I had a vasectomy and I have no regrets - Why a lot of people are opting for a child free lifestyle

Stephen Dimilo Ashers, director of emerging markets at Afriquest Research Photo: Courtesy

"If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me; because something [in my life] would have had to suffer and it would've probably been them." Those are the famous words of American mogul Oprah Winfrey.

And those are not unique sentiments; other celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Ellen Degeneres share them too. Step away from Hollywood and enter Kenya and you will realise that having children is also not everyone's cuppa too.

Stephen Dimilo Ashers, a 33-year-old director of emerging markets at Afriquest Research does not want children. His father told him that he would probably change his mind. "He says that it's just a matter of time and that it (the desire for kids) will come. My mother, on the other hand keeps on asking me if there's something wrong with me. However, my younger brother tells me that if I don't want to have children, then that's ok. He has a child- which he thinks wasn't such a great decision on his part," Stephen says.

Parents are often quoted saying things along the lines of "I always wanted to be a parent. Children are such a blessing!" Similarly, for those who opt not to procreate, it often is something they've always known. However, more often than not, it's a decision which stems from fear that they would make inadequate parents. "I probably knew (that I didn't want kids), when I was old enough to think about the responsibility of raising children. My biggest reason for not wanting kids is independence. I like to be a free soul. Also, I am a lousy teacher. I'm not sure I would teach them anything," Stephen says.

And while Stephen's decision might not be popular, he's definitely not the only one opting for a childfree lifestyle. While some have made the decision to not sire, others have gone a step ahead to cement their decision.

"I recently had a vasectomy and I have no regrets about it," says Kiarii Kimani, a 30-year-old popular photographer based in Nairobi. Having watched his parent's marriage crumble when he was 11 and the subsequent suffering he and his two siblings went through, he is adamant that his decision to be childfree is the right one, at least for him. "I think it is selfish to bring a child into this world and not be there for them. People who choose not to get children are not selfish. Career, life, and other issues influence the decision not to have children. Children are not a must in life and I don't owe anyone a child," he adds.

In African culture, life's trajectory seems to be clearly defined; go to school, find a job, get married, have children. But more and more people, especially millennials, are defying the societal expectation to have children.

According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, Kenya's birth rates have fallen in recent years and Kenyan women have an average of 3.9 births- a decline from the fertility rate of 4.6 recorded in the 2008-2009 survey. While the drop in births in the country can be largely attributed to smaller family sizes, it is safe to assume those opting to not have children at all also contribute to the overall drop in fertility rates.

The decision to have or not to have children should be a private and personal one. However, it usually takes place in a culture which equates adulthood with parenthood. This is a society in which women are shunned or even physically assaulted for failing to conceive and bear children and men feel that their manhood is defined by their ability to sire children. In 2016 the world was shocked by the case of Jackline Mwende, a Kenyan woman whose arms were chopped off by her husband for failing to provide her husband with an heir. Additionally, fertility treatments are widely available- making parenthood possible even for those who those suffering from clinical infertility.

Because of these societal expectations, the decision not to procreate is often received with recrimination, skepticism, and disbelief. When Kimani informed his family of his decision, he was warned that he would regret it and his sunset years would be lonely. "My parents separated when I was 11 and got divorced when I was 18. I'm not particularly close to either of them and I haven't told them that I want to remain child free yet. I have told my siblings, although I didn't expound on the reasons behind my decision."

Stella Nasambu, a 30-year-old digital strategist, laughs at how her mother reacted when she learned that she probably wasn't getting any grandchildren from her daughter. "She had the classic African mother reaction...absolute horror. Then she had a mini prayer session right there in the middle of the kitchen! Now I try not to be offended every time she brings it up and questions it...because that's how her generation was raised. I enjoy more freedom of choice, while my parents had more or less a set path (in life)," Stella says.

Stella says she realised she had to make a decision when she turned 27. "I had a sit-down with myself when I turned 27 and soul searched for months about why I should have kids...not when. I looked at what I was bringing to the table as a parent to a potential child and realised that I couldn't possibly parent a 'normal' kid who would turn out healthy and happy," she explains.

"I feel that I'm not maternal in any way, shape, or form. I don't have the absolute grit that my parents had or my friends have to bring a whole separate being into this world and shape their lives. It's just something I've never invested much emotion or thought towards," she adds.

The common assumption is that those who opt to be childless are people who don't like children. However, that's not necessarily true. Stella considers herself a 'kids person' who is a cool aunt. "I take time to listen to my nephews and nieces and nurture them without pushing my views on them. Children so love and have boundless imagination so it's always a treat to hang out with them," she says.

Stephen also likes kids, albeit in small doses. "Two of my siblings have children, and I enjoy their company to some extent. But after a while, they wear me out," he quips. On the other hand, Kimani doesn't see himself as a 'kid's person' at all. "I am not a kid's person. I've watched my behavior around children and realised that I just don't gel with them," he says.

Vasectomy procedures are on the rise

Despite its efficacy, vasectomy is still viewed as a taboo with a majority of men thinking that undergoing vasectomy is a form of castration and that it makes one less manly. That said, vasectomy has also been gaining acceptance amongst men who already have children. In 2011, 3,652 men are recorded as having undergone vasectomy in the country. This is quite an impressive number, especially when you compare it to the 246 vasectomies recorded in the country between 1987 and 1991.

Kimani says that vasectomy is quite a simple procedure. "It was short and painless. I think it lasted about twenty minutes. I'd already decided to get it done 11 years ago, so I was relieved when it was done. I got the procedure at Kenya National Theatre during World Vasectomy day, November 18, 2016.