Hydrocephalus. The procedure cost $80, cutting deep on the funds my sister had sent me. Once the diagnosis was given, the next course of action was to seek a hospital that specialized in treating my son’s condition. We were advised to visit the Eldoret Teaching and Referral Hospital for specialized care and operation. Damon was only five months at the time.
By now Damon’s head had grown very large, and heavy. He experienced constant pain, and when it became unbearable, he would scream and tightly clutch at whoever was holding him. The boy cried through the days and nights.
Unknown to me, my sister was busy trying to get help from non-governmental organizations she researched on the Internet. She got a lot of rejections, but two organizations did give a positive response. Marsha Oeste of International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus was particularly more than helpful. He gave me a list of possible NGOs that could be contacted for assistance, and my sister tried them all.
A message from Erick Hansen of Kijabe Hospital gave us a glimmer of hope. He asked my sister to get us to the hospital the next day for proper diagnosis and possible help. She borrowed $20 dollars needed to get there, and I traveled to Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. The lead doctor, Dr. Bransford, ran tests on my son, carefully taking his time and analyzing the result. When he called me to his office, my hope hung on his lips.
“I am sorry about your son,” he said calmly. “Medically, he cannot undergo an operation to rectify his condition. His brain did not fully develop.”
His words fell from his lips like a thunderbolt on my heart, but he kept his composure and a straight face.
“You see, with this kind of situation, having your son undergo the knife would be a death sentence. He would not survive. And to let him be, well, the end is going to be the same.”
The doctor then told me my son only had three months to survive.
Being told this terrible news was a bitter pill to swallow, but it had to be swallowed if I hoped to remain sane. My sister kept encouraging me and sought for a doctor who would get my son painkillers to ease his constant cries. For the next three months, I went to Kisumu Hospice to get morphine drops to administer to Damon. This managed his pain for a while.
No mother should ever watch her child die. It creates a gut-wrenching feeling where you literally choke with pain. Losing my son opened my eyes to more than just pain. It made me understand that as a mother, sometimes death is the best gift that you could ever give to a child. When he passed away one Friday morning on his nine-month mark, I was devastated. I wept for my loss but smiled that my son was finally out of pain.
It’s been about nine months since we laid Damon to rest and every day I thank God that I had my mother and sister as a support system. They took on my burden and gave their unconditional support. My boyfriend deserted me at my hour of need and taught me where my real strength lies. My sister has got me another job, and even though it pays peanuts, I am taking it all in my stride. I have no plans to start a family at the moment. I am focusing on building myself and getting over my tribulations.
I went through some difficult times in my life, but I made it through. With the help of my family, I can look toward the future with positivity. My first son is getting an education and living with my mother while I continue to build myself a life. Losing my second son broke me, but I’m working to pick up the pieces. I will never erase the memories of him. I cherish the little angel that visited my life and taught me resilience. My motto now is “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”
–This is the story of Irene Oduor–
Irene is a 28-years-old good-natured hard-working person who learned to turn her pain into a lesson to learn from. She is currently working as a waitress in Bondo, Kenya and saving every penny to go back to school and pursue a degree in Hotelier. She is also taking the time to heal and review her life priorities. She hopes that by sharing her story, she could be giving hope to someone passing through a dark period in life.
This story first touched our hearts on February 7, 2018.