There’s an inexplicable hush that falls into a room whenever Francis Ogati announces that he underwent a vasectomy. That statement elicits mixed reactions ranging from utter awkwardness, dismay, curiosity, indifference and admiration. Ogati, a businessman, spends most of his free time in seminars educating men about vasectomy as a method of family planning. To the 50-year-old, the reactions are not surprising given that barely 10 years ago, the procedure seemed like an appalling prospect to him too.
A staunch Christian, Ogati always believed that when it came to planning his family, he would abide by the Bible’s command “to multiply and fill the earth”. And so when he got married close to 30 years ago, he left the responsibility of family planning solely to his wife. The couple had their first born in 1990, but due to financial constraints he was facing at the time, they decided to put off having another baby for a while. “By then I was a student at the Kenya Polytechnic, studying a certificate course in printing,” he says.
His wife opted for the injection as a method of contraception until 1994, when the couple had their second born and third born in 2001. After their fourth child was born in 2008, Ogati still held the ambition of further expanding his family. “I did not have a limit on the children I wanted to have. Nature would take its course,” he says. But attending a church seminar in 2011 and learning about vasectomy, a surgical procedure to cut or seal the tubes that carry a man’s sperm to permanently prevent pregnancy, and how men could get involved in family planning caused a change of heart.
While his wife underwent tubal litigation, a permanent method of family planning in 2013, Ogati was still mulling over the idea of vasectomy, also an irreversible procedure. In 2015, he underwent procedure during the annual World Vasectomy Day celebrations, where it was being offered for free. “It was a simple procedure that lasted less than one hour. Since then, there was the comfort that I can enjoy my marriage without the worry of unplanned pregnancies,” says Ogati, bursting the common myth that vasectomy makes one less of a man.
Unlike Ogati, Benjamin Mutuku, a pastor at Redeemed Church, Mbotela ,had figured out how big he wanted his family to be from the onset of his marriage. Mutuku, 65, took the bold step to get involved in family planning opting for natural methods. Natural methods include withdrawal and mastering a woman’s menstrual cycle. Through this decision, he was able to get the children that he could comfortably take care of. “I was working as a clerk in a local company. My income was enough to adequately meet the basic needs of my family. All my children have studied up to the university level and they are all employed. The oldest is 46 while the youngest is 26,” says the father of five.
Mutuku has been encouraging other men to follow suit having seen first- hand the benefits of a man’s involvement. Besides size of a family, contraception also helps women space births, thus improving their health and reducing maternal deaths.
Meshach Acholla, Communications Officer, Evidence for Action Mamaye, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) men’s involvement in family planning is important as it promotes gender equality. “Family planning and birth spacing, is about the health of a woman. But due to the patriarchal system in the African society, men still struggle with the idea of taking part in family planning,” he says. Men can get involved by accompanying their wives to health facilities to discuss available options for them. Where possible, they can take up the role of family planning.