Until I had firstborn twins two years ago I didn’t realize how much the ‘liberal’ society that I had lived in all my life holds on to an archaic culture that is very oppressive and discriminative against a woman who gives birth to twins and the twins themselves who are seen as ‘evil’ especially if the twins are firstborns. Although in high school I had a classmate who told me she had a twin brother and they were so discriminated by the community. She said they wanted to kill her twin brother and their family left the village to live in town. As a teenager then, I didn’t realize the burden of being a twin that my friend had carried for so long, until my sons and I went through a very painful experience.
When I had my twins it was a decision my boyfriend and I made and I remember doing a lot of medical check ups because it was a high risk pregnancy as a result of Deep Vein Thrombosis a blood related medical condition. I first new I had twins in my first trimester when my gynecologist asked for an ultrasound for my pregnancy. I told my mum I had an ultrasound and was carrying twins. Fear was instilled me that very day. She asked me not to tell anyone mine was a twin pregnancy. I asked her why I shouldn’t tell anyone it is a twin pregnancy; she insisted I should not tell anyone especially my boyfriend. Being a medical doctor he should have known I carried twins. All the doctors who handled me were his friends, he definitely knew as he visited often while I was in hospital. Most often he consulted with the doctors on my behalf and referred me to consultants a lot of times whenever am not admitted. I was persistent and inquisitive in knowing why my mom didn’t want me to share my pregnancy ultrasound results with our friends and family. She told me its taboo and would bring bad luck. Little did I know so much superstition was attached to the children I was to bring into this world?
Whenever friends would ask me the gender of the child I carried while visiting me in the hospital I lied to them that I didn’t know the gender. I then gave birth to very handsome twins who I adored and so did my boyfriend, friends and family. The first time I took my sons to hospital, my fear was confirmed; there was a female nurse who asked me, “Are this your firstborn?” My answer was ‘yes’ and she blatantly said, “If they truly are, woe unto you, you are too young to have twins besides it’s a bad omen for your marriage and relationships none will last”. Every time I took my sons to hospital for vaccination or medical check up different nurses would tell me the same thing over and over again. In as much as I didn’t see it as a big deal and I kept ignoring them. I lived in fear and was constantly worried for my sons and me.
I lived in a small town in Western Kenya and within a short time everyone in the community was talking about me having twins and the superstition behind it. Some whispered about it, while others told me to my face that either one of the twins should die or myself. My story resonates with that of my friend whose twins had to be poisoned and luckily for her one survived. The pain was excruciating and the incident unbelievable. Many families like I and my friend choose to suffer in silence. But now I feel its time we took the bull by the horns and voiced our opinion and fight this belief.
I chose to ignore the noise around me as regards twins and happily raised them, they grew healthy, strong and bubbly and their father adored them and had good plans for them, but when they were ten months he left the house, never to come back again even as I pen this story. I know he is alive but never asks about us. Everyone said it’s because of twins.
But I chose to stick to the idea of him leaving because of another woman. In my thoughts I didn’t expect a medical doctor to be bound to such a culture because he understands the complexities of reproductive health and the sex of children more than most of the people in the community. I asked his sister and brother who stood by us whenever they visited and they pretended not to know why he deserted us. One day his brother opened up that it is indeed complicated in their culture in as much as they are Christians, it will be hard for me to be apart of their family and actually confirmed the fear and worry that I had lived through since I knew I had twins. My sons never visited my village because we had to perform a special rite of passage and celebration.
According to a UNICEF research paper by Aleksandra Ampric, “Children Accused of Witchcraft- An anthropological study of Contemporary Practices in Africa”. The study indicates that twins are considered Sacred Monsters; “the birth of twins can be interpreted in a positive way, although this is rather rare or can lead to rejection, abandonment or infanticide immediately after birth. It appears that the birth of twins is considered a joyful event among populations of West and Central Africa where twins are revered as gods whereas in South and East Africa the social response is clearly less welcoming. The research paper further states the twins are among children labeled as witches in Africa”. Twins just like Albinos are seen as abnormal children in some cultures in East Africa
As result of what I was going through, I founded a Community Based Organization Western Twaweza Empowerment Campaign(WETEC) to advocate for teen mothers and teenage girls mainly focusing on Sexual health and Reproductive Rights not just as a channel to my own acceptance and healing but also make girls understand their reproductive rights and have control of their sexuality and its outcome as teenagers and adults later in life .We pair girls with professionals who mentor the girls and share their life journeys, some specifically share on sexuality and adolescent fertility. So far the organization has reached out to more than 1500 girls in Western Kenya for the last 26months. Besides this project a group of friends and I feed street children.
Early this year while I was away for work, my house caught fire and one of the twins Ammiel died. Ammiels’ death was very painful but the worthlessness, ridicule, betrayal and shame that came with his death makes the pain indescribable. His father refused to show up, his relatives said they can’t burry him yet they were in our lives all the time. Burying my deceased child became a struggle, yet we had a lot of land. In my culture, I couldn’t burry him in my paternal home or my fathers compound. As this would bring ill luck for the family as my grandmother, my aunt and uncle put it. His death was perceived as a death trap for family members. My extended family became adamant. I got stuck with a body in the morgue. The (facility) morgue itself denied the dead dignity; it was in pathetic condition , dead bodies were piled on each other. Bodies were crammed together. It was horrifying. This made it worse. It was double a tragedy for me. I was alone and lost. How did my world get so cold than the lifeless bodies I saw in the morgue?
Deep in my heart I wanted to bury my son home (in my fathers copound). I shared with my mother, and brother, and cousin sisters. We fought until we got the burial site. The supportive members shared my sentiments with the elders. They accepted our request. Although I was given space to bury him, Ammiel couldn’t get a decent burial ceremony because he was a twin. He was buried in a corner outside my father’s compound and only old men could dig up his grave, as my brothers and male cousins were asked not to go near the grave. His grave remains unmarked, with no name or Epitaph. I wanted to build his grave from inside, cement it and write his name and the words ‘Rest in Peace’ but i was denied the opportunity because culturally it will kill his twin brother. My grandmother told my cousins not to show up for the burial/funeral or even fundraise to help take care of the burial rites, on the basis that it is taboo and that they will die, if they did participate in any manner. Some of my cousins supported me secretly through my younger brother. Ammiels’ surviving twin and I were not allowed to move near his casket, view his body or even go by the grave side or even cry for it was forbidden.
The only dignity and last respects I accorded my son was a nice casket and wreaths of flowers. His twin brother, playmate, and friend will never go by his graveside. I am told he will never step close by the grave. I’ve never understood this and he will never either. A day after the burial I sneaked to go to his graveside and cried my heart out.
Before my sons death I had founded a community based organization, WETEC TWAWEZA, it is mentoring teenage girls and organizing mentorship camps for young girls in Western Kenya where they are paired with mentors who not only act as their role models and train them on life skills. Through the organizations’ volunteers who do resource mobilization we get shoes, sanitary pads, books and other necessities for the girls who attend the camps. My sons’ death has strengthened this resolve to give the girls a voice, affirm them and encourage them to speak up and fight for their rights, especially their Reproductive Rights, which I am currently working on with a partner organization.
I want women all over the world to stand up against retrogressive and oppressive cultures. For they not only affect us but also our children and their children. This can only all be instilled in teenage girls when they are young. I want the World Pulse Community to raise their voices with mine to speak up against stigma of firstborn twins and twins in general in most African Communities.