For many, university is the first and last chance they have to have fun, explore and indulge in what the world has to offer. But Rachael and Stephen Wanyanga did not see it that way. They chose to get married and started having children while they were university students, writes Maureen Nakatudde
Who in their right mind would get married while still at university? Isn’t this time for fun, time to set career goals, and mingle with different friends — with marriage a distant dream?
Yet Rachael and Stephen Wanyanga dared do it. “I married when I was 26 years old, in my fifth year and she was 22 years old, a second year student at the University of Nairobi,” Wanyanga, an architect in Kampala, says.
After courting Rachael for three months, Wanyanga asked for her hand in marriage. That was in 1992. “Students were on strike over the increment of tuition fees and the cancellation of the school boom (allowance),” Wanyanga recalls. As the strike rocked the university, Rachael and Stephen captured the opportunity to marry.
“We got married because we loved each other and we saw no need to wait,” Wanyanga says. But also, Rachael had a problem. In 1991, she had lost one of her ovaries due to an ovarian cyst.
The young couple thought that if they waited too long, it would be hard for them to have children. For them, the only way to have children was through marriage.
Their lecturers and parents gave them the go-ahead. Rachael and Stephen Wanyanga tied the knot in 1992.
Soon, Rachael was expecting. Despite the excitement of having a child, Rachael’s health was a problem. “I lost a lot of weight — from 72kg to 49kg. I became sickly and lazy. I lost appetite for the university food,” she says. But having a caring spouse made it worthwhile for Rachael.
“I would accompany her to the clinic and remind her to be strong,” Wanyanga says.
In March 1993, the couple had Abigail, their first child. Rachael was in her third year. In July 1994, twins Victoria and Faith were born to the couple prematurely.
To complicate matters, it was right in the middle of the examination period. Rachael had to run back and do a paper before returning to the hospital.
They had another child the following year in August. After the birth of the third child, Rachael decided on a tubal ligation to prevent further pregnancy.
“The first three babies came when we were not prepared at all, therefore, we decided to go in for family planning.” But there was another surprise for them and, in spite of the procedure, in February 1998, Rachael gave birth to her fourth child, Emmanuel.
Less than two years later, in December 1999, they had another child, Abraham. Some of Wanyanga’s friends wondered why he was throwing his life away. “Don’t you want to enjoy your life?” some would ask.
“It did not matter because I was confident, I had someone who loved me and I felt secure,” Rachael says. “I never felt the pressure to be like other girls. He never denied me anything and up to now Stephen still provides,” she says.
Despite having a pregnant studying wife at home, Wanyanga says he was not stressed, except for the thesis and designing a project. In addition to that, his lecturers were very supportive.
“Rachael was doing Biomedical Science and the continuous assessments, exams, and practicals in the laboratory were a challenge,” he says.
Racheal says she had to sneak out for some fresh air once in a while.
In seven years, the Wanyangas were done with having children.
“It had always been my dream to finish having babies by 30,” Rachael says, much to the surprise of her husband who had not known her secret. “Because of that, I had immense energy to take care of them.”
The Wanyanga family at the beach
Long distance parenting
With five young children, most maids could not cope. “Every time, I called maids for an interview, they interviewed me instead. ‘Madam, we cannot work for you; that house has too much work’, they would say.”
When one maid agreed to stay, Rachael got a job as a medical representative in Eldoret. She had to leave the children on Sunday night and return home on Friday night. Every time she left, there was a lot of emotional breakdowns.
“On Friday evening, the children would be very happy and very sad on Sunday evening,” Wanyanga says.
That really affected Rachael’s relationship with her children, especially Emmanuel, the youngest. He was one and a half years old and whenever Rachael came home he was never happy to see her.
He would stay curled up in a corner before gradually warming up to her. But just as he was starting to enjoy her stay, Rachael would be gone for another week.
Rachael came to realise that the emotional strain was not good for the children. They swung from being very happy one moment to being at their lowest the next. They became resentful and withdrawn.
She discussed it with her husband and left her job to become a full-time mother. The maid also left since she could not handle the work. Rachael then single-handedly took care of the home. It was not easy.
For instance, one of the twins was born with club feet and had a plaster to correct them. Because of her painful feet, she would cry a lot, waking up all the other children in the house. They would join in and the whole house would be drowned in wails. Her husband helped take care of the children at night.
Rachael says there is nothing that comes easy and there is a time to sacrifice.
“We did not have a car — I could have insisted on continuing to work so that we have a luxurious life, but nothing can substitute the presence of a mother in the house,” she reflects.
“For some women, perhaps, they may be able to employ two housemaids to cope with the demands of the family and their children, while for others it might be something else.”
Time to relax
Today, the children are grown up and they are the envy of other people. The couple agrees that having faith in God, discipline, friendship, selflessness and passionate commitment to each other has helped their children to grow up responsibly.
The youngest is in S1, Emmanuel is in S3, while Abigail and the twins are now at university. All their children minister in the church. One boy is a pianist, while another is a drummer. The girls are both worshippers and can play the guitar. During holidays, they attend Kampala Music School.
The couple enjoys the opportunity to relax a little more.
“I wake up at 8:00am and find the house clean and all the children have already had breakfast,” Wanyanga says.
Since the children are not in boarding school, Rachael is able to spend evenings with them.
“There is a lot of bonding, occasional shouting and teasing as we share in the chores,” she says. Because they do not have a maid, their mother trained them to do housework.
They started with wiping dishes and moved on to more difficult chores. Though a lot of cups were broken in the process, they gradually became responsible. “For the last seven years, I have not had to cook,” Rachael boasts.
Every year, the Wanyangas read one family book together for self-improvement as well as bonding.