What you need to know:
- Light bulb moment: After realising how women were stressed out with issues of infertility, Pumla Nabachwa, an economist, says she made up her mind to donate her eggs so as to give an opportunity to those struggling to carry the fruit of the womb. She shares her story with Esther Oluka.
In her 64 page book-length essay titled “We should all be feminists” Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in part, “….Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same..?”
The lines were even sounded out by famous American musician, Beyonce Knowles, in her track, Flawless.
The content in Adichie’s essay, over the years, has long been a subject of discussion in different forums with a section of women agreeing that indeed, society expects a lot from women.
So when Pumla Nabachwa, aged 37, reveals to me in an interview that she feels like it is an expectation of women, especially those from Africa, to always prioritise on having families, Adichie’s lines come to mind.
Nabachwa did not want to fit into the boxes others were projecting on her.
“So this is strange but I did not ever want to have children. I feel like it is an expectation of women, especially African, that they should always want to have children I thought that it was just a lot of work. It did not align with the things I wanted to do. I felt that it was such a burden on a woman,” she says.
The complications that often come with child-birth also worried her after reasoning that every time a woman goes into labor, she is literally signing her death certificate.
Fate, however, had other plans. Nabachwa met someone special and fell in love.
“I also never wanted to get married,” she says, adding, “It’s just that I eventually met and loved someone who later proposed to me and of course with marriage, comes children.”
She exchanged vows with him in 2008 and later, at the age of 23 years, bore a son in 2009.
“The idea was to have only two children during marriage but after a divorce, I ended up with only one,” she says.
The couple legally separated in 2011.
After the separation, Nabachwa then considered the idea of undergoing a tubal ligation (having her tubes tied). The gynecologists she however consulted about the procedure refused to adhere to her request.
“They told me I was too young and only had one child,” she says.
But since she was also going through a divorce, Nabachwa was advised to first take time out to heal from the experience. In addition, she was informed that the procedure could not be granted in her now single status.
“They said I could not have tubal ligation as a single woman, that I needed a partner who could agree to the idea,” she says.
With all the pain that was going on in the background, Nabachwa’s spirit was re-awakened after receiving some great news.
She was awarded a Chevening scholarship, an international scholarship funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth office [in the United Kingdom] to study a Master of Arts in Economics at the University of Manchester.
And off she went for her further studies in 2012 leaving her son under the care of his father.
Donating her eggs
Having hit a dead end in Uganda on the tubal ligation procedure, Nabachwa reconsidered the idea while embarking on her studies.
One day, she visited a healthy facility near her University to inquire whether the process could be done.
But while sitting in the waiting room, she overheard a conversation from two African women that changed the trajectory of events in her own life.
“One was talking about how her husband had left her because of the inability to have children. The other said that she had been married for 10 years but had failed to have children. These women, who spoke with Nigerian accents, were each sharing struggles of having children and hoped that by becoming recipients from egg donors, their issues would be resolved,” she says.
Nabachwa says their stories were heart-breaking and she could feel the pain in their hearts as they spoke.
“Somewhere in their conversation, I also over-heard them saying that during their search journey for children, most of the eggs available for recipients were donated by white and Caribbean women. There were limited eggs from African female donors,” she says.
While the African women had their conversation, in another corner of the room, was a group of white women who had gone to the facility and were also talking about the whole concept of egg donation.
“I was fascinated with how they [white women] freely talked about their experiences in the room. It was as if they were having a conversation at the comfort of their homes. The African women spoke in low tones while the other group were free and loud and were exchanging contacts,” she said.
She later shared her observations with the gynaecologist, whom she had gone to see at the health facility over the tubal ligation procedure.
“I ended up having a lengthy chat with her and she revealed to me some very painful information. She admitted that the healthy facility, like many others, indeed received very few egg donors of African descent which was a disservice to recipients [women from Africa having fertility issues]. It was difficult for these same women to easily accept eggs from white women or another race because society would question how a black woman has a mixed race baby yet both parents are Africans,” she says.
Based on these grounds, Nabachwa discarded the idea of tying her tubes.
“And this was how I instead zeroed down to the idea of donating my eggs as a way of helping other women struggling to have children especially African ones,” she says.
Before the process could start, Nabachwa was subjected to a series of medical checks to ascertain whether she was eligible for egg donation or not. After confirming that she was good to go, the process kicked off in June 2013.
She had to start with injecting herself, twice a day, to increase the availability of the eggs.
“Two injections a day on my abdomen. Each cycle is a month,” she says.
Among the side effects from the procedure was the swollen abdomen which gave a false impression of “a baby bump.”
24 eggs were eventually collected from the first cycle and the gynaecologist said those harvested were actually “good eggs” since they were big and rounded. She was 28 years old at the time.
The eggs would later be given to a suitable recipient so that they could have the opportunity to give birth.
Nabachwa was informed that in case she was interested, she could write a letter to the children [who would have life from the eggs] and attach documents to it and in the event the parents were ever fine with the idea of the child reaching out, it would then be easy to trace them.
However, this would only happen once the child had clocked 18 years.
“The only time they [children or even parents] were allowed to contact me earlier was if there was a life or death situation such as looking for a match for a kidney donation,” she says.
She wrote the letter, attached the documents and left them behind at the facility.
In August, 2013 Nabachwa underwent a second cycle of egg donation and 27 eggs were harvested. This therefore brought the number of eggs harvested to 51.
Nabachwa eventually returned home in September 2013 after a whirl-wind journey of academics and egg donation.
What went wrong in the marriage?
Despite the divorce in 2011, Nabachwa continues to co-parent with her son’s father who now has another family. She points out different reasons why the marriage did not work out.
“Though I was 19 years old when I met my partner and he was 29 years old. I don’t think the age factor contributed towards the end of our marriage. I think it was personality. It was a struggle of dominance and not understanding, entering a thing no one had prepared me for. My personality fought the confines and restrictions of marriage. I was so unhappy in that kind of environment,” she says.
Then adds, “My spirit is fiery and I felt that making the marriage work meant containing this fire and while he was a good man, I just was not ready or willing to make this sacrifice,” Nabachwa says while insisting that her father’s son obviously has his own side of the story and it would be unfair to only look at her view of things.
Regardless, Nabachwa says when the walls came crumbling down on their marriage, both of them were devastated and hoped that things would have turned out differently.
What you need to know about egg donation
· Egg donation is a medical process where a woman (donor) gives her eggs to another woman (recipient) to enable her to have a baby.
· Egg donors are women, usually below the age of 28 years [but above 18] who are willing to provide their eggs to recipients.
· Before the start of the process, the donor is tested for various ailments including those associated with genetics, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, among others.
· But also most importantly, counseling services are availed for the donor [and eventually for the recipient]
· Harvesting of eggs is conducted using a special needle [attached to an ultrasound examination] to enable monitoring of the process.
· The eggs are then gently got and evaluated before either considered for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) or egg freezing procedures.
· Recipients of eggs from donors can be those undergoing menopause, those who were born with underdeveloped ovaries, women whose ovaries were affected as a result of cancer treatment, those with genetic diseases and are afraid of passing them to their children, among other reasons.
Dr Herman Musoke Ssewagudde a gynecologist at 7 Hills Medical Centre