Lydiah Kagere could not go about her business without glancing back. She imagined that everybody knew her secret and that they were all talking about her. She had lost a part of her body that some women would shield with their lives. Here is how it all began.
The now married woman and stepmother lost her uterus after getting an abortion when she was a third-year student at a Kenyan university. The knowledge that she would never have her own children shattered her. "This was devastating news, though the medical surgeons explained to me that it was the only way to save my life," says Lydiah in a recent interview.
Not ready to parent
During her university days, she had used the morning-after pill, locally known as the 'abortion pill', many times. Her boyfriend was two years her junior and, as she put it, they were not ready to be parents while in college.
"We had unprotected sex many times, but I always kept a morning-after pill to protect me from getting pregnant," says Lydiah, adding she has never understood why the pill did not work that day. "We had to think fast when I told my boyfriend I was three months pregnant. We had to make a conclusive decision: to compromise my studies and be a young mother, or to get rid of the unborn baby."
The two young minds settled on terminating the pregnancy. To procure an abortion in the 'back clinics', as students referred to places where illegal abortions were procured, would cost 2,000 Kenyan shillings. This they raised very fast. And before long, they had identified a nurse in one of the back streets in Nairobi.
Painful, disgusting and degrading
"The clinic looked ghostly and a cloud of death seemed to be hanging heavily," Lydiah recalls with a look of disgust.
The male nurse roughly pushed her into an inner room and told her to remove her clothes. Her boyfriend waited outside. "How many months are you pregnant?" the nurse asked without the slightest sign of sympathy. That month would be the fourth, Lydiah replied, and the nurse nodded knowingly.
For a moment, she thought to change her mind, but an inner voice reminded her she had a career to pursue. "I wish I ran out of that room that minute and reported the nurse to the police," she says.
She describes the abortion process as painful, disgusting and degrading. Something that looked like a pair of scissors was inserted into her and then came an excruciating pain. "I screamed and jumped up, but the nurse pinned me down on the bed, saying that he did not have time to waste," she recalls.
After what seemed like eternity, the nurse concluded the procedure. He told her she would experience "a little pain" in her abdomen a few hours later and then the foetus would be discharged. "You had better not be alone, because you may get very thirsty after the foetus comes out," he warned.
Back in her room, where she had asked her boyfriend to keep a close watch, things went as well as had been expected. The only difference, Lydiah says, was that the sensation was terrible. She writhed in pain for almost two hours before the foetus came out.
"I wish I bore that pain for a good cause, if only I had got the baby ... the story would be different today," Lydiah laments. She put the foetus in a polythene bag and her boyfriend disposed of it in a public pit latrine near the college.
Back to school
The student returned to her university life after the episode and dismissed abdominal pain as an after-effect of the abortion. The nurse had told her not to worry about the bleeding, which could last a week, although she was advised to return to the clinic should it become heavy.
"While the bleeding stopped in the one week, I noticed some smelly, creamy substance oozing from my womanhood," Lydiah recalls. The stench was unbearable. She decided to go back to the nurse. This time she was accompanied by a girlfriend because her boyfriend had started getting dodgy. They found that the nurse was away and two more attempts to reach him bore no fruits.
To be continued ...