Family planning decisions
For these girls gradually settling into a new life before deciding to have their first baby was not an issue. All of them lacked their own income and they were not well-educated, factors that had they been otherwise, might have caused them to delay having a child. Many young women feel pressured by family to get pregnant soon after marrying. The young women spoke of couples decided together, yet husbands’ opinions influenced the outcomes. Beletch’s husband said,“I discussed with my wife to have a child early. She agreed with my idea. As a result, she did not use contraception. We planned to have the first child and then create gap to have the second.”
The discourse suggests it is a couple’s decision, but it may often be that it is up to the woman to ‘agree with’ the man’s idea.
Two of the young women in the study, Haymanot and Sessen, were not using any form of contraception when they got married because of lack of accurate information and knowledge about options. They both become pregnant soon after their marriage. Sessen said, “I heard about contraception from some women who gave birth and from health workers at the health centre.” She also told us she had no relevant information regarding giving birth, despite the health centre for pre-natal check-ups. Fortunately her delivery happened on the day she went for her last check-up. Had it not overlapped on the day of her check-up, she would have given birth in her mother’s house with the help of traditional birth attendants. Haymanot also gave birth at home through the help of traditional birth attendants because she was afraid of going to the health centre.
Haymanot’s decision-making power was very limited. Though she wanted to delay having a family for up to five years, her husband and her mother insisted that she should have a baby as soon as possible. Also Haymanot has mentioned to us that she would like to have three children but her mother wants her to bear six or seven children.
Across all our interviews, it’s clear that husbands, mothers, and in-laws are the major actors in decisions around having children. Haymanot’s story (you can find more detail in the working paper) points to a recurring theme in young women’s narratives of bargaining power – whereas the constraints brought on by marriage may vary, the birth of a child consistently constrains agency such that the margins for bargaining become even narrower.