Sammy Kiunge, 41, a road works and construction worker, and 38-year-old gospel singer, Miriam Mercy Wakanene, had everything they wanted in their marriage except for one thing – a child. Despite criticism, ridicule and even misleading advice from friends and family, the couple endured the long wait to finally welcome their child, Israel Destiny Kariuki. They recount to ESTHER AKELLO their 15-year wait for a child and how they withstood the stormy waters of a childless marriage.
When and how did you meet?
Sammy: Goodness. A long time ago!
Miriam: We met in 1999. The construction firm he was working for was doing some roadwork just next to the hotel where I was employed. I’m naturally very curious so I walked up to him one day and just blatantly asked him what kind of work goes into road construction. Little did I know I had made an impression!
Sammy: I was impressed that she was interested in my work. Plus she is a real beauty. After a few weeks, we had to move to another area and since I didn’t want to live with any regrets, I called her, told her I loved her and wanted a chance with her.
Miriam: (Laughing) I figured there was no harm in just seeing where it goes. It’s been going on for 15 years now. We’ve had tremendous challenges but that is all behind us now.
Tremendous challenges? I hear a story coming; do tell.
Miriam: When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection in my bone marrow, which then spread to my bones causing them to become brittle and sometimes to rot. I had to drop out of school because I could not keep up. I have spent quite a chunk of my childhood and adult life in hospital. By the time I met Sammy I had had such few spells I thought I was healed only for it to recur.
Sammy: There were times when we would go to bed well and wake up in the morning only to find one of Miriam’s bones jutting out of the skin. In fact, she is nicknamed Mercy as people started saying she is alive due to God’s mercy. Thankfully, the disease went into remission in 2012 and we haven’t experienced it since.
Was it an easy decision marrying Miriam knowing she suffers from such a potentially crippling disease?
Sammy: I simply loved her and not because she was healthy. If I had loved her for her health, we wouldn’t be here now. So even when the disease resurfaced I was determined to stand by her.
You appear to be in sync with each other. Are you two peas in a pod?
Miriam: Hardly! We are so different. I talk too much and Sammy just doesn’t talk! He’s a one-answer type of guy. I used to cry a lot the first few years before I came to understand his personality and accept it.
Sammy: (Smiles) I am not given to a lot of talk. I think it is good to make your point once and move on.
Miriam: (Emphatically) It was worse than that! I never knew what was going on in his mind or pocket for that matter. He is the kind of guy who would tell you the night before that he is going for an out of town job the next morning!
That must have thrown you into a spin!
Miriam: I felt so unloved, disrespected and inconsequential. There was a time I toyed with the idea of walking out of our marriage and even threatened him as much. However, he said something that made me realise he loved me. (Turning to Sammy) Do you remember what you told me?
Sammy: You’ll wait for me to leave you until the day you die.
Miriam: (Laughing) After that I appreciated that even though my husband is slow to speak, he has a way of showing me love, which is by providing for all my needs. I have never lacked even a single day.
Why did you wait so long to have a child and is one your ideal number?
Miriam: I wish our inability to have a child was because it was a matter of choice or lack of trying. We consider our child a miracle baby.
Sammy: Somehow, something so many people consider to be a shoo-in became a struggle for us.
Was it due to a medical condition?
Miriam: We went to many specialists but the answer was always the same: there was nothing wrong with either of us.
Sammy: I always knew that! That must have been difficult.
Knowing nothing is medically wrong and yet you are not conceiving.
Miriam: It was. The fact that had I lost my son from a previous relationship to meningitis a few years before did not make things any easier. Sometimes I would even pray with women with struggles similar to mine and they would get pregnant.
How did friends and relatives take it when things were not moving along as fast as expected considering children are a big deal in our society?
Miriam: I became sort of a queer creature. So many women ridiculed me. I remember one neighbour who used to spit at me saying say I am wasting Sammy’s time. Despite the pain, I kept quiet. Unfortunately, she passed away from childbirth complications and after several miscarriages.
Sammy: I also had a close relative who advised me to get another wife, which was not an option for me. But you take those things in your stride.
Miriam: So many people including gynaecologists, relatives and even friends who proclaim the gospel of Christ advised me to have an affair with another man and pass off the baby as Sammy’s. A pastor who also knew of my struggle even tried to rape me.
Miriam: One day he called me to church on the pretext that he wanted to discuss some issues with me. Once there, he kept insisting that I should hug him. When I refused, he called me a foolish woman for not siring a child with someone else then attempted to corner me. It is only when I told him I would scream and break his office windows that he relented. I immediately went home and told my husband of the incident.
Sammy: I immediately called him and we had a discussion about boundaries. I do not like to dwell on the topic.
How did you feel when you finally realised you were pregnant?
Miriam: By the time I got pregnant, I had surrendered everything to God and decided to serve him fully. I put the child question at the back of my mind and started working on launching my gospel album. That was in July 2014. In August, I started feeling sickly, always sleepy and very sensitive to simple things like smell. I did not think much of it but went to hospital to get checked.
Sammy: Pregnancy was the last thing on our mind.
Miriam: When the gynaecologist did a pregnancy test and told me it was positive, I was in so much denial that I refuted the results. He offered to run a scan for me and when she showed me my baby, I broke down. I became so confused even finding my way home was a problem. Eventually I broke the news to my husband. (Laughing) He was also in denial for a while.
How did family and friends take it?
Miriam: They were in shock. We had visitors every week until the day our son, Israel, was born. Everyone wanted to come and witness if what they had heard about my pregnancy was true. A lot of people were also finally silenced.
Sammy: We did not just get married to have children, but having a child has also made us feel complete. We believe it is God’s way of showing only he has the power to give life. It is not like you can just go to a shop and buy a baby.
Did you ever fear that something could go wrong with the pregnancy?
Miriam: Yes. I nearly had a miscarriage and was put on immediate bed rest.
Sammy: We also feared the baby might develop problems but by God’s grace we had a safe delivery and a healthy baby.
How has becoming parents changed your relationship?
Miriam: Israel has brought us a lot of joy. We named him Israel Destiny Kariuki because he is a great nation with a great destiny. Israel is now one-and-a-half years old. I used to say there are no stories in my house but now my very quiet husband is more talkative and giving. He even buys me gifts spontaneously. Who knew?
Sammy: (Chuckles) There is a certain peace that comes with becoming a parent. For sure children are a blessing.
Miriam: To celebrate Israel’s birth I wrote a song called ‘Ukira’ which means rise up encouraging all women to walk with pride as God will meet them at their point of needs.
Moving on, what is that one thing that you have ever done in marriage that makes you laugh when you recall it?
Miriam: (Laughing) I remember one time he had left for work in Nairobi and left me in Nakuru. As soon as a friend heard of the move, she told me to pack my bags and follow him, as Nairobi girls were no good. He did not even know I was coming. He just found me there and that was that.
Sammy: Laughs. What? Surely Nairobi girls are not all that bad! Miriam: My friend put the fear of God in me! It just felt like the right thing to do. But that did not stop the women from interfering. One time when I was going through his phone, I found some messages from a woman declaring her love for him. There was fire in our house that night! I confronted him. Remember?
Sammy: (Laughing) I can’t remember.
Going through his phone? Is that a wise move?
Miriam: (Laughing) Going through my husband’s phone is not something I would normally do. But my intuition had been nagging me all week long so one day I hid his phone and when he went to work I went through it and found the messages.
Sammy, you don’t have any recollection of Miriam raising up a storm?
Sammy: I confess; confronting me was a wise move. Although in my defense, the lady was the one texting me and not vice versa.
Has infidelity been a real risk in your relationship?
Miriam: Not really. I gave up that issue to God a long time ago. I told God I would serve him and if he deemed fit that my husband remains with me, then that’s okay. In the event he wanted to leave, then God’s will be done. Either way, personally, I had vowed to remain faithful as I love my husband and he is good to me
Sammy: I love Miriam and she is good to me as well.
What would you say holds the two of you together as a couple?
Miriam: Salvation. Being a saved woman has really influenced how I treat my husband. I pray for him, encourage him and love him in every sense the Bible advises. My love for Sammy is patient, kind and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Sammy: Love, faithfulness, understanding and trust. firstname.lastname@example.org
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