In this unsettling yet informative blog piece, Vimbai Beritah Chinembiri discusses a subject that is often swept beneath the rugs of health institutions.
A straight face: the art of pretending you are not judgmental in the face of a shocking revelation.
My workmate has driven me to this popular food joint twenty minutes earlier.
‘It will take just 15 minutes,’ I lie.
I need to talk to this young woman who scares and confuses me at the same time. On the phone, she says it happened three times. The person who has referred me to her says it was actually six times.
I drop my jaw, ‘Is she insane?’
As sane as sanity comes, she sits before me. She declines my offer of food.
‘No thanks,’ she says. ‘I will have supper at home.’
A meal would have given me the ability to have this conversation. Sigh. I secretly search for signs that she could be a commercial sex worker. Of course my search engine is loaded with stereotypes. No signs found. She is soft spoken, quite pretty, notwithstanding the half neglected hair. She is a pastor’s daughter, doubly so. Pastor mother and Pastor father.
‘The first time I did it I was carrying twins – though I didn’t know it,’ she begins to narrate. ‘We already had a daughter together and when I told him I was pregnant he seemed fine with it. Later he began to change; he would disappear for over two weeks. No call, nothing. I decided I could not have another child with this man.’
At this point I wish I had a glass of water so my eye contact with her has an intermediate. I fidget and give her an encouraging nod.
‘I travelled to South Africa with the aim of getting rid of the pregnancy – well, you know it’s legal there. The clinics would not help me as they said at 21 weeks it was too dangerous. They referred me to a pharmacy.’
My phone begins to buzz; my workmate is now impatient. I ignore the phone and urge her on.
‘The pharmacy gave me a pill for R60 and instructed me on how to insert it. I must have done it the wrong way because after twenty-four hours, nothing happened. So I went back.’
She says the pharmacists told her she is supposed to insert it inside the womb and look for the mouth until she finds it.
‘Do you know that when you are pregnant the mouth of the womb keeps shifting?’
This is news to me. But, for the sake of progress, I nod.
‘So I moved my womb using my hand until I found the mouth and inserted the pill.’
At this point I want to pee, I imagine the womb circling around and the possible pain this comes with. I ask her if this was not painful.
‘It was, I was so determined to the point that the pain meant nothing. My sister was there and a baby came out within a few hours, but chevakuru (placenta) did not come out. Now the pain was excruciating. My sister called an ambulance and it came promptly. She lied that I had a miscarriage, the look on their faces showed they did not believe it. Just then, I realised the first baby had the pill on its head – I dived for it’.
She says at that point the second baby, a girl, came out. ‘I felt my heart sink, I did not anticipate having twins. At that point I regretted having aborted, maTwins ndaimada (I did want twins).’
‘The second time I was here in Zvishavane. You see, you have to understand that I have tried all forms of contraception. Nothing seems to work on me,’ she says.
Of course I am doubtful, I mentally list all the birth control methods that I know and make a judgement. LIE. But it’s okay, whatever.
She says she used the pill again and everything happened at home. She never sought medical treatment. I shudder. Before we can talk about the third pregnancy, my workmate threatens to leave me behind. I can’t claim disappointment at this – for today, I have heard enough.
On the drive back to work, the scenery flashes by. But all I see are wombs. Injured, dead sick wombs.
I think about her and wonder if she is okay. By the way, she later did say she has met someone serious – however she does not seem to get pregnant anymore. I continue to think about her. As I think about her now, a WhatsApp message pops up.
Her: ‘My sister says I should not talk to you anymore, sorry.’
Reputations to preserve
Zimbabwe is like many other places, where morals are preached by fire and thunder, yet the pulpit talk matches little action. While this is not entirely related to the above conversation, I have no doubt today that ‘abortees’ (if there is anything like that) are not your ‘loose’ young women or girls. They are not commercial sex workers. They are the goody-goody girl who has a family and community to please. The church girl who is a role model. They are the mother of three boys or girls, desperate for a child of different gender at the fourth attempt. They seemingly are the women who have a ‘reputation’ to protect.
The health ministry provides post-abortion care in government hospitals. These ‘respectable’ women will not set foot there, fearing the possibility of meeting someone connected to their network.
The law on abortion
Under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is illegal. The constitution only permits it if the pregnancy is a serious threat to the pregnant woman’s physical health. Or in cases where there is a risk that, if the child is born, it will suffer from a physical or mental defect or where the pregnancy is as a result of unlawful intercourse.
Despite the law, an estimated 20 000 women die yearly because of illegal abortions. My question though is can these deaths not be avoided. Can injured uteruses not be avoided?
Minus the moral arguments on abortion vs. Christianity, what is moral about watching and collecting death statistics while doing nothing about it? For today allow my tapping fingers to end here:
They end with longing for a society free from the bastardisation and demonising of women who get pregnant out of wedlock. A society with friendly health workers, eager to assist young women in making choices that will ensure wellbeing.
Vimbai Beritah Chinembiri is a graduate of media studies and radio presenter. She is a voracious reader and prolific writer whose other work appears on Her Zimbabwe and her blog VimbaiMandiri