The general assumption is that men and women of the cloth are immune to certain life’s challenges and upheavals. Well, that is not the case. No one is immune to problems, especially health problems such as infertility. Infertility is not a respecter of men and can affect anyone at any given time regardless of one’s social status, race, culture or creed.
By Nthokozo Gudu
Since the biblical old testament days, women with infertility or those who failed to bear children were stigmatized against and labelled barren and society looked down at them. They were low-key outcasts, probably only eclipsed by lepers.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) about 17,5 percent of the global adult population –roughly one in six people–will experience infertility at some point in their lifetime. Infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system ,defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. It can cause significant distress ,stigma and financial hardship, affecting people’s mental and psycho social well-being.
Despite being a devout Christian and a Pastor in ZAOGA Forward In Faith, Pastor Jestina Gandawa found herself coming face to face with infertility, a condition she has lived with for over four decades now.
Like the biblical Hannah, Pastor Gandawa found herself seeking answers from God regarding her infertility.
Many of us grew up dreaming about the day when we will have children,” said Pastor Gandawa. “The forces that contribute to these desires are complex, powerful, spiritual and sometimes unexplainable. Our longing for children is a deep primal need and being unable to conceive can be devastating. Infertility can rock our very foundation, our sense of control over our futures, our faith in our bodies and our feelings about ourselves as women ,it seems like a pretty cruel fate.”
Pastor Gandawa was married to her husband for 43 years. He unfortunately passed on in 2020. It is culturally acceptable for a young African girl child to fall pregnant soon after getting married. In Pastor Jestina’s case, that never happened even though she felt she was healthy and nothing was wrong with her body.
“After getting married to my husband just like everyone else, i had high expectations of falling pregnant, few months down the line we were given a son by the Gandawa uncles to stay with while we waited for our own child to be born, as it was a custom in the family.
“People expected me to fall pregnant and had their time frame they expected me to have a child which never happened . The son from my husband’s brother was just five years old. As time went by, the mother of the son came to demand what was hers and she said a lot of things to us for failing to have our own children, my husband’s family demanded to consult traditional healers to which we refused since it was against our own belief as Christians,’’ she said.
Pastor Gandawa said she had to put up a brave face and pretend all was well but deep down, the infertility issue was eating her deep.
“We waited for one year, five years, ten years, forty years for our own child but to no avail. I felt lost for a long time, I felt I had no purpose. I mean that is the ultimate goal isn’t it?To get married and have a family. I still knew that I was a child of God but then hated that I could not be a co-creator with him, thus I was heartbroken like I was not a real woman.”
“All throughout my journey of womanhood , I never thought life would treat me the way it did, serving me with a warrant of failing to conceive a child. As time went by, i was surprised to note that I was still marooned and stuck at this stage of life of bareness and to make it worse, i had not prepared for such a thing to happen and was utterly lacking in skills to deal with the brutal aftermath. I recall going through all the stages of grief but finding myself returning over and over again to the anger stage again,’’ added Pastor Gandawa.
Data shows that infertility is highly prevalent in Sub Saharan Africa where it can go to up to 25 percent in the reproductive age groups which is 25 to 45 years. Data from a cross section study by consultant Obstetrician, Dr Mugove Madziyire et al which explored “The causes of infertility in women presenting to gynaecology clinics in Harare, Zimbabwe” shows that half of the causes of infertility are due to or include male factors while almost half of the causes are female factors constituted by tubal blockage, anovulation and a mixture of the two.
Pastor Gandawa now finds solace helping other women, orphans ,disadvantaged children and widows.
“My infertility and I started as strangers, then we met and were instant stark enemies but then we became friends and that is when we started going places. I do not understand the ways of God neither his heart but I know he perfomed miracles and he still do. I grew to love children more so I had to do something to fill in my passion. I see it as a calling as I am a children’s pastor and also can relate more with children there is a connection that is so unbreakable with teenagers and infants.
“There are more teenagers in my ministry today that I have touched in more ways than one. Most of them have achieved more and are in high positions both in church leadership and in the real world. There are many orphans in ZAOGA FIF ministry that I have nurtured and mentored and I am proud of what I have done, ”she said.
Pastor Gandawa outlined her philanthropic works she has been doing to fill her void and how grateful she is for her church leaders in helping her get through infertility.
“I can still feel that empty-hollowness…It was that same hollowness that sent me desperate into scriptures, searching to save my life from agony, I have a desire for charity work and helping children who are suffering. I pay school fees for the poor and marginalized children who are also affected by HIV/AIDS helping child headed families and helping widows as well. I am grateful to the servants of God Apostle Ezekiel and Eunor Guti for making me who I am today ,if it was not for their love ,I would have been in the land of the dead because of infertility,”she said.
She concluded by encouraging other women who might be facing the same fate .
“I have traveled through this rocky road and I have passed through all the stages of grief that all human beings pass through when they are in pain and suffering. I have come to understand that the final stage is acceptance. So to any woman struggling with infertility or barrenness , I can assure you your story matters, and you still have miracles waiting. If your infertility does not end with pregnancy one day you will find your path and you will feel confident and peace with it. With everything I went through ,In many ways ,perhaps I am not so barren after all,” she said.
While both men and women can experience infertility , women are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition this is because there are many different factors that affect a woman’s ability to conceive, including age, hormonal imbalances, uterine abnormalities ,and ovulation disorders. Additionally as women age, their infertility declines more rapidly than men’s ,and the likelihood of experiencing infertility increases with age. However it is important to remember that both men and and women can experience infertility.