When 17-year-old Ashley Toto found out that she was pregnant, she felt “lost”.
She knew about different contraceptive options, but used only a condom with her boyfriend because she feared the side effects of other contraceptive measures. “People say that contraceptives have so many side effects. I have heard of women bleeding for many days when using family planning. So I have always been scared to try them.”
After unintentionally becoming pregnant, Ashley left boarding school and moved to Kibera, Nairobi in Kenya. “It was so hard being in school while pregnant. People kept talking about me. So I decided to leave school. I also lost most of my friends. They did not want to associate with me.”
She went first to her elder brother, but he asked her to move out and go to their parents in rural Kenya. “He could not house me while I was pregnant. I knew that if I went to my rural home I would never go back to school again, but I had already registered to take the national exams.”
A well-wisher took her in, and she started braiding people’s hair to make at least a little money for her upkeep. But at 28 weeks’ gestation, following abdominal pains, she was referred to Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, where complications were diagnosed. “They did not explain much. I did not even understand what complications they were talking about. I thought maybe I was going to die so I just followed the instructions I was given, which were to stay in hospital.”
Ashley gave birth to her baby girl, Ainsley, at 30 weeks. “She was so tiny; I did not know what to do with her.” Discharged after two weeks, Ashley and Ainsley have had to return to hospital numerous times for Ainsley. “She has difficulty breathing and a simple flu really puts her down.”
Ashley and her daughter Ainsley
Ashley says it has been a tough journey taking care of her baby and herself. Six weeks after her baby was born, she sat for her secondary school national exams, while juggling her responsibilities as a new mother.
“I thank God I finished the exams, although I did not get the grades I had hoped for. But that is beyond me now. I need to focus on my baby’s survival.”
Ainsley is now 6 months old and doing well. To take care of her, Ashley does menial jobs, including doing people’s laundry and plaiting their hair.
In the next decade, Ashley would like to see more support given to teenaged and young mothers. “Don’t write off a girl, just because she got pregnant early. It is depressing and stressful, but it is not the end of life.”