Still A Mum is a charity that supports women and families dealing with miscarriages, stillbirth and infant loss. They operate in Africa, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, working to improve the care bereaved parents receive as well as create public awareness about child loss and societal response. According to the UNICEF report on stillbirths, Kenya ranks 3rd in East Africa. With 21 deaths for every 1000 live births. Their three mandates are to support the affected, create awareness of child loss and create awareness of other options of parenthood. We spoke with founder Wanjiru Kithusa about its personal beginnings and the work that the charity has accomplished.
What drove you from the personal experience of grief to considering and addressing the national need?
About a year into my marriage, I got pregnant, which was very exciting. Unfortunately, at 6 weeks, I started to spot and I had what the doctor called a ‘threatened miscarriage’. I was put on hormone therapy and it became a very difficult pregnancy because of the additional medication and everything. But unfortunately at 20 weeks, for completely unrelated reasons, we lost the baby. It was extremely traumatic. It was a late miscarriage, which means that it was a labour and delivery. Except we knew we were walking away empty handed from the entire experience.
So after the loss, I couldn’t go back to work. I wasn’t able to resume normalcy but at that point, I had begun running my blog. The doctors said, take a few months, let the system kind of reboot and then try again. In 2014, we tried again and were quick to get pregnant again. But the same thing that happened with the first one, the threatened miscarriage, happened again. Although this time we were not able to save the baby, so we lost it at six weeks.
It was as though the rug was pulled from under me. Everything was shaken. When I shared all of this on my blog, I asked at the end if there were any support groups or care for this in Kenya. There wasn’t really. I called Amani Counselling Center, they said they provide counselling for grief and healing but they don’t have support groups.They were looking for someone to start a group and partner with them.
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The statistics are definitely worrying. In Kenya 1 out of 8 babies is born premature. Due to our poor maternal health care systems many of these preemies lose their lives as we lack the facilities to save them. 75% of premature birth fatalities can be prevented. #WorldPrematurityDay2017
So this is how Still a Mum began, with meet ups and coffee dates. The most I could say was me too. Or what worked for me and what didn’t work. But after a while I felt really inadequate to help. Because when someone tells you they are contemplating committing suicide, then they need professional help.
So I spoke to a few counsellors and asked them if I was to run a support group, what should it look like. Then the majority I borrowed from tv and what I have seen about alcoholic anonymous. But I did not want it to be fully peer support. I wanted there always to be a professional who can help the healing process along.
So now we have 6 sessions where we go through the full grieving process. We also have one on one counselling available for people who sometimes need that individual focus. So far 750 people, women, men and families, have gone through Still a Mum.
Based on your experience in Kenya, what are the cultural misconceptions about motherhood and what makes a mother?
Let me give you the top 3 assumptions:
- “She has had an abortion or many abortions, that is why she is losing this child.”
- “She is bewitched or she is a bad omen.” (I know people who have refused for someone to hold their child or come to their baby shower because they have lost their child)
- “She is being punished for something”
You would imagine that the people in Nairobi are probably the most educated but you would be wrong, there are very many misconceptions here [in Nairobi]. And the further you go into the villages it gets even worse. So we create awareness: What is a miscarriage? What is stillbirth? What causes infant death? What is sudden infant death syndrome? What are some of our cultural issues that could be increasing risk factors?
I mean we already do so much self blame, we don’t need society to join in and attack us. So our purpose is to create awareness of child loss and to actually give it facts.
Still a Mum has plans of expansion to every county in Kenya and eventually to be present in every country in the region. The organization is now also moving into the field of prevention, most notably through their ‘Rainbow Mums’ group who are women who are pregnant again after experiencing a loss. The aim is to support these women through their pregnancy to the birth of the ‘rainbow baby’ through partnerships with a gynaecologist and a doula. Wanjiru’s own ‘rainbow baby’ was born in the summer of 2017.
To provide necessary support to Still a Mum, visit their site or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to donate and/or volunteer.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.