Honoranta Nakato, 44, married at 22 and did not see her worst nightmare coming; years of a marriage without the fruit of the womb.
The ridicule, the taunting, the backbiting…She took matters into her hands, seeking all kinds of interventions that did not work until she tried in-vitro fertilization (IVF) at Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Centre, Bukoto.
She wanted a baby, she got more than she bargained for: quintuplets delivered on September 9, 2018 – three girls and two boys.
The hospital said these were also the first ‘miracle babies’ in East and Central Africa through IVF, although The Observer could not independently verify this. On October 19, Nakato was discharged from hospital and two weeks later, The Observer traced her to Naalya, where she is staying with her brother.
The boda boda rider easily recognized my destination when I described it; Nakato’s brother is well known in the area. After a few minutes’ ride from the main Ntinda - Namugongo road, we arrived at the maroon gate in the Naalya estate.
I had to wait a few more minutes, because one of her daughters was crying and failing to sleep.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting,” she said when she finally joined me. But before she could complete her greetings, another baby started crying and Nakato asked a nanny to take care of the crying child.
“That is how it has been since we left the hospital; when one cries, the others cry too. This happens day and night. We are overwhelmed,” she said with a tired smile.
I could see that the quintuplets have drained all Nakato’s energy, compared to the time I visited her at the hospital when they were born at 33 weeks. In Naalya, she had lost weight due to lack of sleep and a cough.
I asked her if she was preparing for the Buganda rituals associated with multiple births (okumala abalongo), but she said an emphatic “No!”
Reason? They are five; she said the infamous rituals are associated with twins or quadruplets. She plans to baptize her multiple bundles of joy before yearend. Nakato led me to a well-lit nursery where the babies shared three baby cots. The boys kept bawling, occasionally waking up the girls.
The healthy-looking quintuplets are, in order of birth, Rhoda Kirabo, Rowena Kirabo, Rodney Kirabo, Raymond Kirabo and Rachael Kirabo.
Despite their sex difference, their number and resemblance were overwhelming for me and I wondered how she even told them apart. She said it is very easy for her; by looking at their foreheads, weight, behaviour and complexion.
“Rachael [the last born] cries a lot and likes more attention.”
Taking care of one newborn can leave mother and father red-eyed and exhausted; imagine five newborns!
With the help of her brother, Nakato was able to hire a nanny, but admitted she would need at least one more, if it were not for monetary constraints.
“If we were three or four, it would have been better. Some of my relatives come to help, but since they too have families and are working, they don’t come regularly,’ she said.
She said her sisters come for two to three days, then leave, but they did not make it the week I visited due to personal problems. Together with her experienced nanny, the women take turns carrying the babies kangaroo style, a newborn care method where skin-to-skin contact is vital for the baby.
“I do the kangaroo method everyday but she helps me; five children are not easy to raise but with the mercy of God, my husband and I will raise them,” she said.
I saw the children at birth; they were so tiny I could not help but wonder whether they would survive. But when I visited in Naalya, their physical appearance had changed greatly.
At the time of birth, Dr Edward Tamale Sali, the director, Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Centre, said the children were delivered at 33 weeks; the smallest weighed 1.3kg while the rest weighed 1.5kg. In total, Nakato was carrying 8kg.
Nakato said, “Last Friday, we went for the first review and I was very happy when the doctor told me that at least all of them have an average weight of 2.2kg.”
Not a poor man’s affair!
Although the growth spurt gives the mother hope that her children will survive, it has not come without challenges; the children’s expenditure is something else. For instance, one baby uses up to six diapers a day, making that 30 to 34 diapers each day for the quintuplets. And they are still very little!
On feeding, Nakato said since these are special children who need special feeding and since she does not breastfeed them, right from birth the children have been feeding on formula milk.
“I used to breastfeed them but this became difficult; so, doctors advised us to introduce them to formula milk,” she said.
She said breastfeeding really stressed her and left her worn-out; when she was advised to use formula milk, it came as a big relief.
“My sister used to come to the hospital every morning and evening to pump breast milk for them, but that was not enough for five babies; we took on Cow and Gate milk,” she said.
Currently the babies are on Cow and Gate formula, which is very expensive. Her quintuplets consume a 400ml tin of Cow and Gate daily; each tin costs Shs 50,000. And to think they are still tiny tots weighing an average of 2.2kg!
“Every feeding, I give each baby 100ml of the powdered milk and it is done severally. At the nursery, it was after every two hours but now it is every two to three hours, but sometimes even after an hour,” she said. “The boys tend to feed more often compared to the girls who enjoy their sleep.”
Where is baby-daddy?
In all this, I was wondering where the quintuplets’ daddy was…Nakato laughed and said he is a secondary school teacher in Masaka, who was at first overwhelmed by the news.
He got to know he was going to be a quintuplets dad from an NBS TV news bulletin. In Uganda many baby-daddies would take to their heels upon hearing the childcare expenses ahead; Nakato’s husband stayed.
“All along he knew I was going to have twins, but when he saw me on NBS TV with quintuplets, he called immediately to confirm,” she said.
It took him a few days to visit Nakato at the hospital but he is very supportive, regardless his low income.
“He visits us once a week, being that he is in Masaka; he can only come at the weekend.”
Nakato refused to say more about the lucky father.
Not going to easy task
Taking into consideration that both parents are teachers, Nakato admitted it is not going to be an easy task raising the quintuplets. The family will need a bigger home, more paid help and more time, among others.
Nakato, who teaches mathematics at Ndeeba Senior Secondary School in Kayunga district, is hopeful that well-wishers and God who gave her the quintuplets will help.
“We have been living in staff quarters; now with these children, that will change. We also had a small home, but now we will need a bigger home,” she said.
Search for baby while battling cancer
Nakato’s journey of trying to conceive started 22 years ago when she got married. However, things did not work out no matter how much they tried, and soon the 22-year-old yound girl clocked her thirties, then the 40s, and nothing! That can be a nightmare in a woman’s life.
In February 2016, she visited Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Centre for consultations. Dr Sali said Nakato had blocked tubes due to a miscarriage she had earlier suffered and her chances of conceiving naturally were very limited.
Nakato went back home to look for money for IVF and returned to the facility in 2018 ready for the procedure. Apart from searching for money for IVF, “I had just concluded cancer treatment that [cost me] my left breast. I [was diagnosed with] breast cancer in 2014. Up to now I still go for checkups, although this time I have delayed”.
Nakato said the delay was caused by the delicate quintuplets that cannot be left alone yet; her oncologist, Dr Victoria Walusansa at Uganda Cancer Institute, is being very supportive.
Nakato declined to say how much she used on the whole process of IVF, but in an earlier interview, Dr Sali had said the cost depends on several aspects but the entire procedure may cost up to $5,000 (about Shs 18.5m).
Nakato said: “I was under a lot of pressure from both my family and in-laws. Despite the fact that I was the official wife, I did not have children of my own. My husband sired children with other women. I could not blame him; I knew I was the one with a problem.”
Nakato’s joy of finally being a mother is only dampened by the worry of feeding them as they grow older.
“I know I will need things like diapers, but my biggest challenge is feeding them, buying a tin of formula at Shs 50,000 per day is too much; you know what teachers earn,” she said.
The fertility centre offered her a one-year medical insurance, gave her several cartons of formula and diapers and offered to send paediatricians when need arises.
Following her story on several media outlets, well-wishers came from as far as Kabale “and they greatly supported me. I can’t mention them individually but I’m grateful”.