When Ezekiel Karuri got married in 2015, he was optimistic about having a blissful marriage blessed with children that would cement his union with his wife, Teresiah Wanjira.
He was, therefore, overjoyed when the following year, in 2016, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, who he named after his mother, Joyprecious Wairimu. The bubbly girl brought warmth into the home of the newlywed couple, who could not agree on who would get to cuddle the baby. They were so happy, they did not mind her constant cries at night, she was their first born, and they both readily gave her the attention she needed.
“The baby brought lots of joy to our family, we both agreed to name her Joy, and being precious to us, we added the name Precious, hence the name Joyprecious,” says Karuri.
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But their joy lasted for only six months. One day, Joyprecious fell sick, for only a day, and she was gone.
“It was the most devastating moment for us. She did not exhibit any signs of sickness, and was diagnosed with pneumonia after she was rushed to Nyahururu District Hospital.”
The death greatly affected the family. Teresiah could not bring herself to eat for days, she simply could not come to terms with their baby’s sudden death. But, gradually, after lots of counselling and encouragement from friends, the couple eventually managed to come to terms with their daughter’s sudden demise.
In October 2017, Teresiah gave birth to another child, this time round a baby boy who they named Jayden Ndegwa.
“I named the baby after my father. With the new blessing, the pain we endured having lost our first born began to ebb away.
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It was time to savour the moment. We settled on the name Jayden, which means thankful, we were grateful to God for another child,” explains Karuri.
But as fate would have it, death struck again. Six months after his birth, baby Jayden passed away.
“Like his sister, he got ill suddenly. He was rushed to the Naivasha Sub-County Hospital where he died.”
The couple was informed that Jayden had died of pneumonia, just like his sister. The family was beyond grief. They did not know what to do. Counselling did nothing to ease their pain and confusion.
“I almost sank into depression. When we lost our daughter, I was a bit composed and helped my wife through the grieving period, this time round, we were both at our lowest point. Two deaths in a span of two years were too much to bear,” Karuri recalls.
With tongue wagging and those who knew of their tragedy casting aspersions and offering unsolicited advice, the couple could not get the solace they needed.
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“We were on an emotional rollercoaster. Some of our trusted friends advised me to get “deliverance” from the church, with some arguing that we were under a spell.”
It was pointed out that it wasn’t a coincidence that both their daughter and son had died aged six months. This fact kept the rumour mills at an all-time high. Karuri, then 29 years, battled mood swings, overwhelmed by the loss of his two children. It took the intervention of a professional counsellor to talk him out of his depression
His wife, too, was equally affected, and for months, refused to venture outside their home, staying indoors as she mourned the death of her two children.
To make matter worse for the couple, Karuri was also under immense pressure to divorce his wife, but he refused to heed those voices.
“We became pariahs, no one wanted to associate with us, such that we began to believe that we were under an evil spell.”
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With only each other to lean on, the couple stayed glued together in the face of adversity, and made a deliberate choice to keep negative friends at bay. Only immediate members from both families gave them solace.
“They kept encouraging us that all would be well. We kept the faith but at times it was tested to the limit. Being a young couple, we wondered what might have befallen us, though the questions were rhetorical,” weighs in Teresiah.
Karuri toyed with the idea of not trying for more children following the double heart-breaking experiences, but his believing wife was not giving up.
In September 2019, Teresiah conceived, and when she broke the news, Karuri, he did not know how to react. He was happy and apprehensive at the same time. For him, it was a test of nerves.
Three months into the pregnancy, the ultrasound results indicated that she was carrying not one, not two, but four babies. Teresiah’s initial reaction was that of shock, but Karuri was over the moon with happiness.
“I was told that I was pregnant with four babies, that was the last thing I expected,” Teresiah recalls.
In utter shock, she insisted that the ultrasound be repeated, but the results were the same.
“I was both nervous and happy. I imagined carrying four babies to term, but at the time, that was inconceivable,” she says.
As for Karuri, his silent prayers had been answered. To be precise, he had been vindicated.
“I just prayed that the babies would be carried to term,” he says.
Teresiah was given bed rest, and would have an ultrasound every week to ascertain that the babies were doing well. Karuri, who relied on menial jobs for a living, bravely shouldered the financial burden.
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In week 28 of her pregnancy, Teresiah was admitted to the Naivasha Sub-County Hospital, where she remained until she gave birth at week 32.
“I gave birth in the eighth month, therefore the babies were put in a nursery for a month. Together, the four weighed about 8kgs.”
During the interview, the four two-year-old toddlers happily play on the seat next to their mother, who keeps a keen eye on them. Dressed in matching outfits, it is quite a task telling them apart.
Their names rhyme – Maureen, Doreen, Laureen and Shirleen. The couple explains that they decided to give their children similar names since they were born almost the same time, they, therefore, needed to have a common “identifier”.
“Before settling on the names, we went through a list of probable choices but the consensus was unanimous,” adds the proud father.
It is no easy task looking after the girls, who are a handful.
“I have to simultaneously feed them. Initially, I had a lot of challenges caring for them since it was demanding, but I have learnt how to cope. Every day is a learning process,” says Teresiah, adding that even though difficult, the satisfaction has been enormous.
Karuri arrives as the interview is ongoing, and his girls happily run to him. He picks up one of the children, which upsets her siblings.
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“I have to, in turns, pick them up, otherwise, they will start to cry,” he says with a happy laugh.
Karuri does his best to assist his wife care for their children when not at work, acknowledging that it has been a journey full of challenges, given that he lacks a well-paying job that earns him a decent income. But the joy his children give him encourages him to wake up every morning.
On the day his wife was discharged from hospital following the birth of their children, the couple contemplated hiring a nanny they could hardly afford to lend a hand, especially at night.
“We would take turns to hold the babies, especially at night when they would stay awake for hours. It was a whole new experience for both us, both exciting and exhausting,” recalls Karuri.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the couple faced their biggest challenge since jobs were hard to come by, yet Karuri had to part with at least Sh1, 300 every three days to buy basic needs, including diapers.
“I found it hard to meet my daily obligations, it was a tough period, but friends chipped in to help,” Karuri opens up.
At the moment, his wife is a stay-at-home mum, she solely looks after their children, while Karuri works to feed his family and meet other needs that require money.
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“Sometimes, I am simply overwhelmed. I lack money to even buy basic needs, and being the sole provider for my family has not been easy,” he says, adding that he hopes to get a permanent job that will guarantee him steady income, bearing in mind that his children’s needs will increase as they grow older and when they join school.
Besides friends and family who offered them much-needed support following the birth of their children, the couple also got support from the area MP, Jayne Kihara who offered to pay six months’ rent after Teresiah was discharged from hospital.
“Her kind gesture came in handy. It eased the burden greatly, especially since we had to buy baby formula. A can cost Sh1, 250, and girls would consume at least two cans a day,” he says.
They no longer require baby formula, but Karuri has to buy everything in sets of four, such as clothes and shoes. In spite of the tough responsibility of taking care of his children, however, he takes immeasurable delight seeing his daughters grow.
“It is a fulfilling experience that you can only get from a set of four children, my wife and I have no time to rest, but our children give us great happiness. Watching them walk, tease one another, even fight, is a feeling like no other.
I don’t regret it one bit, and were I to go back in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says the happy father.
He is also grateful that he and his wife were able to overcome the stigma that followed the deaths of their first two children. He advises couples to be patient in the face of adversity.
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“We endured a very harrowing time, but we overcame it, if going through a similar experience, be encouraged by our story,” he concludes.
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