Motherhood is an exciting journey for many women, but it comes with its own ups and downs. Having your better half by your side during the difficult times is always comforting, but it is dreadful when a spouse leaves during the trying times of motherhood.
The following story is about 41-year-old Samira Njoki from Kenya. Samira is mother to two autistic boys and has been single-handedly taking care of them for five years after her husband turned his back on them.
Samira opened up to The Weight She Carries about her experience as a single mother to two autistic children.
Tell us about yourself and the journey with your boys.
My name is Samira Njoki. I am 41 years old. I am a mother of two boys: Cedric who is 13 years old and the other one, Adrian, who is 8. They are both autistic and non-verbal. My pregnancy journey with my first son was normal. I had a normal birth; I didn’t have any complications. I only came to know of his condition when he was about 2 ½ years old. There was no communication from him as you would expect from a child of that age, but he was very hyperactive. I then went to see a pediatrician who referred me to a psychiatrist or psychologist. There, they told me straightaway that my son was autistic.
I didn’t even know what autism was at that time, and I had to ask the doctor if it was an abnormality. He explained the condition to me and also asked if my family had a history of autism, but there was no one with that condition. I had a lot of questions about what I was supposed to do and if there was treatment for such a condition. My mother and sisters were also so concerned.
I took time to conceive again. I was scared I would have another child with the same condition. I was also worried about how I would cope if it happened again. And then it happened again.Samira Njoki
With my second son, it was different. When he was failing to communicate, I just assumed that it was a delay in speech since he was not hyperactive. But then I found out he was autistic as well.
How was it finding out about the autism? Was your family supportive?
I almost got into a depression when I found out my other child was also autistic. Thank God for my family members who were supportive. They would talk to me. My younger sister was there for me. She would research and look for videos on autism. She was really there for me.
[I] separated [from] my husband due to marital issues. I have been a single parent for five years.
How has it been raising two autistic sons on your own?
It has been difficult for me. I have been affected emotionally. I am struggling financially as well. My ex-husband is not there for the children. He does not offer any support. I have tried reaching out to him to no avail. Currently, I sell motor vehicle insurance on a commission basis. The business is not that profitable, and I am not able to pay for all my bills. Yes, I can provide food, but some of the expenses are beyond me. I am struggling to pay rentals and my sons’ education.
My children need to go to special schools, and these schools are expensive. I have been researching about autism and trying to get funds or assistance to get them [into] good schools, but it has proven to be difficult. At times I end up taking them to normal schools, and they find it difficult to cope there. They need special teachers that understand them. The problem with my older son is that he is also antisocial. You always find him playing alone; he doesn’t play with other kids.
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have also affected me greatly. I can no longer go out there to look for insurance clients. We have been indoors. Schools are closed.
Samira continues to carry her weight alone as a single parent, and though life has been tough, she is grateful to God for everything.
Are you a single mother? We’d love to hear your experience on raising your child(ren) and tackling the challenges you face. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The World Health Organization estimates that one in 270 people has Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). W.H.O describes ASD as a diverse group of conditions characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. Autism may be detected in early childhood, however, it is often diagnosed later on in life.
“The abilities and needs of people with autism vary and can evolve over time. While some people with autism can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. In addition, the demands on families providing care and support can be significant. Societal attitudes and the level of support provided by local and national authorities are important factors determining the quality of life of people with autism.” (W.H.O factsheet on ASD)
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.