By Rukiya Makuma
For nine long months, 27-year-old Francis Nkugwa was convinced his wife was pregnant. Like an ardent parent who was expecting a child, he took it upon himself to look after the expecting mother till her due date. However this hope made a U-turn on Tuesday, January 8, 2010. The day will forever be imprinted in Nkugwas memory. He escorted his wife Namatovu Nuru Kalala aged 45 years to a labour ward at Mulago Hospital expecting to pick her up later with their little bundle of joy; only that the little bundle of joy would be in a different package.
According to reports from the Central Police Station in Kampala, she tricked her husband to go back home promising to call him in case the situation warranted. She called him later on Wednesday with the sad news of the death of their newly born twins.
Throughout the supposed delivery time at the hospital, a 14-year-old girl, who was to attend to her, remained outside the ward waiting for Namatovu.
The gods must have been on Namatovu’s side all along although they seem to have absented themselves that day. Otherwise how else would a woman fake a pregnancy for nine months without causing any suspicion? The time had come to deliver. What does a woman in her position do? Stick to the plan. She goes to hospital with the husband in tow, is left at the door to the labour ward. With no one around, she goes ahead and purchases a pair of dolls. Maybe she already had them in her bag. She stuffs the dolls with cotton wool in their eyes, packs them in a bag and limps back home. She is distraught on losing her kids and wants the burial to be done as fast as possible.
She had exaggerated her intelligence and underestimated the strength of her Kiganda culture. According to her mother-in-law, Christine Nakanwagi, in the Kiganda culture a dead body has to be viewed before burial. Like a typical Muganda woman, Nakanwagi did not yield to Namatovuâ€™s pleas to dispose of the â€œtwinsâ€ without viewing. She insisted the umbilical cord had to be removed and the corpse had to be washed. So she went native. Upon opening the bag, there was a pair of wrapped dolls staring back at her. They had cotton wools tucked in their eye sockets as is usually applied on dead bodies.
Hell broke loose. The riled villagers foamed at the mouth, loathed with vengeance. They accused Namatovu of having sold the twins to a witchdoctor or surrendered them to her secret lover.
When in your problems, everything seems to work against you. Namatovu decided to get an escape route. But the route also narrowed quickly and closed. Every move to salvage her crumbling marriage collapsed with the same speed it had been hatched.
Armed with the knowledge that many babies have been reported stolen or lost at Mulago Hospital before, Namatovu feigned ignorance of the dolls. She accused Mulago Hospital of exchanging her twins for dolls, another opportunity to win sympathy from loathing relatives and friends. However this plan too lived for a short time. Upon hearing accusations from Namatovu over radio, the hospital Public Relations Officer, Eliphaz Ssekabira, quickly marshalled his guns. He challenged Namatovu to produce proof that she had delivered from the hospital. Stuck with this uncontroverted challenge, she found herself between a rock and a hard place. The wrath of the residents and relatives came back. They nearly dispatched her to the grave as they accused her of trickery and infidelity.
Namatovu was later sentenced to 12 months in jail or a fine of Shs 300,000 by Nsangi Magistrateâ€™s Court. She paid the fine and was released. She was convicted for giving false information against the hospital. Medical tests proved she last gave birth 12 years ago.
What is more amusing is that even after she had pleaded guilty to lying about her delivery, the husband still believed his wife had been pregnant. But he later vowed to divorce her if he confirmed she had lied. Some rituals were performed on him to cleanse his body from bad omen.
Why do women fake pregnancies?
Doctor Vincent Karuhanga of Friends Poly Clinic says society pressures are the major cause why the incidence of fake pregnancies is increasing. In African societies, Dr Karuhanga says, a marriage or any love relationship is expected to yield off-springs or else it ceases to be valid.Â So both men and women in society look at children as one major reason why people marry.
He says that long ago, women who failed to give birth to children were banished from their clans and families. Today it is no longer the case, but still women feel insecure in a relationship if they have not given birth. This pressure is aggravated by complaints from husbands and in-laws. This often forces some women to go as far as faking pregnancies, child births or even stealing babies or corpses just to save their marriages and survival in the family.
Just at the same time of the Namatovu comedy, another 29-year-old Maria GorettiÂ Nantongo in Gomba, Mpigi district, was involved in a similar scenario.
She took a dead body of a child to her husbandâ€™s home in Makindye, Kampala and blamed the babyâ€™s death on his negligence. Her husband Francis Walugembe, a business man, was however not convinced. He called police who arrested the woman. The couple has been married for many years. Nantongo confessed that she had paid Shs230,000 to acquire the six-month-old foetus from a nurse at MM Clinic in Mulago suburb. She pleaded that she did it in order to save her relationship with the husband from falling apart. Nantongo has been chargedÂ with murder of an infant while her counterpart Shadia is facing four counts of supplying drugs to procure an abortion, procuring a miscarriage/abortion, hindering the burial of a dead body and offering indignity to a human corpse.
Both women were taken to Katwe Police Station. Kampala Metropolitan spokesperson Henry Kalulu says the whereabouts of the real parents of the foetus are not yet known but once they are found, they will be charged with murder. He said the police had received only two cases of such a kind since the year began. He also said crimes of this kind were new to the police they had never been reported before.
Meanwhile in Mbale, a 20-year-old Zaina Kituyi, a resident of Bubuto village in Butiru, was also arrested after she stole a child and took it to her boyfriend in Lwambogo village. She had gone to visit a friend in Mbale town and she purportedly took advantage of the friendâ€™s absence to run away with her baby.
Dr Karuhanga says that most of these women are insecure. They suffer psychologically and fear their husbands will marry second wives or might divorce them. He says the psychological torture that some of these women go through can even reach an extent where they convince themselves that they are pregnant even if tests are done to prove otherwise. In the medical profession, such a condition is known as pseudocyesis. This condition is becoming increasingly common among women who have failed to get pregnant or deliver children. Unfortunately for them, their abdomens swell due to fibroids which affect women that have taken long to give birth. In some cases such women even experience â€œfalse labourâ€ only for them to pass out retained urine without a baby.
Dr Karuhanga says that if such women were to go home with other peopleâ€™s babies, they would plead insanity. But he stresses that many of those who steal babies or fake pregnancies do not sincerely believe they are pregnant, they know they cannot have babies and yet they have to â€œprotectâ€ their marital relationships with child bondage.
Dr Karuhanga advises that these women should not lose hope because they can seek medical assistance and conceive by artificial insemination or have test tube babies. He counsels that they should not be so desperate. He however says such reproductive methods are expensive and most couples might not afford the cost. But he also observes that most couples are ignorant of the existence of such facilities.
Karuhanga also advised that itâ€™s also good for people who canâ€™t bear children of their own, to start adopting babies because there are many children in need of a motherâ€™s love. Such children can act as substitutes once a couple fails to have children of their own. It also relieves the couple the psychological stress is associated with a childless marriage. Alternatively, couples should see trained counsellers for help instead of keeping the problem to themselves because it intensifies the stigma.
In many traditional African societies a barren person is always frowned and sneered at by the community. A marriage becomes â€œcompleteâ€ only when a child is born. In some societies adulthood is measured on oneâ€™s ability to produce a child. Margaret Wokuri, a female activist working with ACFODE, concurs that societal pressures imposeÂ a heavy toll on women because their worth is only recognized when she bears children. She says that no matter how hardworking a woman is, her input in the family will almost be zero if she has no kids of her own.
Wokuri argues that desperation and the desire to keep their marriages intact is what pushes women to act the way they do, because in our society children are seen as a continuation of the family life which is impossible if one fails to conceive. The stigma associated with being childless has greatly contributed to the rise of fake pregnancies or births in the country. Others do it for financial benefits because they believe their partners will give them more material provisions such as money when they have babies than when they donâ€™t have. Wokuri said that such women need not be condemned. All they need is advice.
Pastor Josiah Usaba of SDA Brooklyn Church in Luzira who is a marriage counseller says the moral integrity of such people should be taken into context. He says that many such people fake pregnancies because they do not want to lose the constant flow of income that the responsible men have been providing.
He advises such people to always seek medical assistance before they go ahead with marriage. He also calls upon such people to stick to God and be patient in such situations because He is the giver. Citing the book of Psalms 127:3 in the Bible, Usaba says children are a heritage from God so people should wait for the right time. He cited examples of Sarah, Rebecca and Elizabeth in the Bible who gave birth at very old age.
Pastor Usaba however says counsellors face a challenge when advising people because they do not reveal the truth. They may give half truth or wrong information to the counsellor and it is becomes hard for one to offer a correct solution. The other challenge people face is the trend where pastors have turned into businessmen and want to be paid for whatever advice or counsel they may give to their folks. Usaba avers that this makes it hard for people to approach them.