The news that came out of the operating theatre that day in November last year delivered powerful doses of wondrous joy and immense grief in equal measure to 32-year-old Paul Wang’ombe.
The grave news was that his wife of seven years had died on the operating table as doctors struggled with a Caesarean section procedure. The joyful news was that she had left behind new born twin boys.
The devastated father had to deal with the extreme emotions within him and then begin to figure out what life would be like without his love and pillar.
Seven months later, Mr Wang’ombe has taken to the job of a father and mother for his new twin boys and two older twin girls with alacrity — a tough balancing act for the man who now doubles as father and mother.
Talk of feeding, bathing, changing nappies – Wang’ombe has been doing it all for his seven-month-old sons while balancing it with taking care of his eight-year-old twin girls.
It was on November 4 last year when Mr Wang’ombe lost his wife Gladys Wambui, 30, at the Nyeri Provincial General Hospital from complications on the operation table.
“The news of my wife’s death felt as if it was meant for someone else, not me. It was the most unimaginable event becoming reality. At that point I longed for my own death,” Mr Wang’ombe told the Sunday Nation.
Hopeless and without his helper, he felt that his wife’s death was not just a test in life but a major challenge he had to tackle.
He battled with reality, he said, and God comforted him and gave him the strength to look beyond that dark moment.
“As I wrapped my sons in my arms from the nursery beds, I was scared to face the world,” Mr Wang’ombe said, staring at the playful boys. “But there is a reason for everything, and God had a reason.”
MADE A CHOICE TO MAN UP
At home were his other set of twins, Fiona Wangeci and Faith Wanjiru, born in October 2008, who would be looking to him for comfort, strength and answers on what had happened to their mother.
“I had to concentrate on the boys and also be a source of happiness to my girls who had not come into terms with the happenings,” he said.
The onset of his new life, he admits, was challenging. He had to get used to staying up late with the boys who did not seem to mind his right to some sleep, and keep up with feeding and cleaning them and nurturing them in the best way he knew.
He recalled once when the children stayed awake all night.
“Sleep all day and party all night had been their motto. Partying for the two adorable twins, however, had a different meaning. It meant nonstop crying,” he said.
Given this new twist to a hectic schedule, many men would have probably chosen another wife to fill the void. Not Mr Wang’ombe. He chose to quit his bread-earning occupation as a jua kali artisan in Nairobi to raise his four children.
But four months later, he realised it would be difficult to spend his time like that with all the demands. He made a choice to return to work in Nairobi and seek help from his father and mother in taking care of the little ones. He moved back to Nairobi.
Though he feared creating more disruptions in his daughters’ lives, he had to be a responsible father and meet the needs of his sizeable family.
“I was scared Fiona and Faith would feel all alone if I left them. It would be tough for them to have their mother and father absent at the same time,” he said.
Fortunately, his parents were ready and willing to take up his responsibilities. They took in their last-born son’s children as if they were their own.
His father, Mr Joseph Mureithi, says the grandsons have brought immense joy to his family.
“When one of the boys wakes up, the other follows. My wife takes Joe, prepares the formula milk for him and I do the same for Dennis. It is usually a wonderful bonding moment for us,” he said.
The twins’ grandmother, Mrs Wangui Mureithi, has given up farming to raise the little ones. She is impressed by her son’s determination to bring up his children.
‘‘My time is spent confirming to him his children are fine,” she said. What she marvels at is the bond he shares with his children.
“Whenever something is amiss with any of them, he can tell even when I try to hide it,” she said.
Mr Wang’ombe calls up to four times a day to check on his sons and to bond with his daughters. Over the months Mr Wang’ombe says, he has adjusted to the new responsibilities of being a father and mother.
According to Mr Wang’ombe, being actively involved in matters of childbirth not only prepares one for the worst but provides the father with a chance to bond with the child.
ALL ABOUT QUALITY TIME
Fatherhood has presented a series of lessons and the greatest, he says, is the understanding that children are not interested in the shopping basket but to spend quality time with their parents. On many occasions his children insist on just seeing him at home than his buying yoghurt and potato crisps, their favourites.
His greatest challenge, however, is the distance between him and his bundles of joy. For the last two months, he has had to travel home on weekends and looks forward to having a stable job near his home.
“Your children may seem to like what you bring home after work because it is children’s nature to do that. But the greatest gift you can give to them is attention and love.”