Over the weekend, I had gone with my friend to buy some baby stuff. Coincidentally, both of us were guilty of postponing baby visiting trips and had to pay our debts before time, which passes by so quickly, would judge us harshly for forgetting to say hello to the new born. Those who have done this can attest to the fact that it is hard to shop for a gift especially if you are particular like me and you don’t want to buy something that everyone has thought of buying. Looking at everything to ensure that your budget doesn’t go overboard. So while we were at it, we noticed an expectant mother with her husband, I guess, trying to shop for the arrival of their new guest. I even stopped looking for my gift and started calculating just how much they were spending on this.
She bought milk expressors, pampers, the baby cot, shawls, clothes and many other items. All this while, the husband was running up and down trying to get the items, calculating with the attender, making sure that they haven’t forgotten anything. It didn’t seem like they were short of cash. Just then, the attendant who was looking for a sweater that I had asked for came back with it and saw me staring at the couple.
‘Uko na watoto wangapi wewe?,'(How many children do you have) he asked, wrapping the sweater in a paper bag.
‘Sina,'(I don’t have) I said shifting my focus to him and the sweater.
‘Unangoja nini. Zaa sahi kama bado uko mdogo. Unaona yule msichana anakaa tu rika yako,’ he said pressing the calculator, making sure that all the items we had bought tallied.
I was shocked by how he said it. So rushy and judgemental. As if getting children was a matter of waking up and having them in your arms or buying them in a supermarket like we were told when we were young.
‘Kwani ni marathon,’ I muttered this time turning aside to look at the young couple, in love, shopping for their guests. He kept quiet. I was burning in anger.
” Si siku hizi aki vitu ziko complicated si kama zamani,’ my friend said, changing the subject. She had noticed my face turning red and all. “Mamangu alikuwa na napkins tatu, nguo tatu na hakuna madowido mingi na tulisurvive.”
“Siku hizi mambo yanabadilika sana,’ the attendant said stopping his work to look at us. “Like on a normal weekend kuna watu wanaweza spend hata one hundred thousand. I was startled at how life had become so complicated. How motherhood could become so expensive. And woe unto you if you didn’t have a stable job or the father of the child with you. Utakiona cha mtema kuni.
We took our shopping and left.
But on my way I couldn’t help but think about what that man had said. About motherhood. About me finding a man who could give me a child before it was too late, he claimed. About my age mates or even my younger sisters getting children while me, in his opinion, was slack in getting one. In fulfilling my God given mandate of filling the earth. As if men were not involved. As if getting married and children was the only purpose a woman has from the time she steps into the world. As if I was too old. As if I didn’t care or as if it was my fault.
And he was not the only one who’s told me that.
Once, I got so mad when a friend of mine tried to give me a lecture on having children before thirty.
“Harriet, stop choosing men you know they all come with imperfections you just choose which ones you can live with. After thirty it will be hard to give birth, you’ll have complications and all.’
I don’t subscribe to that thought. That men come with imperfections and that it is the duty of women to bear. Why women? Why not men bearing the imperfection of women? Why are they too, like us, not subjected to such scrutiny, to such cruel and belittling words, to unbearable judgements by the society?I’ve had men my age, single still tell me the same thing, and I roll my eyes and ask them why they too are not married. That getting married and having children was not just a woman’s burden or destiny but a man’s too. So what happens when these single men, who are so quick to tell us to get married, refuse to marry as they fear commitment, sleep around and opt for just being your friend with benefits, refuse to be attached , look for perfect, young girls and judge us when we don’t have children, when we are not wives. That’s the present state of men in our 21st century. That’s the burden of single women, both with children and without.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream when someone reminds me of that. Especially when they attach the stigma, ‘because you are a woman’. So what am a woman. Do I drag a man who is not interested to having children with me so that I may please you? Or so that I may seem like a complete woman to everyone around me?
I, and the many I represent, desire children, desire to be married, desire to leave our father’s name and replace it with a man’s name. But not with any man wearing trousers, not any man with detached attention, not any man who thinks he can buy us, who in their own opinion feels we are less, with no mind of our own, who thinks our place is just having sex and looking pretty to satiate a man’s appetite not be besides him in all his achievements. It’s such an imperfect world, for the perfect women who choose daily not to lower their dignity for anything less than what they worked so tirelessly to build. For some of us it’s not an intentional hold of motherhood, but we wait for time and chance,maybe it has the answers we need to fulfill this burden of motherhood that has been laid heavily on us.