A group of young women are seated at Nairobi’s Arboretum Park deep in conversation. They look no more than 25 years of age. An onlooker would pass the meeting for a girls’ day out. Occasionally, they would break out in a fit of laughter drawing the attention of those around them. They then get back to their discussion. From their posture and sitting position, it easy to tell who is their leader. She is tall with thick, striking eyebrows, a diamond-shaped head and lush lips. Her name is Fiona Okadia and the ladies she is with are all young mothers who are meeting to encourage, motivate and elevate one another.

“We usually meet at Nairobi Arboretum Park quite often and the aim is to share our experiences and encourage each other. Getting pregnant and being a young mother is not easy and so we give each other support,” Fiona says as we kick off the interview.

See, Fiona became a mother at 21 years of age. So she understands perfectly well the challenges that young mothers face and for her, it wasn’t any easy. Not because she had the strictest parents on earth, but because the father of her baby wasn’t man enough to lie on the bed he had made. Fiona met her would-be boyfriend and the father of her son through a mutual friend and an easy conversation struck between them. This camaraderie would blossom when they both joined the same university albeit they took different courses with Fiona going for financial engineering. Yes, she is a force to reckon with.

“We met one day on the university’s streets and were both excited to see a familiar face. After that, we hanged out together when we didn’t have classes and it wasn’t long before we started dating. On my part, I could say it was a serious relationship and I guess for him too. Sex was also on the cards,” admits the second year economics student at Daystar University.

Fiona says that theirs wasn’t an over the moon kind of relationship but they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And they did, but not for long, as Fiona found out she was expectant although in the most unconventional way.

“Out of the blues, my boyfriend told me I was pregnant and when I asked him how he knew, he said that my moods had changed. Of course, I denied it from here to Timbuktu,” she says tongue in cheek.

According to Fiona, she was 100 per cent sure she was not pregnant but decided to pull her boyfriend’s leg and “pretended” to be pregnant so as to see his reaction. And while she expected him to deny responsibility, he said he would gladly take care of her and the baby. He suggested that they go for a pregnancy test and she obliged. The tests came out positive. She was shocked beyond words and while her boyfriend’s claims had been vindicated, her world came tumbling down.

The congratulatory message from the nurse landed on deaf ears as she struggled to come to terms with her new status. She was going to be a mother. Was she ready? Definitely, not. She looked at the boy who had earlier said he was ready to take care of her and her unborn child and realised he too was not ready, even as he sat there grinning from ear to ear. They were still in their parents’ nest and whatever little experience they had of the world was too limited to enable them adequately take care of another human being on their own.

“I slowly rose up from the seat and went home. I did not want to talk to anybody. The nurses’ words kept on ringing on my head. When I reached home, I went straight to bed and tried to sleep. Still, it couldn’t sink in my head that I was pregnant,” Fiona relives the events of the day she found out she was going to be a mother.

One month later, Fiona was still in denial and although she still saw her boyfriend, it seemed there was an unspoken rule not to talk about the pregnancy. But she was subliminally repressing her feelings and sooner or later, they would catch up with her. She couldn’t concentrate on her studies and thus requested her parents if she could defer for a semester to give her time to get her act together. Her parents were still in the dark about the pregnancy but they could tell there was something amiss with their only daughter. Nonetheless, they consented asking her to tell them what was bothering her when she was ready.

In essence, Fiona had no one to turn to and she felt even her friends could not relate with what she was going through. Having deferred her studies meant she had to stay at home and the boredom did not make matters any easier. Fiona is petite and this worked in her favour as her pregnancy wasn’t showing, never mind that she was six months pregnant. And it was the thought that she would be a mother in three month’s time that roused her from her stupor.

“One evening while I was doing the household chores, it hit me that I was three month’s away to delivery. I suddenly stopped whatever I was doing and I decided to go to Juja where my boyfriend was staying. I switched off my phone and placed it where my parents could see it. On hindsight, I don’t think I was in my right state of mind,” she narrates.

She arrived unannounced at her boyfriend’s and made it clear that she was going nowhere. She also informed him that no one knew of her whereabouts. Back at home, her parents were frantically looking for her, contacting each one of her friends but the answer was always on the negative. Her father even reported to the police that she was missing.

But it seemed she wasn’t the only one stressed about the pregnancy and it also seemed that she hadn’t really taken the time to know the man whose child she was carrying. She was only there for a week but it was enough to make her realise she was alone in the relationship. Her boyfriend would drink and when he came to the house, he would become violent, beating Fiona even in front of his friends who would plead with him to stop it for the sake of the baby.

“I ran to him when I needed him most thinking that he was the only one who understood my situation. How wrong I was,” says Fiona.

Fiona wears her emotions on her sleeves, and as she narrated of this trying moment in her life, tears were dangling on the sides of her eyes, threatening to spill any moment. “Within one week, I had been humiliated more than I had ever had in my entire 20 years. The final straw was on his birthday when he had one too many beers. He suddenly turned on me and started hitting me left, right and centre. Anywhere he could lay his hands on. It didn’t matter that his friends were restraining him, he continued to throw punches at me while clutching on me with his other hand,” she adds.

When she finally managed to free herself, she ran outside and to a friend’s room where she spent the night. It was now clear that east or west home is the best.

The next morning, she went to her aunt and told her everything. It was her aunt who acted as a mediator between her and her parents. And like the story of the prodigal son, her parents welcomed her home.

When the time came for her to deliver, it was her mum who held her hands throughout while her father ensured she got all that she and the baby needed. Needless to say, the father of the baby was nowhere in the picture. It turns out the baby would be the apple of his grandparents’ eye as Fiona resumed her studies in another university as she wanted a clean start, now the wiser.

And it was this experience that led Fiona Okadia to start a support group for young mothers who have faced rejection of one kind or the other, or those who are looking for someone who understands their situation.

“Currently, the support group has over 80 members who hail from different parts of the country. Basically, what we do is to hold each other’s hands, mentor those who are pregnant and in cases where the dad has gone missing in action, we take up that role. So we accompany the lady for pre-natal visits and assist with shopping for the baby’s items, just to let the lady know that she is not alone. Through my blog, Amira Africa, I aim to motivate, elevate and encourage young mothers across the continent to run their race despite their present circumstance. Amira is Swahili for princess,” she explains.

Fiona’s goal is to grow Amira Africa into a not-for-profit organisation that would enable her to reach out to even more girls. To her two-year-old son, Chiiwo, she says, “Some people said that my life ended when I had you but my life just began. You didn’t take away from my future; you gave me a new one.”

And on that note, we conclude the interview. Fiona can be reached through her blog: amiraafrica.co.ke

lily@parents.co.ke