But as a housewife, she wanted to have a child at the most earliest convenience. However, not being able to get pregnant within the first six months of her marriage was frustrating, but not alarming, according to the now 54-year-old woman. She made peace with her reality, knowing that most couples only conceived after making several tries.
“When the one-year mark passed and went, I was concerned but did not take any concrete steps towards finding answers from medical doctors as to why I could not conceive; I was young and healthy after all,” says Mrs Makhema.
Despite this, since she was a young recently married woman, she was haunted by family and societal expectations; at this time already having to fend off village gossip and coated personal attacks hurled at her. But she was still convinced from certain quarters that it was fine to postpone childbearing.
Everywhere she looked, though, culture determined that she should have had a baby by now. She says she was troubled by images of older women cradling their babies. This brought reality closer to home, now aged 27 and three years into a marriage she had entered into at 24 years she had to find out what was wrong with her. But then, even at this time she still thought and strongly believed she could bear a child. Just like any other woman, her family demanded that of her, her community demanded that of her.
Mrs Makhema recalls that around that time she visited a medical doctor to establish the real reasons it was taking her forever to bear a child, and what she was about to learn from her medical report was something she was never prepared for. She was told she could never have babies of her own, she was infertile! Unable to accept the terrifying news, the devastated woman, asked her husband to also go for a medical check-up.
“I was thinking maybe it could be him who couldn’t give me children, but he came back with a clean bill of health. I was the problem. Indeed I was the infertile one,” she sadly remembers. She adds: “I discovered that my ovaries had a problem which couldn’t allow me to conceive.
“Having endured cold multiple hands of several specialist doctors leading me through a complex web of possible bodily malfunctions, I eventually had to come to terms with my problem, I was infertile, I couldn’t have children. We couldn’t have children of our flesh and blood.” At this stage, the couple had cried rivers of tears trying to come to terms with the situation, always thinking of what to do next and which doctor to consult again.
But it all ended with the same result, Mrs Makhema says, “and we had to make peace with our reality, a painful acceptance of what life had thrown at us”. “Accepting that what the future held for us remained a surprise, and that things did not happen according to our will and want,” she continues.
She says beginning then she has lived to give hope to all she knew, who faced similar problems, for them to realise and accept the challenges that come with infertility. “Failure to bear a child does not translate into a cursed life but a medical condition that one just becomes unfortunate to have.
“I remain optimistic that by speaking publicly about my situation, experiences and the failed cycles in trying to conceive; the physical and psychological risks and trauma that accompanied each step, others will begin to speak out, accept their situation as well and help others to embrace their situations too.”
A gynaecologist in the ministry of health, Dr James Ger, however, puts women’s sense of guilt at bay. He says infertility does not only affect women, adding “about half of the causes of infertility are due to, or include male factors. The commonest conditions affect the reproductive age group between 20 and 45 years”. The doctor notes that infertility is neither a male nor a female factor and that for a couple to be able to have a baby both have to be medically well.