Joy That Cannot Be Celebrated

But sadly for Muchara, her bundles of joy are not something that she has had an opportunity to celebrate about. They have added onto her woes.

Muchara is living positively with HIV. Her joy has turned into mourning.  She narrated her story to Radio VOP recently, fighting to control her streaming tears.

The sun is almost setting. She sits there helplessly because she is hungry and so are her triplets.  She cannot breast-feed them because she is HIV positive. The children have not eaten anything since morning- one of the babies is crying endlessly, the other is lying motionless, a few meters away from her and the third is asleep.

It is generally a Zimbabwean culture that when one gives birth, people celebrate.  No matter how poor the family might be, at least the coming of a new baby means joy.

But for Muchara, her life crumbled as soon as she gave birth to her triplets. Her entire family, including her husband, deserted and cursed her for giving birth to the triplets.

They said they had no capacity to look after her and her babies, who needed to be fed with expensive milk formula.

Muchara said it is not her fault.  She claimed she was under pressure to fall pregnant from the same family members, who were now neglecting her and the babies. She had been threatened with divorce if she failed to bear children.

She had been advised by a local doctor that it was possible for her to give birth to a child who is HIV negative, even though she was carrying the virus.

Her husband, also HIV positive, consented to the idea and they agreed to have only one child. However, they got more than what they had bargained for and got triplets. While this could have been a blessing worth celebrating, it turned out to be a nightmare for Muchara.

“We agreed to have only one child so when I gave birth to triplets, my husband and his family chased me away,” she said.

She said she suffered neglect from the time she was pregnant. Her husband stopped supporting her financially.  She used to walk a distance of about 10 kilometres to travel to Masvingo General Hospital for routine check-ups.

Of the 1,6 million Zimbabweans with HIV, 55 percent are said to be women, according to government statistics.

Research has shown that women often suffer doubly, not only from the disease, but from abuse from their spouses and isolation by their communities

An International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) research team noted recently that in some cases a woman, who because of her HIV status will not breastfeed, is labeled a witch by her in-laws because they do not understand the problems of mother-to-child transmission.  HIV positive women were still being stigmatised.

Muchara said her husband denied her money, saying he needed to use it for his treatment since he was also sick. Occasionally she was beaten up.

A well-wisher, Pamhi Matariro, from Old Mucheke, who is temporarily staying with her,said she could not continue to look after  Muchara  because her husband was complaining.  Matariro’s husband feared they would not be able to afford looking after Muchara and her three babies.

“I am a mere cross- border trader. I do not have money to buy the special diet for her children,” said Matariro.  “The children can go a day without milk.”

Meanwhile, Muchara’s health is deteriorating, because she also is not getting enough food and medicine.

“At times she goes for nearly a week without taking her medication.  We sometimes advise her not to take the tablets because there is no food for her.”

Muchara said she had failed to get help from the Social Welfare Department. She said if she is thrown out of Matariro’s family home, she would not have any choice but go and stay in the streets with her triplets.

A senior matron at Masvingo General Hospital said Muchara’s case was not the only one.

“We have a lot of cases of mothers who are rejected by their families. In fact, it starts during pregnancy.”

She said there were cases where women over-stayed at the hospital after giving birth, because they had no-where to go.

“We also have cases of women who are detained after failing to settle hospital bills.”

She said many men were running away from their responsibilities of looking after their families.

Masvingo Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr Robert Mudyiradima, said many young women living with HIV, who tried to please their families by getting pregnant, ended up committing suicide, mostly because of false promises.

“Young women living with HIV have a serious problem.  Mostly they kill themselves after failing to cope up with their situations and realising that their husbands cannot live to their promises,” said Dr Mudyiradima.