Jan 22, 2019

The evening when my son was born, I was 13 years old and six months pregnant. Everyone in my family had just retired to bed when I felt this urgent need to urinate.

We had no toilets inside the house, so my father walked me out and I relieved myself. But a few minutes later, I had to urinate again, only this time I couldn’t get out of bed. My father and I didn’t know I was in labor but my mother understood: her grandson was about to come into the world three months premature in a village that had no electricity, let alone hospitals, or ambulance services.

My mother started praying hard and preparing for the worst. Soon, I felt the shape of what had to be my son’s foot and I started screaming. My father fainted and my mother took charge of the delivery. With no gloves or time to think, she stuck her hand inside me and grabbed another tiny foot to pull the baby out. But the head remained stuck. My mother instructed my now-revived father to press my stomach so that the baby’s head could come out. My son’s body emerged almost lifeless because he had inhaled too much amniotic fluid.

My mother threw cold water on the baby who reacted faintly. She then cut the umbilical cord, wrapped the baby in thick blankets and handed him to our neighbor while we waited for the placenta. But it was stuck too. My mother hurried to the village chief who took me to the closest health center, a two hours car journey from hell on wretched roads. When we finally arrived, it was to realize that no one would be attending me so we set off for another five-hour journey to Bamenda general hospital and made it both alive to the main hospital there. I was taken straight to the delivery room to remove the placenta. My son was placed in an incubator, with tubes connected from his minuscule nostrils to his tiny stomach. For three and a half months, he was fed breast milk that I begged off other mothers since I was not producing any yet. My family made sacrifices to make sure my son and I were fine and almost four months after his birth, my son was ready to come home.

A Child out of Wedlock

But in my village of Bawock, Cameroon, having a child out of wedlock is a sin and my son and I were profoundly ostracized from the start. Moreover, as he was born with his legs first, many in the community believed this meant he was an evil spirit, a sign that he should be killed. He was called a bastard. The other girls rejected me as instructed by their mothers. My self-worth plummeted and I felt trapped in insecurity and scared.

Until the day when, tired of fighting myself, I decided to turn my pain around and to look for purpose in life. I started keeping a journal because what I had to write about was unspeakable, the debate around the question was unbearable to my people. Gradually, I noticed my journal was becoming more of a journey in itself, one not only focused on the destination. I would complete up to three journals a week. They were thick and full and ripe with feelings and uplifting thoughts. My own words became an inspiration to me and I read from them whenever I was depressed. I came to the self-realization that I wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t useless nor was I a failure; I was none of the names I had been called.

It’s only when I allowed some of my close friends to read my journals that I understood that I wasn’t alone. Many more in the world share our fate: children are having children everywhere. And I sure wish there had been a book to help me when I was growing up.

Inspiring Self-Esteem

I believe in the transformative power of shared experiences so I started writing inspirational articles on self-esteem and empowerment for online magazines and local newspapers. And the rest followed: I published three books in a series called False Labels in 2012, in which I tackle subject matters such as bullying and low self-esteem. They are now used in many schools across Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and other countries. I also designed a workshop curriculum that could be used in schools, churches, and women’s groups. Digital media gave me the opportunity to share my story with others worldwide, which has helped other women to use their own voices too.

In my actions, I am inspired by my experiences as a teenager in Cameroon. For instance, I had no menstrual pads and no opportunity to buy any, so I just missed school often. That is why I started the KujaPads
initiative to end menstrual taboos and stigmas. Our “One Million Pads for Progress” campaign is helping girls from poor homes in Cameroon stay on track in school during their monthly period. We do school visits when we donate sanitary pads to girls and give empowerment workshops on self-esteem and menstrual hygiene management.

When I return to the community now, most people come to greet me and want to learn from my experience. Many parents have asked for forgiveness. The same families who kept their daughters away from me now want their daughters to be like me.

Native beliefs would have killed my son if I had allowed them to. Since then, I have been advising teen mothers not be influenced by traditional beliefs with no scientific grounds—To not heed to the traditions that would harm them, but create their own paths into the world by working on believing in themselves.

Today, I am a nurse in one of the greatest countries in the world: the United States. And my son—who was supposed to be killed and thrown away as per the culture of my people—is a healthy intelligent young man.

In fact, he too is a nurse and he graduated with honors.