KAMPALA, UGANDA – For two decades Catherine Mubiru, 45, bore the derogatory nickname of “mugumba,” Luganda for a “barren woman,” because she could not bear a child.
“I have been labeled barren for many years,” says Mubiru, an administrative assistant with a local nongovernmental organization. “I got married at 19 and was not able to bear children for 21 years. My in-laws, workmates and even friends used to regard me as mugumba.”
She says the nickname followed her for so long that even she started to believe it.
“For so long, I was called barren and infertile by many that I, myself, started believing that I was never going to have children in life,” she says.
Mubiru says that women despised her and even insulted, her for her difficulty conceiving. She recalls one incident when a mother of two young children told her she would die with rust in her stomach.
She says she struggled to obtain approval from her in-laws as well.
“I tried my best to keep my marriage,” she says. “I loved my husband and in-laws. I welcomed them in the house and prepared for them the best meals I could in the home. One day, my sister-in-law, came to me and told me that even if I do marvelous things, they shall never see them unless I give them a baby.”
But Mubiru says that her husband always stood by her.
“My husband was supportive,” she says. “I thought he would divorce me at some point, but he did not.
Together, the two sought various remedies.
“At first, we sought the help of witch doctors,” she says.
Her mother would bring them home, and Mubiru and her husband did whatever the witch doctors told them to do.
“My husband and I did many things,” she says. “One of them told us to walk naked in the road very early in the morning before people wake up, and we did it.”
But the rituals yielded no results. Meanwhile, her husband, Chris Mubiru, fended off pressure to divorce his wife because of her difficulty conceiving.
“I felt I had to remain with my wife during this difficult time despite pressure from society to divorce her because we had wedded in church,” he says, “and I knew that the vows cannot be revoked.”
He says knew that her reproductive difficulties were not her fault, an idea that fuels the stigma here attached to childless married women.
“I had married her when she was just 19 and knew that she was innocent,” he says.
The stigma attached to infertility in Uganda is so strong that many women who struggle to conceive must deflect derogatory names, rejection by families and in-laws and divorce by their husbands. While some women seek help from witch doctors, others consult religious leaders, who recommend prayer. But doctors focus on the medical causes of infertility, with centers offering various treatments to women who can afford it. Although some women