“I can have billions of rands or all the material things money can buy, but having a child is the only important thing I want in life,” says Lulamile Makhonza*.
The 38-year-old says he’s wanted children for over a decade, but that it just hasn’t happened. Like most black men, he’s been too embarrassed to share his struggle and was also confident of his abilities to father a child; he saw no reason to seek help for himself.
“I was married for nearly nine years. In the first year of marriage, people were already asking us when we were having children. Four years later, we still didn’t have a child, but the questions kept coming,” he says. This pressure was a heavy burden on the couple.
His wife did all she could, consulting doctors to get help, but Makhonza refused to consider that he might have a part to play.
“I refused to go to a fertility clinic because I was so confident in my abilities to have children. But what I didn’t know was that the problem could have been with me. Most men blame women when it comes to fertility issues because we find it difficult to accept that the problem might actually lie with us,” he admits.
Although his wife did eventually conceive, she suffered a miscarriage a few months into the pregnancy.
Added pressure from family members and colleagues made things even worse for Makhonza, and not having the courage to speak to anyone about the issue put more strain on his marriage.
“The conversations at work were always about kids and it was embarrassing for me to be a grown man without children – I mean, 18-year-olds were having children, people who had got married after us had kids – I felt so disappointed.”
Eventually he and his wife began to resent each other and for long periods didn’t speak to one another. After nine years together, they ended the marriage.
Makhonza has since remarried, and now has an entirely different attitude towards fertility issues.
“I believe I failed in my previous marriage, and I want to do things differently in this one. I am now going to a fertility clinic and doing everything I need to do to make sure that we have a child. I’m also speaking openly to those I trust, and to people who are going through the same challenges because I think it helps to get that support. I’m also reading a lot about what I need to do in terms of lifestyle changes and what kinds of foods I need to eat.”
He explains that as the only male in his family, having a child is very important to him. “Not having a child feels like you don’t have a purpose, and having a child is the ultimate blessing that I want. I want to have someone who can inherit my name, someone I can be responsible for and raise. I’ll be grateful even if I have only one child.”
Women are often blamed when a couple struggles to have children, and Makhonza urges men in this situation to support their wives.
“I think it is very important to have a good foundation in a marriage, and also to realise that getting married is not only about having children, but is also about building a home and helping each other grow. Having children is a blessing that comes from God.
“You need to be supportive, because she is facing the same challenge. Putting extra pressure on her won’t do either of you any good.”
He suggests having open conversations with your family and people you trust to help them understand the situation.
“Equipping your family with the right information not only helps them to better deal with the issue, but it also helps them to understand what they can and cannot discuss with people outside your family.
“If the problem starts putting a strain on your marriage, seek counselling. Many men who are faced with this problem don’t seek help, which leads to some committing adultery in the hopes that they’ll be able to have a child with their mistress,” he explains.
“People need to be really sensitive about these things as some will start calling your wife names such as lo ungazaliyo (the one who can’t bear children). It is already frustrating for the woman to know that she is struggling to have kids, and calling her names just adds to her stress. This can make people feel worthless and we really need to be careful,” he concludes.