Monday 9 May 2022


CHILDLESSNESS is private sorrow lived in public, says Mrs Soneni Dube, a childless married woman from Bulawayo.

While millions the world over took to social media platforms to celebrate Mothers’ Day yesterday, days like these are a painful reminder to Mrs Dube and thousands of other women that cannot conceive.

Mrs Dube, who has been married to a pastor for the past 12 years, has endured scorn, insults and false accusations for being childless. From miscarriages, surgeries and treatment, she has had to stomach the pain of knowing that she cannot give society what every married woman is expected to – a baby.

So depressing has been the experience that Mrs Dube and her husband Pastor Sikhumbuzo Dube have formed a social support group, Shunem Care, to help cushion those in similar situations, who have nowhere to turn to.

Shunem Care’s vision is to provide a voice for the voiceless and rewrite the narrative on childlessness as there has been a lot of silence around the subject either in churches, families or traditional systems.

Whenever childlessness is discussed, it is often associated with punishment for abortions during one’s youth, witchcraft or promiscuity.

Some women have been divorced or forced to care for children sired out of wedlock for being childless, while others are subjected to emotional and physical abuse while trying to conceive.

“Shunem Care is a ministry born out of our story of not having a child. Noticing that many of the childless not by choice need a home where they can share their stories without shame and ridicule, we envisaged it as a healing place. With so much negativity and stigmatisation around involuntary childlessness, this group shields men and women who share their experiences of being childless,” said Mrs Dube.

“We get our inspiration from what happened in Shunem, a small (Biblical) town where a childless couple cared for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-37). While we are childless, we are not fruitless, we are complete human beings. We believe that childlessness is not incapacitation.”

She said her pain has helped her empathise with a number of women, who receive counselling sessions from her husband, who is a qualified counsellor.

“Childlessness is complicated because what works for one doesn’t work for another and we have since learnt that presence is more preferred than advice. My husband loves to say we should be careful that we heal and not hurt. What may be thought to be an intervention may be harmful and not helpful. Jody Day, a thought leader in female involuntary childlessness, once said “childlessness is private sorrow lived in public”.

“We have been called names, we have cried to God and done everything in our power until we accepted that it’s beyond our control. This is our 12th year in marriage and it has been a roller-coaster journey in terms of losing the status of motherhood. I have been through surgery thrice and I have scars that are reminders of the struggle to have a child.”

She said as the world celebrates Mothers’ Day, society should be taught how to behave around someone going through involuntary childlessness.

To her, the day triggers painful memories of how her chance at motherhood slipped through under unknown circumstances.

“Mothers’ Day has not been a great day; I think this year may be even more terrible. While in the past years I could be thankful that while I am not a biological mother, I found comfort in celebrating my own mother, this will be the first without her as she died a few months ago,” she said.

“This is a day I have not taken time to celebrate, but I am reminded by social media as people take time to celebrate motherhood. I have received warm and loving messages from those who mean well for me and look upon me as their mother.”

Mrs Dube said she has prayed for a number of couples who have since been blessed with children.

“This journey has taught me that there are many women who are suffering in silence. They have had the pain, but they cannot talk about it for fear of being judged as bewitched, caused and/or punished by God. I have learnt to treat everyone’s pain with care. My personal pain has been the place where love and care for others grew.

“Some things are not meant to be understood, but just to be accepted. Trying to get an explanation why I don’t have a child may cause a lot of needless anxiety. Why should I crucify myself about something I have no control over? The energy should be directed towards lifting others who are sinking in the pit of despair because of involuntary childlessness.

“I am thankful that I have a loving husband who has stood by me in this journey. He feels he was called to minister to such people like us. He has been a personal pastor and counsellor. I imagine how I would be if he didn’t care. If he was following a society that ill-treats childless women, I wonder what my mental and emotional wellbeing would be like.”

Taking part in pastoral duties like child dedication often reminds the Dube family of their pain, but the experience has also opened their eyes to the stigma often silently suffered by the childless tribe.

“To women that have been abused, divorced and ill-treated for being childless, I want to say, remember that your worth is not decreased by not having a child,” she said.

“You are complete and enough. I am very sorry that some men fail to see value in you. May you find comfort in that God sees value in you.”

To those dreading Mothers’ Day due to involuntary childlessness, Pastor Dube said: “Your worth is not measured by the children that you have not birthed, but by the burdens that did not deplete your worth. The fact that you carry your burdens means you are worthy and may this day help you redefine motherhood as something to be understood through your own lenses.

“As part of Shunem, we create awareness to society and for women to accept the complete challenge. We have men who are not forthcoming; they say they are not the source and sometimes divorce women when they could be the problem. We have men who have low sperm counts who will not go for medical attention but abuse.

The stigma around childlessness makes this issue a taboo; we are not able to talk freely without being judged. We need a platform where we are able to talk without ridicule and name-calling, which is our vision as a group.” He called on communities to support childless married women.

“Avoid offering unsolicited advice, don’t offer solutions when you are not required. Just listen to what they are going through as this aids their mental wellbeing. Don’t say you are not praying enough or you are cursed or shooting blanks. This hurts us to know that’s what people imagine.”  Chronicle


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